The Sri Lankan Government appeared to be at loggerheads over the country's representation at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Commission where a resolution to address the human rights concerns in the island nation will be taken up next week. Colombo is once again under international pressure to implement fully the measures identified by the UNHRC in 2015 to address human rights concerns after the United Kingdom and Germany on Tuesday tabled a resolution at the UN body in Geneva.
The UN rights office calls for international investigations into alleged war crimes and encourages member states to prosecute Sri Lankans suspected of war crimes in accordance with universal jurisdiction principles. The resolution which Sri Lanka is expected to co-sponsor was also endorsed by Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
There is a clear division within the government over its representation and the approach as was evident in Parliament on Wednesday. The leader of the House of Parliament and senior minister Lakshman Kiriella probed if President Maithripala Sirisena was sending his own delegation to attend the UNHRC sessions.
An announcement from Sirisena said that he was sending his own men as part of the government delegation. Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who are from different political parties, are at loggerheads over governance.
In October last year, Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe in a move declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The prime minister was later restored after the apex court intervened.
The government has come under fire from the main opposition for agreeing to co-sponsor the resolution. The government's defence has been that this strategy will prevent international war crimes allegations being continuously levelled against Sri Lankans through strengthened ownership of the implementation process.
Kiriella asked Mahinda Samarasinghe, a Sirisena loyalist who had been named as a member of the team to Geneva if Sirisena was sending his own men. Samarasinghe replied that even though he had pulled out from it, three others representing Sirisena will be attending.
"The aim is to show the consensus within the government," Samarasinghe said. However, Sirisena's public statement made last month on the Geneva resolution said that the president wanted the UNHRC to grant Sri Lanka a reprieve – to mind Sri Lanka's own business without any interference.
Notwithstanding Sirisena's public statement on rights accountability sought by the UNHRC, the foreign ministry which is under Wickremesinghe's control reiterated the government's commitment to implement the UNHRC resolution. The main Tamil party legislator Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MA Sumanthiran questioned Sirisena's intentions in sending his own men – who are in effect opposition representatives.
The resolution presented in the UNHRC session calls for accountability to alleged human rights violations committed by both government troops and the LTTE during the last phase of the conflict in 2009.
(With inputs from agencies.)