||After June 14, people around the globe know much about Sri Lanka. It was not the more familiar information on the geography, history, economic strength, literacy and tourist industry that was shown on UK’s BBC Channel 4.
Blood-stained politicians and several bureaucrats have earned Sri Lanka an ugly name and have forced the ordinary citizens to support their inhumane acts.
The Republic of Belarus was one of the republics of the former Soviet Union between 1956 and 1991. It has frontiers with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine. Like Sri Lanka, Belarus has also earned a very bad reputation due to its deteriorating record on human rights and labour rights.
Similar to Sri Lanka, 1996 Constitutional amendments in Belarus gave Executive powers to the President. Decisions made by the Prime Minister and the cabinet appointed by the President and National Assembly were over-ruled through Presidential Decrees. Many Presidential Decrees seriously violated trade union rights.
In December 2010, there was a massive pro-democracy rally in the Belarus capital of Minsk to protest against the fraudulent Presidential elections. During this demonstration nearly 700 demonstrators were severely beaten, injured and arrested by the Belarusian security forces. Many western countries condemned the deteriorating human rights situation.
Under international scrutiny, the Republic of Belarus also lost its trade concessions which were part of the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences – GSP in June 2007. Nearly three years later, Sri Lanka lost the same due to failure to respond to a set of conditions laid down by the EU Commission.
Belarus’ repeated violations of international law and universally accepted norms and it’s justifications of violations, led to accusations from the highest levels. These included the United Nations, the OSCE – Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the European Union, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Non-Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the US.
Like Sri Lanka, Belarus also ignored all accusations and repeatedly stated that all the international bodies making accusations were biased and that there was a conspiracy against their country. The UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus once said “it is impossible to believe that all these people are wrong or biased.”
Resolution on Belarus
In the recently concluded 17th session of the Human Rights Council-HRC in Geneva, one of the resolutions successfully passed was on the human rights situation in the Republic of Belarus.
The resolution, (A HRC/17/L.20/Rev. 1) was adopted by a vote of 21 in favour, five against, and 19 abstentions, “the Council condemns the human rights violations occurring before, during and in the aftermath of the presidential elections of December 19, 2010, including the use of violence against, arbitrary arrest, detention and the politically motivated conviction of opposition candidates, their supporters, journalists and human rights defenders, as well as the abuses of due process rights, including the right to a fair trial for those involved in the demonstrations of December 19; urges the Government of Belarus to end politically motivated persecution and harassment of opposition leaders, representatives of civil society, human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, students and those defending them;…”
According to the Human Rights Council (HRC) procedures the Belarus representative in the 17th session was allowed to speak as concerned country before the vote and said, “…..it was obvious that the resolution put forward by the European Union had nothing to do with the concern for human rights in Belarus but was an attempt to pull the Human Rights Council into reviewing the failed coup d’etat scenario at the Presidential elections of December 2010. Belarus had already established the level of responsibility of the organisers and participants in the assault on the House of Government…”
Many diplomats found this speech to be a carbon copy of what Sri Lankan representatives say to the international community especially regarding the UN Panel report.
Interesting to note how member states of the UN Human Rights Council of the 17th session were divided on the resolution concerning Belarus. 21 members were in favour – Argentina; Belgium; Brazil; Chile; France; Gabon; Hungary; Japan; Jordan; Maldives; Mauritius; Norway; Poland; Republic of Korea; Slovakia; Spain; Switzerland; United Kingdom; United States; Uruguay and Zambia; five (five) were against – China; Cuba; Ecuador; Nigeria and Russian Federation and (19) nineteen abstained from the voting - Angola; Bahrain; Bangladesh; Burkina Faso; Cameroon; Djibouti; Ghana; Guatemala; Kyrgyzstan; Malaysia; Mauritania; Mexico; Pakistan; Qatar; Republic of Moldova; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Thailand and Uganda.
Comments made before and after the vote.
It is maybe useful to see the comments made by certain countries before and after the vote on Belarus:
Andras Dekany (Hungary), on behalf of the European Union, before the vote said the resolution had been tabled to encourage Belarus to cooperate and improve human rights in the country.
