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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Sri Lanka: Indian Abstention at UNHRC: National Interest or Complicity Issue?

Prof. Manivannan
Prof. Ramu Manivannan
The introduction and passing of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution L.1/Rev.1.,‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ on 27/03/2014 heralds a new page on many fronts in South Asia.
First, the uninterrupted impunity that the successive Sri Lankan governments have enjoyed in their treatment of Tamils since 1948 has finally been challenged at the international level.

Secondly, the Indian government has for long conducted itself like a school headmaster with the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Tamils can now clearly move ahead with or without any support of India.  There is more political confidence among the Tamils today than ever before.
Thirdly, United States of America, United Kingdom and other members of the European Union are equal stake holders in the future of Tamils and the politics of South Asia.  Indian government and its leadership, in the recent past, has consistently, thrown away its historical responsibilities, moral conscience, geographical preeminence and political potential to stand up for the weak and oppressed people of South and Southeast Asia.The realistic situations in Burma, Tibet and Sri Lanka are only a few pointers to this effect. The so called Indian domain has long been penetrated.
Fourthly, the passing of this resolution with the support of USA, European Union and the Latin American countries and with the resistance of Pakistan, China, Cuba (also read as Russia) presents a new polarization that will prevail and extend to other areas as well with India falling between the stool without any self-belief and courage of conviction. 
Lastly, the vote against Sri Lanka also reveals that the ways of Asian democracy cannot be defended and nurtured with homegrown solutions alone and the acknowledgement of this transition comes from the shift away from Sri Lanka demonstrated by Philippines and Indonesia.  Though Bangladesh has no memory of its own past there are more Asian and African countries warming up well for this transition as we need to address substantial issues of human rights and justice that cannot be hidden away in the name of Asian, African or Third World solidarity.     
Sri Lanka was virtually breathing out of Pakistan as ventilator after doing everything it can to defeat the Human Rights Council Resolution L.1/Rev.1.,’Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’.  Worse of all, Sri Lanka needed a certificate of democracy from Pakistan.! When the Pakistan delegation spoke about thriving of political institutions and democracy in Sri Lanka during the debate on the resolution on 26/03/2014, a wave of disbelief with deep sigh swept the house. Pakistani delegation came back next day 27/03/2014 with another trick up their sleeves with questions about the financial implications and the availability of resources for the process of international mechanism while this should have been addressed during the consultative process.
US delegation reminded Pakistan, China, and other members who raised concerns about the financial implications about three consultative meetings that had already taken place in regard to content, process and drafting of the resolution with complete understanding of the implications and assumption of responsibilities.  China quietly took the baton from Pakistan to seek vote on this issue with a ploy of postponing the issue indefinitely and complicate the process by applying Rule No.116.  While the role of China and Pakistan can be understood from the bonhomie that they share among themselves and with the Sri Lankan government, Cuba continue to suffer from the colour blindness called the United States of America.  Cuba needs a fair treatment of its own soul and moral conscience.
A final attempt to sabotage the process of international investigations was taken up once again jointly by Pakistan, China and Cuba seeking the deletion of Para 10 (a, b & c) of L.1/Rev.1., ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ (under Rule 129).  Despite the US clarification and lucid defence of the resolution, these two proposals were put to vote and ultimately the passing of resolution process prevailed.
The real intent of the Indian government needs to be read from its role in these two situations than in the abstention during the final vote.  India voted for adjournment motion under “No Action Rule No.116” and soon voted along with Pakistan and China for removal of Para 10 (a, b & c) of L.1/Rev.1., ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’.  If Indian position on the final vote was predetermined, then these two considerations were the discretions of the Ambassador/Permanent Representative of the Government of India unless the opinion of the government was sought on urgency mode by wire.  If we had already decided to abstain, why did we vote for adjournment under ‘No Action Rule.116’ and deletion of Para 10 (a, b & c) under Rule 129? India was already in league with Sri Lanka, Pakistan and China who were prepared to derail the process of international mechanism. The Indian Ambassador is a known spade and India was dragged into this plot to kill the resolution at any cost. The application of discretions by the bureaucracy on such crucial contexts needs to be addressed.  Given the consistency of bureaucratic despotism of MEA, the Chief Minister and the Government of Tamil Nadu should formally take up the subject with the Government of India at this stage. 
The Indian mask had melted under the heat of politics inside the UNHRC after making one of the most confusing and mediocre statements submitted in defence of its decision to abstain.  The rest is history with India announcing its decision to abstain from voting. The result is that India is with Sri Lanka and will do everything in its capacity to block the process  of international investigations like it sabotaged the Norwegian led peace process by covertly encouraging the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to explore military options  as well as remaining indifferent to the peace process.  There was no room large enough for India to hide inside the UNHRC  meeting after gifting an axe for rolling stones for the road blocks caused by Pakistan and China. The members of Sri Lankan delegation could barely hide their glee and jubilation at the announcement of Indian position.
There is no guilt or shame in our attempts to bury the question of status of thousands of Tamil women in the North & East of Sri Lanka.  Even the Sri Lankan government had recently acknowledged the rapes of Tamil women by the Sri Lankan soldiers and shed its burden by saying that it would address these concerns of the global community as a last minute ditch battle to save its face before the HRC vote.   The dehumanized conduct of Sri Lankan soldiers against Tamil women and even against dead bodies, denial of food and medicine by the Sri Lankan government to the victims and survivors of the final battle as revealed by the United Nations Seccretary General’s report, the use of chemical weapons by the Sri Lankan armed forces, death of 70,000 innocent civilians, disappearances of 146,749 Tamils, internment of 300,000 Tamils, torture and violations of human rights of Tamil civilians in the post-war period, Sinhala settlements, occupation of private and common lands and the militarization of North and East remain, according to the Indian government, only as concerns for the Indian government. India’s concerns for the Tamils, for record, have never been translated into recognition of realities.

