This is an interview by MediaLK with Ruki Fernando, a human rights activist, regarding the current misconceptions in the society about the resolution adopted at the 46th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka and the procedures to be followed after its adoption.
The resolution presented to the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council was passed recently. What will happen next?
According to the resolution, the member states of the Council have asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit three reports on the human rights, accountability and reconciliation situation in Sri Lanka. One will be presented in September and the other will be in March 2022. And the final full report is due in September 2022.
In that final report, the resolution called on the High Commissioner’s Office to systematically gather evidence of past crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, and to analyze the future accountability process. So that they can be used in future accountability processes.
Especially to help the victims and the families of the victims to reach justice. That is the main function.
Opinions are spread in the society that this resolution is against the country and against the army. What is its true falsity?
Various people in Sri Lanka demand such accountability and justice. Both inside and outside of Sri Lanka. This is a proposal regarding the administration of justice to the citizens of Sri Lanka. Then it will not be against the country.
This proposal is ‘against’ for those who have created an environment in which those who ordered these crimes to be committed can be criminalized, those who have created them in principle, legally and socially, and those who have aided and abetted those crimes, those who have tried to prevent them from being held accountable locally by the police, through the Attorney General’s Department and through the courts.
They can see this proposal as a threat. In general, no one who wants reconciliation in Sri Lanka, human rights and justice for the citizens sees this as a proposal against the country. What threatens this is the parties I mentioned. This is a threat to the perpetrators of crime, those who created the environment, those who helped cover it up and those who obstructed justice.
There is nothing against the military in this resolution. The resolution clearly states that justice must be served for the crimes and human rights violations that took place in Sri Lanka in one place, including the crimes committed by the LTTE. Although the LTTE was mentioned at least, no mention was made of the SL army. If crimes are committed by the LTTE, the Army, the Police or anyone else, they have something to fear in this resolution. Those who did not violate any human rights have nothing to fear of.
What should Sri Lanka do to effectively control the impact of this resolution?
I think there are two main reasons for this. The resolution states that justice has not yet been served for the serious crimes and human rights violations that have taken place in Sri Lanka in the past.
We see very clearly that the Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith has recently spoken about such a thing in relation to the Easter attack. He said it was almost two years to the Easter attack – if justice was not done in Sri Lanka, international support would be sought from international organizations and the International Court of Justice would be ready.
Also, Ahimsa Wickrematunge, the daughter of slain journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, had said that she had been waiting for justice in Sri Lanka for ten years from 2009 to 2019 and after that she turned to seek justice internationally as justice was not served in Sri Lanka. Similarly, in the 1990s Mahinda Rajapaksa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara tried to get justice from the United Nations.
The main reason for this is the non-fulfillment of justice in Sri Lanka. Justice can be esablished within the country by filing cases in the AG Department after police investigations, or taking those into the Courts. Then this can be minimized even in the future..it is the first one.
The second is the ongoing crackdown on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, particularly on journalists who criticize the government, public commentators, lawyers and opposition politicians. And the repression of minorities, especially Muslims and Tamils. If we can reduce human rights violations in general, I think the impact of international investigations will stop. These are the things we have to do.
What is the truth about the the rumour that a case will be filed against Sri Lanka?
No, there is no such thing. It is not said that cases will be filed against Sri Lanka. That is a lie. However, even before the resolution is passed, it is possible to be prosecuted for crimes committed in Sri Lanka before many years by other countries. It is not only about crimes in Sri Lanka.
Some countries have laws that prosecute a crime committed in India or a crime committed in Bangladesh or any other country. That is not something that came out of this proposal. It has been in the laws of several countries for many years and decades. It is not something that affects only to Sri Lanka. Ahimsa Wickrematunge’s case in the US is a good example for that.
If justice is served in Sri Lanka, I do not think that Ahimsa would be tempted to file a case in the United States regarding the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge within ten years from 2009-2019. She filed a case in the United States in 2019, following the legal procedures in the United States. Not only on Sri Lanka, but also cases on other countries have also been filed in the US. The United States has also filed lawsuits against victims in other countries.
It has nothing to do with this proposal. The High Commission has been asked to collect evidence. That evidence could be used if lawsuits were filed in other lands. That prosecution is in the hands of the victims, the families of the victims, in according to the legal procedures in those countries. There was such a process well before passing this resolution. It is not specific to Sri Lanka or something brought up by this resolution.
Minister Dinesh Gunawardena says that this resolution violates the UN Charter. What is the truth regarding that statement?
I do not see such a violation. If such a violation had taken place, 11 out of 47 countries would have opposed it. That is only 23%. If the charter was violated why did they agree.
The majority, more than 75% of countries, say this is not a problem and that this is their role. If you read the mandate of the Human Rights Council, it was established in 2006. It is very clear that action must be taken to prevent human rights violations. That action should be taken in emergencies.
As far as I can see there has been no such violation. If such a violation has taken place, the problem is that 75% of the countries were silent.
There is an opinion that the membership of the Human Rights Council is decided by the majority or the member countries are Western countries. Is that true?
Many of these countries are not Western. Out of the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council, only 07 are Western countries. There are 06 Eastern European countries. The majority are 26 African and Asian countries. Out of all these countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, only 11 countries expressed support for the Sri Lankan government. This is a political disadvantage for the Sri Lankan government
Out of 47 Asian, African and Latin American countries, the vast majority of the members of the Human Rights Council have rejected the Sri Lankan government.
An opinion is being raised in the society that sanctions are going to be imposed on the country. Talking about this statements authenticity?
There is nothing in this resolution about imposing sanctions. No such decision has been taken. Any country can decide whether to impose sanctions. You can give aid only if you want.
If the people of that house do not behave well and they fight or harass the neighbors, they will not often think of helping. If you are good and behave well, if you do not bother others, increase the opportunity to receive aids. The same goes for a country. If the human rights of the country are protected, if the rights of the citizens are protected, if the rights of the minorities are protected, other countries will be inclined to help them. If that doesn’t happen. That is not something in the resolution. It’s something that has existed before. That too not only for Sri Lanka. That is a common trend.
The High Commissioner’s report in January recommended to impose travel restrictions only to certain individuals who are said to have committed serious crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka and those directly involved in them, or to restrict their assets abroad. Only for specific people..only for people with evidence. That too is only a recommendation of the High Commissioner. It is not in the proposal.
There is an opinion that only the party Tamil Diaspora demanded accountability for this proposal. What is the truth regarding that?
That is a lie .. I have seen demands being made in areas like Jaffna and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka. I mentioned examples earlier.
The cardinal also said that he was ready to go to an international tribunal to seek international support if justice for the Easter attack was not achieved even two years later. He was not a Tamil. Ahimsa Wickrematunge is not a Tamil. She has told that justice has been denied for her farther for ten years, so she had to get international support. That is rumour about Tamil Diaspora is a lie.
What should be done in order to avoid such a resolution on Sri Lanka in the future?
There are two things to be fulfilled if Sri Lanka is to avoid such a resolution.. One is to stop the current human rights violations. Should be kept to a minimum at least. Repression, especially against those who hold other views, repression against minorities and human rights violations must be prevented.
The second is that justice must be served within Sri Lanka for past crimes and human rights violations. If those two are fulfilled, I don’t think such a proposal would come up in the future.