19 July, 2019

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Sri Lanka’s Third Showdown At UNHRC

By R Hariharan

 Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Col. (retd) R.Hariharan

Sri Lanka will face the flak at the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the third time this week when the US fields its draft resolution on Sri Lanka’s accountability over its conduct during and after the Eelam War. US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of his country’s keenness to do so as Sri Lanka government “still has not answered basic demands for accountability and reconciliation, where attacks on civil society activists, journalists, and religious minorities sadly, continue.” His comments came after he released the State Department’s annual human rights report for 2013.

He was echoing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mrs Navneetham Pillay’s rationale for recommending an international inquiry into war crimes committed by both sides during Eelam War in her draft report released on February 24, 2014. [The advance edited version of her draft report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council is available here ]

Mrs Pillay in her report has put forth powerful arguments to support her recommendations for an impartial international inquiry by including a complete section on “Recent human rights developments” which explains a whole range of concern at the continuing trend in Sri Lanka. These include attacks on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, particularly against human rights defenders, journalists and families of victims, the rising levels of religious intolerance, and continued militarization. According to her these developments have continued to undermine the environment where accountability and reconciliation could be achieved.

The Secretary of State explaining the US stand said, “Our concern about this ongoing situation has led the United States to support another UN Human Rights Council resolution at the March session. We will do so because we know countries that deny human rights and human dignity challenge our interests as well as human interests. But we also know countries that advance those values, those countries that embrace these rights are countries that actually create opportunities.”

UN member nations are usually reluctant to vote for country specific resolutions demanding international probes into internal issues. Usually democratic nations generally have domestic mechanisms to carry out such tasks. Sri Lanka as a functional democracy with all the trappings of good governance would normally be considered as one such country. Apart from issues of real politick, this was one reason that the UNHCR’s two earlier resolutions gave opportunities to Sri Lanka to assume responsibility and implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report.

But Sri Lanka due to lack of sensitivity to the international environment has failed to live up to the international community’s expectations. So the US moves to haul up Sri Lanka before the UNHRC comes as no surprise. The US in tandem with the UK had been monitoring the progress made by Sri Lanka since the UNHCR passed the last resolution. They had kept Sri Lanka informed of their continued concerns at the tardy implementation. Both the countries had also given sufficient notice to Sri Lanka of their intention to bring a resolution on Sri Lanka for the third time at the UNHCR session in March resolutions. Mrs Pillay had also spoken about her intention to seek an international inquiry more than once, particularly after her visit to Sri Lanka in August 2012.

The UNHRC has 47 member-nations elected by the UN General Assembly on a rotational three-year term representing five geographical groups – Africa-13, Asia-13, Eastern Europe-6, Latin America & the Caribbean -8, and Western European and Other states-7.

At present Asian group includes Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Philippine, Saudi Arabia and South Korea. Most of them would probably vote against the US draft. On the other hand, most of the Western European group and the Latin American group (barring Cuba) are likely to vote for it, a few countries might abstain. So the African group’s voting becomes crucial to decide the fate of the resolution.

Among the doubtful supporters of the US resolution are Australia and Japan. According to Australian media the Tony Abbot government does not seem to be inclined to support it as Sri Lanka had been cooperating with Australia in preventing illegal human traffic from Sri Lanka coast. Japan also could abstain as it had been averse to international interference in Sri Lanka’s process; it wants to help the country to improve it. But will this hold against its strategic ally the US’ pressure? Among other major powers China and Russia have declared their opposition to a resolution against Sri Lanka.

Though Sri Lanka had been lobbying vigorously with the UNHRC members against the resolution, it seems to be in a tight corner as President Rajapaksa has chosen to continue with his inflexible stand that all the issues highlighted by the various resolutions and reports at the UNHRC on Sri Lanka. And he feels other countries are conspiring to defame Sri Lanka.

President Rajapaksa has tried to put a brave face when he talked at the Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) few days back, though he admitted it was “uncomfortable with the whole situation”. However, while addressing a public meeting he tried to trivialise it. The Geneva issue was not something to be concerned about, it was “still a headache.” He found consolation in the fact that countries like Israel and Cuba had faced so many resolutions and were “yet not shaken while Sri Lanka has faced just three resolutions.”

He has continued with his pet refrain that some countries were attempting to use resolutions to “destabilize” Sri Lanka. In spite of all this bravado, the truth is Sri Lanka’s ‘human rights baggage’ will only grow if he delays positive action any more. This is evident from Mrs Pillay’s present and past reports.

Internally it is likely to increase ethnic friction. This would make the resumption of the process of ethnic reconciliation even more difficult. Already the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) has passed a resolution in support of the UN High Commissioner’s report and wants an international enquiry under the UN auspices. This has angered the President; his knee jerk reaction to haul up some of the  Tamil National Alliance (TNA) leaders before law for their links with the LTTE in the past will only harden the TNA, which is still politically strong whether he likes it or not.