But the vote is for the Sri Lankan government that wants to block any credible international investigation into these allegations.  What a decadent state that India’s foreign policy has been driven into by the Congress led UPA Coalition and its small coterie of sycophants scheming within the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).  How does this act of abstention, which, in turn is a vote in favour of the Sri Lankan government, constitute as defence of the national interest of India?

The State Legislature and the people of Tamil Nadu have only asked for independent and credible international investigations into past violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws.  Who are we, the people of Tamil Nadu, to the Government of India? What is the meaning and relevance of the State Legislature and its representation as part of the Indian federal system within the Indian Republic? India is a democracy and the Indian government should have shown a minimal respect to the unanimous resolution of the Tamil Nadu State Legislature and the opinion of the people of Tamil Nadu regarding the demand for credible international investigations against Sri Lanka for the war crimes and the crimes against humanity committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the government authorities.
Those who argue that the decision has been taken in view of our national interest, let us not undermine our past that it has never been our national interest to defend and protect war criminals, oppressors and violators of international human rights and humanitarian laws.  If the Government of India wants to cite that we have never voted in favour international investigations or mechanism and this resolution, in particular, violates the sovereignty of Sri Lanka, we need to remind the policy makers about the role and responsibilities undertaken by  India towards the people of Bangladesh and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.
This resolution seeks to undertake a “comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders…”  The demand for an international investigation is not only against the Sri Lankan government but also against the LTTE. Then why does India want to join with Sri Lanka in preventing an international investigation?
Lastly, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa and  Former General Sarath Fonseka have all consistently maintained both the during and after the war that Sri Lanka was only fighting India’s war and with the support of India.  This impression has neither been disapproved nor challenged by the Indian political leadership and the MEA so far.  Does this abstention at the UNHRC resolution L.1/Rev.1., ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ reaffirm our silence and complicity to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the government authorities? It is not about the crisis of consciousness or betrayal against the Tamils but the complicity factor will continue to haunt India for a long time to come unless the new government in May-June 2014 takes new bold steps and amends the setbacks in defence of international human rights and humanitarian laws.            
(Ramu Manivannan is Professor & Chair in the Department of Politics & Public Administration, School of Politics & International Studies, University of Madras.  He is the author of a recently launched book in Geneva in March 2014 on “Sri Lanka : Hiding the Elephant – Documenting Genocide, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.”)  



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