HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON ASSISTANCE TO SRI LANKA IN THE PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
|Human Rights Council |
AFTERNOON 27 May 2009
The eleventh Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka concluded this afternoon 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.
In the resolution, which was adopted by a vote of 29 in favour, 12 against and six abstentions, the Council urged the international community to cooperate with the Government of Sri Lanka in the reconstruction efforts, including by increasing the provision of financial assistance, including Official Development Assistance, to help the country fight poverty and underdevelopment and continue to ensure the promotion and protection of all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.
Sri Lanka, speaking as the concerned country, said the Special Session had been canvassed for several weeks because they wanted to address the situation of civilians that had been trapped by terrorists. That situation had been transferred totally and radically. There were no longer any civilians trapped in the crossfire in a conflict zone. There was therefore no rationale for this Special Session with a regular session just a few days away. The resolution was not a blank check for the Government of Sri Lanka, it comprehended the totality of the agreement with the Secretary-General. But it was not a punitive measure either. It was not a manifesto for a lynch mob.
Wrapping up the session, the President of the Council, Ambassador Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, said that what had taken place was good for the Council. It was in line with the mandate of the Council. He commended the delegation of Sri Lanka for being part of the discussion. From the discussion it was true there was no unanimous outcome, but it was important to have discussed it. He did not subscribe to the thinking that because consensus was not achieved it was a failure; it reflected the diversity and difference of opinion, which was good. He agreed with the delegation of Sri Lanka that this resolution was not a blank cheque. Working towards full consensus was something that Members should strive for, but would be a work in progress.
Speaking in general comments were the delegations of Germany, Cuba, Switzerland, Canada and South Africa. Speaking before the vote on the motion of no-action on proposed changes to the resolution were the delegations of Switzerland and Mexico. Speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote were the delegations of Germany, Mexico and Chile. Speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote were the delegations of Japan, Brazil, Nigeria, the Republic of Korea, Uruguay and Argentina.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor at the beginning of the meeting at the end of the general debate: Arab Commission for Human Rights, Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development.
The Human Rights Council will hold its eleventh regular session from 2 to 18 June 2009.
ABDEL WAHAB HANI, of Arab Commission for Human Rights, said that human suffering had no colour, race, language or gender. The suffering of one human group should be considered as the suffering of the whole human family. Relief should be provided to the victims of the Sri Lankan conflict. He noted that the Council had adopted last June the report of the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka. The Council should not forget its own recommendations. The Arab Commission for Human Rights recalled some of the voluntary commitments that the Sri Lankan Government had made during the Universal Periodic Review, such as, among others, the promulgation of a law protecting victims and witnesses, the creation of a charter of human rights and the encouragement of bilingualism. Further, the refugees currently residing outside of the country should be allowed to return to their country. It was never too early to promote peace.
PETER SPLINTER, of Amnesty International, observed that Sri Lanka had said that it was committed to winning the peace. Sri Lanka should therefore welcome, not resist, cooperation with the Council and the international community. The Government's assertions of "the strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights" had to be driven by demonstrated political will and accompanied by concrete measures. More than a quarter of a million displaced civilians were being held in de facto internment camps, where they lived in difficult conditions without adequate security, food, water and medical care. The camp inmates and many others were vulnerable to serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearance, torture, extrajudicial execution and forced recruitment to paramilitary groups. They needed immediate protection.
The Council had to set up a fact-finding mission to inquire into allegations of serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law by Sri Lankan forces and by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, with a view to making recommendations on how best to ensure accountability for them.
LUKAS MACHON, of International Commission of Jurists, said the Special Session should urge the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that the United Nations, other international humanitarian agencies and non-governmental organizations had immediate and unimpeded access to the internally displaced persons, and to provide journalists with access to the camps; improve security and living conditions for internally displaced persons, and allow them to exercise freedom of movement, expression, and other human rights; ensure access of internally displaced persons to adequate food, medicine, housing, and other humanitarian aid; release full information on the sick and wounded, disclose screening procedures, assist people in returning to their homes as soon as possible, and enable effective international monitoring by competent organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross; and ensure rehabilitation of child soldiers and disarmament and demobilization of paramilitary groups, and protect children in camps from forcible removal by paramilitary groups, among other things.
SUNANDA DESHAPRIYA, of Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), believed that it was more than timely that the Special Session was taking place with the armed conflict having come to an end. The situation now demanded greater attention and scrutiny at this critical juncture, which should be the moment for them to explore forward-looking, durable and constructive ways together to establish long-lasting peace and human rights in Sri Lanka. While acknowledging the commitment of the Government to resettle internally displaced persons within 180 days, FORUM-ASIA still highlighted that the present conditions within the camps for internally displaced persons were of grave concern. Access of humanitarian agencies, media and civil society actors to the camps was severely restricted; instead, the displaced were living in a climate of uncertainty and trauma. The Government should create an environment in which aid workers, medical personnel, media and human rights defenders were free to carry out their own professions and mandate. In that respect, the Government was urged to ensure the safety of the three doctors who had been providing care and assistance and who had informed the world about the tragedies that had been taking place in the war zone.
Right of Reply
RAJIVA WIJESINHO (Sri Lanka), speaking in a right of reply, said that it had been an emotional moment today, as for the first time since more than 20 years, Sri Lanka was now speaking as one single nation, representing their whole country, Muslims, Singhalese and Tamils.
Their people in the camps had suffered a long time and they needed to be given more than just adequate living standards. Everyone who wished to visit the camps was welcome to do so. He also noted that the best and most generous donations Sri Lanka had received were from China and India. Sri Lanka was also thankful for the help provided by to them by the United Nations. However, local non-governmental organizations had complained that they were being squeezed out. Maybe the United Nations thought that Sri Lanka was completely helpless. But Sri Lanka had talked with UN officials about this.
It had also been asserted that Sri Lanka should start discussions with Tamil parties. He agreed that it was vital to do so but he wanted to remind everyone of the fact that they had already done so in the past. But it had been impossible to engage the Tamil parties in the political process as these had also become the target of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). One of the Tamil mayors who had been elected in the last regional elections had been killed by the LTTE in the 1990s.
If some thought this session was intended to make suggestions to restore the LTTE, Sri Lanka did not want it. This session was about humanitarian aid, return and a decent political settlement, anything else was designed to prevent this process from going further.
Action on Draft Resolution
In a resolution (A/HRC/S-11/L.1/Rev.2) on assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights, adopted by a vote of 29 in favour, 12 against, and 6 abstentions, the Council commends the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the internally displaced persons; welcomes the continued commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of all human rights, and encourages it to continue to uphold its human rights obligations and the norms of international human rights law; encourages the Government to continue to pursue its existing cooperation with relevant United Nations organizations in order to provide, in cooperation with the Government, basic humanitarian assistance, in particular, safe drinking water, sanitation, food, and medical and healthcare services to the internally displaced persons; welcomes the announcement of the proposal to safely resettle the bulk of the internally displaced persons within six months, and encourages the Government to proceed in these endeavours with due respect to persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities; acknowledges the commitment of the Government to provide access as may be appropriate to international humanitarian agencies in order to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population affected by the past conflict, in particular internally displaced persons, with a view to meeting their urgent needs; encourages the Government to continue to persevere in its efforts towards the disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation of former child soldiers, recruited by the non-state armed actors in the conflict in Sri Lanka, and their physical and psychological recovery and reintegration into society, in cooperation with relevant United Nations organizations; urges the Government to continue strengthening its activities to ensure that there is no discrimination against ethnic minorities in the enjoyment of the full range of human rights; welcomes the visit to Sri Lanka of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and endorses the joint communiqué issued at the conclusion of the visit, as well as the understanding contained therein; welcomes the resolve of the Sri Lankan authorities to begin a broader dialogue with all parties in order to enhance the process of political settlement and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka based on consensus among and respect for the rights of all the ethnic and religious groups inhabiting it; and urges the international community to cooperate with the Government of Sri Lanka in the reconstruction efforts, including by increasing the provision of financial assistance, including Official Development Assistance, to help the country fight poverty and underdevelopment and continue to ensure the promotion and protection of all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.
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.
Before taking action on the draft resolution, the Council approved by a vote of 22 in favour, 17 against and 7 abstentions a no-action request by Cuba against oral proposed amendments to the draft resolution made by Germany on behalf of a number of countries. The results of the vote were as follows:
The result of the vote was as follows:
In favour (22): Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa.
