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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Sub Commission 1985

UN SUB COMMISSION ON PREVENTION
OF DISCRIMINATION AND PROTECTION OF MINORITIES
37TH SESSIONS: AUGUST 1985


Sub Commission Draft Resolution (Withdrawn)

UN Resolutions on Sri LankaThe Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities,

Recalling its resolution 1984/32 of 30 August 1984 and decision 1984/111 of 14 March 1984 of the Commission on Human Rights, in which the Commission appealed to all parties to restore harmony among the people of Sri Lanka,

Noting that the ceasefire and the talks at Thimpu between the government of Sri Lanka and Tamil representatives are a welcome development for the peaceful resolution of the ethnic conflict and protection of human rights,

Deeply concerned about the recurrence of violence, continuing loss of innocent civilian lives and the suspension of the talks between the government and Tamil representatives,

Considering the information submitted to it and to the Commission on Human Rights by the government of Sri Lanka and Non-Government Organisations,

Calls upon all parties concerned to cease the use of violence and resume negotiations with a view to achieving a political solution and an end to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, and

Invites the government of Sri Lanka to submit information on the steps taken to restore communal harmony and the protection of human rights to the Commission on Human Rights at its forty second session.

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Comments of an NGO which lobbied for the Resolution...

"....the following are some initial thoughts on what turned out to be a very debilitating experience at the Sub-Commission..... having succeeded in generating some interest in what is happening in Sri Lanka, the Resolution was withdrawn when it came up for voting as some Members who had indicated support, spoke out against it. The general tenor of the discussion are summarised in the attached note.

To help understand better "what went wrong and why'' there were a number of factors which, from the outset, diminished enthusiasm for action on Sri Lanka. These included people's perceptions of the ceasefire, the Thimpu talks and Anuradhapura killings.

In addition, there was the ambivalent role of India (as opposed to its strong line of attack last year) and a very lack lustre Sub Commission in general (not helped by decisions at short notice to cut NGO presentations from 15 to 10 and then to 5 minutes and some even less than that and subsequently a decision to give Governments 7-8 minutes and more on occasion) and last but by no means least poor preparation and insufficient organisation by those of us concerned about Sri Lanka which is in sharp contrast with an evermore polished and sophisticated Sri Lanka Government approach.

One of the appalling facts of life about international human rights fora is that interest only perks up when the body count rises and so called independent experts, with a few notable exceptions, are very susceptible to government pressure. (Mr. Bossuyt, a Member of the Sub Commission, candidly advised that the draft Resolution should be acceptable to the Government).

And while this is not news it seems that one of our major failures has been to focus on human rights abuses, even given that this was done within the context, and against the background, of the overall problem and recognition of the need to tailor Resolutions in line with political realities.

What seems apparent is that we have not faced up to the Government's use of the separatist issue and perceptions, no matter how far-fetched, of NGO support or sympathy for this i.e. it is not so much what we represent as what we are but what we are possibly seen to represent even unconsciously.

In other words it seems to me we need to identify more precisely and concretely the exact nature of the struggle rather than skirting round the Government's characterisation of it. I .... feel strongly this is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently....

Another problem it seems to me is that there are widespread misperceptions that the Sri Lanka or Tamil problem ''is well taken care of" even though it is all too evident that this is not the case and I'm really concerned that a few of us running around here, when time and limited finances allow, is somehow feeding this illusion.

It is true that there is a lot of good will and commitment but this is patently not enough. There is a real need for somebody/group who is well conversant with the issue to ensure concerted and co-ordinated action both here and elsewhere (and particularly in relevant capitals) as opposed to the current haphazard and ill-defined spurts of activity.

And given the general level of interest it should not be too difficult to devise a system whereby we are all aware of what is happening elsewhere so that we can strengthen, and where possible collaborate on, diverse activities.

Going on from the foregoing some initial thoughts on how we can be better prepared next-time round include an immediate and substantive letter to the Sub-Commission Members outlining why it is considered important that the UN address the issue of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. I feel it would be really useful if SIFEC (and/or the various NCOs who signed the letter to Athulathmudali. although this would require an inordinate amount of time) could dispatch such a letter (underlining the role of Desmond Tutu et al on your letter-head especially relevant for our African colleagues) and then have this followed-up with periodic up-dates.

I feel it would also be useful to organize a high-powered briefing session at the beginning of the next (Commission ? and) Sub - Commission i.e. something along the lines of what the ICJ did with Virginia Leary in 1983 together with individual briefing of key people. I also wonder if SIFEC has given thought to acquiring official status at the UN which I understand would not be too difficult if worded correctly.

The Informal Working Group will no doubt review where it is we are at in the near future and we will be back in touch with you with hopefully more substantive comments and suggestions on where we go from here...

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Attachment

Comments by Members of the Sub Commission for refusing to support Draft Resolution on Sri Lanka (L65) 1985

Yimer (Ethiopia) : Situation different to what it has been. A Resolution would do more harm than good to on going negotiations - it would not help.

Bossuyt (Belgium):...despite the efforts of the sponsors, cannot support in its present format... putting the Government on the same level as terrorists ... moved an Amendment (1) re deleting "cease the use of violence'' and (2) rather than "invites" "expresses the hope that".

Mubanga-Chipoya (Zambia): (co-sponsored and voted for Resolution in 1984) ... .it is the other side that left the negotiations. Government of Sri Lanka quite serious. Appeal to Sub Commission that its role should be one of tact ....not to demand too much - will vote against.

Mazila (Romania) will vote against and moved motion not to vote on Resolution.

Gu (China) The situation in Sri Lanka is indeed worrying. I agree with what is said.. I repeat, I agree with the contents of the Resolution. However, at present the Sri Lanka Government is carrying out negotiations with the other side. It requires time. I therefore hope that both sides can continue negotiations and achieve results. The "US" (for UN !) should not interfere. Will vote negatively.

George (Nigeria) The situation in Sri Lanka is grave and worrying. Present draft Resolution is moderate but.... should not do anything that will jeopardise these talks. Will vote against.

Simpson (Ghana) Government of Sri Lanka doing everything in its power to achieve a peaceful resolution (sic). Cannot conceive of a Government that would surrender this type of authority to dismember the country. Does not place enough emphasis of violence of dissident Tamil Groups.

Dahak (Morocco) Government is trying to establish peace. Better not to say anything.

Mr. Despuoy (Argentina) and Mr. Joinet (France) who introduced the Resolution counter-argued pointing that recent killings of civilians were not helpful, that the Sub-Commission members had met at length with the Sri Lanka Minister of National Security but not the other side and that the Resolution does not hinder the Government etc. Resolution withdrawn when Mazilu insisted on his motion not to vote.

What is obvious is that it was a well orchestrated attack since apart from the contents of the comments many of those who spoke are normally very quiet ....

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