Press Stakeout outside the Human Rights Council
with Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe
U.S. Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council
March 22, 2012
Ambassador Donahoe: My deepest wish is that this resolution and the result we just observed is an important step in a process of helping the Sri Lankan people move toward a lasting peace.
The basic idea behind this resolution was to work with the Sri Lankan government in their efforts to reconcile all the people in their country. There were a couple of important elements dealing with accountability as well as ensuring that their own recommendations to move toward lasting peace would actually be implemented. So there was an issue of encouraging them in the right direction.
I think this outcome is also important not only for the people of Sri Lanka, but for human rights generally and for the international human rights principle that when there are mass-scale civilian casualties and human rights violations, there must be some credible investigation and some form of accountability. Without that element there cannot be real reconciliation or lasting peace.
So our view is that this resolution is a very positive initiative on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka and on behalf of their human rights, and we hope that it leads to real reconciliation in that country.
I’ll take a couple of questions.
Media: The fact today that India ended up voting yes for this resolution was something which will probably play out with a lot of tensions back in the region because India’s immediate neighbor is Sri Lanka, and India and Sri Lanka have worked together in the peace process or in the reconciliation process that’s going on. What do you think has India’s stand today and what do you think has that made a difference here in the Human Rights Council?
Ambassador Donahoe: The first thing I should note is everyone should understand that this resolution was intended as a way to work with the Sri Lankan government and to support the Sri Lankan people in establishing a real peace. So this was, although some delegations chose to interpret this resolution as a negative step or an aggressive move, it was not. It was not intended that way, and we see it as a very positive form of support on the part of the international community. So having India join in that initiative was very helpful because they are such a close neighbor and have also worked with the Sri Lankan authorities. So we see India’s support as nothing but positive.
Media: What do you expect from the government of Sri Lanka out of this resolution that’s been passed? What are the next steps?
Ambassador Donahoe: Our hope is that they follow through on two important things. One is that they take credible steps to implement the recommendations of their own domestic reporting effort; and secondly, that they investigate the serious allegations of civilian casualties from the civil war so that there is a basis for real reconciliation.
Our view is that if there isn’t some form of truth and accounting for that scale of atrocities and casualties, you cannot have lasting peace. You will sow the seeds of future violence. So we think it’s important that they take steps to show there will be some form of truth and accountability.
Media: How would you react to India’s support?
Ambassador Donahoe: We think India’s support is very helpful and very positive. As I said, all of the countries that supported this resolution see it as a way to help the Sri Lankan government and support the Sri Lankan people. But having a partner like India, a regional friend of Sri Lanka, support this resolution underscores the positive nature of the resolution.
Media: Fifteen countries abstained. That’s a big number.
Ambassador Donahoe: Actually 15 voted against and 8 abstained.
Ambassador Donahoe: The bigger number was in support. Twenty-four countries out of 47 voted in favor. And I don’t think it was as much to do with the merits of the resolution as an understanding of the role of the Council. But the vast majority supported this outcome. It’s a very good outcome.
Media: What’s the way forward?
Ambassador Donahoe: The way forward, as I said to the last question, is that our hope is the Sri Lankan authorities internalize this as a signal that they should and must take steps to implement their own recommendations and investigate the past casualties for their own people.