Govt. launches two pronged diplomatic offensive ahead of UN Rights chiefs visit

Confident compromise mechanism to investigate war crimes can be worked out
Minority communities’ human rights to be protected

article_imageRa’ad Zeid Al-Hussein

by Zacki  Jabbar

In the run up to the UN Human Rights Commissioner Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein’s scheduled visit to Sri Lanka prior to the June deadline that  his organization has set for Sri Lanka  to  establish an independent domestic mechanism to investigate war crimes allegations, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has launched a diplomatic offensive aimed at both the local and international community.

The local initiative came in the form of President Maithripala Sirisena’s comments to the BBC last Thursday that he was apposed to foreign interference in his administration’s preparations to conduct an independent domestic probe into accusations of serious human rights violations against the security forces and the LTTE   especially during the final stages of the war which ended with the defeat of the LTTE on May 18, 2009.

On the diplomatic front, targeting the international community, the government last Thursday agreed during the first meeting of the Working Group on Good Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights under the European Union-Sri Lanka Joint Commission held in Colombo, that priority needed to be given to the full implementation of the October 2015  UN Human Rights Council  resolution on accountability issues in  Sri Lanka.

Government sources said that in the light of comments made by the British Deputy Foreign Minister Hugo Swire in Colombo last week that Sri Lanka could, where it thought fit, seek international assistance to conduct a speedy war crimes inquiry aimed at ensuring closure for the disappeared and also reparations, a compromise investigative mechanism to ensure justice for all those affected could be worked out.

At the EU- Sri Lanka Joint Commission meeting there had been an exchange of views on ongoing consultations on the establishment of domestic reconciliation and accountability mechanisms with the EU having  expressed its readiness to continue supporting Sri Lanka “in this process and to identify together the needs and opportunities for assistance.”

It,had also stressed on the  importance of addressing  human rights issues, including sexual and gender based violence, torture and protection of persons belonging to minority groups as well as the need to  combat corruption.

Challenges on issues such as freedom of expression and media, strengthening of civil society, rights of women and children, rights of minorities, labour rights, migration, implementation of the treaty obligations and the rule of law had also figured in the Working Groups discussions.

The two sides had agreed on a series of  follow up actions at the next Joint Commission Meeting  to be held later this  year in Brussels.

The  meeting of the Working Group followed the 19th Session of the European Union-Sri Lanka Joint Commission held in April 2015, in Colombo. The forum provides for regular and structured bilateral engagement under the EU-Sri Lanka Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development of 1995.

The European Union delegation was led by the Head of  the Asia and Pacific Department, Paola Pampaloni, while the Sri Lanka delegation was led by the  Director General for European Union at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs A.L.A. Azeez.