By S. Sivathasan –
To foster peace the UNO was founded. It established a Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in 1946, which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the period 1947 to 1967 the Commission concentrated on sovereignty in keeping with the spate of decolonization in Asia and Africa. After the mid-sixties when violations increased, emphasis shifted by 1967 to action on violators and a policy of interventionism came about. It implied that investigation and report were assuming weightage in the CHR. As the tasks of the Commission took on a different orientation and a new dimension, the UNCHR was superseded by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2006.
Sri Lanka’s Opportunities
Like most emergent countries which embarked on nation building, Ceylon too had her opportunity. When no problems blocked her way, she created them beginning with partial ethnic cleansing. It took the iniquitous form of Citizenship Laws to repatriate nearly half the Tamils of recent Indian origin. The remaining Tamils of Indian origin were deprived of their franchise and denied representation in Parliament and other civic institutions. The Sinhala Only Act followed to marginalize the Tamils. Since then acts of state terrorism were set afoot for no less than 30 years forcing a third of the Tamils to expatriate themselves in pursuit of life and liberty. Sri Lanka’s creation was an infuriated Diaspora instead of a contented multi-ethnic nation.
The end of the war in 2009 provided an occasion for a Kalinga, a penitent Asoka and a prosperous Singapore. An opportunity arose to build afresh by putting the past behind. But it was not to be and the path of Zimbabwe was chosen as the ‘best practice’. Value was placed on internecine warfare and a programme was drawn up to lay the country to waste. The malpractices caught the attention of UNHRC in 2009 in just three years of its creation.
From 2009 – 14, the Council has methodically gone through the motions providing opportunities for Sri Lanka to change the Human Rights situation in the island for the better. However disdaining to do anything and engaging in denial and defiance were the mode of reaction. The wrath of the UN body was invited by Sri Lanka and as of March this year, a due process stands initiated.
The attention of the UN continues to remain riveted with little letting up and no escape route. A quarrel between two ethnic entities in an island nation has travelled to the League of Nations building, to the glare of the world. Enmity with the world entails root and branch destruction, goes a Tamil saying. Yet the Tamil side eschewed it and paid a heavy price. The contesting side takes the same course to pay a heavier price.
Sri Lanka’s Escapades
In the aftermath of more than half a century of relentless effort at marginalization was the launching of the Final Solution to the Tamil Problem in 2006. Coincidentally in the same year the UNHRC not content with an examination of issues of sovereignty and non-internal affairs and reporting thereon, made a quantum leap into intrusive action in errant states. This has now become policy of UNHRC. At this moment Sri Lanka ran into the clutches of the UN and rails against the premier world organization. After the national problem became internationalized multi-lateral action was called for. The UN institution was established precisely for such a purpose. The UN Secretary General called upon the Government of Sri Lanka on 2nd April 2014, to “Constructively engage and cooperate with the OHCHR on the implementation of the UNHRC Resolution”.
Sri Lanka’s Ratings
Sri Lanka has been isolated for the most serious decline in Asia-Pacific Region for year 2012. A country sharing a similar status was Maldives. Among the reasons for the declining trend in SL were evidence of increasing corruption and a politicized attempt to impeach the Chief Justice.
In assessing a state’s status regarding freedom enjoyed by the people, political rights comprising electoral process, political pluralism and people’s participation together with the functioning of government were taken into account. A very pertinent question asked was “Is the government deliberately changing the ethnic composition of a country or territory to destroy a culture or tip the political balance of another group.”
Another relevant poser was “Do cultural, ethnic, religious or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?” What is startling is how well the position of Tamils matches the question and the answer. It is best known to Tamils who are most sensitized to this predicament.
In the area of civil liberties comprising Freedom of Expression, Rights of Association and Organization, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights a correct assessment has been made. It throws much light on how lively civil liberties are in Sri Lanka. In this respect the persecuted know best the rigors of persecution, but all ethnicities are affected alike sparing only the ruling cabal.
Regarding Freedom Status globally, in the period 1972-2012 it is noted that 46% of the countries are appraised as free, 30% as partly free and 24% as not free. This was in the year 2012 when 195 countries were surveyed. In 1972 when 151 countries were surveyed the percentages were 29% free, 25% partly free and 46% not free. The trends are clearly visible. Regarding regions Western Europe is 96% free and 4% partly free. Asia Pacific region is rated as 43% free, 36% partly free and 21% not free.
A salient point that comes to light in the voting pattern at Geneva depicts a correlation between Freedom Status and political orientation of concerned countries. The latter in turn is conditioned by the socio economic levels reached by the relevant countries. All the Countries of Europe freed of political trammels and economic constraints voted en bloc for the Resolution. They had the freedom to go their own altruistic way. The one exception but outside Europe was Japan.
Composition of the UNHRC
The voting members are 47. Among member nations of the UN they compose a fourth. In geographical spread more than half and in population strength nearly two thirds. Appreciably representative of the globe the influence they wield is great and legitimacy of decisions is high.
From these nations, 24 voted for the resolution. Among them more than a third are highly advanced societies when assessed by objective criteria like social conditions and educational standards. Their economies are among the most developed giving to their citizens upwards of $20,000 as per capita income. Political consolidation and national integration are at a consummate level. More importantly, particularly those in Europe have gone through the rigours of war twice in thirty years and know the value of peace. To them democracy as opposed to dictatorship, whether fascist or communist conveys much. This factor explains why they were zealous about voting against Sri Lanka appraised as only Partly Free and has made another ethnic entity within very much unfree and insecure.
What do they connote? They have risen above want and their leaderships are in a position to take decisions without ideological hangovers, without fear, with detachment and for the good of humanity. When votes are counted the nations in favour number 50%. If weighted the tilt is far more. Since weighting can be very invidious it cannot be thought of. The count has been convincing enough.
The 12 nations that voted against the Resolution have an infirmity common to them and to the beneficiary Sri Lanka. It is a factor not too complimentary to any of the 13 loitering together. Classified by Freedom House, out of the 12 of them 9 are not free. The remaining 3 are partly free and they are in solidarity with Sri Lanka which again is classified as partly free. All the countries that voted against when objectively appraised by multiple criteria display similar characteristics. They are placed alike in the areas of economic freedom, political rights and civil liberties. China and Russia are certainly an exception in this list.
Among those not voting, India and Japan are conspicuous. India striving for big power status would have lived up to its stature had she taken a robust stand. Her lack of any stance was disquieting domestically and unimpressive internationally. In a Lok Sabha debate more than 50 years ago, an MP asked Nehru angrily “How long are you going to sit on the fence”? Nehru retorted “We shall continue as long as it is comfortable to do so”.
Hardly anybody foresaw that Nehru’s statement had a shelf life of half a century and more. Much less was the thought that this stance when applied indiscriminately would recoil to the detriment of the Tamils at Geneva. It is unfortunate that Congress has little chance of retrieval. However, Tamil Nadu and Tamils see prospects of redemption through other means that are developing.
It is equally distressing that Japan a great economic power, which once aspired to world domination should have failed to consider her weight in influencing world opinion. When intense moral issues of right and wrong demand attention is it ethical to turn the other side? Through this lack of forthrightness which side benefits? Not the side in need of justice. Whatever her present stance, Tamils will look forward to a robust position in the years to come.