The delegation from Sri Lanka that attended the 49th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva was led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. G.L. Peiris and comprised of Minister of Justice Ali Sabry, State Minister of Production Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Foreign Secretary Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage and Additional Solicitor General Nerin Pulle.
The 49th session of the Human Rights Council was held in the backdrop of a written update on Sri Lanka which was to be presented to the Council by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in pursuance of resolution 46/1 which was adopted in March 2021, without the consent of Sri Lanka as the country concerned and with only 22 of the 47 Council members voting in favour of it. Operative Paragraph 6 of this resolution set a very dangerous precedent by requiring the Office of the High Commissioner to take on the role of collecting criminal evidence with a view to future prosecution. Due to its fundamentally flawed nature, even countries that voted in favour of resolution 46/1, in their „explanation of the vote‟ expressed reservations regarding this new task assigned to the Office of the High Commisisoner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which is not consistent with its founding document General Aseembly resolution 48/141.
The OHCHR has now established a “Sri Lanka Accountability Project” citing resolution 46/1, in a situation where the language of OP6 in resolution 46/1 only sought to “strengthen the capacity of the OHCHR to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve…evidence.” Thus, what was supposed to be only an internal capacity building exercise within the OHCHR has arbitrarily been elevated to the level of a project and listed with other external mechanisms of the UNHRC. Furthermore, all this adversarial action is taking place in Geneva at a time when the Government of Sri Lanka is vigorously engaged in initiating and implementing a series of national processes aimed at advancing reconciliation and human rights for all our people. In this context, it was important for Sri Lanka to explain to the stakeholders in Geneva, including to the Council, UN Member States and other relevant actors, Sri Lanka's position on this matter and to present before them the significant progress that Sri Lanka has achieved in this regard amidst COVID-19 related challenges.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs addressed the High Level Segment of HRC49 on 1 March, 2022 highlighting Sri Lanka‟s longstanding profile as an active participant in the multilateral framework, the national constitutional, legal and institutional frameworks that are in place to realize human rights, including the right to development and Sri Lanka's achievements in this regard. The Minister also stre ssed the importance of the HRC being guided by the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non - selectivity, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of Member States and raised objections to punitive, politicized, divisive, unhelpful action s in itiated due to extraneous reasons.
Foreign Minister Peiris also made a statement on behalf of Sri Lanka as the country concerned at the interactive dialogue that followed the introduction of the written update on Sri Lanka on 4 March, 2022, pointing out among other things, that resolution 46/1 on Sri Lanka was directly contrary to the founding principles of the
HRC. He also pointed out to the Council, elements of the High Commissioner‟s written update that were discriminatory and intrusive.
At the Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner‟s written update, Sri Lanka received cross-regional support and solidarity from a large number of countries of the Global South, who appreciated the Government‟s significant efforts towards reconciliation and reiterated the importance of objective and constructive cooperation as the fundamental basis for multilateral engagement. Of the 45 countries that delivered statements at the interactive dialogue, 31 spoke in support of Sri Lanka. These speakers represented a broad spectrum of states from South, South East and Central Asia, Latin America and the Africa.
The 31 countries that spoke in favour of Sri Lanka at the interactive dialogue were Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Philippines, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Maldives, China, Cuba, Japan, Syrian Arab Republic, Viet Nam, Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) , Venezuela, Nigeria, Pakistan, Cambodia, the Russian Federation, Lebanon, Uganda, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, South Sudan, Lao PDR, Yemen, Iran, Niger, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh and Azerbaijan.
In addition, in its statement at the General Debate on Item 2 that followed the interactive dialogue on Sri Lanka, South Korea also recognized Sri Lanka‟s efforts at reconciliation and at initiating legal reforms.The interventions from the States of the Global South recognised Sri Lanka‟s commitment to promoting reconciliation and human rights through national processes including through legislative reform and the progress achieved in this regard despite COVID - 19 related challenges. They also underscored the importance of the Human Rights Council and the international community supporting voluntary national processes, as well as upholding the core principles of impartiality,non - selectivity and non - politicisation.
Among the matters stressed by the intervenient delegations were concerns over the micro - management of Sri Lanka‟s internal, constitutional and governance matters and the imperative of strict adherence to the provisions of the UN Charter and relevant UNGA and HR C resolutions. It was also stressed that cooperation with international, human rights mechanisms should be without any external pressure from outside, with states having the power to determine their priorities and areas for international assistance and that only cooperative action will be truly effective and contribute to the real strengthening of human rights in a country.
Certain intervenient delegations also disagreed with the role being set for the OHCHR in collecting evidence, noting that the decision of the OHCHR to establish an “accountability project” is a breach of its mandate. The exorbitant cost of this mandate, in the region of US$ 3 million, was also commented on.
The delegation from Colombo held bilateral meetings with the following foreign delegations on the sidelines of HRC49 listed in the order in which they took place.
- Minister of State for South and Central Asia, UN and the Commonwealth Lord Tariq Ahmed, accompanied by Ambassador/DPR of the UK Rita French.
- Commonwealth Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland
- Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Timor - Leste Adaljiza Magno
- Ambassador, Permanent Observer, Permanent Delegation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Nassima Baghli,
- Director General, World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Daren Tang
- Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia Abdulaziz M.O. Alwasil
- Foreign Minister of Palestine Rizad Al Maliki and Permanent Representative of Palestine to the UN in Geneva Ibrahim Khraishi
- Federal Minister for Human Rights of Pakistan Shireen M Mazari and the Permanent Representative of Pakistan in Geneva Khalil Hashmi
- Minister of International Rel ations and Cooperation of South Africa, Dr Naledi Pandor
- Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs of Egypt Khaled El Bakry, and Permanent Representative of Egypt Ahmed Ihab Abdelahad Gamaleldin,
- Permanent Representative of the USA in Geneva Bathsheba Nell Crocker
- Permanent Representative of the UK Simon MANLEY and Permanent Representative of Australia Amanda GORELY
- Deputy Head of the Judiciary of the Islamic Republic of Iran Dr Kazem Gharibabadi, and Permanent Representative of Iran Esmaeil Baghaei Hamane
- Permanent Representative of Turkey Sadik Arslan
- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
- President of the Human Rights Council, Permanent Representative of Argentina Federico Villegas
- Permanent Representative of Bangladesh Md. Mustafizur Rahman and Permanent Representative of Indonesia Febrian Ruddyard
In addition to the above, State Minister of Production Supply and Regulation of Pharmaceuticals Prof . Channa Jayasumana held the following bilaterals meetings with:
- Director General, World Health Organization, Dr Tedross Adhanom Ghebreyesus
- Director of COVAX‟s Country Engagement Team Santiago Cornejo
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Colombo, 15 March, 2021