Response from New York to Geneva

By Manekshaw

President Maithripala Sirisena’s speech, at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly sessions, in New York on Tuesday (20), could be considered more as a response to the comments made by the UNHRC High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein on Sri Lanka at the beginning of the 36th UNHRC session in Geneva last week.

Unlike his predecessor Navanethem Pillay, facing a bad experience when she arrived in the Sri Lanka during the previous regime, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein was given a warm welcome when he arrived with the formation of the National Unity Government in 2015.

In his lengthy speech in Geneva, this year, the UNHRC High Commissioner had covered several countries on their human rights situation which still remains in a very pathetic state.

However, pointing out the UNHRC Resolution of 2015 co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, the High Commissioner has emphasized on the necessity of expediting the process to implement the Resolution by Sri Lanka without further delays or excuses.

The present National Unity Government’s approach towards the international community is commendable and it is important even to note that several countries including India realize the constraints faced by Sri Lanka towards implementing the UNHRC Resolution of 2015.

Therefore, at the beginning of the 36th UNHRC session in Geneva last week, UNHRC High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s comments on Sri Lanka had sounded more a wakeup call, to alert the nation, to prevent further delays in improving the human rights conditions by implementing what had been agreed upon with the UNHRC in Geneva in 2015.

The UNHRC High Commissioner in his address in Geneva, last week, urged the Government of Sri Lanka to swiftly make effective the Office of Missing Persons and to move faster on other confidence-building measures, such as the release of land in the possession of the military, and also resolving long-pending cases registered under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and the High Commissioner also appealed to draft a new law in line with international human rights standards.

The High Commissioner has also expressed concern over protests carried out by families of victims and pointed out the growing frustration over the slow pace in resolving issues.

As far as the families of the involuntarily disappeared persons are concerned it was soon after President Maithripala Sirisena left the island to attend the 72nd United Nations General Assembly session a few days ago, the family members of the involuntarily disappeared persons warned that they would embark on a fast unto death if the Government delayed further in addressing their plight.

The UNHRC High Commissioner has also urged the Government to act on its commitment, in Resolution 30/1 to establish a transnational justice mechanism and to set up a clear timeline and benchmark to implement the commitments.

‘This should not be viewed by the Government as a box-ticking exercise to placate the Council, but as an essential undertaking to address the rights of all its people. The absence of credible action in Sri Lanka to ensure accountability for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law makes the exercise of universal jurisdiction even more necessary”, the UNHRC High Commissioner said.

The 36th session of the UNHRC takes place in the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s military leader Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka even agreeing on carrying out investigations against those who had committed the alleged war crimes during the final phase of the separatist war.

The Field Marshal had also mentioned that he was even prepared to give evidence against those who committed war crimes.

In the meantime President Maithripala Sirisena in his carefully worded address to the UN General Assembly urging the international community to be patient pointed out that Sri Lanka needed more time to establish lasting peace and reconciliation in the country.

As a country which had faced a ruthless separatist war for three decades, addressing the post-war humanitarian issue as well as focusing on the peace building process remains an arduous task.

However, since the present Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena is a creation of the people directly affected by the separatist war in the North and East, addressing their grievances should be prioritized in a manner where justice is meted out them.

President Maithripala Sirisena even addressing a public rally a few months ago in the Eastern Province categorically said that if it was not for the people of the North and East he would have perished after the Presidential poll of 2015.

In the past two years significant developments could be witnessed as far as the resettlement of the internally displaced persons as well as releasing of lands are concerned.

However, the reduction of military presence in the North and East as well as releasing more lands from the possession of the Armed Forces still remain problematic issues, in the back drop of the families of the involuntarily disappeared persons threatening to stage a fast unto death.

On the other hand, the need of releasing the Tamil political prisoners by expediting the legal process has also been emphasized by the families of the Tamil political prisoners.

President Maithripala Sirisena’s address to the UN General Assembly remains a response, from New York, to the views expressed by the UNHRC High Commissioner in Geneva, last week, on Sri Lanka. In reality the High Commissioner’s observation has clearly indicated that the international community could be patient, however, Sri Lanka cannot escape from the commitments it had made to implement the UNHRC resolutions it co-sponsored in 2015.

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