Nine members of the US Congress have urged the US Secretary of State to focus on human rights in its diplomatic engagement with Sri Lanka and promote an international accountability process for the country.
Among the Congressmen is the Democratic member for Chicago, Illinois Danny K. Davis who was investigated by the FBI for his links with the LTTE in 2006. In a letter dated March 18, the Congress members called on the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to seek support from the voting members of the UN Human Rights Council for the passage of the Resolution against Sri Lanka.
The group has written that they were concerned by the government’s failure to honour commitment to truth seeking and reconciliation in the aftermath of the battle against terrorism which ended in 2009.
“We are grateful that the US has co-sponsored this Resolution,” they stated in the letter. The Resolution, co-sponsored by Britain and other countries were adopted with 22 member states of the Human Rights Council including the United States voting in favour, 11 against and 14 abstentions, on March 23 in Geneva.
The Congress members said the decision by the Sri Lankan government to withdraw from the Resolution 30/1 in March 2020 was a manifestation of poor political will for ‘domestic accountability’.
A senior diplomat commenting on the contents of the letter said it was unfortunate that the decision to withdraw from the HRC resolution by Sri Lanka government has been given wrong interpretations.
Notwithstanding the progress shown by the Government and non-endorsement by majority of member states of the actions proposed in the Resolution, the group of Congress Members have opted to put pressure on the US government to call for external mechanisms of accountability.
The Chicago Tribune in 2005 reported that Democratic member Danny K. Davis and an aide visited LTTE held areas in the North (Kilinochchi) in 2005 and the trip was paid for by the LTTE, a group designated as a terrorist organisation by the US Government for its use of ‘suicide bombers and child soldiers’.
According to the paper, the congressman’s seven-day visit came under scrutiny, after the arrest of 11 men who raised funds for the LTTE. The charges against the men were participating in a broad conspiracy to aid the terrorist group through money laundering, arms procurement and bribery of US officials to get the LTTE off the US terror list.
Davis has denied the knowledge of LTTE paying for his trip to Sri Lanka and said the expenses were borne by a Tamil cultural organisation, the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America in Hickory Hills, Illinois. During the paid trip he visited the LTTE political office and met police chief for the region appointed by the LTTE, P. Nadesan.
At the time the fighting between the separatists and the government forces had renewed after a round of another failed peace negotiations. The LTTE widely used the peace talks as a breather to regroup.
According to The Chicago Tribune, ‘Davis said he believed that the trip, from March 30 to April 5, 2005, was paid for by the Tamil Federation.’
More than US$ 7000 each for Davis and his aide, Daniel Cantrell were spent. The newspaper reported that he admitted he knew the group was associated with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) but did not realise that the costs were covered with funds controlled by the LTTE.
The FBI investigation on the arrest of the 11 men revealed, the funds for the two persons who were taken to Sri Lanka on a paid trip were released at the ‘direction of a top guerilla leader’, the newspaper reported. He had admittedly had close interactions with at least one of the arrested men.
Govt gives reasons
When it announced the decision to withdraw from a ‘highly detrimental Resolution’ co-sponsored by the previous government, the Sri Lanka’s delegation informed the HRC that it was acting on an unprecedented people’s mandate received at the Presidential Election in November 2019 and re-affirmed at the parliamentary elections nine months later.
The Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena appearing before the Council in Geneva in March 2020, amidst a raging Covid-19 pandemic, said that the commitments in the 30/1 went beyond the Constitution of the country, hence were inconsistent with the country’s law and untenable.
The Government tabled before the Council the actions proposed and implemented from 2015 to March 2021 to fulfill obligations in investigating the alleged lapses during the final phase of the battle against terrorism as well as on other fronts including on reparation and reconciliation.
It rejected the findings in the report and argued that actions proposed based on a report full of erroneous conclusions by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is unfair and unethical.
Politics at UNHRC
While 11 member-States of the HRC voted against the Resolution on Sri Lanka, 14 countries including India and Japan abstained, recognising the progress Sri Lanka has made in meeting international obligations to protect human rights in the domestic front.
Japanese member of the delegation, speaking at the HRC vote said, ‘Japan takes note of the action by Sri Lanka such as the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate the past cases of human rights violations and the payment of reparations amounting to 142 million rupees during 2020.’
‘In order to achieve national reconciliation and improvement of human rights situation it is critical for Sri Lanka to implement its own initiatives,’ he emphasised.
India upholds state responsibility
The delegate representing India said, ‘India believes in the primary responsibility of the States for the promotion and protection of human rights and constructive international dialogue and cooperation.’
All members who voted against the country specific Resolution including China, Russia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Cuba and Philippines jointly echoed solutions to address HR challenges should take into account national context and circumstances and external accountability mechanisms are untenable and the action proposed in the ‘HRC Resolution’ are at complete variance with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.
The member of the Chinese delegation stressed that the draft resolution ‘disregards the efforts and the achievements by the Sri Lanka government to promote and protect human rights,’ while adding it ignored the wishes of the Sri Lanka people and interferes in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs under the guise of Human Rights. China pointed out that this resolution will disrupt the current ‘excellent situation of Sri Lanka’s development and stability’.
LTTE fronts at play
It has been exposed that the LTTE fronts in the West are using constituency pressure to influence their governments to lobby the HRC, the global human rights body.
In the lead up to the March 2021 HRC resolution against Sri Lanka, British politicians came under pressure from LTTE fronts operating in the guise of community organisations, to initiate action against Sri Lanka.
These organisations that raise funds mainly through methods of extortion, provide both donations and votes to politicians, a concern Sri Lanka has raised many times.
An international observer who wished to remain unnamed said the United States Tamil Political Action Council, a similar LTTE front in the US, is copying the model of Global Tamil Forum (GTF) and British Tamil Forum (BTF) to lobby Parliament members. Some of the voting members of the UNHRC expressed concerns at the March 2021 sessions that the global rights body should be protected from external interference and it becoming a battleground for international politics.
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