Against (17): Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
Abstentions (7): Azerbaijan, Brazil, Gabon, Nigeria, Senegal, Ukraine, and Zambia.
DAYAN JAYATILLEKA (Sri Lanka) introducing the draft resolution L.1/Rev.2 on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, said that this draft resolution was not a horary for Sri Lanka, it was a sober considered document which had been viewed as a bridge between Sri Lanka and the world, and a bridge between Sri Lanka’s present and future. One could see how carefully considered the text was, when bearing in mind that the original draft had 17 paragraphs and now it had 29 paragraphs. Why this expansion and where did it come from? It was a frank annexation of incorporation, and not in any aggressive manner, but in the spirit of incorporating the concerns of all in the Council. They sought to represent the maximum possible consensus, sought to make it the highest common denominator of the concerns of the Council with regard to Sri Lanka. Operative paragraph 10 enshrined the entirety of the discussion between the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of Sri Lanka. There could be no more sincerity to the commitment of Sri Lanka and the co-sponsors. Sri Lanka, now ten days after the end of a 30 year war, had represented the best synthesis of the discussions taking place in the Council.
KONRAD SCHARINGER (Germany), in a general comment and speaking on behalf of the European Union countries which were members of the Council, Canada, Mauritius, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine and Switzerland proposed extensive oral amendments to the draft resolution L.1/Rev.2, which would allow them to vote yes on it.
JUAN ANTONIO FERNANDEZ PALACIOS (Cuba), in a general comment, said it was regrettable that they had reached this point. Germany had presented a package of nine amendments to L.1/Rev.2. The intention was clearly to completely redraft and amend the content of L.1/Rev.2. Cuba was forced to invoke rule 117 of the Rules of Procedure and block discussion on the package. That motion was based on three elements: first, draft resolution L.1/Rev.2 was the outcome of comprehensive cross-regional efforts and represented a new vision of how the Human Rights Council ought to operate; second, in its current draft, L.1/Rev.2 took into consideration the vast majority of proposals by other delegations during the wide-ranging consultations undertaken by other delegations; third, the decision to put forward a package of amendments reflected the same arrogance and negligence of those who did not accept that the world had changed, who simply did not accept the changes that had come about since the defunct Commission had been replaced. Cuba moved that they close debate on the package of amendments. If there was opposition to that proposal, Cuba urged all countries, in particular non-aligned countries, to vote for non-action on this proposal which would grossly distort draft resolution L.1/Rev.2.
DANTE MARTINELLI (Switzerland), in a general comment, said that Switzerland regretted not being able to reach consensus. A motion to close the debate as proposed by Cuba would prevent the members from taking a stand. Hindering dialogue and consideration of opinions was against what Members stood for here, and therefore Switzerland was against the motion to close debate.
MABEL GOMEZ OLIVER (Mexico), in a general comment, said that it was against the motion of closing the debate. They were surprised that it had come to this. The motion for closure was a poor response to the moves made by various members which had tried to reflect all positions. All members should be given the opportunity to express their views. Mexico would vote against the motion.
DANTE MARTINELLI (Switzerland), in a general comment, said that Switzerland had been one of the co-sponsors of the Special Session. The work of the co-sponsors had been constructive. Switzerland had redoubled its efforts and worked in full transparency to address the needs of the population of Sri Lanka. Several official statements made in Sri Lanka had been encouraging, such as the pledge of the Government to return and rehabilitate internally displaced persons and to protect human rights. They must now work towards that reconstruction and rehabilitation.
However, Switzerland regretted that divisions were not overcome within the Council and that they had not reached a text that took into account the various aspects with regard to all of the victims of the conflict. The text before them had major lacunae, because the package of amendments had not been adopted. For example, there was no reference in the draft resolution to the necessity that Sri Lanka provide unhindered access to humanitarian assistance, nor to the need for Sri Lanka to set up an independent investigation into human rights violations and to prosecute the perpetrators. Finally, the text provided for no follow-up, contrary to all other special session outcomes. All those items were fundamental and their absence in L.1/Rev.2 was of grave concern. Switzerland called for a vote and would vote against this draft resolution.
