Sri Lankan U.N. envoy lashes out at Western “colonizers” over emergency meeting of human rights council

Today at the U.N. Human Rights Council informal consultations were held on the draft text for the special session on Sri Lanka to be held this Tuesday. The meeting was chaired by Muriel Berset of Switzerland, sponsor of the text, along with representatives of the European Union (the Czech Republic), Chile and Mexico. The group took pains to emphasize their “cooperative” and “consensus” approach, underscoring the special deference shown to Sri Lanka in contrast to the approach taken toward other countries that the council has censured — Israel, 26 times; Myanmar, 4 times; and North Korea, twice.

Whlie the purpose of the meeting was for the international community to work on the resolution to hold Sri Lanka accountable for its actions, Switzerland and its co-sponsors, evidently fearful of upsetting the alliance of repressive regimes that dominates the council, went so far as to grant the ambassador of Sri Lanka the right to participate in the meeting — and even to join the podium and speak first following their brief introduction.

This he did with much drama. Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka walked in late, delivered a 30-minute harangue against Western “colonizers,” and then walked out.

It being so rare for most of the UN’s 192 members to be censured, the Sri Lankan ambassador felt the need to show that his country enjoyed broad diplomatic support. He began by insisting that he considered the Western-led consultation on the draft resolution as one organized by “friends”, even if they some may be “misguided.” The “only enemy of Sri Lanka was the one within its borders,” now defeated.

Sri Lanka “put an end to that problem” after several attempts at negotiation failed and that all civilians caught in the conflict were hostages to the Tamil Tigers. The ambassador argued that it made no sense to hold a special session now that the 30-year war is over and “no one is dying,” and considering that the regular human rights council session is only a week away.

He complained that Tiger sympathizers are planning a demonstration on Monday, saying they should not be allowed to “hold the Human Rights Council hostage.”

Ambassador Jayatilleka used his remarks to rally the council’s majority of African and Asian states to his cause, attacking the sponsors of the special session as Western “colonizers” who refused to consult with the Asian bloc. How, he asked, could “distant” states know better than Sri Lanka’s neighboring states, who agreed with its positions?

He complained that states “in the region” were “bypassed,” “their advice and views completely ignored,” and not even sought. He decried the Swiss text, complaining that “those who are former colonizers somehow know more about how to handle Sri Lanka than our immediate neighborhood.” Sri Lanka can only take on the Swiss proposal if it is “de-mined and removed of booby traps,” something, he said, his country knew how to do very well militarily.

Adopting a pugilistic tone, the Sri Lankan envoy said he welcomed a diplomatic battle at the session, unafraid of a contested vote. He suggested that the Western-sponsored resolution was meant to force Sri Lanka to respond with a no-action motion — a procedure favored in the past by China, Zimbabwe and other repressive regimes in order to kill a censure resolution — so that Sri Lanka would be “trashed for the international media.” Nevertheless, he welcomed any such contest.

Ms. Berset of Switzerland thanked the Sri Lankan ambassador, who already got up and walked out, for his remarks and his “eloquence”, and said that her country sought “total openness, transparency, and inclusiveness.”

Next were a long list of speakers who opposed holding a special session, and who voiced their support for Sri Lanka’s outrageous competing resolution that is designed to praise itself and preempt any scrutiny: Egypt, Cuba, the Philippines, India, China, Malaysia, Syria, Thailand, Indonesia, and Lebanon.

Egypt took the floor first and spoke with a sense of anger. The only reason they attended this consultation was because they respect the positions of some of the session’s sponsors — those that had supported a special session to condemn Israel for its actions in Gaza. (He did not mention anything about Egypt’s public opposition to Hamas during that war.) There were “double standards” at the council, for addressing Sri Lanka this time instead of Palestine, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

Cuba agreed and protested that many countries were not consulted prior to the announcement of a special session. The only way to work in a cooperative manner was on the basis of Sri Lanka’s own text.

China echoed Cuba and said Sri Lanka should be commended for its “transparency” and “inclusiveness.”

Syria said that “the country concerned [Sri Lanka] has better knowledge of what needs to be done.”

Thailand said that it was against the convening of country-specific special sessions or resolutions in principle.

These interventions were followed by slightly more moderate approach shown by South Africa, Japan, and Senegal who stressed the need for “constructive engagement” and “cooperation” with Sri Lanka to bring about “consensus.” Japan also called for international assistance to Sri Lanka, noting its own provision of aid.

In response to the argument that there needs to be cooperation with Sri Lanka, Chile said that this approach was tried, but failed. It noted that Sri Lanka’s Ambassador even left the room now after giving his speech.

Chile also spoke about the rejection of the UN Human Rights Council president’s attempt to call for the softer measure of a “panel discussion” on Sri Lanka. This failure meant the only way to deal with the situation was to call for a full special session.

Chile also criticized Sri Lanka’s comment that it is inappropriate to call for the session now that the war is finished, given that it had argued against convening a session while the war was raging, saying that it could go in favor of the Tigers. It said the purpose of the session is not about the past, but about improving the situation for the future.