Mykola Maimeskul (Ukraine), speaking a general comment, said that all States had an obligation to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and expressed concern about the human rights situation in Belarus and the reports of human rights violations related to the December 19, 2010 presidential elections, including alleged arbitrary detentions of opposition leaders and representatives of civil societies.
Valery Loshchinin (Russian Federation), speaking before the vote said the Russian Federation was convinced that the practice of adopting country resolutions was counter productive.
Rodolfo Reyes Rodriguez (Cuba), speaking before the vote, said it was hard to understand this resolution, there was an allegation of irregularities in the elections but Cuba noted that the election of President Bush also had such irregularities and nothing was heard about it in the Council. In Guantanamo Bay there were people being arbitrarily detained without evidence of them having committed an offence.
Juan Jose Gomez Camacho (Mexico), speaking before the vote, said that Mexico’s position on resolution one should not be interpreted as one of indifference or indulgence with regards to the current situation in Belarus.
Xia Jingge, (China), speaking before the vote, said a constructive dialogue was necessary to resolve human rights issues. China hoped the Council could conduct itself in a fair, objective and constructive manner. The draft resolution clearly went against this spirit.
Ositadinma Anaedu (Nigeria), speaking on behalf of the African Group after the vote said that the African Group was concerned about the human rights situation in Belarus. The cooperation of the country concerned was essential for the success of any mandate. Politicising was counter-productive.
When the Belarus representative spoke after the vote, they condemned the adoption of the resolution, “the resolution was politicised and the vote showed it lacked an overall support from the Council. The resolution was intended to bring pressure on Belarus and would not be successful, indicated that this resolution set a dangerous precedent for the Council, the Universal Periodical Review procedures and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and, as such, it constituted a step backwards in the protection of human rights. Belarus intended to fulfil its human rights obligations, interacting with the relevant international organs including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights…”
Comment by Sri Lanka
Even though Sri Lanka is not a member of the Human Rights Council, its representative in the UN in Geneva, also took the floor and said “….regarding the resolution on Belarus, that resolutions should be developed in consultation with the concerned country. The capacity building needs of the State concerned should be taken into consideration. This Council should adhere to objectivity, non-selectivity and engagement in supporting States. Resolutions should not culminate in double standards and politicisation.
The Council should seek to engage in dialogue with States in the promotion and protection of human rights.” (Excerpts -http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNewsaspx?NewsID=11169&LangID=E)
In saying this, the Sri Lankan representative ignores the realities in Belarus. Just as their concerns and proposed mechanisms to protect and promote human rights in Sri Lanka have been consistently thwarted, so too have the inter-governmental bodies, UN Secretary General, High Commissioner for Human Rights and others been exhausted and frustrated with their initiatives on Belarus over many years. Therefore the presumed new doctrine, “resolutions should be developed in consultation with the concerned country,” has absolutely no validity.
Anyway, it is good for Sri Lanka to participate in such discussions and prepare them for the future.
By the way, many in the UN Human Rights Council are now eager to participate in future briefings by Sri Lanka, not because they are interested in listening to justifications and explanations, but because they have acquired the taste of Sri Lanka’s hot snacks.
Sri Lankan diplomats with a touch of genius have managed to make a double agenda out of serving hot snacks. One is to get more participants for their meetings and the other one is to promote tourism in Sri Lanka.
It is advisable for Sri Lankan rulers to settle the Ethnic conflict at the earliest. If they drag this out too long, it may end up in a disaster. There are many positive signs that, with the next Parliamentary elections in India, the present Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Ms Jayaram Jayalalithaa may become the Prime Minister of India. By the time Jayalalithaa has become the Prime Minister, if this bloody ethnic conflict which has been prolonged for far too long has not been settled, she may follow the path of the late Indira Gandhi. There are indications that this conflict may be settled with a different approach and with the support of the International community. This fact has to be realised by the ruling politicians in Sri Lanka.
- Sunday Leader