Sri Lanka will get “significantly lesser” number of favourable votes at the UN Human Rights Council, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry on Wednesday said, apparently resigned to reduced international support at the Geneva forum whose 51 st session is underway.

“The number of votes will be significantly lesser. We have to be realistic,” Sabry, currently in Geneva, told a media conference held virtually. Observing that the voting pattern “is not a fair reflection” of how all members think about Sri Lanka, he said “heavy lobbying” by powerful countries preceded the vote at the Council, which was “all geopolitics”.

The Minister’s position signalled a shift in Colombo’s tone from a month ago, when Sabry said Sri Lanka was “not interested in confrontation, we want to work towards consensus with all partners”.

A resolution on Sri Lanka will be put to vote likely on Thursday, highlighting long-pending demands for truth and justice for alleged war crimes from the civil war era and the years after it ended in 2009, apart from other rights violations since.

The proposed resolution this year also underscores the importance of addressing “underlying governance factors and root causes” that have “contributed to” Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis. It identifies “deepening militarisation, lack of accountability in governance and impunity for serious human rights violations and abuses”, as a central obstacle to the rule of law, reconciliation and sustainable peace and development in Sri Lanka. Further, it “recognises that the promotion and protection of human rights and the prevention of and fight against corruption are mutually reinforcing.”

In March 2021, Sri Lanka faced a UN resolution that was put to vote in Geneva. While 22 countries voted in its favour, 11 countries voted against it — endorsing Sri Lanka’s position — and 14 countries, including India, abstained. While it is widely expected that India may abstain yet again, more countries among the Council’s 47 members are likely to proactively back the resolution.

Contending that the Council was “polarised”, Minister Sabry said the international community, mainly the West that includes key economic powers, were “using Sri Lanka to test their agenda”. “Sri Lanka has repeatedly said we need time and space to address pending issues, but the Core Group is not willing to listen,” he said, referring to the group of countries led by the United Kingdom that are the main sponsors of the Sri Lanka resolution this year. The Group includes the United States, Germany, and Canada among others. Some 30 other countries are said to have joined the Core Group, backing the resolution.

Outlining the government’s efforts to repeal the country’s much criticised anti-terrorism law, and introduce a new one; bring about constitutional amendments to strengthen parliamentary mechanisms and redistribute 94 per cent of military-held lands in the north and east, Sabry said “none of it is credited” by the international community, even as he argued that some recommendations of the resolution sought to interfere with Sri Lanka’s Constitution.

Asked why the Sri Lankan government, which is willingly working with international actors including the International Monetary Fund — that makes its support conditional on several governance aspects — for economic recovery resisted foreign mechanisms on the rights front, Sabry said: “That is because Sri Lanka is a member of the IMF, we opted for IMF assistance, and we are part of the negotiations …it is not imposed on us,” although Sri Lanka has been a Member State of the UN since 1955, engaging with its mechanisms and agencies.

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