16 October, 2021


India’s UN ‘Yes’ Vote Was A Wrong Move on Sri Lanka – Daily Mail UK


Many arguments can be made against our decision to vote against Sri Lanka in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a decision highly questionable from the foreign policy point of view.

Domestic compulsions seem to have outweighed foreign policy considerations in this case. India and the West have been at odds on how best to address the issue of human rights internationally. India shares the view that the West uses the issue to embarrass, destabilise or topple politically uncongenial governments.

During the Cold War the Soviet Union was succesfully destabilised through the human rights basket of the Helsinki Accords. Cuba has been a favourite target year after year.

After the Cold War ended many countries have come under the West’s scanner on human rights issues, ranging from Libya, Iraq and erstwhile Yugoslavia to Iran, China and Russia. Belarus is under pressure on this count and so is Syria.

India, until recently, has been under stress too. With improved India-US ties the US government now disregards periodic reports from international human rights organisations on our alleged human rights infringements in Jammu & Kashmir in particular, but the issue has not disappeared.

Because the West uses the issue of human rights selectively, targetting adversaries and protecting allies, India has taken a principled position all these years at Geneva to oppose or abstain on human rights resolutions against individual countries in the Human Rights Commission and its re-incarnation under US pressure as the Human Rights Council.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa

India has not believed in this name and shame game played for cynical ends by powerful countries who claim the high moral ground on humanitarian issues, but whose own international actions, often hugely costly in human terms, are shielded from any formal censure because of their dominant position. India also believes that the principle of sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs should be respected.

While India shares the values of democracy, pluralism and human freedoms with the West, it differs with it on the degree of activism to spread these values world-wide.

In India’s thinking, promotion of values should not be a cover for an aggressive promotion of self-interest. India does not want to be in the business of shaping the global order according to the values it espouses as a country, as that entails passing judgments on how countries run their internal affairs and assuming burdens on behalf of the citizens of a foreign country that rightly fall within the purview of national governments.

In the case of the vote on Sri Lanka, irrespective of the reality of the human rights situation there, we have departed from our principled position on these matters.

The irony is that in the past we have stood on the side, explicitly or implicitly, of China, Sudan, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Iran, Syria and so on by voting against or abstaining on resolutions.

Are these countries closer to us than Sri Lanka? If we had to move from principle to pragmatism on human rights issues, should we have begun with Sri Lanka, where bilateral sensitivities are far more acute than in any other case?

Once we drift from our moorings of principle at Geneva, we will not be able to escape taking up positions on human rights issues involving specific countries. Tomorrow how will we justify not voting against Iran, or for that matter China?

And, if for delicate political reasons we do not want to rock our relations with these countries by joining others in indicting them, how will we justify in retrospect our vote against Sri Lanka?

In voting against Sri Lanka on a western sponsored resolution, have we now concluded that the West’s treatment of human rights issues has become universally acceptable and even-handed in its treatment of friends and adversaries?

Our vote against Sri Lanka in a multilateral forum should have followed a public hardening of posture bilaterally with our neighbour. We should have appeared to have exhausted bilateral diplomacy before joining the West at Geneva to summon Sri Lanka to assume its human rights responsibilities towards its own population.

We have, however, maintained an intensive dialogue with Sri Lanka on the Tamilian question and are undertaking rehabilitation and reconstruction operations in the North. We have not given any impression of a diplomatic impasse with Sri Lanka even as we have continued to press it to discard triumphalist thinking and move forward on reconciliation and devolution.

That we amended the US/EU sponsored resolution to make it less intrusive, more balanced and more respectful of Sri Lankan sovereignty is not sufficient justification for joining with distant powers to pick on Sri Lanka at Geneva. We should be in control of our relationship with Sri Lanka instead of following the lead of others or seeking to achieve our own political ends through them.

Those in India advocating that we should have taken the lead at Geneva to move against Sri Lanka are implicitly endorsing the manipulative dimension of western human rights policies, while forgetting that this instrument has been used against us in the past and can be in the future.

Those who argue that in censuring Sri Lanka India has shown its readiness to act as a responsible power subscribe to demeaning criticism of India in western circles as well as the fiction that western policies are inherently responsible.

While democracies have to be sensitive to public opinion, should our foreign policy be held hostage to coalition politics? Should individual states be allowed to dictate to the Centre foreign policy decisions whose implications go beyond immediate domestic political equations?

Our foreign policy risks becoming erratic and capricious if domestic pulls become overly influential in shaping its direction.

*The writer is a former Foreign Secretary

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    More evidence of newspeak. Describing India’s normal foreign policy as ‘principled’, and last week’s vote at the UNHRC as ‘pragmatic’ seems bizarre. Anyone who has followed Indian diplomacy over the last few years would be aghast if India had voted against the resolution, which merely holds Sri Lanka to do what it said it would do. Surely this is the principled position, namely requiring the Government of Sri Lanka to abide by undertakings it had already given. The
    latest being the Sri Lankan Government’s much anounced commitment to implement the its own Lessons Learnt Recncilaition Commission.

    For how much longer do we have to accept this nonsensical term ‘western’, traditionally referring to cowboy movies, to describe a group of nations?

  • 0

    I (as a Kashmiri) think that its the right time for our advocate (Pakistan)to Raise The Kashmir Issue At UNHRC with the help of Sri Lanka.

    Its no doubt that the people of Kashmir are gratified to note that the United Nations has started coming out of its “coma” by raising the voice against the voiceless from Geneva headquarters. But unfortunately, the UNHRC has remained silent on the tragedy being inflicted by over 700,000 Indian military and paramilitary forces deployed in Kashmir — which under international law is a disputed territory and not the integral part of any country. This silence has had lethal repercussions for the civilian and unarmed population.

    It has also created the impression that the Human Rights Council is selective about the application of the international law, justice and human rights. The people of Kashmir hope that the members of the Council will become the real defenders of human rights and will keep India accountable for killing more than 100,000 innocent people in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

    India is not even considering Kashmiris as Indians in reality, otherwise they would not have used rape and murder as a weapon to make people silent who are only asking their democratic rights as they have been promised by Indian leaders and the UN Security Council.

    Some facts:

    -The European Parliament’s Ad Hoc Delegation has described “Kashmir, World’s Most Beautiful Prison”:

    -Guinness Book of World Records names Kashmir as the largest dispute in the world because of the presence of huge military deployment.

    The Guinness Book of world records quoting US Intelligence Agency (CIA) fact book says, “The dispute between China, India and Pakistan for the Kashmir region is the largest and most militarized territorial dispute currently taking place on the planet earth.”

    Indian lobby is trying to marginalise Kashmir dispute and attempting to cover its human rights violations committed by their troops by raising the issue of HR violations in other parts of the world.

    You can find easily the ratio of human rights violations record on both sides by going through the data of killings, arrests, tortures , rapes and disappearances reported by the independent sources.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.