Despite the limited peace dividends, the end of war has not meant a total return to normalcy and tranquillity. On the political front, the government is yet to formulate the terms of reference for the proposed Parliamentary Select Committee that is to evolve proposals to address Tamil grievances. The fallout from both the UN Advisory Panel report on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka and the screening of the Channel 4 video titled Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields continues.
In the backdrop of a leading Indian TV channel screening the video and later conducting talk shows, the government in New Delhi broke its silence. On Friday, the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson issued a statement. Posted on the ministry website, it said, “July 15, 2011 – “In response to a question on UNSG’s Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka and the issue of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population, the Official Spokesperson said,
“Sri Lanka is home to a number of ethnic groups of which about twenty per cent are Tamil speaking. They have friends and relatives in Tamil Nadu and other parts of India. It is but natural that we are concerned for their wellbeing, as well as that of all of the people of Sri Lanka with whom we enjoy historical ties of affinity.
Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh observed recently that, “The Tamil population (in Sri Lanka) has legitimate grievances. — And our emphasis has been to persuade the Sri Lankan government that we must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead and live a life of dignity and self-respect. That is our outlook towards the issue”.
As far as the report of the UNSG’s panel of experts on Sri Lanka is concerned, we have heard the views of the Sri Lankan Government on various occasions, including during the visit of their Foreign Minister to New Delhi in May 2011 and again during the Troika meeting last month in Colombo.
In general, there are still questions on the report. Some countries have raised this in the UN Human Rights Council. It may be recalled that the Panel was set up by the UN Secretary General with the objective of advising him on the developments in Sri Lanka in the last stages of the conflict.”
There are two underlying messages to Sri Lanka in the statement. One is India’s stance that in addressing Tamil grievances, the Sri Lanka government “must move towards a new system of institutional reforms, where the Tamil people will have a feeling that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka, and they can lead and live a life of dignity and self-respect.” Equally important, India also takes up the position that with regard to the UN Advisory Panel on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, “there are still questions on the report.” To drive the point home, the statement acknowledges that “some countries have raised this in the UN Human Rights Council” which met in Geneva last month.
This is the first time India broke silence to place on record its official position. That too after the high level troika — National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon, External Affairs Ministry Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar — held talks in Colombo with President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan President told them that a new political package to address Tamil grievances would be formulated by a Parliamentary Select Committee. That made clear that remaining provisions of the Indian-backed 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, yet to be implemented, would no longer be part of a settlement. Such provisions included police and land powers to provincial councils.
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