Colombo Telegraph

Geneva – What Now?

By Gaweshaka –

The US resolution in the UN Human Rights Council has been passed. The original unofficial version was toned down with the part condemning the Sri Lankan government removed when it was presented to the Council. Before the vote, it was further toned down to make the High Commissioner of Human Rights to consult and obtain the concurrence of the Sri Lankan government before providing advice and technical assistance. The Sri Lankan government spent almost Rs. 200 million over the past month in sending powerful teams to Geneva and to world capitals in an effort to defeat the resolution. However anybody who is even slightly aware of the politics of the UN would have known that the US would never propose a resolution on a non-urgent matter like Sri Lanka unless they were sure it would pass. If there was even the slightest doubt, the resolution would have been proposed by one of the East European allies of the US.

The crucial factor has been India’s position.  There is reason to believe that India had already informed the US that it would not oppose the resolution and it was widely expected to abstain. The Sri Lankan Government seems to have gone out of its way to annoy India with its regularly broken promises on dealing with the national problem, its recent deliberate insult to the Indian Foreign Minister by the President publicly disowning 13 Plus after agreeing to it in private and its premature announcement of Indian support for Sri Lanka at Geneva. With increasing pressures from Tamil Nadu, India was probably the force behind the change to require Sri Lankan concurrence so that it could change its vote from “abstain” to “for”. How correct Professor Shelton Kodikara, an expert on Indo-Sri Lanka relations, was when he said that the road to New Delhi lies through Tamil Nadu!

India had been in the forefront of the opposition to one country resolutions at the UNHRC as it too is worried that its actions in Kashmir will come to scrutiny. The decision to support the resolution would have been a difficult one for India. It must be remembered that India and China jointly prevented the West passing a similar resolution in 2009 and replaced it with a resolution acceptable to Sri Lanka. If Sri Lanka looks back at its policies of the past few years it would realize that the domestic policies promoted by the Rajapakse regime and their chauvinist associates and its duplicity and disregard for commitments compounded by incompetence in foreign policy have been largely responsible for the halving of its support at the UNHCR in a mere three years.

Although the resolution has been watered down and Sri Lanka could refuse to have anything to do with the technical assistance offered by the High Commissioner of Human Rights, there are several aspects of the resolution which would prevent the government going on as usual. The resolution in its first two paragraphs goes beyond implementing the LLRC recommendations by requesting the government to take “additional steps” to ensure justice, equity and accountability and to provide also an action plan on how it would address “violations of international law.” After the resolution, Sri Lanka will be an agenda item of the UNHCR and the danger is that if the UNHCR feels that the resolution cannot be implemented, it has the power to refer it to other UN bodies with more teeth.

But what is the post-resolution outlook for Sri Lanka? The mobilization of opposition to the resolution has strengthened the chauvinist elements in the government and one can expect short term anti-Indian actions from these elements. However given the country’s problems in obtaining oil from Iran, Sri Lanka cannot afford to antagonize India. What would be the effect on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy? Would there be an attempt to improve our relations with the world, if necessary by changing our domestic policies in areas of concern? Or will we continue to blunder on regardless of how it affects the country?

Sri Lanka being on the agenda of the UNHCR would of course provide nationalist elements an opportunity to exploit the happenings there regularly for electoral gain. Although it would be foolhardy for the government to totally ignore the resolution, given the past performance of the Rajapakse’s one cannot totally discount them doing so. The government which made several promises at the UNHCR to improve human rights and accountability in the country and actually initiated army inquiries into human right violations had at the same time after all continued with its ‘white van” activities. All we can probably expect are cosmetic changes to show the world that the resolution is being implemented and the promises made at UNHCR in an effort to prevent the resolution being taken up are being kept. After all, Mahinda Samarasinghe promised the UNHCR in 2009 that the government would strengthen the 17th amendment to improve governance – and we all know what happened to that promise. However the 22nd session of the UNHCR when the High Commissioner of Human Rights has to report on Sri Lanka hangs like a sword over the country’s head and it is in the Government’s interest to formulate a sound strategy to work towards it.

Article is provided by Team Anik Pituwa

*Painting by Chandraguptha Thenuwara.

 

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