Sri Lanka has provided valuable case studies of successes and challenges in operationalization of IHL and Humanitarian Diplomacy – Foreign Secretary Aryasinha

Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha has said, over the past four decades Sri Lanka has provided valuable case studies to the world in the successes in the operationalization of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and humanitarian diplomacy, as well as the challenges entailed in doing so, many in which the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been a valued partner.

The Foreign Secretary made this observation on Monday (11 November 2019) when he delivered the Opening Statement at the 9th South Asian Regional Conference on International Humanitarian Law (IHL) –“ IHL in Action: A Narrative of Prevention and Protection”, organized by the ICRC Colombo in collaboration with the Government of Sri Lanka and held on 11-13 November 2019, at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo. Attorney General Dappula de Livera delivered the keynote address, while the Head of Delegation of the ICRC Loukas Petridis and the Head of Advisory Service of the ICRC in Geneva also addressed the gathering. Government Representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Nepal, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are participating in the conference.

Mr. Aryasinha noted that Sri Lanka’s 1989 signing of the agreement with the ICRC would probably count as an early manifestation of Sri Lanka’s international commitment to IHL. The experience of Sri Lanka in its commitment towards ‘protection’ was evidenced through the food convoys to the North & East and the 100% coverage of the national immunization programme carried out, including in terrorist held areas, throughout the near 30 year separatist terrorist conflict. Others include; the rapid response in the aftermath of the tsunami of 2004, the mine-clearance and resettlement in the post-conflict period, efforts at addressing the issue of disappearances and subsequently the work of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), the ICRC being offered unhindered access to all places of detention in the country and the safeguarding of the interests of the refugees and asylum seekers housed in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bombings.

Additionally, Sri Lanka had been leading in its international advocacy in preventing and mitigating the destructive effects of conflict, in the field of disarmament and non-proliferation, most recently during its Presidency of the Meeting of the States Parties of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in 2015, in forging a consensus to move discussions on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) to State level. Sri Lanka has encouraged States with capabilities to develop these weapons to take immediate action in placing national moratoria, while emphasizing that negotiation of a binding legal framework which provides for regulatory norms with meaningful human control as its central thrust.

The Secretary noted that the humanitarian vision of protection and prevention has also been upheld through the participation of Sri Lankan forces in UN Peacekeeping Operations throughout the world since 1957. Given Sri Lanka’s experience in the recent past in low and high intensity conflicts with terrorist groups, few countries can qualitatively match the troops sent by Sri Lanka who have extensive professional experience in all aspects of peacekeeping and providing humanitarian assistance, illustrated each passing day, most recently in Mali.

Mr. Aryasinha said the principles of IHL should be understood in the present context of armed conflicts, which are more dynamic, sophisticated and multifaceted, than in the context in which the Geneva Conventions were initially formulated in the 1940s. Unlike in the past, battles now fought, are mostly internal armed conflicts, generally more protracted, largely involving non-state actors,  have moved from conventional war theatres to urban settings, using new technologies such as LAWS where the acceptable degree of machine versus human control in the context of IHL is in dispute, and where the principles of proportionality in armed conflicts, concept of global war on terror, issues of practical ability of states and armed groups to abide by their legal obligations under IHL, are also highly contested. The question of parity between State and non-State actors, applicability of IHL in non-international armed conflicts (NIACS) are further serious impediments in ensuring full compliance of IHL by all parties to a conflict.

Secretary Aryasinha told participants that in deliberating over perspectives on IHL and its application in various contexts, the successes and challenges faced by Sri Lanka should resonate and be instructive.  Noting that “the ICRC has admirably ensured ‘neutrality’ in its work”, he requested that all “be wary of the politicization of the application of IHL. No one solution fits all circumstances and local sensitivities and nuances must be taken into consideration in finding the correct balance in assessing a conflict situation. This has been a prime concern in the ongoing discussions following from the decision of the 32nd Meeting of High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, where many countries urged to prevent ‘naming and shaming’ in order  to maintain a healthy dialogue which is apolitical and facilitate countries to share best practices”. He said this would best serve all our countries better in engaging in humanitarian diplomacy, and in easing human suffering.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs


12 November 2019