Jehan Perera Colombo TelegraphIn March 2020, the Sri Lankan government believed that the massive mandate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had received gave it a licence to get out of the cycle of UN Human Rights Council resolutions by unilaterally opting out of the process. It announced that it would no longer consider itself bound to implement the resolution in force at that time. It stated its position was “backed by a people’s mandate and is in the interest of Sri Lanka and its people, instead of opting to continue with a framework driven externally that has failed to deliver genuine reconciliation for over four and half years.” However, the government also sought to keep itself within the framework of the UN system. The government stated that within a new framework of national reconciliation it was proposing it would continue to welcome the visits, advice and technical support from the UN system.

The re-emergence of the Easter Sunday bombing of 2019 into the mainstream of political debate is bound to have both domestic and international political consequences. Presidential elections are scheduled for October the latest. The UN Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva in September. The role played by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who gives leadership to the Catholic Church in the country is proving to be important in both. He has openly accused the government of being unresponsive to their search for the truth and justice. He complained that he and other members of the church had addressed a letter to the president “calling for a fresh and independent investigation into these attacks, but not even a letter of acknowledgement was sent to us.”

In a recent media interview, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith stated that two political parties had met him and submitted their proposals for investigations of the Easter bombing if they win the forthcoming elections. The Cardinal has called upon those in his church not to vote for parties that have failed to make a commitment to truth and justice and presented concrete plans regarding this. The implications of this will have a bearing on the Catholic vote at the forthcoming elections. In addition, the Cardinal has announced that the Catholic Church is planning to present a proposal to the UNHRC. This is likely to have a detrimental effect on the government’s plan to extricate itself from the UNHRC process in Geneva.

The previous government’s bid to extricate itself from the UNHRC resolution by the strategy of unilateral withdrawal was not successful. Instead it led to a stronger resolution being passed the next time around which set up a special monitoring mechanism in Geneva to collect and safeguard evidence of human rights violations in Sri Lanka. This is especially worrisome to those in the government, especially those who can be accused of having violated human rights, as it opens the door to prosecution by any government or individual who files a case in an international court that accepts the principle of universal jurisdiction.

President Wickremesinghe is generally believed to have a special relationship with the international community and particularly with those Western countries that give special attention to international human rights. There has been considerable media coverage of his easy familiarity with heads of states at international conferences where the top leaders of the world fraternize with each other and with him. His latest achievement was in welcoming the President of Iran to Sri Lanka as a state guest at a time when the world is on tenterhooks due to Iran’s open clash with Israel which is backed by the Western world. The state media reported that “As in other countries, many people in Sri Lanka thought that the Iranian President Dr. Ibrahim Raisi would cancel the visit at the last minute. The current issue with the West is the proximate cause of this. But it is President Ranil Wickremesinghe who is leading Sri Lanka on a Non-Aligned path without angering the West and without angering the neighbour.”

There is a further reason for believing that Sri Lanka might be able to surmount the challenge of the UNHRC at the present time. This is due to the change in the international environment in which the Israel-Palestine conflict has taken a special place with the intensity of violence in Gaza exceeding that of Ukraine. These are both ongoing conflicts which ought to take priority in contrast to the Sri Lankan conflict which ended 15 years ago. Unlike Ukraine and Gaza, Sri Lanka is today a country without large-scale violence. Indeed, it is remarkable that there has not been a single incident of large-scale violence after the end of the war except for the mystery of the Easter bombing to which answers are not being found.

International tourist guide books have selected Sri Lanka as the safest country in the world for a single woman to travel through on account of warmth and civility of the people and, of course, a well-functioning security system. In addition, where the post-war situation is concerned, the government is able to show a plethora of state mechanisms, ranging from multiple commissions of inquiry, the Office on Missing Persons, the Office of Reparations and most recently a Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation which will be established soon. On the other hand, though Sri Lanka is at peace and able to offer a standard of hospitality that is seeing a boom in tourist arrivals, there is pain and suffering inside the society that needs to be taken care of and not neglected.

The largest scale of pain and suffering is due to the economic deprivation that suddenly hit people who were making ends meet, but who have found for the past two years that prices have tripled whilst their salaries remain the same. The World Bank’s most recent study on the impact of the economic collapse states that poverty has increased over the past four years—from 11 percent in 2019 to almost 26 percent in 2024 in Sri Lanka. It further states that approximately 60 percent of Sri Lankan households have decreased incomes, with many facing increased food insecurity, malnutrition and stunted growth.

The decision of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and the Catholic Church to take their unaddressed grievance to the UNHRC in Geneva is a sign of the pain and suffering due to injustice that continues to burn within the hearts and minds of people, especially those who fell victim and those who are involved with them. Whether or not Ukraine and Gaza figure in the forthcoming resolutions of the UNHRC, it can be expected that Sri Lanka which has been on the agenda will continue to remain on the agenda. Sustaining the present peace in Sri Lanka requires that change that goes beyond a change of faces in government. It requires a new governmental commitment that the two main opposition political parties are promising and the government needs to match.

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The National Peace Council (NPC) was established as an independent and impartial national non-government organization