Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 352, 25 March 2021

Sri Lanka: The UNHRC resolution calls for reconciliation and accountability
Akriti Sharma

In the news
On 23 March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution titled "Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka" in the forty-sixth session. The resolution was drafted by a Core Group including the UK, Germany, Canada, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. It was co-sponsored by 40 other countries including the US, France, and Italy. The resolution was put to vote through an e-voting system for the first time.
The resolution expressed concern regarding "policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief; increased marginalization of persons belonging to the Tamil and Muslim communities; surveillance and intimidation of civil society; restrictions on media freedom, and shrinking democratic space". Further it raised concerns regarding "the prevailing marginalization of and discrimination against the Muslim community, and that cremations for those deceased from COVID-19 have prevented Muslims and members of other religions from practising their own burial religious rites, and has disproportionately affected religious minorities and exacerbated distress and tensions."
On 23 March, Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena tweeted: "we welcome the majority of 25 of 47 members in the council to have expressed not to vote against SL, amidst heavy lobbying & unsubstantiated statements".
Issues at large
First, the UNHRC resolutions on Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war. This is the eighth one; the previous resolutions were passed during 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2019. In the latest resolution, 47 countries voted. Twenty-two voted for the resolution including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Uruguay, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Bulgaria, Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, Netherlands, and Poland. Eleven countries voted against the resolution include Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, Russia, the Philippines, Eritrea, Venezuela, Bolivia, Somalia, Uzbekistan, and Cuba. Fourteen countries abstained include the following: India, Japan, Nepal, Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Bahrain, Libya, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal, Sudan, and Togo abstained from voting.
Second, the regional divide. The countries who voted in the favour of the resolution are predominantly American and European countries. The countries who voted against the resolution are predominantly Asian and African countries. In South Asia, two countries (Nepal and India) abstained from the voting and two countries (Pakistan and Bangladesh) voted against the resolution.
Third, Sri Lanka and the indifference towards the UNHRC. Sri Lanka views the UNHRC resolutions as interference in domestic affairs. Despite the several efforts of UNHRC to check human rights, the government has remained ignorant towards the human rights abuse of minorities. On 27 January 2020, Sri Lanka announced its withdrawal from co-sponsorship of Resolution 40/1 on 'Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka'. 
In perspective
First, the special provision of the resolution. The resolution recognizes the importance of preserving and analyzing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights. It also mandates the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights "to collect, consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka." This will enhance the monitoring and scrutiny of human rights abuses in the country.
Second, the resolution renews the hope for providing long-awaited justice to the victims of thirty years of civil war, which ended in 2009. There had been a renewal in the human rights abuses in the country after the Rajapaksas came to power in 2019.

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