By S. V. Kirubaharan –
The UN Human Rights Council – UN HRC resolution (A/HRC/30/L.29) was successfully passed on 1 October 2015, by so-called “consensus”! It is a victory neither for the government of Sri Lanka nor for the victims, mainly the Tamils. But it is surely a victory for countries which have interests in Sri Lanka – the US and India.
Those who attended the 30th session of the UN HRC will be aware that this resolution was not agreed by a true consensus. We listened not only to interventions by China, Pakistan, Russia and Cuba during two informal consultations on the draft resolution, but also to interventions made in the Council. Those informal meetings were fraught with fierce fighting on the part of Sri Lanka and its baby-sitters – China, Pakistan, Russia and Cuba.
There is no doubt that the US exerted its maximum influence on Sri Lanka, not only to secure agreement on 90% of the original draft but also to become one of the co-sponsors. When Sri Lanka became a co-sponsor, no-one in Geneva believed it. It was a “U” turn in its position on the previous text, which had undergone a few amendments and the inclusion of a paragraph on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE.
In my 25 years of experience in UN Human Rights forums, this is the first time I have ever experienced a ‘concerned country’ becoming a co-sponsor of a resolution, especially under Agenda item 2 (country situations). However, this doesn’t mean that this resolution is weak, as some in the government and a section of the Tamils claim.
The attitude of the present government especially after accepting the resolution, gives the impression that either Sri Lanka reckons it does not need to implement the resolution or that the main sponsors including India have given a secret assurance to Sri Lanka, that there is no need to fully implement this resolution! We will know the correct answer to these questions only by March 2017.
The victims have high regard and trust in the UN, but they are unable to understand how the UN HRC is politicised! During the last session, Pakistan and China said openly that the resolution on Sri Lanka is a politicised one. They may have said it in a different context, but it is a fact that many resolutions in the UN HRC, especially under agenda item 2 are highly politicised.
China, Pakistan and Russia said the following in the Council:
“Politicization and interference into internal affairs of countries should be avoided.”
“As a sovereign and proud nation, Sri Lanka had the right to chart its own course in pursuing its domestic agenda.”
“Sri Lanka should itself decide which assistance it needed and which recommendations it would follow. Prosecutions of past crimes should be undertaken by Sri Lanka itself.”
For one main reason, we have been supporting this resolution right from the beginning. After many decades the ‘ball’ is now in ‘the Sri Lankan court’. For many years, Sri Lankan lobbyists blamed the Tamils for every failure – the 2002 Cease-fire agreement, Mavil Aaru water issue, the Oslo declaration and many others. The international community believed those Mickey Mouse stories and took the side of Sri Lanka. Now it is too late to analyse or talk about what happened in late 2008 and early 2009.
What is happening presently in Sri Lanka indicates that the latest resolution is going to shame the international community, namely the US, UK and India. The present anti-resolution activities are good examples on which to base a prediction of the resolution’s fate!
1 – On 6 October 2015, a few MPs displayed a banner in the Parliament against the UN HRC resolution. Parliamentary sittings were temporarily suspended,
2 – Impending country-wide propaganda against the resolution by nine political parties. This includes ex-President Rajapaksa and his faction of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
3 – 71 University dons signed a petition openly protesting against the resolution.
4 – Nine political parties staged a rally in Colombo on 19 October 2015, accusing the government of deliberately misleading them about the content of the resolution.
One of the popular news paper in Colombo said in its editorial that, “The contention that a resolution on the country being presented in the UNHRC is itself an assault on the reputation and the sovereignty of the country is vividly valid and also that the Western powers are pushing us to take action against some of the soldiers who immensely contributed in defeating the LTTE. …….Unfortunately, the perpetrators seem to be few among the valiant soldiers who liberated the country from the jaws of terrorism. (Excerpt)
5 – Speeches made by most of the MPs in the Sri Lankan Parliamentary debate on the UNHRC resolution; and what was said by President Maithripala Sirisena in a meeting with political party leaders and representatives, all need to be taken into account!
6 – The bizarre approach to the ‘(Mixed-well) Paranagama’ report clearly shows that locally, the government wants to reduce the importance of the OISL/UN High Commissioner’s report.
So what about the government which became a co-sponsor of this resolution? So far the government has not yet explained the resolution in full to its own citizens, especially the people in the South. Instead, the government is relating fairy tales about the resolution.
Protect the ‘war heroes’
When in Geneva, the Sri Lankan delegation agreed to international participation; having boarded the plane to Colombo, they said they will have to study the resolution; once they landed in Colombo, they declared it will be a domestic process, also telling their voters that they will protect the ‘war heroes’ who fought against ‘Tamil terrorists’.
Francis Harrison, ex BBC Correspondent, in her latest article “Sri Lanka at a cross roads” said that, “The biggest unknown is the bloated Sri Lankan military, at best unwilling to see its war perks diminished, let alone their so called “war heroes” put on trial. A coup or toppling of government is not impossible if too many senior officers suddenly feel their interests are threatened by the accountability process.”
In such a scenario what can one expect from the present government? As far as any Sri Lankan government has ever been concerned, when it comes to Tamils the approach has always been the same. The 1st Executive President of Sri Lanka J.R. Jeyawardene said, ““I am not worried about the opinion of the Tamil people… now we cannot think of them, not about their lives or their opinion… the more you put pressure in the north, the happier the Sinhala people will be here… Really if I starve the Tamils out, the Sinhala people will be happy.” – Daily Telegraph, 11th July 1983.