There is growing disaffection among Muslim minority over the government’s continued inaction against repeated attacks by Buddhist extremists on Muslim establishments. This came to the fore when the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), a partner of the ruling UPFA coalition, submitted a report on attacks against Muslims to Mrs Pillay during her last visit to Sri Lanka.

The President’s attitude to the SLMC action was typical.  He accused Minister Rauf Hakeem of SLMC of “betraying the country” when he heard of allegations that the SLMC had been lobbying with West Asian countries over attacks on Muslims in Sri Lanka. The Christian community has not fared any better.

Rajapaksa wants such complaints to be kept “in house” to be dealt not by the government but by the majority community.

So it is not surprising that Sri Lanka government rejected Mrs Pillay’s report out rightly. It said government said the report had not given adequate attention to the domestic processes ongoing in Sri Lanka within the framework of the LLRC recommendations. It branded the report as “politicized in premise” and called the recommendations as arbitrary and intrusive. Detailed comments of Sri Lanka’s permanent mission at the UN on the draft report are available at here.

India is going to have a difficult role to play when Sri Lanka is hauled up before the UNHCR all over again as its manoeuvring space appears to have reduced further. Moreover, India had set a precedent by voting for the two earlier resolutions. Though India’s stand has not been made public, India’s Minister of External Affairs Salman Khurshid is reported to have told his Sri Lanka counterpart that India would be voting for the U.S. draft, as it did earlier. So Sri Lanka’s efforts will probably play upon India’s general aversion for an international to get its help in getting the resolution toned down.

However this may not be possible as India has both diplomatic and internal issues in obliging Sri Lanka. In fact Sri Lanka’s continued intransigence has made it difficult for India to support it. India may not be able to ward off American pressure also. So New Delhi is likely to go by the earlier precedence and vote for the US resolution.

This makes sense if we consider the internal compulsions of the Congress party as it faces bleak prospects at the parliamentary elections in a few weeks. The Sri Lanka war crimes issue has become a major political controversy in Tamil Nadu in the cat fight between the two major Dravidian parties.  The DMK in an opportunistic move has deserted the Congress Party – its long time partner – in the state. A vote for the US resolution could be one of the last ditch efforts to save the Congress party’s face in the State.

The saving grace is that President Rajapaksa seems to understand New Delhi’s problems. Answering a pointed question during his FCA interaction on India he is reported to have said: “You must remember they [India] are facing elections and have to listen to the electorate, think about the future. Last time they voted against us, this time we don’t know yet. But we understand them.” But that does not help Sri Lanka.

What should Sri Lanka be doing to get things right? At present Sri Lanka seems to answer it by considering what it should not be doing. It has to take positive action. In an interesting interaction with a delegation of Sri Lankan journalists in New Delhi, the Indian External Affairs Minister explained the Indian perspective on various aspects connected with Sri Lanka’s approach to the ethnic reconciliation process and the war crimes allegations. According to Sri Lankan media, he listed out a few things for Sri Lanka to ponder.

  • No isolation: Sri Lanka should not isolate itself from the world and find ways to communicate its ‘compulsions and limitations’ and find a greater understanding with the world. He stressed that accountability and justice are now more pervasive in the world than before as the world is increasingly interconnected and open.
  • Show commitment first: “For India to help Sri Lanka in Geneva, Sri Lanka should address local concerns so that India would be able to lobby on behalf of Sri Lanka. For us to help, you should be doing things that we would be able to tell the world.”
  • Ego: He advised that ego should not be allowed to get in the way: He advocated a much saner approach “in contrast to the local proclivity to slander the visiting UN and US officials.
  • Sensitivity: Sri Lanka should not be too sensitive and the world should not be over-reactive.   He referred to the government orchestrated demonstrations against the US and the UN in Colombo when the resolution was brought before the UNHRC earlier. Rights activists and journalists were subjected to character assassination.

It is an irony that Sri Lanka, which proclaims it has liberated the people from three decades of LTTE tyranny after the humanitarian war, is now facing the flak at the UN forum on allegations of war crimes and continuing human rights violations. President Rajapaksa has to seriously introspect on the shortcomings of his present approach. Though he may be averse to listen to ‘the Big Brother’ India’s counsel (as given by its foreign minister) it could help to take Sri Lanka back from the brink. But will he? If we go by Sri Lanka’s attitude to things ‘foreign’ I find it difficult to answer with ‘aye.’

