UNHRC – Inaction: What Next?

Hosted by Akila, Queen Marry Tamil Solidarity Society discussion exploring the six month delay of the already written UNHRC report, took place at QM University on Wednesday 11th March 2015.

The lead off by Senan delved into the purpose and the functioning of the UN. Whilst the UN, amongst other claims, maintains that it stands for human rights, is it possible for the UN to ever achieve human rights on a global level? It was argued that the UN fails time and time again to achieve human rights partly due to the fact that it is not an elected body, but instead an inter-government body. Why, a number of the countries that comprise the UN, including Sri Lanka, have appalling human rights allegations against them. How then, can the UN be trusted to defend the human rights of people across the world?

When examining the purpose of the UN, it was proposed that the organisation exists not for countries to interact with each other to share cultural experiences and social benefits, but rather for each countries own interests. This is the intention of inter-relations between countries across the world. The idea of sovereignty that each country clings on to is just an “illusion”. All countries, however- big or small -developed or not- rely to some extent on other countries for resources. Sovereignty is therefore limited. For the UN, the interest expressed in countries like Sri Lanka is not to preserve human rights and seek justice for human rights crimes committed. Instead its intent lies in securing business interests in a specific region. In the case of Sri Lanka, the geopolitical interest results from the island’s sea routes.

All of this aside, the UNHRC had written up a report, expected to be published in March. But with the electing of the new government in Sri Lanka in January, this report was delayed a further six months. Why? The claim was that by delaying the release of the report, the new Sri Lankan government would have the chance to cooperate with the UN investigation and even possibly collect and provide further information to enhance the report. But if this was the true reason, why not publish the report as it stands now and release a second version following those six months? The real motive behind the report release being postponed is much more likely to be to allow the UNP an opportunity to configure Sri Lanka to improve it for international business. If the report is released now and has open accusations, it would create a colossal level of anger both in Sri Lanka and globally, resulting in complete chaos.

By the UNHRC report’s publication being delayed, victims of the war move further away from getting even a droplet of the justice that they deserve. They faced death, torture, displacement and disruption of living, with war criminals that assigned them this fate making up a significant proportion of the current Sri Lankan government. The demand for the report to be released on time is so strong to give victims the first step towards achieving justice. To make sure that such atrocities never happen again. To make sure that the same errors don’t ever recur. To give the victims hope. Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka are rising. They are rising to demand a better life with better living conditions. Were a separate state created but the living conditions were not met, the fight would continue. Tamils in Sri Lanka would willingly live in a united country… provided that their rights are met.

Brendan O Duffy, professor at QM School of politics and international relations, had valuable input in the discussion, firstly disputing to some extent the criticism of the UN, but also questioning whether the Tamil diaspora are ready to accept that the UNHRC report may also contain accusations of senior Tamil leaders of war crimes. In answer to the latter, the general consensus amongst those present at the meeting was that the Tamil diaspora would be ready to acknowledge the allegations against Tamil leaders on the basis that it was leveled with the accusations against the SL government.

The SL government wiped out an estimated 100,000 Tamil civilians in the last phase of the war. Whilst they sought to annihilate the LTTE, wiping out Tamil civilians in the process should not have been an option. The LTTE killed too, that is an established fact, but the Sri Lankan government knew what they were facing. They knew they were dealing against guerilla force tactics. But instead of withdrawing the armed forces and searching for an alternative solution, they killed anybody and everybody in their path to destroy the LTTE. Had they just waited a few weeks, the LTTE would have had no choice but to surrender: drinking water had fast been used up, and civilians were desperate. But whilst the government knew this, they continued to lead a military operation to wipe out the LTTE as quickly as possible. Knowing that tens of thousands of innocent civilians would be slaughtered in the process. The intention to kill was there. They were ready to eradicate the entire Tamil population to wipe out the LTTE.

Rajkumar, known Tamil activist, also contributed a great deal to the discussion. He took the view that the delayed publication of the UNHRC report won’t change much content-wise, but the major changes would be in terms of the recommendations, which may be changed to advantage the new Sri Lankan government, making Sri Lanka more open for international business. By the report being delayed, the new government has a lot of breathing space. If the report was found on publication to have strong recommendations, the pressure on the government would be immense. There would be a checklist that they would have to meet. But right now, the new government is pressure-free, and has the space to make changes without international compulsion for change.

The other chief topic of discussion was the TNA leadership, for which a lot of disapproval was expressed throughout the meeting. The TNA claims to stand for the rights of Tamils. But being a party of the Tamil elite, they struggle to identify with the sentiments of Tamils that battle hardship day in day out. This is demonstrated by the fact that TNA have not expressed any solid concerns about the living conditions faced by Tamils in the North-East of the island, or made any demands to improve the situation.

Written by Devi TSC