India’s foreign policy formulation got the much needed course correction when New Delhi abstained from voting on the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution authorising setting up of an international investigative mechanism to probe alleged war crimes committed by Colombo while decimating the terrorist outfit LTTE and its apex leadership in 2009.
The resolution passed with 23 votes in favour; 12 countries including India abstained and revived the debate on army excesses and war crimes focussing on the contentious human rights issue instead of addressing justice to the Tamils, urgency of reconciliation, speedy resettlement process and further confidence building measures between estranged parties. The core issue after 2009 was a political solution to the aspirations of the Tamils especially in the East and North provinces, rebuilding of infrastructure and economy in the aftermath of a war that wrecked their lives, ravaged their land and economy, heightened their insecurity and condemned them to a grim battle for survival. But sadly, the US deputy assistant secretary of state told the UNHRC about ‘the international community’s increasing concern of the lack of progress in the reconciliation process’, thus indicting Colombo. To the credit of Colombo, this time the diplomatic efforts to appraise the international community on the progress made on LLRC report were commendable, resulting in exposing the intrusive nature of the resolution and also the attempts to internationalise the issue.
Since Independence, genuine aspirations of the Tamil speaking sections in Sri Lanka were by and large represented by parties and leaders of repute. But this two way engagement between the Tamils and Colombo was violently interrupted by the LTTE whose main aim was to perpetuate a bloody conflict to achieve its treacherous goal of separate “Eeelam”. Clearly, all this is history now and the peace process that began after Colombo’s “Spring in the North” (Vadakkin Vasantham) attempts, the political process has reassured the Tamils of a new life. Six months after the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) elections, there is public optimism; and, an opening to engage with Tamil concerns, for giving substance to Tamil aspirations. As a result of the recent efforts at reconciliation, the pull on the TNA by opportunistic and extremist sections (in Sri Lanka and among the Diaspora) has been greatly neutralised, defeating the separatist agenda. According to reports, the TNA is said to be divided on this issue with one group expressing happiness over the passage of the resolution as it perceives it as a slap on the face of Colombo, the moderate group close to the Chief Minister is happy that India abstained, thereby reserving the moral authority over Colombo. In any case the change in the attitude of India offers enough room for New Delhi and Colombo to renew trade and normalise soured relations.
But the Palk Bay conflict between fishermen of Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka amplified beyond proportion by some of the parties in Tamil Nadu especially during elections strains Indo-Sri Lanka relations further serving no useful purpose. Not to be outdone, ginger groups on the other side of Palk Strait are no less acerbic in thoughts, words and deeds. A section of Colombo’s powerful political establishment believes that intransigence in matters concerning the Tamils (accounting for the dead and the missing, land, police and political rights, equal social status and the like) will inject “national pride and honour” among Sinhalese to keep them in power longer. Sooner, than later, these elements will realise how fast the high sprit of victory evaporates leaving unpalatable residue of bitterness, acrimony and hostility. The peace talks which began in January 2011 was aborted in February 2012 when the president decided to form an All-Party Parliamentary Committee, seen as a ploy to stall the agreements reached during talks. Last week, the TNA agreed to resume direct talks with President Rajapakse paving way for a political solution to decades old problems of the Tamil population.
But Colombo’s detractors are not in the North or East, they in their own midst. And who but the president knows better? Attempts by the Rajapakse regime to keep a distance from elements bent upon undermining devolution of power and raring to consolidate post-war Sinhala supremacy may appear to be bad politics but is good statesmanship. Democracies are easy victims of politics of polarisation and Sri Lanka is no exception. Needless to say, Colombo needs to confront this menace even more vigorously and strengthen the process of democratisation and inclusive politics.
India's commitment to democratisation, devolution of power and demilitarisation in Sri Lanka within the existing Constitutional framework there is unequivocal. India has always believed that issues of regional nature are best resolved through dialogue, diplomacy and continued engagement with parties to the conflict.
While New Delhi tilted its weight towards Colombo in the last days of war, India’s abstaining augurs well for Indo-Sri Lanka relations. Winds of change may blow the spring breeze far north of Colombo. Soon, there will be a new government in New Delhi. Its priority should be to engage with Colombo, heal the wounds of war, rebuild ruined links, secure our security and strategic interests and reap peace dividends for the entire region.
(The writer is the National Convener of the Foreign Affairs Cell of the BJP. Email: [email protected])
Human Rights Resolution Timeline (1987-2014)
n In March 1987, first draft resolution United Nations Special Rapporteur on Tortur against the ethnic war in SL expressing concern was submitted by Argentina to the now defunct United Nations Commission on Human Right. The resolution admonished SL for use of violence against the civilian population. Because Latin American, African, Western European countries and India supported it, Lanka sought Pakistan's aid in submitting a counter resolution which was not considered by the commission.
n At the 11th special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
in May 2009 17 countries attempted to get
the UNHRC to investigate war crimes in SL. This was thwarted after SL received support from China, Russia, India and developing
n UNHRC then passed resolution S-11/1 on 27 May 2009 which commended Lankan government's actions, and condemned Tamil Tigers and ignored allegations of violations of human rights and humanitarian law by government forces. This resolution was passed by 29 votes to 12 votes with 6 abstentions.
n In March 2012, the UNHRC adopted resolution 19/2 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in SL by a vote of 24 in favour, 15 against and 8 abstentions.The resolution welcomed the constructive recommendations contained in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a commission of inquiryappointed by the SL government to look back at the civil war.But last-minute changes to the resolution, pressed by India, made it “unobtrusive” in nature and “non-judgemental.
n The failure of the SL government to comply with resolution 19/2 led to resolution 22/1 being passed in March 2013 at the 22nd regular session of the UNHRC.
n As Lanka ignored the resolution as a consequence in March 2014 the 25th session of the UNHRC passed resolution 25/1 authorising an international investigation into alleged war crimes during the 2002-09 period.
n Since 2011, US is leading a campaign in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to hold SL accountable for the alleged ethnic crimes.n It has successfully adopted three resolutions on or against Lanka. India voted in favor of the US sponsored resolutions in 2012 and 2013, but abstained in 2014 surprising the Tamils and the Lankan government, and has always remained vague to strike a balance between national interest and itsdomestic political compulsions in this issue.