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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Dealing with Sri Lanka

India faces a crucial decision-making moment at the United Nations Human Rights Council on the U.S.-sponsored resolution that urges Sri Lanka to address rights violations alleged against its army in the final phase of the war against the LTTE in 2009.
At one level, this decision should be easy to make — New Delhi does not support country-specific resolutions at the HRC in Geneva. Sri Lanka, however, poses a special challenge. All this time, quiet diplomacy rather than grandstanding has been New Delhi’s preferred path in prodding Sri Lanka towards reconciliation with the island’s Tamil minority. That this has not produced the desired outcome, especially in the matter of a forward-looking political solution to the Tamil question, is evident. Three years after winning the war against the LTTE, Sri Lanka is yet to cement a peace with the Tamils. Instead, the triumphalism about the military victory, unaddressed human rights violations and the overwhelming presence of the Army in northern Sri Lanka, have deepened the political alienation of the Tamils. But if quiet diplomacy hasn’t worked, India must carefully assess whether the HRC resolution will get the Sri Lankan government to move in the right direction. Western powers seem to believe it can shame Sri Lanka into doing this. In fact, the proposed censure might work in exactly the opposite way, by further fuelling Sinhala nationalism and rendering the possibility of political reconciliation even more distant.

As for the “feelings” of the political parties in Tamil Nadu, it should be clear by now that for them, the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is an opportunity for cynical one-upmanship, and nothing more. There was no clearer evidence of this than at the time of the UPA victory in 2009, which coincided with the last stand of the LTTE. After creating a furore over the war in Sri Lanka during the elections, the DMK’s only concern after the results was how many and which cabinet positions the party would get in the new government. The Sri Lankan High Commissioner’s suggestion that the members of parliament from Tamil Nadu are unwitting propagandists of the LTTE shows poor understanding of the dynamics at play in the State; his comment can only worsen the din. However, it should be clear to all concerned that a decision by India not to support the resolution cannot be seen as backing for Sri Lanka’s record on human rights; Colombo would be mistaken if it interprets it thus. Indeed, an Indian decision to abstain or vote against the resolution would place an even bigger responsibility on New Delhi to ensure — through more effective and even hard-edged diplomacy — that the Rajapaksa government delivers on the commitments it has made on the political and human rights front.
The Hindu


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