As Sri Lanka faces its third resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), India is once again caught in a dilemma. On the one hand, New Delhi does not wish to support an ‘intrusive’ resolution against Colombo. At the same time, it wants Sri Lanka to take reconciliation and devolution seriously. Pressures from Tamil Nadu, in this regard, are difficult to ignore.
Exactly a year ago, at the 19th session of the UNHRC, a US-sponsored resolution was passed against the island state. Backed by 24 countries, including France, Norway and India, the resolution placed three requests to Sri Lanka:
1. To ‘implement the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC), and to ‘initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans’.
2. 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’.
3. To ‘accept advice and technical assistance from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and relevant special procedures mandated by holders for implementing the above-mentioned steps … ‘
One year down the line, how far have these requests been taken forward by Sri Lanka? It would be prudent if the upcoming voting depends on the evaluation of the progress made, and a clear plan of action for the future. There are two aspects to the debate: one is fixing accountability for excesses committed by the Sri Lankan forces during ‘Eelam War IV’; and the other is the way forward in the form of post-war reconciliation in the island.
On the issue of accountability, the Army has appointed a Court of Inquiry as an initial fact-finding mission. The five-member body, in the first part of its report submitted on 15 February 2013, concluded that the Army ‘took all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties, and all those who came under the control of the Sri Lanka Army, including surrendered/captured LTTE cadres, were treated humanely observing the IHL [international humanitarian law] to the letter’. On the other hand, it blamed the LTTE for ‘using civilians as Human Shields, summary executions of civilians who attempted to escape to army lines, forced conscription of children for combat purposes etc’. While there is no doubt on the LTTE’s involvement, the Army’s total denial of the killings is perplexing. According to the Report of the Secretary-General’s Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka submitted in November 2012, ‘most casualties were caused by Government fire, and included attacks on UN premises, and hospitals’. Even if the UNs’ report is discounted as an exaggeration, and a 50:50 ratio is taken between the LTTE and the Army, the latter would still be responsible for about 20,000 of the estimated 40,000 killings. Fresh video evidences of the killing of LTTE leader Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son, has made the task of the Sri Lankan delegation at the UNHRC a bit more difficult. The call, therefore, has been for an independent international enquiry.
Some headway was made in the implementation of the LLRC recommendations, but the results on the ground are not encouraging. Colombo presented the National Action Plan in July 2012 listing out the implementation of recommendations according to Activity, Key Responsible Agency, Key Performance Indicator and Timeframe. A Task Force (headed by the Secretary to the President) was appointed to oversee the implementation of the Action Plan. But there were too many implementing agencies identified without clear-cut budget breakups. Surprisingly, Provincial Councils and other local bodies, which are closer to the people and which are in a better position to implement the recommendations, were totally left out.
Though the US acknowledged ‘some progress’ in the LLRC implementation, some undemocratic acts like the impeachment of the Sri Lankan Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, and the passage of the Divinugema Act (that encroached on Provincial Councils on development) turned the tables against the island state. Therefore Washington, which is once again sponsoring the resolution, has indicated that the new ‘resolution will ask the Government of Sri Lanka to follow through on its own commitments to its people, including implementing the constructive recommendations from the report by Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’.
India’s stand is being keenly watched by fence-sitters at the UNHRC, before a decision on the voting is taken. With countries like China and Russia not being a part of the Council this year, India’s influence is going to be important. Last year, as in 2009, though India voted for the resolution, it played a significant role in toning down the original draft making it more ‘non-intrusive and non-judgmental’. This year, India has so far not divulged its stand on the resolution. However, New Delhi has advised Colombo to engage directly with Washington ‘on the draft resolution, and aim for a mutually acceptable outcome’. A consensual resolution acceptable to all would be easier when it comes to implementation. Outside pressure has its own limitation and an expiry date.