Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 27 September 2015





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Government Gazette

Co-sponsoring in Geneva

Your chances of a healthy life are improving by the day, thanks not so much to a vast number of high class hospitals, as to a strict compliance with WHO. Our public health system – even with its meagre resources – has successfully complied with many basic health standards that United Nations member states are legally obliged to meet under numerous protocols and institutional arrangements established by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

An example of how ‘shared sovereignty’ is healthy for you.

Our country is a long-standing and, relatively accomplished, member of many global clubs, the UN and its affiliated ‘specialised agencies’ and councils, perhaps being the politically most important. In the economic sphere, we are members of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO among other multi-lateral bodies. In the social sphere we are bound by UNESCO and other international standards and goals. The inter-State connectivities are myriad already – and we have only just begun the cyber age.

‘Sovereignty’ is, today, a concept that is no longer merely based on nationhood: not when we aspire to move more easily between countries and, to a bigger choice of homeland; not when we communicate and agree across State borders and cultural identities via Facebook and Twitter and, act on it.

Today, we participate in an increasing number of political, social and economic networks across the globe, and our enjoyment of this participation – whether as movements or associations or governments - has meant that we do things less on our own. We already enjoy our right to, and facilities for, faster and better work together not just within national boundaries but across continents, and across cultures, classes, castes and genders.

Sovereignty is no longer exclusively ‘possessed’ permanently and blindly by any single group whether a nation or not. Indeed, there are some global problems – like global warming - that can only be resolved by a sharing of responsibility and accountability.

Just as much as good health or, good financial accounting, has global standards, so does good governance and human rights. And that is what Geneva is all about.

When Sri Lanka comes forward to co-sponsor a resolution on human rights processes and standards within the country, that is the best way to ensure that our responsibility is owned by us and is not a stricture imposed by foreign powers.

The UN Human Rights Council is a place where, as in other UN fora, the world’s various currents of geo-political interests balance out in compromises that largely enable bilateral and multilateral agreement and mutual benefit for member states and between regional groupings.

Sri Lanka, thanks to the previous regime, has already been tied down to a process of monitoring and accountability that was being dictated more by external powers thanks, also, to the previous regime’s inability to follow through in the UN Human Rights Council.

It was, of course, this embarrassingly un-intelligent failure in compliance that has led the recent Report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to bluntly question the credibility of Colombo. Despite the UN report’s doubts, the swift and dramatic changes in policy and practice already affected by the new regime has served to reassure the international community that Sri Lanka is now back on track in the community of nations and is not acting like a pariah.

Thus, what was legally binding us to a previous Geneva ‘template’ is non-existent today because those powerful member states that were previously insisting on such imposed obligations have now reversed positions politically.

The remarkable about-face by not just the global powers such as the US and the EU, but also by local and diaspora actors like the TNA and the Global Tamil Forum, must be noted. ‘International tribunal’ and ‘war crimes inquiry’ are no longer being singled out as the dominant or priority issues for Sri Lanka’s journey toward integrity and accountability in human rights.

Rather, the fact that throughout the decades of violent repression and ethnic discrimination, many groups within Sri Lanka have raised these issues and offered detailed redress procedures, is now being recognised by the UN OHCHR as well as in the draft resolution tabled in Geneva. Indeed, the government, in its submissions to the Council, is pointing out that there is already an internal or domestic accountability process long touted by the non-governmental sector – a sector that was earlier demonised as ‘conspirators’ by the previous regime.

When the Government proposes to bring these local actors in to collaborate with new governmental mechanisms for human rights redress, the Human Rights Council has no option but to welcome such elaborate domestic initiatives. This is how Sri Lanka today has been able to build up its own plans to puts its house in order.

As citizens, the question that we confront is not whether the country must comply with merely an external impetus coming from Geneva but whether, as concerned citizens and patriots, we, ourselves, see the need for redress of the human rights and conflict situation here. This we have already begun to do by voting to power a government that also recognises the need for human rights and democratic repair.

The world community now recognises and appreciates our self-realisation and, through Geneva, will initiate steps to support us all along the way. We can claim ownership to a Geneva initiative only if we are sincere in our recognition that we actually have a problem that needs correction.


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