European nations call unsuccessfully for an independent investigation of alleged war crimes by both sides and unhindered access for aid workers to the more than 300,000 displaced. Instead, the Human Rights Council passed, by 29 votes to 12 (with six abstentions), the resolution that Sri Lanka itself submitted entitled “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights”.
The eleventh Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka concluded after adopting a resolution on assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights in which the Council urged the Government to continue strengthening its activities to ensure that there was no discrimination against ethnic minorities in the enjoyment of the full range of human rights. The Council also commended the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the internally displaced persons.
The resolution condemned “all attacks that the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) launched on the civilian population and its practice of using civilians as human shields” and welcomed “the liberation by the government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE against their will as hostages.” It commended the “measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the Internally Displaced Persons” and appealed for financial support for the country’s post-war reconstruction.
The result of the vote was as follows:
In favour (29): Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, Uruguay, and Zambia.
Against (12): Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and United Kingdom.
Abstentions (6): Argentina, Gabon, Japan, Mauritius, Republic of Korea, and Ukraine.
Full text of Sri Lanka’s resolution and breakdown of votes, UNHCHR Press release, 27 May 2009.
Sri Lanka says U.N. rights vote vindicates war victory, Reuters, 28 May 2009; UN vote on Sri Lanka attacked; Financial Times, 28 May 2009; UN rights body backs Sri Lankan resolution on war, Reuters, 27 May 2009; Sri Lanka forces West to retreat over ‘war crimes’ with victory at UN, Times, 28 May 2009; Sri Lanka wins at the UNHRC, Daily Mirror, 28 May 2009.
“The earlier resolution had various adverse ingredients, much to the detriment of Sri Lanka’s profile, its reputation, and in terms of its future agenda, including an investigative element they brought in. We were able to defeat that,” Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama.
“The decisive victory at this crucial time, just 10 days after the end of the war, sends a very positive message, as it shows the endorsement of the international community of Sri Lanka’s efforts to resolve the humanitarian challenges in the aftermath of the conflict,” Mahinda Samarasinghe, Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister.
“This expanded resolution fails to call on the government of Sri Lanka to have an effective and independent inquiry into the violation of human rights and international humanitarian laws, nor does it address the problems faced by human rights defenders and journalists due to the lack of freedom of expression. It does not address the need for unhindered access to humanitarian agencies to the displaced and does not include a follow-up by the Council or a mechanism for the UN High Commissioner’s office for Human Rights to independently monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka,” German envoy to the UNHRC, speaking on behalf of the EU members.
“The Human Rights Council did not even express its concern for the hundreds of thousands of people facing indefinite detention in government camps. The council ignored urgent needs and wasted an important chance to promote human rights. It is deeply disappointing that a majority of the Human Rights Council decided to focus on praising a government whose forces have been responsible for the repeated indiscriminate shelling of civilians,” Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, May 27, 2009.
“This resolution is not a hurrah for Sri Lanka, it is a sober document. It is a bridge between Sri Lanka and the world, and between Sri Lanka’s present and its future. It sought to represent the maximum possible consensus. We have sought to make this the highest common denominator of the concerns of the Council with regard to Sri Lanka,” Dayan Jayathilaka, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN.
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