Sri Lanka’s government said it opposes a new resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) that calls for the investigation of corruption by public officials, saying it violated the country’s constitution.
The draft resolution, titled “promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka,” was presented to the UNHCR’s 51st session last month.
It was co-sponsored by the United States, Britain, Germany, Canada, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. A vote for the new resolution is scheduled on Oct. 6.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said on Sept. 29 that the new resolution is “unfair” as it “tarnishes” the country’s image at a time when it requires international cooperation to tackle its economic crisis.
“It is against our constitution, and we have to respond to that,” he told Economy Next. “Whether we will win or lose, there are things on which we cannot compromise. We will ask for a vote through our friends.”
“Particularly what we are concerned about is an outside evidence gathering mechanism and the long-term prosecution of Sri Lankan armed forces outside Sri Lanka. That we cannot agree with,” Sabry added.
The new resolution raises concern over the human rights impact of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, which has exacerbated food insecurity, severe fuel and medical shortages, and reduced household incomes.
The resolution notes the “continued militarization of civilian government functions,” eroding judicial independence, and “lack of progress in addressing longstanding grievances and demands of Tamil and Muslim populations.”
It calls on Sri Lanka’s authorities to investigate and prosecute corruption committed by “public and former public officials,” citing the negative impact corruption can have on “the enjoyment of human rights.”
‘Predatory Loans’ From China
Some U.S. senators tabled a resolution [pdf] in the Senate after the UNHCR resolution, calling for a “comprehensive international approach to address Sri Lanka’s current political and economic crisis.”
The resolutions include “challenges related to poor governance and economic policy under the Rajapaksa family’s rule,” which anti-government protesters had blamed for the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), urged Sri Lankan authorities to respect the legitimate rights of the people.
They claimed that the Rajapaksa government “devoted state resources for personal political purposes with little transparency, implemented misguided agricultural policies, and borrowed billions of dollars from China to develop economically unviable mega projects.”
Sri Lanka’s economic crisis was “exacerbated by predatory loans from [the] People’s Republic of China as part of its debt-trap diplomacy,” the senators said in the resolution.
“After years of civil war and government mismanagement and abuse, Sri Lanka needs a government that is committed to ethnic tolerance, equitable economic development, human rights, and justice. That should also be the focus of U.S. policy,” Leahy said in a statement.
Sri Lanka defaulted on its debt in May. The island nation has $10 billion in bilateral debt as of August, of which 44 percent is owed to China, according to the finance ministry (pdf).
Ranil Wickremesinghe was appointed as president in July, replacing Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country after anti-government protesters stormed his official residence to demand his resignation.