By S. V. Kirubaharan –
Since the end of the war in Sri Lanka, there have been four resolutions passed in the UN Human Rights Council – UN HRC. The first of these resolutions was initiated soon after the ‘end of the war’ on 26 May 2009, by Sri Lanka itself with the help of India. This resolution was described as ‘Machiavellian’ by diplomats and civil society. Sri Lanka implemented none of its recommendations. At the time when it was passed in the HRC, the US was not a member.
Since the US became a member of the HRC in June 2009, matters concerning Sri Lanka began moving in the right direction. This resulted in three consecutive resolutions – in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Ample time and space was given, therefore, by the international community or the members of the HRC, for Sri Lanka to set up and conduct a domestic inquiry into allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Also, there has been plenty of time to implement their own recommendations of the so-called ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ – LLRC.
As we consider the content of these resolutions, we recall how India, which is part of the international community, signed an accord with Sri Lanka in 1987 (Indo-Lanka accord), and that this was purely due to the burning ethnic conflict. While China, Pakistan, Russia and Cuba actively harm the victims in Sri Lanka, the country which signed an accord to maintain peace and security is mute! The fact that a country which claims to be a regional super-power allows China and Pakistan to be more active in affairs concerning Sri Lanka, especially the Tamils, is not acceptable. We hope India does not expect victims to line up behind either China or Pakistan!
Indian decision-makers should be courageous enough to break their long silence on Sri Lanka.
After the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights-cum-OISL released a comprehensive report on Sri Lanka on 16th September, all countries in favour of human rights, democracy and good governance cannot possible let Sri Lanka off the hook any longer. Nevertheless, the pending resolution has gone through many difficulties and criticisms before taking its shape!
The way China and Pakistan are taking initiative on Sri Lanka, the international community must think twice whether there has been any change in the foreign policy of the new government. It cannot be denied that, from the President to the Cabinet,, it is old wine in a new bottle.
Anyhow since 2012, three consecutive resolutions have been successfully passed with the initiative of the US. When we compare the 4th resolution with the previous three, it is clear that Sri Lanka has a better say in the pending one, because of US and Indian interest in Sri Lanka. Even though the present government is amenable to US and India, it has not completely isolated China and Pakistan. Counties like China, Cuba, Pakistan and Russia maintain the same position as they did when earlier resolutions were being passed on Sri Lanka. During the informal discussions on the draft resolution, Sri Lankan representatives were adamant about deleting almost fifteen paragraphs and they persuaded amendments to paragraphs wherever there were terminologies like ‘accountability’, ‘implementation’, ‘investigate’, ‘violation’, etc. This surprised many including the group of co-sponsors – US, UK, Macedonia and Montenegro.
Concern to protect the military
Surprising in itself, is the fact that Sri Lanka is a co-sponsor of a resolution that is meant to be addressing its own serious human rights violations and war crimes! No wonder that it has been watered down, and there even seems more concern about protecting the reputation of the military than of identifying and indicting the perpetrators.
Countries like Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland did not agree with the Sri Lankan position. These countries were for a hybrid court. Switzerland repeatedly insisted that ‘hybrid’ should be mentioned in the resolution.
The US ambassador’s point was that they found it difficult to accommodate ‘hybrid’ because many have not understood the term. Therefore his suggestion was to use ‘international investigators’. We can see something of this with ‘Commonwealth Judges, Lawyers and Prosecutors’. But this has not satisfied some legal experts who say this still is a ‘domestic’ process.
Those who are critical of the present draft should attend future sessions of the HRC to learn and understand the pulse, politics, and approach of the members. They would also be very welcome to counter the position of China, Pakistan, Russia and Cuba.
To be frank, the present draft is not satisfactory, it doesn’t go far enough. But there is no other way forward. The investigation has to start somewhere. If there is no resolution on Sri Lanka in this 30th session, there may not be any until March 2017.
Until last Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s position regarding the draft resolution was very confusing. The proposed amendments by Sri Lanka’s representatives have no connection to the speech made by Sri Lanka Minister of External Affairs in the Council on 14th September. Anyone who listened to his speech might well have thought that in weeks or months, Sri Lanka will be ‘Heaven for human rights’. Let Sri Lanka show this through genuine and honest practice. Not empty words.
Government of National Unity!
Last week, the way Sri Lanka was looking at the first draft of the resolution, many presumed that one regime violates and the next regime justifies – in order to protect the perpetrators! We learned that Sri Lanka deliberately brought those deletions and amendments with ulterior motives in the informal meetings.
It is truly laughable that Sri Lankan representatives were informing other states in the HRC that the pending resolution may harm reconciliation! Can Sri Lanka give a single example of concrete steps taken since last January, on reconciliation? The 19th amendment is not a good example because the continuation of the present Government of national unity is at stake.
One cannot ignore the fact that many MPs are crossing over from the so-called Government of national unity to the opposition. This will undermine the boasting by the Sri Lanka Minister in the HRC that they appointed the Tamil National Alliance – TNA as the leader of the opposition. It looks like this is going to come to an end in the near future.
According to one of the MPs, from the South, this opposition leadership was given to the TNA precisely so the government could make use of it for their international propaganda. Let us wait and see the reality in a few weeks or months.
Those who say that the resolution on Sri Lanka is too long and therefore the government wants to shorten it have not seen other resolutions on different situations. This pretext to remove references to High Security Zones, reduction of military from the North and East, the attackers of religious place to be investigated, etc. is deplorable.
No-one can deny the fact that the resolutions on Sri Lanka came out of the ashes of Mullivaigzhal and the North and East.
We all know that geo-politics and economic interests play games in all situations including from Afghanistan to Libya and Syria!
Sri Lanka’s claims that they are working with Diaspora organisations is not true!
I am not denying that they work with a few individuals and a diaspora organisation which doesn’t work with the masses. In fact, this is a drop in the ocean. This is where countries like Switzerland, Norway and South Africa are making mistakes. These countries fail to consider the realities of diaspora organisations.
For example organisations like the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR which has been in existence for more than two decades and works purely on human rights, has been side-lined by these countries. Some say that a newcomer has set the scene in a few countries that they are the ones who should be consulted by countries promoting reconciliation in Sri Lanka! If anyone believes this and works in this way, there will be no acceptable and durable solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.