Sri Lanka will ask for vote on upcoming “unfair” UN resolution: foreign minister

Sri Lanka will seek a vote on an upcoming resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) with the help of its friends as the resolution is “unfair” and aimed at tarnishing the country’s image at a time of economic crisis, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said.

The new resolution is likely to tighten Sri Lanka’s space to deal with international trade further as several key conventions in trade concessions like Europe’s GSP Plus are tied directly to human rights. Already the European Union has threatened to withdraw its trade concession as the country has failed to fulfill its commitments on implementing some key international conventions.

The draft resolution, titled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” and sponsored by the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Canada, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia, was formally handed over to the Human Rights Council Secretariat last week.

The draft text requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability, and on the human rights impact of the economic crisis and corruption.

“It is unfair,” Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told EconomyNext on Thursday September 29.

“It is against our constitution and we have to respond to that. We are not going to agree on that. Whether we will win or lose, there are things on which we cannot compromise. We will ask for a vote through our friends,” he said.

Sri Lanka has been strongly against an external evidence gathering mechanism by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights though the UN body has already started the mechanism despite facing a lack of finance initially.

Sri Lanka’s human rights record has been criticised widely since the final stage of a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 due to the alleged killing of thousands of ethnic minority Tamils by government forces. The government of Sri Lanka has repeatedly denied the allegation.

Some Western nations have already imposed a travel ban on some military leaders who led the government’s war effort on the grounds of alleged crimes. Canada and Germany had refused to accommodate Sri Lankan military officials in the island nation’s diplomatic missions in those countries.

Minister Sabry said the resolution is a concern because it seeks long term prosecution of military officials.

“Particularly what we are concerned about is an outside evidence gathering mechanism and the long-term prosecution of Sri Lankan armed forces outside Sri Lanka. That we cannot agree with,” he said.

The new resolution has called upon the government to address Sri Lanka’s ongoing currency crisis including by investigating corruption and prosecuting those responsible including public and former public officials. It has asked the UNHCR to stand ready to assist and support independent, impartial, and transparent efforts on this.

“They have brought in some economic crimes which has not been defined. Many countries have gone through (economic crises). But what is the UNHRC doing about an economic crisis?” said Sabry.

“If there is a crime, we have to prosecute in Sri Lanka. Economic recovery must take place in Sri Lanka and the international community should support us. So, tarnishing our image at this point in time will have a negative impact. People will not want to work with us and no new people want to come and invest,” he said.