TERRY CORMIER (Canada), in a general comment, said that it was regrettable that consensus was not possible in this Special Session on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Canada was a co-sponsor of this Special Session and had engaged in open consultations and dialogue with regard to the serious humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka. Canada urged that the needs of internally displaced persons be addressed, accountability for violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law be ensured, and that this would be provided to the Council in a follow up to this session. Canada also regretted that its reasonable proposals had been refused, as this hindered negatively the legitimacy of the Council. Canada remained concerned about the humanitarian and human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and urged that there be unimpeded access for international aid organizations to enter into affected areas.
GLAUDINE J. MTSHALI (South Africa), in a general comment, said that they wished to draw the attention of the Council to a document that had been recently issued by the Office of the Secretary-General. This was a joint statement of the Secretary-General and the Government of Sri Lanka. This statement read that the Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing humanitarian and human rights law issues. She thus wanted to clarify that there was already an ongoing process of accountability.
DAYAN JAYATILLEKA (Sri Lanka), speaking as a concerned country, said Sri Lanka was saddened by the comments made by certain delegations as they did not reflect accurately the process that had taken place over several weeks. The Special Session had been canvassed for several weeks because they wanted to address the situation of civilians that had been trapped by terrorists. That situation had been transferred totally and radically. There were no longer any civilians trapped in the crossfire in a conflict zone. There was therefore no rationale for this Special Session with a regular session just a few days away.
What then was the rationale for the holding of the Special Session? It did not take much decoding with high officials making statements above the fray on the guilt of Sri Lanka, to Special Procedures who had clearly exceeded the Code of Conduct, to the cries of countries shouting "war crimes! war crimes!", just one week after the war. And this from those who said that Iraq was harbouring weapons of mass destruction. These were people from whom Sri Lanka would not buy a used car. So much for inclusiveness that was supposed to be the hallmark of the new Council. Draft resolution L.1/Rev.2 was not a blank check for the Government of Sri Lanka, it comprehended the totality of the agreement with the Secretary-General. But it was not a punitive measure either. It was not a manifesto for a lynch mob.
KONRAD SCHARINGER (Germany), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote on behalf of the European Union Member States of the Council, said that the European Union did its utmost to come to a considerable outcome on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The aim was to respond to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and to enforce the work of the Human Rights Council. The draft resolution called on Sri Lanka to conduct investigations into the violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law, and to bring all perpetrators of these violations to justice, but this had not been reflected. In addition the draft resolution did not ensure the follow up of reporting to the Council through the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Therefore the European Union would vote against the draft resolution.
MABEL GOMEZ OLIVER (Mexico), in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that in the past few weeks Mexico had been working so that the issue of human rights in Sri Lanka could be tackled in this forum. They had been looking for formulas and solutions to improve the situation on the ground. They had also been promoting dialogue. The lack of will had unfortunately not permitted for the Council to act by consensus. Extreme positions continued to dominate in the debate and the decision making process. The current discussed text did not include elements for a balanced treatment. Human rights protection was not only the responsibility of Sri Lanka, but that of the whole international community and thus it was the role of the Council to express its opinion. It was important to include the issue of investigation and sanctions against the committed human rights violations. Given all that this, Mexico would vote against the draft resolution.
ALEJANDRO ROGERS (Chile), speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said Chile believed that the Human Rights Council had to pay the very greatest attention to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, which was why Chile had co-sponsored the Special Session. Chile profoundly regretted that it was not possible to reach consensus. The draft resolution before them lacked certain basic elements. It contained no mention of follow-up to Council measures and the monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. For that reason, Chile would vote against draft resolution L.1/Rev.2.
SHINICHI KITAJIMA (Japan), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that regarding the no-action motion, Japan believed that constructive dialogue should be held in the Human Rights Council on issues of human rights. Japan did not sign the request to convene the Special Session. However, having been convened, it was essential for the Council to send a message that appropriately addressed human rights and humanitarian efforts on the ground in Sri Lanka. Japan wanted to see the message adopted by consensus with Sri Lanka’s support. However, this was not able to be realized in this case. The amendment by Germany should be included in the message to be issued by the Council in this regard, as it was regrettable that the views of some countries were kept silent with the no-action motion.
With regard to the draft resolution L.1/Rev.2, Japan said it appreciated the efforts made by Sri Lanka to improve the text; however Japan’s message was not included substantially and therefore it had abstained from the vote on the draft resolution. Japan intended, as a friend of Sri Lanka, to continue to assist in the achievement of a rapid and steady process to reconstruction, while ensuring the promotion and protection of all human rights.
