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Why Khurshid's speech on Sri Lanka was woefully disappointing

External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid was the epitome of statesmanship while delivering his reply to opposition parties demanding a clear stand on Sri Lanka. However his speech made it clear that India was not at all keen to pull up its island neighbour despte mounting evidence of war crimes committed during the last stages of the war and continuing violence, and intimidation, against Tamils or any voice of dissent.

Refusing to commit to a stand either way ahead of a key UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka, all Khurshid would say was that "If Sri Lanka is able to show it is moving forward we will come to one conclusion, if they cannot, we will come to another conclusion."

He also did not directly answer a question posed by CPI's D Raja about the fact that Sri Lanka had rejected the thirteenth amendment to the constitution - relating to the devolution of power - pioneered and pushed for by India since 1987.

AFP

AFP

"It is true that 13th amendment has not been implemented. We are absolutely insistent that it is implemented with LLRC. However we hear that there are still many discussions and points of view in Sri Lanka and it has not been rejected outright as yet", he said.

Khurshid was also quick to play down an angry AIADMK MPs assertion that "as far as Tamils are concerned, Sri Lanka is no longer a friendly nation to India. It is an enemy country".

"We may have distress, anger and pain. But we should not be saying Sri Lanka is an enemy country", he said. The rest of his speech was equally conciliatory, with references to how there was no such thing as a perfect democracy, and how even India had been criticised for its democracy in the past".

" I can only give assurances on what this government can do. Not on what another government will do. What points we will give to the UN I cannot reveal today. I thank you all for your suggestions", he said.

As far as India is concerned, Khurshid's stance leaves little to cheer about.

As Firstpost editor G Pramod Kumar observed earlier, the Sri Lankan government has been defiant even after the UNHRC resolution, which has forced the US to propose a new “procedural resolution” at the upcoming 22nd session in March. The island has not only done precious little to address the recommendations of the last resolution, but it has also become more brazen in muzzling free speech and civil liberties, and stripping down its constitutional and democratic institutions.

Now, there is more damning evidence against Sri Lanka.

International watchdog, Human Rights Watch (HRW), on Tuesday released a 140-page report which establishes that scores of women and men were sexually abused by the security forces of the Sri Lankan regime – the military, police, intelligence and others – during 2006-2012 and it is still continuing.

The brazenness recently hit the nadir, when the country’s chief justice, Shirani Bandaranaika, was impeached for raising legal questions against the government. The free run of violent proxy-attacks against rights activists and journalists, including foreign nationals, and disappearances still continue.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay was brutally frank when she said that the Sri Lankan government was indulging in triumphalism in the north. She also said that the civilians of the north have been prevented from commemorating victims of the war.

Reportedly, the graves of about 20,000 Tamil tiger fighters have been razed in the Vanni area where new museums and war memorials hailing the Sri Lankan soldiers have been erected. Navi Pillay has reportedly said that the triumphalist images will create a strong sense of alienation in the local population.

There have also been reports of military-tourism in the area to further the triumphalist sentiments, which effectively ridicule the suffering of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians who died at the hands of the country’s military.

Director of the Channel 4 film that raised uncomfortable questions about Sri Lanka, Callum Macrae's words are ominous for India: “If there is no attempt to address these issues and to bring justice to those who suffered, the fear is that in the short term, political repression in Sri Lanka will increase and that in the long term, history is destined to repeat itself with yet more bloodshed and regional instability.”

If not for the respect for human rights and the demands of its own people in Tamil Nadu, India should take a stand for its own security. Strategically, it is certainly dangerous to have a rights-violating government next door, which openly encourages the Chinese and the Pakistanis.

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