An unusually strong contingent of Sri Lankan diplomats and officials has begun descending on Geneva to defend the country against likely onslaught when the session opens on February 27.
The core issue is what has the government done since the end of the Eelam War 4 (May 2009), in which it defeated the separatist Tamil Tigers, to grant Tamils the political space to function as equal citizens. “A lot,” said a senior government functionary, pointing to the massive improvements in infrastructure, the quick rehabilitation process put in place, the holding of local body elections, the recruitment of Tamil policemen, the government’s rapid response to any problem in the region and the setting up of a host of other machinery to deal with every day civilian issues.
But representatives of Tamil political parties, such as the Tamil National Alliance, say nothing substantial has been achieved. “A lasting solution to the ethnic imbroglio can be reached only if power, including police powers, land use and allocation, and fiscal and budgetary authority is devolved to the provincial councils in accordance with the Constitution of Sri Lanka; but the government is stalling,” noted a group of prominent Sri Lankan citizens, who signed a joint statement on ‘Practical steps to meaningful reconciliation,’. “We also state that without restoration and empowerment of the civil administration, effective demilitarisation, resettlement of Tamil and Muslim displaced persons and rejuvenating the local economy, all talk of reconciliation is a deception,” said the joint statement signed by about 50 prominent citizens.
This core issue has been stressed by friends of Sri Lanka, including India and the United States. The U.S. has also made it clear that it will support a resolution against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC on the issue.
Ironically, the Sri Lankan situation places a huge dilemma on Indian foreign policy. India has traditionally opposed single country resolutions, more so in the case of close allies such as Sri Lanka. But the choice of “no” against Sri Lanka will not be automatic. This is because, despite repeated promises since the end of the war, Colombo has hardly taken any noteworthy action.
Sri Lanka has asked for more time, and has pointed to the setting up of the Sub-Committee on human rights, the Cabinet Committee on implementing the recommendations of the LLRC, and the fact that the Army has instituted a Court of Inquiry into the alleged instances of civilian killings. Sri Lanka might get more time at the UNHRC, but this could come with a series of riders.
R. K. Radhakrishnan