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#3588, 19 March 2012
IPCS Debate: The UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka
N Manoharan
Vivekananda International Foundation
email: mailtomanohar@gmail.com

India again faces dilemma over Sri Lanka on the US-sponsored resolution at the 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) moved on 06 March 2012 which comes up for voting on 23 March 2012.

The resolution requests Sri Lanka to “implement the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) and to “initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.” It also wants Sri Lanka to “present a comprehensive action plan as expeditiously as possible detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law.”

To break this resolution, Sri Lanka has sent a 52-member delegation to campaign support from the member countries of the UNHRC. The crux of the argument placed by Colombo is that the problems should be dealt with internally and any solution has to be “home grown.” It cited appointment of a Court of Inquiry by its Army and a promise of implementing the recommendations of the LLRC. To Colombo, any UN action “would only lead to derailing the ongoing reconciliation process that has been put in place by the government.” According to a minister of the Rajapaksa government, “if we submit to this resolution, Tiger terrorists will raise their head again.”

The Court of Inquiry appointed by the Army - is it not too late and too little? How far is it independent and how impartial its findings would be? The LLRC has indeed talked about the need for demilitarisation, investigation of disappearances, apart from acknowledging existence of ethnic grievances and even support to the devolution of powers to minorities. But the issue is its failure to fix accountability for human rights abuses during Eelam War IV. For the collateral damage, the report reasoned it out as a result of LTTE action and military reaction. Most importantly, the LLRC did not give any action plan on the way forward either on reconciliation or devolution. It is only after the introduction of resolution in Geneva on 27 February that talks of roadmap have commenced.

What should India do now?

Should India support the resolution as pressed by all parliamentarians from Tamil Nadu, or should it oppose the resolution keeping in mind the interest of bilateral ties with Sri Lanka? In a letter to Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha, past and present chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh outlined that “We are engaged with all parties in an effort to achieve an outcome that is forward-looking and that ensures that rather than deepening confrontation and mistrust between the concerned parties, a way forward is found on issues related to accountability and reconciliation.”

What is this “forward-looking” solution? Although it has not been spelt out, it should be looking beyond voting ‘for’ or ‘against’ the resolution. It should be a ‘win-win’. Sri Lanka should save its face, but at the same time the larger objective of accountability and reconciliation insisted by the resolution should be achieved. This requires a rework of the present resolution. Since accountability is sensitive in Sri Lanka, it can be taken-off from the resolution completely and can be addressed separately. Colombo can be persuaded to accept a non-partial investigation, involving combination of local and international experts, on the issues raised by various international and human rights organisations on the excesses committed by the government forces.

On reconciliation, Colombo should be made to realise that military defeat of the LTTE was not the end of all; only a political settlement that addresses grievances of minority communities can lead to lasting peace on the island. Unfortunately, this seems not on the priority list of Rajapaksa regime. In a recent interview, President Mahinda Rajapaksa outlined his thoughts on political settlement succinctly when he said, “We are keen on a sustainable political settlement. But it must have wide acceptance, especially in the context of the post-conflict situation.” When this pronouncement is taken seriously, writing on the wall is clear.

At the maximum, what is on cards is some arrangement revolving around the existing 13th amendment. Unless there is genuine power sharing, the Provincial Council arrangement will be mere eyewash. The best option is to go beyond 13th amendment framework as always insisted by India. While this will take time to work, Colombo should meanwhile seriously implement recommendations of the LLRC. An action plan on the implementation could be the basis for the UNHRC resolution. The US also should be persuaded to take this action plan as the final resolution and pass it as a consensual document.

In case Sri Lanka refuses to make international commitment on reconciliation; in case Washington insists on going ahead with the present resolution without any amendments, the second best option for India is to abstain from voting. It would convey a clear-cut message to Colombo, “Our friendship is very important, but that thrives on making commitments and, most importantly, seriously implementing them.” And, to the West, the signal would be “your resolutions will remain mere paper tigers as long as they are away from the reality.”

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