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"UN Human Rights Council and Sri Lanka"
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"UN Human Rights Council and Sri Lanka"

salma yusufUN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva provide an opportunity for Sri Lanka to look carefully at how it will negotiate its place among world powers, writes Salma Yusuf, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Sri Lanka.

As the heat builds up in an otherwise wintry Geneva, capital cities of the world are abuzz with preparations for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in March 2014.

According to experts in Sri Lankan foreign affairs, the most effective pre-emptive strategy to avert an adverse outcome is the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report. This in turn would provide a platform to argue that serious attempts have been made at addressing pressing issues through credible domestic mechanisms.

Senior experts on Sri Lanka’s external relations have also pointed out that we must not wait until the sessions begin in Geneva to consolidate our position, but rather put in place immediately a bilateral strategy with all countries who are members of the UNHRC to provide an update on progress. Such a bilateral strategy, it is pointed out, must be continuous and ongoing and be activated periodically even after the UNHRC sessions in March 2014.

The raison d’etre for the foregoing strategy rests on the fact that decision-making processes take shape in the capital cities in advance of the actual sessions being held; hence attempts at advocacy on the side-lines of the sessions can be of limited consequence. Those familiar with UNHRC diplomacy believe that such bilateral strategies effectively complement what can be achieved at international forums such as the UNHRC. The caveat however is equally clear: the defense must first be strategized internally and should reflect a uniform position that is then projected to the international community. A single interlocutor must be maintained though that could take varying forms depending on the varying contexts.

Continued engagement which is both structured and constructive is the order. Senior diplomats argue that responding with aggression will not take us very far. Furthermore, it is necessary to study and address underlying causes and changes of position that led to previously supportive countries voting in favour of the UN resolution in Geneva in 2012 and 2013.

Given that the conflict in Sri Lanka has largely been ‘externalized’ due to a combination of events, interventions and circumstances over the years, it is increasingly apparent that Sri Lanka’s post-war era is no different. This observation propelled an enquiry with senior diplomats and foreign policy experts on the best possible way of ‘de-externalizing’ current post-war efforts in Sri Lanka.

The recommendation is to put in place a domestic process of dialogue to neutralize two key drivers of externalization, namely the section of the hostile diaspora community and the combination of forces that worked actively towards the UN resolutions in Geneva in 2012 and 2013. The domestic process of dialogue must be with the minority communities to address the root causes of the conflict. Addressing concerns domestically in a credible manner is the surest way to foster internal stability and ‘de-externalization’ of Sri Lanka’s post-war era. The importance of achieving genuine and sustainable reconciliation in this regard cannot be overstated.

Turning to Sri Lanka’s role in the emerging world order of the much-touted Asian Century, it must be stressed that an Asian Century is still in its earliest stages of establishment and can only materialize if growth within the region is manageable and development is sustainable. Asian diversity must be harnessed as an opportunity and strength, but as long as the current challenges of disparities and divisiveness remain, Asian influence is unlikely to increase any further.

Worthy of note in such a context is the strategic interplay of forces that has come about as a result of such an emerging new world order – in this context, Sri Lanka too must be keenly aware and respond appropriately to the plethora of strategic partnerships and rivalries that are fast developing within, across and beyond the Asian region.

It is safe then to conclude that we are living in a period of transition and redefinition: the questions are many, the principal one being whether nuclear powers will fuel strategic rivalries between themselves or instead choose to maximize strategic partnerships through commercial cooperation.

Assessing Sri Lanka’s role in this backdrop becomes essential if we are to secure our international positioning and establish our global role. The guiding principle is to ensure flexibility and responsiveness while not losing sight of our key assets and strengths. Sri Lanka prides itself as being one of the oldest Parliamentary democracies in the Asian region; with all its challenges it still remains fertile ground for agriculture and hence has the raw materials for self-sufficiency; and most importantly, is strategically located in the Indian ocean in terms of geo-political positioning.

The concern of course is that we are increasingly becoming enmeshed and mired in the strategic interplay of forces between countries’ rivalries and partnerships. Focusing on building internal and sovereign capabilities will be vital if we are to consolidate a position in the global interplay of relationships and become a key player in the international arena. The bottom line is that our internal and external relations cannot and indeed must not be motivated by ideology alone but rather be driven by our national interests.

salmayusuf@gmail.com

photo credit: US Mission Geneva via photopin cc

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About me: I am a Human Rights Lawyer based in Sri Lanka, and a visiting lecturer in law at University of Northumbria – Regional Campus for Sri Lanka & Maldives, and previously at the University of Colombo.

I serve on both national and international programmes in the fields of law, governance, human rights and transitional justice. I hope to build on my work in policy development, research, advocacy and publishing going forward.  

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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