Centre for Policy Alternatives on 15 March, 2012

Question & Answer Sheet on the Resolution tabled at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka: March 2012

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This document provides basic information on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the proposed resolution on Sri Lanka at the present 19th Session of the UNHRC and its implications. This document aims to clarify some of the basic facts and developments and dispel any misinformation and myths regarding the resolution and its impact on Sri Lanka and its people.

Access this document online here, where you can also download it as a PDF, embed it on most websites and easily share on online social media platforms. Access the Sinhala translation of this document here.

What is the United Nations Human Rights Council? 
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations (UN) system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, and for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them. The UNHRC is made up of 47 UN member states elected by the UN General Assembly in New York. The UNHRC is based in Geneva.

Is Sri Lanka a member of the UNHRC? 
No. Sri Lanka lost its seat at the UNHRC in an election held in 2008.

What are the ongoing developments at the UNHRC regarding Sri Lanka? 
The United States of America (USA) has tabled a draft resolution at the 19th Session of the UNHRC to discuss the human rights situation in Sri Lanka including the implementation of the Government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).

What is the LLRC?
The LLRC is a presidential commission of inquiry appointed by the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa on 15th May 2010 to examine the causes of the conflict, its impact on the people and to suggest recommendations to promote national unity and reconciliation and to identify mechanisms for restitution to the people affected by the conflict. The eight-member commission conducted hearings in Colombo and in some districts, although many of those wanting to give testimony outside of Colombo were unable due to lack of time and inadequate planning. Reports have also surfaced of witnesses who provided critical testimony on human rights violations being subsequently threatened and harassed. The commission handed over its final report to the president on 20th November 2011. The multiple recommendations covered a variety of issues including the need for further investigations into violations committed during the war, introducing a Right to Information Act, assistance for the displaced, addressing demilitarisation and disarmament of armed groups and the need for a political solution among others. While some groups see the recommendations in a positive light, others have critiqued them for being inadequate, while other groups have criticized the LLRC for exceeding its mandate.

What has happened to the LLRC’s recommendations?
While the Government made the report public in December 2011 and has made numerous statements that it will implement the recommendations, the Government has neither provided a list of recommendations that it has implemented so far nor indicated a process for implementation. Nor has there been significant progress with the interim recommendations issued by the LLRC in September 2010 – a point noted by the LLRC in its final report.

What does the draft resolution sponsored by the US aim to do? 
The draft resolution has three main suggestions:

  1. Calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations in the LLRC report and take all necessary additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.
  2. Requests that the Government of Sri Lanka present a comprehensive action plan as expeditiously as possible detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law.
  3. Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures to provide, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing those steps and requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a report to the Council on the provision of such assistance at its twenty-second session.

The first two paragraphs request the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the findings of its own LLRC – none of which have been implemented even four months after the report was handed over to the Government. The third paragraph calls for support for the Government of Sri Lanka to implement these findings through the assistance of various UN actors.

The resolution does not call for sanctions, military intervention or punitive action against the Government of Sri Lanka. The only requirement by the Government is to provide a plan as to how the LLRC will be implemented, a simple requirement that will also provide information to the citizens of Sri Lanka and others as to how the Government will set about fulfilling their obligations.

What will the impact be on Sri Lanka if the draft resolution is passed at the UNHRC? 
The resolution is focused on getting the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its own LLRC and to explain how it is implementing them. This is needed when no public information is available in Sri Lanka on whether and how the LLRC is to be implemented. It is also in a context when previous commission findings, including those appointed by this Government, have not been implemented. The resolution provides for the support of the UNHRC, other member states of the UN and other actors who can provide technical assistance to fully implement the LLRC findings.

The Government and other actors have criticized the resolution as being an attempt to intervene in the domestic affairs of Sri Lanka. The resolution does not contain provisions where any actor can interfere in domestic issues in Sri Lanka and is proposed to support the Government of Sri Lanka fulfill its obligations.

How can the resolution support long-term reconciliation and peace in Sri Lanka? 
The LLRC has some positive recommendations on human rights, governance, reconciliation and devolution and if implemented fully can help strengthen peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.  It also provides an opportunity for the Government of Sri Lanka to obtain technical assistance from experts in the UN who can support the Government in its implementation.