This was said more than three decades ago when Sri Lankan soldiers were being killed in battle in their twos, threes and tens; and Tamils civilians were killed in their thousands. During the 30 years of war, there were occasions when hundreds of soldiers were killed in many battles. Therefore, reconciliation is going to be a massive challenge. Long before the war began, even during the period when the non-violent struggle was staged, Tamils in the North and East were never recognized as equal citizens of the island.
Communities to live in harmony
After the end of the war, I wrote many articles on the 13th amendment and a solution within a united Sri Lanka. But presently, the way things are happening in Sri Lanka, many feel that either the people in the North and East should be prepared to convert themselves into Singhalese or else, separation would be the best solution for both communities to live in harmony. If the present situation continues in Sri Lanka, in time to come, the international community, especially the US, UK and India may form the same opinion.
The so-called right to self-determination, federal solutions and 13th amendment are sweet words but at the ground level, the communities and people are divided. Even though the political leaders in the South understand this reality, they are reluctant to state it publicly.
Half of civil society in the South is an innocent crowd. We cannot blame them, because they cannot become enemies of all governments in Sri Lanka. In the past, the other half worked with the government agenda and they were partly the cause of eventualities in Mullivaghzhal.
Breaches of accords and pacts
Anyone who goes into Sri Lankan history will understand that, Sri Lanka is famous for breaches of accords and pacts, it had previously agreed to. A few high lights are given below:
On 26 July 1957 an agreement known as the “Banda-Chelva” pact was signed between Bandaranayake (President Chandrika’s father) and the Tamil leader, S. J. V. Chevanayagam. This agreement was based on a quasi-federal system devolving certain powers to the Tamils in the North East provinces.
On 24 March 1965, an agreement known as “Dudley-Chelva” Pact was signed between Dudley Senanayake and the Tamil leader S. J. V. Chelvanayagam.
On the 29th July 1987, a peace accord known as “Indo-Lanka” was signed between Sri Lanka and India. Even though this accord purported to bring an end to the island’s ethnic crisis, it was signed without any consultation with the Tamils of the North and East. This paved the way for the 13th amendment, which has never yet been implemented.
On 5 January 1995 the Government of Sri Lanka (President Chandrika) signed an agreement for cessation of hostilities with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam – LTTE. The Government announced lifting of the economic embargo but the embargo continued. Later Chandrika government argued that there was no such thing as an economic embargo in the Tamil region.
On 21 February 2002, under the facilitation of Norway, a Ceasefire Agreement “Memorandum of Understanding” was signed between the LTTE, and the then Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe.
Several rounds of negotiations took place in Thailand, Japan, Norway, Germany and Switzerland. The government of Sri Lanka failed to implement the agreed outcomes of peace talks.
On 24 June 2005, the Post Tsunami Operational Management Structure – PTOMS was signed between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. This agreement was made null and void because of a political judgement on 15 July 2005, from the Supreme Court. The PTOMS involved distribution of Tsunami aid in the North and East.
Out of all of the above, not a single agreement was respected by the political leaders or governments of the day in Sri Lanka. Therefore, ignoring or breaching the latest resolution of the UN HRC is not a difficult affair for the present government.
Of course there are a few individuals on both sides who want a peaceful political solution and demand justice for what has happened in the past.
Changes made worse
Consider the world and see how it has changed within the last 10 years. Changes from Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt to Libya have made things worse than before. If someone tries to say that Sri Lanka is going to contribute to a better world and set an example for democracy and good governance in South East-Asia, I wish them good luck.
The Sri Lankan government says something completely different to the people in the South, than what is in the resolution. This hide and seek attitude is not going to last long.
There is no place in the resolution where an impression is given that the investigation is going to be purely domestic. But you would never think this is the case, if you listen to speeches given by the government side, also speeches made by the President, Prime Minister and cabinet spokesperson.
My best advice to our friends in the Tamil National Alliance – TNA is that they should not try to sell this resolution to their voters, unless Sri Lanka starts the right procedures as mentioned in the resolution. At the present time, if the TNA tries to convince the voters, then they will be in trouble and compelled to take a compromising position. Their victory in any future elections in the North and East will be in a dilemma.
Usually, Sri Lanka’s pattern is that one government violates the rights of the people and then the next one comes to power and will do the cover-up task. It is a smart way of running a government.
Since the ‘end of the war’, there are members of the Tamil diaspora who have been making use of the space for their name and fame. They are in touch with countries like South Africa, Norway and Switzerland, saying that they are the sole representatives or the spokespersons of the Tamil diaspora! In fact, 99% of these individuals never experienced the pain of either the political struggle or the suffering of the people.
The other 1% is still ambitious for their Nobel Prize! In the past, these individuals tried to create a religious conflict among the diaspora. Because of their thirst for the Nobel Prize, they now exaggerate their contribution to the Tamil struggle, especially their task in the UN.
During the early 2000s, because the LTTE refused their unreasonable request to recommend them for a Nobel Prize, they now presume that Managala Samaraweera can do it for them. It is a shame that these cheap individuals are telling utter lies to attract some foreign countries and the Sri Lankan government.
If these individuals are really honest to their heart and really want to find a durable political solution, why are they reluctant to recommend the right individuals? It is a pity that certain countries are dealing with personae non gratae as Tamil diaspora leaders. This path will never produce any fruitful result either on reconciliation or on the ethnic conflict.
Therefore, the government of Sri Lanka and members of civil society should find their way to deal with the right people. Otherwise this will be yet another time-buying tactic as in the past.
On 1st October 2015, the Tamil National Alliance – TNA had a press conference soon after the resolution was passed in the UN. It was an utter mistake on the part of the TNA to allow others to speak at this event. This platform was used purely by non-TNA individuals to glorify themselves.
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