MARIA NAZARETH FARANI AZEVEDO (Brazil), in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that in Brazil’s view all issues deserved to be discussed at the United Nations. Brazil thus systematically abstained on no-action motions at the United Nations. The final text of the resolution the Council had adopted reflected the opinions and views expressed by her delegation during this Special Session and contained the commitments of the Sri Lankan Government to promote and protect the human rights of all people in the region. The joint United Nations Secretary-General Communiqué issued after his visit included all elements, as had been reminded by the delegate of South Africa. Also, the elements included in the United Nations Charter should not be lessened under any circumstances.
OSITADINMA ANAEDU (Nigeria), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said Nigeria had, since the holding of the Special Session on assistance to Sri Lanka and the promotion and protection of human rights, looked forward and worked towards a consensus outcome. That was apparently unattainable. Nigeria's concern was first and foremost that the people of Sri Lanka should be provided with assistance by the international community for reconstruction and rehabilitation and that former child soldiers should be guaranteed their rehabilitation and reinsertion into the community. The failure of the Council to reach a consensus was regrettable. Therefore, Nigeria had abstained in the voting. However, the draft resolution adopted would set in motion mechanisms to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka under the agreement reached between the Secretary-General and the Government. Nigeria hoped that the decision reached today would in no way hinder the international community from providing assistance to the Sri Lankan population.
LEE SUNG-JOO (Republic of Korea), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, noted that there remained some outstanding issues specifically related to internally displaced persons and accountability in the post-conflict era in Sri Lanka. Avenues were constructed to deal with those outstanding issues, and the aim of the Special Session was to overcome them and end up with a consensus outcome. However, it was unfortunate that despite all the efforts deployed for a consensual outcome, that was not possible. The draft resolution did not reflect those issues in an adequate manner. It was for those reasons that the Republic of Korea abstained from the vote.
With respect to the no-action vote, the Republic of Korea said that they voted against it because they believed that any no-action vote should be discussed beforehand and duly voted on. Despite this, the Republic of Korea would continue its cooperation with the Government of Sri Lanka and the international community during the post-conflict reconstruction process.
ALEJANDRO ARTUCIO RODRIGUEZ (Uruguay), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that Uruguay had been one of the signatories which had asked to convene this meeting. The Council could not simply have not spoken out about these human rights events and this was also the reason why they had voted against the motion of no-action. Each issue must be open to be discussed in this forum. Over the last few days, Uruguay had participated in the various discussions on the two proposed drafts and their amendments. They had voted in favour of the adopted document, because it had already been significantly improved to include issues such as child soldiers, the mention of different ethnic groups, and the joint statement of the United Nations Secretary-General and the Sri Lankan President. This was a way of ensuring that there was accountability. Uruguay’s understanding was that there had been human rights violations by all sides. Further, the increase of paragraphs was not a bad thing as it had allowed for the inclusion of very important issues.
SEBASTIAN ROSALES (Argentina), speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said as was customary, Argentina had voted against the motion of no-action submitted by Cuba. Argentina would have liked to see the amendments submitted by the European Union discussed as many of those would have made a substantial contribution to the draft resolution, in particular with regard to accountability and follow-up. Argentina abstained on the draft resolution because it had not met the expectations of Argentina; Argentina had been a co-sponsor of the Special Session.
MARTIN IHOEGHIAN UHOMOIBHI, President of the Human Rights Council, in concluding remarks, said that what had taken place was good for the Council. It was in line with the mandate of the Council. He commended the delegation of Sri Lanka for being part of the discussion. From the discussion it was true there was no unanimous outcome, but it was important to have discussed it. Immediately when Member States began to select what should be discussed and what should not be discussed, it diminished the purpose of the Human Rights Council. He did not subscribe to the thinking that because consensus was not achieved it was a failure; it reflected the diversity and difference of opinion, which was good. He agreed with the delegation of Sri Lanka that this resolution was not a blank cheque. The draft resolution endorsed the joint statement made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Government of Sri Lanka. Every single text in that document had been endorsed, which should be a measure of satisfaction for the work done today. The Council met in line with the rules of procedure. Working towards full consensus was something that Member States should strive for, but this was a work in progress.
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