Australian Tamil Congress cautiously welcomes the adoption of a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that expressed growing international concern over Sri Lanka’s failure to address serious allegations of human rights violations occurred in 2009. The Council also expressed concerns regarding the ongoing human rights abuses including enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and torture, threats to judicial independence and rule of law, religious discrimination, and intimidation of civil society activists and journalists.
The US initiated resolution, the second on Sri Lanka within a span of one year, had 41 sponsors including Australia and it passed with 25 votes in favour, 13 against and 8 abstentions.
The UNHRC resolution endorsed the recently released report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that castigated Sri Lanka for its failure to implement last year’s resolution and recommended that an international investigation be established for alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. But, HRC failed to set up an investigation mechanism during the recent session, and instead, called upon the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct an independent and credible investigation. Given Sri Lanka’s institutionalized and well-entrenched impunity, the recent dismantling of the last remnants of judicial independence by the impeachment of its Chief Justice and the well proven fact that the Government of Sri Lanka is incapable and unwilling to carry out an impartial inquiry, it is deeply disappointing that the International Community has chosen to give Sri Lanka one more year to investigate itself.
On the positive side, the resolution places Sri Lanka under close international scrutiny and the country has been asked to implement the recommendations made in the reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and its own Lessons Learnt and reconciliation Commission. Sri Lanka has also been urged to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the relevant UN special procedures mandate holders. Further, the resolution requests the Office of the High commissioner to present an update to the Human Rights Council in September 2013 and a comprehensive report followed by discussion on the implementation of the resolution during the March 2014 session.
The statements made by key US officials following the adoption of the resolution, including from the Secretary of State John Kerry, are very encouraging. They clearly indicate that the UNHRC resolution was intended to send a clear message to Sri Lanka that continued refusal to comply with this resolution will not be tolerated by member states and will inevitably lead to the next step of setting up an international commission of inquiry.
Australian Tamils are gratified and would like to thank our government for sponsoring this important UNHRC resolution. We are particularly grateful for the Parliamentarians who took extra interest in ensuring that Australia did not fail to sponsor.
A motion in support of the UNHRC resolution was passed in the Senate last week with the support of both the government and the opposition, showing cross-party support for human rights, accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. We also thank Senators John Madigan and Nick Xenophon for tabling the Senate resolution, and the Greens for their principled position on calling for stronger international action and an independent investigation.
Dr Raj Rajeswaran
Australian Tamil Congress