NGOs were also allowed to speak. A representative of the International Commission of Jurists said that Sri lanka’s position was “not only unfortunate,” but also “inhuman,” and he decried Sri Lanka’s “indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force.” He said that the Swiss-EU proposal was beneath the level of acceptability, but better than the Sri Lankan text, which he called a “joke.” He complained that neither text addresses the violation of international humanitarian law or “the gross and systemic violations of human rights.”

The Czech Republic said that the principle of universality of human rights means that every country in the world has a right to be concerned about human rights situations of any other country. It said many people in Sri Lanka continue to live in an urgent situation, including the many internally displaced persons.

The meeting revealed the disturbing dynamics that govern the council. The European and Latin American states clearly thought themselves courageous in daring to criticize a country that belongs to the bloc of Non-Aligned states, and a country that is not Israel, Myanmar, or North Korea. On the other hand, their apologetic tone, followed by the vehement push-back by Egypt and numerous other states, highlighted the extent to which Western democracies are intimidated from applying minimum scrutiny to the world’s worst abusers. Will U.S. membership, beginning late June, change the tide?

3 Responses to “Sri Lankan U.N. envoy lashes out at Western “colonizers” over emergency meeting of human rights council”

  • Expecting the human rights violation case from UN,Srilnkan Govt made an earliar announcement of “surrender of 10,000 Ex-ltte”members,and 22,000 LTTE members as dead.
    Howmany of these socalled surrendered men,are taken away from ‘concentration camps’??? it will be clear only when independent observers enquire these ex-members.
    Whether already 22,000 dead or going to die in future??

    For all these matters Srilankan Govt must be investigated and held responsible for its Govt sponserd terrorism.

    Now its planning to beg by wearing suits and tie ,for its war expenditures ,in the name of
    international Aid to Tamils.What a shame??

  • It is very interesting how fast the european and other nations have moved on this issue. I cannot recall whether the US was called in to explain when the US (UK and other countries) went to war in Afganistan and Iraq.

    In the case of Iraq the excuse was weapons of mass destruction. After destroying Iraq including killing innocent civilians and creating civil unrest (which is still unresolved), not even one weapon was found in Iraq. Was George Bush or Tony Blair called in to explain human rights abuses which actually occured outside their national boundaries.
    Everyting they (GB and TB) did was acceptable as they were fighting terrorist or in the case of Iraq supposedly there were WMD(of which evidence now shows there was none).

    In the case of Sri Lanka it was fighting terrorists who have assisinated a former prime minister of India, a president of Sri Lanka and countless ministers and leaders (tamil and singhalese)and is listed as a terrorist organisation in countless countries.

    The only difference here is that in the case of Sri Lanka at least at the military level there has been a victory. This is not the case in afghanistan or Iraq. With all the intelligence, equipment etc. at the disposal of these countries still they have not been able to complete what they set out to do.

    So the issue is how did a third world country with limited resources defeat a terrorist organisation when these countries cannot even locate the organisation they are after in Afganisatan since 2001?

    There has been enough attempts at trying to work out a negotiated settlement which came to nil.

    Also on the flipside whilst there would have been casualties of war, the Sri Lankan army still saved 300,000 civilians from the LTTE.

    Well done government of sri lanka

  • The former British rulers were responsible for the three decade long terrorist problem that caused enormous damage to life, property, environment and society of Sri Lanka. The minority Tamils received favour, discriminating majority Sinhalese Buddhists who were considered as rebels by colonial heads before 1948. Tamils enjoyed largest portion of academic, professional and administrative opportunities in the society as a result of colonial power. For example, the government departments and higher education faculties were largely inhibited by Tamils counting less than 20% of population. Sinhalese were deprived of opportunities in Medicine, Engineering, Law, Administrative Services, Foreign Services and Accountancy etc, without giving fair chances in the education. The influences of Tamil control elements in the government mechanism brought misery to the majority. Tamil dominated Survey Department of Sri Lanka even plotted official country maps altering historical Sinhalese names of geographical identifications to Tamil version under a hidden agenda.

    Subsequent to the independence from Britain, the majority received their deserved fair portion of the opportunities in a competitive manner. The Tamils then organised to promote manipulative methodology in selection criterion for gaining places in competitive events cultivating mistrust between communities. The old Tamil political cult that demanded half of pie, encouraged their young generation to take arms against the majority Sinhalese.

    Beginning from the killing of Jaffna Mayor in 1975, the murderer Prabhakaran led LTTE continued its genocide until now. While Sinhalese are peace minded community backed by Buddhist teaching, LTTE dragged the country in to a bitter war since 1983. Apart from fighting a war against state, from remote jungle village farmer even to two country heads, LTTE brought instant death penalty exhibiting its ruthlessness to the whole world. People lived either in far away cottage or Colombo city centre were in constant fear of civilian attacks carried out by LTTE either by hacking or bombing while sleeping or travelling. The Island of Sri Lanka (Lanka-Dweepa) had been a sovereign country for thousand years and it is not the place for a dream Tamil homeland.

    Sri Lanka, being a developing country fought terrorism courageously with aspiration to step forward to a better position in the global place. Therefore, neglecting the remnant LTTE international agenda, whole civilised world must help Sri Lanka genuinely to overcome current problems.

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