*Col R Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. E-Mail: colhari@yahoo.com   Blog: www.colhariharan.org

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Latest comments

  • 6
    0

    To everyone in UPFA government UNHRC Sessions in Geneva, are semesters of their course of study in foreign policy. We in Sri Lanka know that failures are pillars of success. Yet the unfortunate thing is nobody questions how much each pillar costs.

    • 1
      2

      R Hariharan ,

      Third showdown? How many more showdowns.

      The theory of induction says that if it is true for n=1. n=2, n=3 etc.and if one can prove it is true for n-1, and for n+1, it is likely to be true for n=n.

      So, if n=2, and we know n=1 and n=2 are true, and n=3 will likely be true in Geneva, n=n, is general.

      The Sinhala Monk Mahanama Buddhists, will keep this going until, n= infinity.

      This can be shortened, if India and the West have Guts? Do they have guts?

  • 0
    5

    Kerry’s assertion that SL “still has not answered basic demands for accountability and reconciliation, where attacks on civil society activists, journalists, and religious minorities sadly, continue.” is not related to what the UNHRC is about. UNHRC is looking whether Sri Lanka was involved in human right violations in the final phase of the terror war. An investigation engaging GOSL is required before going to UNHRC for what he is talking about.

  • 2
    2

    .
    Once India gave money and weapons to LTTE to fight Srilankan Army.
    Then Srilanka gave money and weapons to LTTE to fight Indian IPKF.
    Still, India supported Srilanka to wipeout LTTE.
    Now India supporting US against Srilanka.

    I think India playing it’s cards well to achieve what it wants.

    :-)

    • 0
      0

      Aratai,
      “Now India supporting US against Srilanka.”
      Isn’t this a typo.. I believe and UN/EU/USA believe what they trying to do is “FOR SriLanka”, which is its’ people.
      Shouldn’t you like to rephrase your comment as ” US against SL Gov atioins/ inactions”?
      Anura

  • 5
    1

    India has been completely sidelined on the existential crisis that is unfolding on the island just as it has on other issues in South Asia. It’s well known that the US did not inform the Pakistanis when they decided to send Black Hawks into Pakistan to kill Bin Laden, but it’s important to note that they didn’t inform India either. They also didn’t ask for India’s permission when they decided to invade Afghanistan or when they decided to upgrade their naval base in Diego Garcia. These aren’t the eighties. Things have changed. This ocean is Indian only by name.
     
    India had their chance to assume the leadership mantle in the late 1980’s. They had a favorable political environment. They even had boots on the ground. The Tamil people welcomed Indian soldiers with so much goodwill and so much hope. Yet largely due to the lack of a clear vision from the top, they had to leave in disgrace. They tried to pander to both sides and ultimately now have neither the respect of the Sinhalese or the Tamils. India will not get another chance. There will not be another Indian intervention on this Island. It’s Americas turn now.

    • 4
      2

      You are right on this “The Tamil people welcomed Indian soldiers with so much goodwill and so much hope”.

      But….

      “”..the Indian Army came here, massacred innocent Tamil civilians, raped our women and plundered our valuables. The acronym IPKF will always stand for Indian People Killing Force where we are concerned.We will one day erect a memorial in the heart of Jaffna town, in the centre of Hospital Road, in memory of all the innocent civilians – ranging in age from the very old past 80 to young children massacred by the IPKF and to the women who were raped.”” http://tamilnation.co/intframe/india/warcrimes/040321somasekeram.htm

    • 0
      1

      Oh I say! Biff! Bang! Wallop! Telling it like it is. Poor India; they came, they saw….they went back, their tails between their hairy legs. Nuff said.

  • 2
    4

    So Colonel’s advice to our Srilankan Inhabitants ..” Bend over and take it” because that is what his External Affairs Minister wants.

    And who are in the queue,?.

    Cameron , Harper, Pillai, McCrae, Bishwal, Jayalalitha and the hardcore LTTE card carrying members who are now working hand in hand with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,

    Why do our inhabitants need to receive this punishment?.

    Because, they haven’t faced any car bombs, suicide attacks ,senseless killings,abductions, or child soldiers for nearly five years now.

    And they have even given permission for the LTTE proxy Politicians to rule the ex LTTE Territory.

    And even build a monument to remember the 2000 Indian soldiers who came over to give us a sort of an Eelaam.

    Even then it was the demand of the Colonel’s old external Affairs Bosses that we bend over.

    • 1
      2

      Sumanasekera:

      Wake up man. The World is staring at you and it is now Mahintha vs The Civilised World. Up to now you lot have tried to cast doubt on the Tamil Diaspora but now you have an enemy within. The SLMC.
      They have now come to their senses and that is why Raful Hakeem handed over the 5o page document to Navi Pillai and have sought the help of the So called LTTE Rum and it has worked. Three muslim countries who previously voted for you lot have now said after seeing the report from their Mulsim brethren that they will vote against Sri Lanka.

