The UN Human Rights Council has adopted resolution 51/L1 on Sri Lanka, which will “extend and reinforce the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve” evidence that may be used in future war crimes trials.
The resolution was passed with 20 votes in favour, 7 against and 20 abstentions. This is the lowest number of member states that have backed Sri Lanka in a vote at the UN Human Rights Council since resolutions on accountability were first passed in 2012.
The resolution was supported by Argentina, Armenia, Czechia, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Montenegro, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The resolution maintains that evidence collected could be used in “relevant judicial and other proceedings”, including in courts around the world, to prosecute those accused of violating international humanitarian law.
Read the full resolution here.
Sri Lanka slams resolution
Speaking before the council, Sri Lanka's foreign minister Ali Sabry slammed the resolution as "divisive and polarising", maintaining that the country "categorically rejects the UNHRC resolution".
In his statement, he further asserted that the resolution violated the founding principles of the UN and claimed his confidence in Sri Lanka's domestic mechanisms.
Sri Lanka was supported in efforts to block the resolution by Pakistan, China, Venezuela, Cuba, Eritrea, Bolivia, and Uzbekistan.
Speaking on the resolution, China's ambassador asserted that the resolution was a "product of politicisation" and warned of countries using human rights as a cover to interfere in the countries' domestic affairs.
Venezuela's ambassador similarly criticised the resolution as a "hostile initiative" and claimed that it violated the sovereignty of the island. In his statement, he further alleged, "dark interests" of conspiring against the Global South.
India and Japan abstain
India and Japan both maintained their abstentions.
'In finding a feeling of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, India has always respected the demand for equality for Tamils and Sri Lanka's territorial integrity' India's ambassador told the council.
Indian claimed that it “has always been guided by the two fundamental principles of support to the aspirations of the Tamils for equality, justice, dignity and peace and unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka”.
“While we have taken note of the commitments by the Government of Sri Lanka on issues of implementation of the commitments in the spirit of the 13th Constitutional Amendment, meaningful devolution and the early conduct of provincial elections, we believe that the progress towards the same remains inadequate,” it added.
“Achieving prosperity for all Sri Lankans and realizing the legitimate aspirations of Tamils of Sri Lanka for prosperity, dignity and peace are two sides of the same coin.”
See the full address here.
Japan's ambassador further noted the need for further steps to "foster human rights and reconciliation in Sri Lanka".
They were joined by 18 other countries who similarly abstained.
Introducing the resolution, British Ambassador Simon Manley said it had been “updated to reflect some of the key developments over the last 18 months in what has been a rather dramatic time for Sri Lanka - an economic crisis, mass protests, and a change in government, all of which have had a significant bearing on the human rights situation in the country”.
He went on to state “it also addresses several longstanding issues which still need to be addressed”.
“These include the lack of accountability for past violations, the many unresolved cases of enforced disappearances, the need for Sri Lanka to meet its own commitments on the devolution of political authority, as well as the need to uphold the rights of all people in Sri Lanka including Tamils and Muslims.”
Tamil criticism of resolution 'fails to address atrocities'
Ahead of this vote, however, the resolution has been chided by Tamil politicians and civil society organisations as "insufficient".
Responding to an amended draft of the resolution, leader of the Tamil Makkal Thesiya Kootan (TMTK), CV Wigneswaran, raised his concerns over how the language has been diluted telling the Tamil Guardian.
The “government seems to have done its homework rather belatedly to dilute the draft Resolution”. During his interview, he further called for Sri Lanka to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
The call was supported by the spokesperson for the Tamil National Alliance, M.A Sumanthiran. Speaking to the Tamil Guardian, he similarly expressed his disappointment over the weaknesses of the resolution and maintained, “We need a lot more work done on lobbying the countries to not just vote on the resolution but also lobby them to act in terms of the High Commissioner’s recommendations”.
Speaking to Tamil Guardian representatives of the Tamil families of the disappeared reiterated their lack of confidence in domestic mechanisms such as the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) and how the Sri Lankan state has been trying to quash their continuous roadside protests.
On Wednesday, students at the University of Jaffna said the move “completely ignored” calls demanding international accountability for “atrocity crimes committed against the Tamil people".
Read more of our coverage of the 51st UNHRC Session below: