No End in Sight

The UNHRC move, orchestrated by the US and its global allies, was more of a political ploy employed against the crisis-hit Sri Lanka because of its tilt towards China.

By Sajad Jatoi | January 2023

The ongoing political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka has proved to be devastating for the people of the island country who are now struggling for even basic necessities. Ever since the country ran out of its foreign exchange reserves in July last year, the people have experienced a steep decline in their living standards and the same ordeal continues with no end in sight in the near future. With the shortage of forex reserves to pay for the much-need imports of foods, medicines, oil, gas and the rest of the critical items, there has been an acute shortage of such basic necessities in a low-income country like Sri Lanka. The island nation now seems to have lost the economic direction altogether it was once heading towards through judicious planning and long-term vision.

The nightmare all started in July 2022 when Sri Lanka failed to meet its debt obligations and defaulted on the external debt of over $50bn, which it owed to China and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Adversely impacted by the sovereign default, the common Sri Lankans have been holding frequent protests against the ‘incompetent, ineffective and corrupt government’ from time to time. The first mass protests took place in July when the enraged public took on the presidential palace and ousted the then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa out of power.

However, ever since Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed charge as the new President of Sri Lanka on July 21, 2022, the Western countries have been speaking up against the human rights violations in Sri Lanka, openly criticising the Wickremesinghe-led government for its ‘callous disregard’ for human rights. As revealed by the Human Rights Watch, an international organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, the Sri Lankan government has been suppressing the people’s democratic voices along with their peaceful protests. To make matters worse, those who take to the streets to protest against the incapable and ‘corrupt’ government are being arrested and beaten in police custody.

Given this miserable scenario, it is appropriate to ask as to what role the United Nations and European Nation have been playing in pressing the Sri Lankan government to uphold basic human rights while addressing the prevailing economic crisis?

In October, a resolution was moved in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to condemn the rampant human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and to force the country to uphold the fundamental human rights and freedoms within democratic means. Drafted by the UK, the US, France, Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, the resolution was moved in the presence of about 47 members of the UNHRC. Some 20 member countries voted in its favour, while 7 members, including China and Pakistan, voted against the resolution. However, about 20 member states, including India, abstained from voting. India later issued a statement saying that it would urge Sri Lanka to do better on that count.

Although the resolution was aimed at pressing Sri Lanka to fulfil its human rights obligations as well as smooth operation of its concerned agencies and departments working for the prevention of such violations, the UNHRC move, orchestrated by the US and its allies, was not free from controversies either and was seen as a political ploy than a genuine move employed against the crisis-hit nation because of its tilt towards China. In fact, the countries opposing the resolution against the Sri Lankan government were from the China led-bloc which included Pakistan, Cuba, Bolivia, Eretria, Uganda and Venezuela that are not European countries and have strained relations with the US.

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