Sri Lanka and the UNHRC Resolution: A Paper Tiger?

26 Mar, 2013    ·   3856

J Jeganaathan deconstructs the Resolution and the possible reasons behind India's vote at the UNHRC

J Jeganaathan
J Jeganaathan
Research Fellow

The 22nd regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has successfully adopted a US-sponsored Resolution on “Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka” by a vote of 25 in favour, 13 against and 8 abstentions. India voted in favour of the resolution for the second consecutive time.

However, India’s vote either in favour or against will hardly make any difference to the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils as the resolution will neither bind nor bite the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) on accountability to war crimes allegedly committed during the final phase of the war. Nevertheless, it had a ripple effect in Indian domestic politics when the DMK finally pulled out its support to the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA).  This article will critically appraise the spirit and letter of the resolution and the impact of India’s vote in favour of the resolution on Indo-Sri Lankan relations as well as its domestic constituency.

The UNHRC Resolution
By the Resolution A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev1 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, the Human Rights Council calls upon the GoSL to “conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable; and requests the High Commissioner to present an oral update to the Council at its twenty-fourth session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion at the twenty-fifth session, on the implementation of the present resolution”.

This resolution has nothing new, except a provision which urges the GoSL to formally respond to outstanding requests to provide “unfettered access” to special procedures mandate holders and rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers; international human rights defenders such as Amnesty International and international media to have an free and fair understanding of the ground reality in the war-torn regions. The remaining part of this two page resolution contains the same content of the previous resolution.

Despite the political momentum built after the release of the new photograph that reveals the chilling details of the killing of the youngest son of the slain LTTE leader by the Sri Lankan armed forces, the resolution remains weak in letter and spirit. In sum, the resolution expresses its strong belief that the accountability and reconciliation in Sri Lanka can be promoted only by urging the GoSL to implement the constructive recommendations contained in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report without questioning the credibility and independency of the commission itself.

Would it not be irony to request the perpetrators of the crime to provide justice to the victim? Is it not absurd to expect the felon to be accountable for the blatant violation of international law and human rights abuses? This resolution answers no. Instead of pushing forward the same agenda against the GoSL, why wouldn’t the sponsors of the resolution put forward the observations and recommendations of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts Report – which is more credible and impartial?

These are the questions which no one would want to contemplate because of the narrow political interest and game played over the plight and rights of Sri Lankan Tamils. Unless there is a concrete resolution based on the UN framework, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka will remain a distant dream, the political drama at UNHRC on Sri Lanka will remain an annual fair and the resolution itself will remain merely a paper tiger.

India's Vote 'Unfounded'
India has voted against the GoSL for the second time at the UNHRC annual session. It has registered its discontent over the GoSL’s progress towards a political solution to Tamils as enshrined in the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which clearly outlines the devolution of power. India has been urging the GoSL to work for a meaningful political solution to Tamils within the constitutional framework. But, the GoSL has been indifferent to India’s official demand for this home-grown solution. Despite this deadlock, India-Sri Lanka relationship is thriving since the end of the war in 2009.

Although it is widely believed that the Congress-led UPA government’s decision to vote against Sri Lanka was to appease its domestic Tamil constituency especially its prodigal ally, DMK, it does not help to dispel India’s dubious image among the Tamils or the Sinhalese. In fact, India earned wrath from both Tamils and Sinhalese, which is evident from the recent anti-government protests in Tamil Nadu and the anti-India sentiments expressed in Sri Lanka. India could have abstained from voting citing its limited scope of implementation of the resolution, thereby saving its own face.

It seems that India’s vote against Sri Lanka is a well-calculated strategy to protect the latter from the direct interference of western powers including the US, which claims stakes in the Indian Ocean region. By doing so, India has proved to the world that it stands by the international community, shares its human rights concern and supports the accountability of Sri Lanka. Therefore, India has emerged as an intermediary between the international community and Sri Lanka. This could be the logical rationale behind India’s choice to vote for the feeble resolution.