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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Muddied waters : Sri Lanka may move closer to China as India sides with UNHRC resolution

For the past couple of weeks, offices of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka have been communicating intensely with each other. Rajapaksa sent his close aide Bandula Jayasekara to New Delhi, where he held discussions with National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon.
Sources say that the Sri Lankan president was informed beforehand of India’s decision to side with the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council  targeting Sri Lanka’s alleged human rights violation during the 2009 war.

India’s vote in support of the US-sponsored resolution in the UNHRC has hit the Sri Lankan side hard. “Indian diplomats like Shivshankar Menon, Nirupama Rao and their Sri Lankan counterparts devoted years of work to upgrade India-Sri Lanka relations. But all that work has been neutralised in one sharp move,” said a Sri Lankan diplomat, requesting anonymity.  Sri Lankan diplomats feel India is forcing Colombo to get closer to Beijing. “We are tied to India by our geography and we will continue to be friendly, but by acceding to DMK’s demands for condemning Sri Lanka at the international level, India has forced Sri Lanka to opt for China and Russia”, the Sri Lankan diplomat said. 

Senior Sri Lankan commentators told THE WEEK that India’s support of international criticism of Colombo will give fresh ammunition to conservatives in Sinhala politics, who have been out of business for the past few years. “On the one hand, by supporting assertive Tamil cause at the international level, India is once again playing with fire. On the other hand, this opportunity will give hardline Sinhala parties like the Janata Vimukti Perumuna (JVP), a new lease of life,” said Siri Ranasinghe of the Lankadeepa newspaper. He also hinted at Sri Lanka’s possible pay-back for India in future. “We understand it fully well that the decision to go with the UNHRC resolution is due to the domestic political compulsions of the UPA, but India should have remembered that it is seeking support for its seat at the UN Security Council,” Ranasinghe said.

The Indian side however is playing down the importance of the UNHRC resolution. Retired diplomat Arundhati Ghose told THE WEEK that the sustained media campaign in India exposing violation of human rights by the Sri Lankan soldiers during the 2009 armed conflict, made it difficult for the South Block to neglect serious allegations brought out against the Sri Lankan forces by the UN panel investigating war crimes by the Sri Lankan army.

A United Nations panel had said in 2011 that during the so-called “humanitarian rescue operation”, the Sri Lankan army had killed as many as 40,000 civilians in the first five months of 2009. Sri Lankan diplomats see an American design to revive instability in Sri Lanka. The resolution is being spearheaded by Eileen Donahoe, the US ambassador to the UNHRC. An expert at India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) told THE WEEK that the UNHRC resolution may not end up yielding much for the US. “China perceives this resolution as a dry run to corner China on its human rights records in its provinces of Tibet and Inner Mongolia. That is why China will ensure that the UNHRC resolution is finally rendered useless and does not reach the UN Security Council,” the analyst from NSCS said. Obviously, China’s cooperation will bring a grateful Sri Lanka closer to Beijing, he observed. The expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity said a conflict-prone Sri Lanka serves the American vision for the Indian Ocean in the 21st century as a destabilised Sri Lanka will be unable to serve China fully.

Critics of the  Sri Lankan government say that the incidents of violation of human rights by the Sri Lankan army and the government’s key figures are not false. Strangely, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka refused to entertain a request for interaction with THE WEEK.

Sri Lankan sources conceded that some of the blame for the current state of India-Sri Lanka ties lie with Colombo. “After the end of the civil war, we told India that more power will be given to the eastern and northern provinces. Based on that promise, India in turn promised to Tamil National Alliance (TNA) that it will help in restoring condition of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. But Rajapaksa failed to honour his promise to India and in turn India’s promises appeared to be dubious to the TNA. This situation led to loss of trust between Indian and Sri Lankan sides,” Ranasinghe said.

India managed to dilute the anti-Lanka resolution at the last minute. An amendment, made at India’s insistence has ensured that the UN agencies require the concurrence of the Sri Lankan government before they can take action. Still, the voting has soured India-Sri Lanka ties once again. “We are bracing for a wave of anti-India protests in Colombo by the JVP. India will be responsible if Sri Lanka moves a few steps closer to China in the coming days,” Ranasinghe said. From the diplomatic chatter, it appears, by serving it right for M. Karunanidhi, Manmohan Singh has put India’s ties with Sri Lanka to a difficult test.
By Kallol Bhattacherjee
The Week


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