US Begins Operation To Defend Sri Lanka

  • First informal meeting on September 17

By Easwaran Rutnam

The United States last week set in motion an operation to seek support for Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva and the process will see heightened diplomatic activity as D-day nears for Sri Lanka at the Council.

The US Ambassador to Geneva Keith Harper informed the UNHRC at its organisational meeting for the 30th session, that the US, on behalf of a core group, plan to offer a resolution on Sri Lanka to follow up on the new Sri Lankan government’s efforts to promote reconciliation and accountability.

He said that the resolution will also be based on the report based on the investigations conducted on the war in Sri Lanka by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“We hope to work collaboratively with the new government of Sri Lanka and key stakeholders on this text,” Ambassador Keith Harper told the envoys at the organisational meeting.

The US and the core group will be looking at reducing the impact the investigations report will have on Sri Lanka when it is made public during the 30th session of the UNHRC which begins on September 14.

Harper said that an informal meeting will take place on the sidelines of the 30th session on September 17, at the UN building in Geneva.

“The first informal meeting has been scheduled for September 17 in Room 24 from 10 to noon,” he said.

The report is part of the process which was set in motion by the US through HRC resolution 25/1 when the former Government was in power.


Comprehensive investigation

The failure by the former Government to take acceptable measures to address human rights concerns following the end of the war resulted in the US pushing for an international investigation on Sri Lanka.

In resolution A/HRC/25/1 adopted in March 2014 on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, the United Nations Human Rights Council requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to “undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders”.

In June 2014, the High Commissioner appointed three distinguished experts, Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, Ms. Silvia Cartwright, former High Court judge of New Zealand, and Ms. Asma Jahangir, former President of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, to play a supportive and advisory role, as well as independent verification throughout the investigation.


US supports govt.

However the new Government won the support of the US and the UN after it assured a domestic investigation mechanism which meets international standards.

US Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal, who was in Sri Lanka last week, confirmed during a meeting with a few journalists at the American Centre,  that the US will be submitting a resolution in support of Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Biswal said that the matter had already been discussed with the international community as there is a need to give the new Sri Lankan government time to address the human rights concerns.

Meanwhile, Tom Malinowski, who was also in Sri Lanka, last week, told reporters in Trincomalee on Thursday, that the US will judge the new Sri Lankan Government, not by its promises but by its actions and achievements.

“The United States will sponsor another resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in September and we are not going to walk away from this process of encouraging reform and change after September.  We very much hope that with the changes after January 8th, the new government will work with us and work with the United Nations on a real process of accountability and reconciliation.  The international community will remain involved in that process.  It will continue to monitor that process.  And as much as we are hopeful about the promises that the new government had made, we will judge it not by its promises but by its actions and achievements,” he said in a response to a question posed by a journalist.

Earlier the US and its international partners had raised doubts on how credible a domestic process in Sri Lanka will be when investigating incidents over the war.

But now the US says a credible process does not require an international process. Malinowski told reporters in Trincomalee that the important thing is that there be a judicial process that is credible to the people of Sri Lanka and to the international community.

“For that process to be credible, I don’t think it has to be a completely international process, but it does have to be independent of political leadership.  It has to be led by people who are trusted by the minority communities and it should have some degree of international involvement, even if it is a domestic process organised under the laws of Sri Lanka,” he had said.

Biswal told journalists at the American Centre that during meetings she and Malinowski had with the Sri Lankan Government, the US reiterated its commitment to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to help spur inclusive and broad-based economic growth, to strengthen its institutions of governance and to promote reconciliation and justice.

“So our visit is essentially an additional opportunity for engagement in deepening that bilateral partnerships we have seen over the last nine months enjoy a renewed sense of deepening and flourishing.  And as we see a greater convergence in our views and our hopes and our aspirations in the bilateral partnership, as well as the important role that we think Sri Lanka is and can play in the region and around the world, I was extraordinarily pleased that Assistant Secretary Malinowski and I were able to come together because it really has been a joint and all of government approach in the United States in advancing that partnership,” she said.

The US said it hopes the Government will however take into consideration the recommendations the UN investigations report will set out once it is formally released during the September session of the Council.

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