UNHRC resolution: why India needs to get a voice against Sri Lanka

In the last two days, the entire Tamil Nadu block of MPs in the Indian Parliament was up on their feet asking India to take a stand against Sri Lanka for their alleged human rights violations and war crimes.

The MPs were very simple and straightforward in their demand: support the upcoming resolution in the UN Human Rights Security Council (UNHRC) in Geneva that asks Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of a domestic report on the war and address alleged human rights violations.

But the government made them wait for more than a day and delivered a super dampener.

The statement by Foreign Minister SM Krishna in the Parliament yesterday read like a progress report on India’s reconstruction activities in the war-ravaged Tamil areas of Sri Lanka and not what the Tamil Nadu MPs have asked for. In his 20-point long statement, only three or so were on human rights violations. They too were ambiguous and non-committal.

 UNHRC resolution: why India needs to get a voice against Sri Lanka

India's foreign minister SM Krishna has not made India's position clear on the upcoming UNHRC resolution. AFP

In these three points, he acknowledged the “concerns raised by some quarters” and listed the steps taken by the Sri Lankan government in addressing them, besides expressing apprehensions on the possible impact that the resolution can have on the reconciliation process.

In a long-winded sentence that clearly smacked of circumvention, he said: “as far as our position on the resolution is concerned, we are engaged with all parties in an effort to achieve a forward-looking outcome that is based on reconciliation and accountability rather than deepening confrontation and mistrust between the concerned parties.” So, what is your position sir?

Of course, he did say that the government will take a decision at an appropriate time, clearly indicating that for the time being, its stand is non-committal. Is it similar to the old Narasimha Rao dictum of “not taking a decision is also a decision”?

Now let’s see what Norway has said: “We expect the government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its domestic report, and to address alleged violations of international law without delay. We support the draft resolution tabled regarding Sri Lanka.”

And Japan, a heavy donor and lender to Sri Lanka?:

“Japan encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure two things, which it has stated its intention to fulfil. The first is to implement fully and in a timely manner the many good recommendations in the LLRC report. The second is to continue a regular and open dialogue both at home and with the international community on its human rights situation, including, but not limited to, the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.”

The LLRC is the 'Lessons Learnt and Rehabilitation Commission' set up by Sri Lankan government following its war with LTTE.

Canada?: “The LLRC has yet to fully address accountability for events that took place in the final phase of the conflict, including the allegations and recommendations outlined by the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a comprehensive and independent investigation into credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights committed by both sides of the conflict.”

And Ireland, Australia, Belgium, France...? Almost the same.

Forget the US and the UK, for now.

The international community is not asking for anything unreasonable. Implement the report of the LLRC and take action on alleged human rights violations. Sri Lanka retorts, citing sovereignty, reconstruction, reconciliation, “fabrication” of evidence by Channel 4 and the support by China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, some African and OIC countries with interesting human rights records.

It’s not surprising to see clever, long-winded sentences from the UPA government which has mastered the art of obfuscation, legalese and doublespeak; that too in a patently uncanny way, but Krishna’s statement was a sad reflection of political insensitivity to the sentiments of an important state such as Tamil Nadu and its own perceived geo-political vulnerability in the sub-continent.

While the (western) world is asking for accountability, India is talking reconciliation in a borrowed voice. Not that the world is not talking reconciliation, but alongside, it also wants accountability. Accountability of alleged human rights violations and war crimes, that too in the face of mounting evidence. Krishna desperately tries to send out the message that the country is doing everything for Tamils and any tough stand at this time could be detrimental. Shockingly, he actually says this in as many words.

“I would like to highlight here that on such sensitive issues we will need to consider the implications of our actions

India while admitting that all may not be well in Sri Lanka has refused to put any pressure on the administration there.File photo of India Foreign Minister SM Krishna with Sri Lanka President Mahindra Rajapaksa. Reuters

carefully. Any assertions on our part may have implications on our historically friendly relations with a neighbouring country. We would also need to examine whether our actions will actually assist in the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and enhance the current dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil parties, including the Tamil National Alliance,” he said.

Krishna’s statement, inadvertently, is also an admission that all is not well on the rehabilitation front and without India’s engagement, things couldn’t have gotten better for the Tamils.

He said, "I would like to underline that it is mainly as a result of our constructive engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka and our considerable assistance programme that a modicum of normalcy is beginning to return to the Tamil areas in Sri Lanka.”

Doesn’t he say here that Sri Lanka on its own wouldn’t have taken the present steps of rehabilitation without India’s assistance, while it makes a virtue of what it has been doing for the battered Tamils? According to Krishna, India has provided a Rs. 500 crore relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction package to Sri Lanka which covers housing (about 99,000 - half of them newly constructed and nearly half, repaired), agriculture and economic empowerment.

Yet, India doesn’t have a voice when it comes to asking questions on accountability. This is where Krishna ducks the question and meekly avers to the interest of the Tamils. What he says, amounts to “forget the past and move on.”

Reconciliation South Africa style? Cry, shout and make up? Will Sri Lanka’s unipolar polity and police state permit even such a soft and cathartic reconciliation model?

But the international community is not willing to soften its stand. Even while appreciating the LLRC, it maintains the need for the speedy implementation of its recommendations and tangible steps on rights violations, which assumes greater significance with Channel 4’s latest documentary that dug out more blood and gore that the Sri Lankan Army allegedly reveled in.

The foreign affairs mandarins in South Block should have resisted Sri Lanka’s efforts to heighten its anxiety over Pakistan and China while it handed over substantial chunks of assistance. In a world of tied-assistance, where any form of aid is strategically designed for policy leverage, India allowed itself to fail.

Krishna says that “the Sri Lankan defence authorities are reported to have appointed a Court of Inquiry to look into allegations of human rights violations as required by the LLRC report.”

But the international community’s argument is that the command structure went all the way up to the President. Will he stand up for scrutiny by this court of enquiry?

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Updated Date: Mar 15, 2012 14:48:36 IST