      1) And who are in the queue,?. Cameron , Harper, Pillai, McCrae, Bishwal, Jayalalitha and the hardcore LTTE card carrying members who are now working hand in hand with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Why do our inhabitants need to receive this punishment?.

      ***If in doubt ask Raful Hakeem and don’t forget he is a Minister. He has just announced that he is not going to leave GOSL and it is up to Mahintha to sack him in other words he has thrown down the Gauntlet.

      2) Because, they haven’t faced any car bombs, suicide attacks ,senseless killings,abductions, or child soldiers for nearly five years now. And they have even given permission for the LTTE proxy Politicians to rule the ex LTTE Territory. And even build a monument to remember the 2000 Indian soldiers who came over to give us a sort of an Eelaam. Even then it was the demand of the Colonel’s old external Affairs Bosses that we bend over.

      *** They have faced the Barbaric Sinhala Soldiers, the Para militaries, the Grease Men and State Terrorism for the last 5 years let alone the terror for the last 64 years by 20 million Racists like you lot.

      King Mahintha will face justice just like Milosevic and Sadam. MRs own Doctor was shot at the other day and the heat is getting closer and one of his own soldiers will take aim at him for a price and that is what happens if you defy the Mightiest bully the World has ever seen .

  • 4
    3

    11 US senators have come out in support of SL. More the merrier!

    SL should have kept IPKF 4 more years in Jaffna. IPKF was having a good time at the expense of Jaffna Tamil women. Who would complain!

    • 1
      0

      Fathima (aka Lorenzo)
      11 US Senators? Thats embarrassing mate.
      Can you ask for a refund from TAG?
      11 US Senators at $64,000 per month to TAG
      aney lorenzo please go back to LW and ask Putin to start a nuke war!
      LOL!

    • 1
      1

      Fat “Mama” Fuk U Shima.

      Mama it cant be as bad as Raful Hakeem pulling a fast one on Manhinta and stabbing the Criminal in the back. Behind his back he handed over a 50 page document to Navi Pillai and then gave it to The Tamil Diaspora and in the process beat Mahintha in his own game by lying to him that it wasn’t him but the leader of the SLMC who handed over the document.
      What are you going to do you half cast. MRs Doctor was shot at and next it will be the real thing meaning MR. How is he going to sleep as he knows he is going to be gunned down by one of his own body guards for the right price. Man you cant defy Gravity( USA)

  • 3
    0

    Sri Lanka as a functional democracy with all the trappings of good governance would normally be considered as one such country.

    Which world is this guy living in? LOL

    Ask the ex-CJ how it functions LOL

  • 0
    2

    Mana Mohana Singh is right now a Lame DUCK Prime Minister.

    What does MODI say about this UNHRC resolution ?

    • 1
      1

      Jim Sooty:

      Ask Raful Hakeem

    • 3
      0

      JimSofty

      “Mana Mohana Singh is right now a Lame DUCK Prime Minister.”

      It was intended when he was first appointed to high office.

  • 0
    2

    US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of his country’s keenness to do so as Sri Lanka government “still has not answered basic demands for accountability and reconciliation, where attacks on civil society activists, journalists, and religious minorities sadly, continue.”

    John Kerry does not have backbone to criticize India because India is a Coolie of the Kerry’s country.

    See the record for Hindia.

    Hindians are ready to sell Hindia if they get enough cash for them.

    • 1
      0

      Jim Sooty:

      This is where MR can step in and extend his arm of Bribery from his loot which runs into billions.

  • 2
    0

    Col. (retd) R.Hariharan has the connections necessary to gather inside information of India, on matters related to Sri Lanka. This mutual understanding is in the interest of the Indian Government, as well.

    His not so unrevealing interest is to portray India in good stead. The Col. has been struggling to hide this interest, for quite some time now.

    India has lost a lot of grounds to Sri Lanka – read China – by its single minded hatred of LTTE. What India had overlooked at its peril is that it was betraying the Tamils of Sri Lanka in its single minded fixation against LTTE.

    Tamils of Sri Lanka embraced LTTE with the hope that India was on their side. At the moment, there is no ‘Tamil’ in Sri Lanka who trusts India.

    It is not too late for India to earn the trust, it had lost along the way, back. The higher beneficiary on the long run would be India.

    The longer India takes to arrest this overdue course correction in its foreign relations, the harder it is going to be for India to restore its image as the Regional Superpower. Right now China is ahead of India in the Game of Geo-Politics.

  • 2
    1

    The World has now seen Mahintha for what he is and that is why they have decided headed by USA and Britain to sort him and if they fail to bring him to justice it will give a Green Light to all the future Despots.
    The cover given by Madam Sonia has gone as after the Election she will be going back to the Vatican.

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