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‘Hands off Sri Lanka!’

Sri Lanka

With a US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka due to come up for a vote at the UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, numerous public protests have been held against the move, organized by diverse groups including trade unions, the Buddhist clergy and the government itself. The latest group to voice its opposition represents a section of Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who form an 8 per cent minority. Hundreds of Muslims clad in white and wearing traditional skull caps carried placards and chanted slogans as they marched peacefully to the US embassy on Thursday 15 March. The petition they handed over called upon 'the government of the United States and other Western countries to desist from interfering in the country's internal affairs'. It said: ‘We vehemently condemn the US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka and demand that this resolution be abandoned.’

An organization called Nabaviyyah Islamic Youth Organisation, representing a Muslim sect known as Sunna Jamath, led the protest along Colombo’s main highway but was stopped by police barricades before it reached the US mission. Risham Ahamed, a spokesperson for the group, said they had no political motivation and were not demonstrating in response to any call by the government. The demonstration was to tell the US to keep its ‘hands off Sri Lanka’ he said. ‘Don’t make this another Afghanistan or other Arab country.’  

The US draft resolution calls for Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its war commission, urges the state to address accountability issues and asks the Office of the UN Human Rights chief and ‘relevant special procedures’ to provide ‘advice and technical assistance’ to Sri Lanka, and report on these matters to the Council. The government has described the resolution as ‘unnecessary, unhelpful and counterproductive.’ Sri Lanka's ambassador, Tamara Kunanayakam, a Tamil, has accused the US of setting a dangerous precedent by selectively targeting Sri Lanka, and of insidiously seeking to politicize the Council.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), both representing large blocs of countries from the majority world, have taken the position that action in the Human Rights Council was unwarranted and that Sri Lanka should be given the opportunity to implement its domestic mechanisms for reconciliation without external pressure.

The recommendations of the government-appointed ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ have been widely acclaimed as useful and constructive, but have been criticized by the West for not adequately addressing alleged violations of international law. The report, seen as a guide to a domestic reconciliation process, was released in December 2011. Two years earlier, government forces defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ending a bloody 30-year conflict.

Within the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the ruling coalition, none are as keenly aware of the US’s double standards in international affairs as its Muslim representatives. The fallout of US military intrusions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan resonates within the Sri Lankan Muslim community, as elsewhere in the Muslim world. Hence protest demonstrations against the US resolution, such as that led by Western Province Governor Alawi Moulana, have acquired a kind of traction that goes beyond local politics. A Colombo Municipal Council member, Azath Sally, also a Muslim, questioned the logic by which the killing of Osama Bin Laden was considered a ‘heroic act’ whereas the killing of the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was a ‘human rights violation’. He exclaimed that this was ‘a funny kind of law’.  

Ahamed says all his group wants is peace. ‘We should get together and rebuild the country. Past is past. Let the international community help us rebuild.’

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya is a Sri Lankan journalist.

Photo: Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

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