Lack of funds for UNHCR Secretariat to investigate SL

Two South Asian neighbors received good news from the United Nations this week. The tiny Maldives archipelago has been elected president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) for 2021-2022. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid won 143 votes, nearly three-quarters of the 191 countries that voted in the annual elections, while his rival, former Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, failed to secure any. than 48.

While the Maldives scored a first victory at the UNGA, Sri Lanka can also welcome a negative response from the global body’s donors to the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). create a separate secretariat to enforce issues relating to the resolution it adopted on Sri Lanka in March of this year. The failure to raise sufficient funds is a major setback for UNHRC’s plans to implement the resolution.

As the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, sought to set up a 13-member secretariat with a budget of US $ 2,856,300 for the current year in order to give effect to the implementation of the secretariat on Sri Lanka, as required by the UN resolution, Sri Lanka has launched a major campaign in New York to lobby against the fund.

As part of the campaign led by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Sri Lankan delegates urged UN members not to fund the HRC’s unilateral plans to implement a resolution Sri Lanka s ‘was already withdrawn. Expressing satisfaction at the response or lack of response from UN members, Minister Gunawardena said he learned that the UN Headquarters had reduced the amount requested by the Council by more than 50 percent. . The only option now for UNHRC is to seek balance with Western co-sponsors.

The UNHRC resolution called for Sri Lanka to cooperate with the proposed secretariat, which Colombo categorically rejected. Such cooperation implies freedom of movement throughout the territory; unimpeded access to all places and establishments; the freedom to meet and question representatives of national, local and military authorities, community leaders, non-governmental organizations and other institutions, as well as any person whose testimony is deemed necessary for the fulfillment of his mandate; and free access to all sources of information, including documents and physical evidence.

Sri Lanka is not at all prepared to allow such investigations into unfounded and trumped up charges. In addition, UNHCR has requested the cooperation of other governments in whose territory the Secretariat can interview victims, witnesses and sources and gather information.

No wonder sane governments have refused to provide funds to set up an unwanted secretariat to collect evidence for use by countries that exercise universal jurisdiction.

The UNHRC announced that the Secretariat should include, among others, investigators and lawyers. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has already published a call for applications for the new positions identified. This included a senior legal advisor with criminal justice and / or criminal investigation and prosecution experience to coordinate the team.

The adviser’s responsibilities included developing a central repository to consolidate, preserve and analyze information and evidence; coordinate review and information-sharing processes with national authorities for cases of universal and extraterritorial jurisdiction and other accountability purposes in accordance with relevant United Nations guidelines.

Other responsibilities of the advisor include developing an accountability strategy and working with accountability mechanisms, including specialist investigators, prosecutors, judges and other legal practitioners for information sharing purposes, to promote accountability and advice on developing accountability strategies; and liaise with other Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), other independent mechanisms and other United Nations systems to ensure a coordinated approach.

Although the new Secretariat was to operate under the leadership of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, she did not specify how the investigations would be conducted without the cooperation of the government of Sri Lanka.

Immediately after Sri Lanka’s 2009 victory over LTTE terrorism, the West launched a long campaign against Sri Lanka. It was the then UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, who took the initiative to bring this human rights situation back to the UN institutions. He created an “international expert group” to pave the way for an accountability process in line with international standards. The Expert Group was requested to compile the available information and submit the report in April 2011.

Sri Lanka has refused to allow the so-called expert group to visit the country. After a unilateral investigation, the Group concluded that there was credible information that could meet the criteria for war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the panel did not disclose any details on the names of the victims, if any, and the proposed charges. It was a strange way to run an investigation and there was no transparency in the investigations.

This was followed by another initiative of the Canadian government, which presented a draft resolution at the 18th Ordinary Session of the UNHRC in September 2011. The project requested the Government of Sri Lanka to submit the report of the Commission of Lessons Learned and Reconciliation (LLRC) to be discussed at the 19th session of the HRC in March 2012 in the plenary session of the Council. The resolution argued that the UNHRC should have been allowed to make an assessment of the two documents and conclude to what extent international standards of accountability had been met. However, in a strange turn of events, the Canadian government subsequently abandoned the project without any further explanation.

Then the United States took the lead and introduced resolution 30/1 and forced the then government (Yahpalana) in Colombo to co-sponsor it. In subsequent developments, the United States withdrew from the HRC under President Donald Trump and the mantle then passed to Britain and Canada, with the support of Norway and several others.

In 2019, following the election of the current government, Sri Lanka withdrew from the resolution and at the last HRC session in March, the HRC announced the proposal to create a new secretariat to investigate and requested funds. additional.

Now that the required total has been refused by UN members, UNHRC will need to seek funds from co-sponsors Canada, US, UK and Norway for the required balance. As the agenda of the co-sponsors is to “punish” the current government of Sri Lanka, these countries are likely to open their purse strings to achieve their goal. So-called champions of democracy forget that Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government was elected with a vast majority of votes in free and fair elections.

The UNHRC resolution refers to a “traditional Tamil homeland”. It is a distortion of historical facts as well as current realities. This is a deliberate attempt to recognize the illegal and unconstitutional claim of a homeland, the so-called “Eelam” of the LTTE, the terrorist group banned in many Western countries themselves and in India. Thus, the UNHRC resolution encourages separatism and tolerates terrorism.

The good news of the election of Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid as UNGA President is remarkable in the current political climate, in which blatant attempts to mislead and abuse organs of the UN by interested parties are visible.

While congratulating his Maldivian counterpart, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said Sri Lanka looked forward to working with him at the 76th session of the General Assembly, with a view to advancing the interests and priorities of the countries of the South. .

“We look forward to working with him to strengthen multilateralism and its much-needed reforms,” said Indian Foreign Minister Dr Subramaniam Jaishankar.

Sri Lanka and India can be happy that the Maldives take over the presidency of the UNGA. In the past, there were bitter comments from the president of the UNGA. Former Turkish President Volkan Bozkir once made an irrelevant comment on the Jammu and Kashmir issue and India made a strong objection. In contrast, during Shahid’s tenure, which will last until September 2022, the presidency is expected to act in a much more impartial manner when it comes to the issues and challenges facing South Asian neighbors.

While Sri Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit was elected UNGA President in 1953, Sri Lankan Shirley Amarasinghe was elected UNGA President in 1976, the year in which Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected. became president of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It was the time when Sri Lanka’s foreign policy set an example for other Third World nations.

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