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Sri Lanka emerges proud - united with allies at UNHRC

Sri Lanka concluded the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council with its head held high with the acceptance of Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review Report followed by a strong supportive joint-statement by the United States, United Kingdom and other member nations. The joint-statement by the co-sponsors was unambiguous in that “with determined leadership and a clear timeline for action, this Government can deliver the reform and justice agenda, and take the actions needed to support long-term reconciliation, with the support of all Sri Lankans.”

“Sri Lanka still has an historic opportunity to avoid returning to divisions of the past,” the statement added.

In his remarks to the Council, Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana listed out the accomplishments of the government towards national reconciliation, achieved in collaboration with our international partners. Key points were the operationalisation of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) in September 2017, the return of over 70% of private land held by the security forces, the operationalisation of the Right to Information Act, a zero tolerance policy on torture, the successful adoption of quotas for female representation to local government and provincial councils, and enabling legislation to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

Minister Marapana also highlighted the ongoing efforts to establish the Office of Reparations and the overhauling of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the progress of draft legislation on a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“These steps together have demonstrated the current government’s commitment to work with the international community to ensure that the rights and liberties of all of its citizens are protected,” said a participant at the UNHRC sessions who requested anonymity as she was not authorised to speak to the media.

The representative also praised Minister Marapana’s clear articulation of the proactive steps taken by the government to swiftly clamp down on the recent attempts to incite racially and religiously charged violence in the Kandy District, and hailed the government’s transparency on what may otherwise have been criticised as draconian measures.

“It was clear that the leadership of Sri Lanka was thinking first and foremost about saving lives and preventing bloodshed.They clearly didn’t pause to consider ‘optics’ or political fallout. That is the job of a responsible regime, and a stark contrast to the blind eye turned to such violent incidents in 2014.”

The strategy of the government in working with the Human Rights Council has also come into much praise, as it is widely believed that by changing the combative and defensive approach taken by the former government, and instead showing the world that Sri Lanka had nothing to hide, Sirisena-Wickremesinghe duo has shielded the country from the indignity and hardship that would have ensued if the world had united against Sri Lanka, as seemed inevitable going into 2015. According to a person involved in Sri Lanka’s engagement with the UNHRC over the last several years, “it was a foregone conclusion that we would have been hammered with economic sanctions, and that members of the armed forces may have been tried in absentia for alleged war crimes in foreign courts, before January 8, 2015.”

The diplomat pointed out that since the new regime opted for a fresh start, Sri Lanka has been successful in restoring its reputation on the world stage without any of “the bombast” of the past. “Remember, every single prosecution or investigation in Sri Lanka involving members of the armed forces are for personal criminal conduct that had nothing to do with the war. This government has not allowed a single person to be investigated for their conduct of the war, despite several false allegations to the contrary. That is what it means to truly stand by the armed forces, and not to just use our brave men and women in uniform as political tools to win votes.”