President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Friday drew attention to the contrasting approaches of the international community when it comes to addressing human rights concerns in Sri Lanka and Gaza.
President Wickremesinghe highlighted that both regions are facing significant human rights challenges, but the responses from the West appeared to differ significantly.
He was speaking at the opening of a new Courts Complex in Welimada.
Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, President Wickremesinghe said that every country must adhere to this crucial document. He said that when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, the Sri Lankan Government swiftly condemned the act, reaffirming their support for the principle of Palestinian statehood while denouncing terrorism. This condemnation, he said, allowed for Israel’s right of retaliation within the framework of international laws and rules.
The President expressed concern that such principles did not seem to apply universally. He said the killing of over 10,000 people in the Gaza Strip, according to UN agencies, raised questions about the justifiability of warfare within one’s own country and the response of the international community.
President Wickremesinghe said the West, including the USA, had passed Resolutions against Sri Lanka for its human rights record. He questioned why there was a difference in the approach taken by these nations towards Sri Lanka and Gaza, where similar issues were prevalent. He said that the same rules should apply to both regions.
The President said that according to International Laws, measures taken to combat terrorism must fully comply with states’ obligations under international human rights law, including the protection of fundamental freedoms. He questioned the inconsistency in the application of these principles and the differing standards applied by the West to Sri Lanka and Gaza and added that clean hands should be a universal requirement in international matters.
“The rule of law has now become universal and it is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which we all have to follow. It requires every country to adhere to it. Today, there are major issues that have arisen with regard to the UDHR and the course of normal international affairs,” the President said. He said the situation in Gaza raises another issue. “Are you entitled to declare war on one area of your own country? Can you go to war against it? And can countries condone it? Because, when we brought a motion for the ceasefire, many countries voted for it, the USA opposed it and some other countries also opposed it. Why is it that they are acting in this manner? Last year in October, at the UN Human Rights Council, they all got together and passed a Resolution against Sri Lanka. The country that moved it was Canada who, also at this time, moved the amendment to the ceasefire Resolution. The Resolution has been moved against and passed by them. And we all have to follow it.” The President said, “What is this difference? We have been asked, underscoring the importance of addressing the underlying governance factors and root causes that have contributed to that crisis including deepening militarisation, lack of accountability in Governance and impunity of human rights violations. Now, if this is good for Sri Lanka, it must also apply to Palestine. What is taking place in the West Bank and the bringing in of settlers is a big issue.
Then why is it that one rule applies to us, and another rule applies to them. This is the question I have and reaffirming that all measures taken to combat terrorism must comply fully with States’ obligation under international law. What applies to us must also apply in Gaza. What the US has told us, they must also ensure is enforced in Gaza. Now we are having two different systems.”
“So that’s why I am thinking of that rule which all of you apply in courts – that you must come to courts with clean hands. Sometimes in international tribunals they have also said that you must come to courts with clean hands. So why shouldn’t it then apply here also? Next September come with clean hands and we will also answer you. If you haven’t got clean hands, why should we answer you?
“I will ask the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Foreign Affairs together with the Attorney General and our Permanent Representative to the UN to consult international legal opinions on this application that you must come to court in clean hands, why shouldn’t it apply to the Human Rights Council? Can you ask a country which has condoned so much of violations to come and say that we shouldn’t do it?
“I think we must make this a rule that you can’t have one law for us and another law for someone else, I am against it. If it applies to all, Sri Lanka will stand by it. If it doesn’t apply to all, why should we do it? But, when we go there we must remember that our hands must also be clean,”he added.