The Sri Lanka Question
India will have to balance human rights with strategic and political compulsions
Ashok Kumar Mehta
Last week, Indian TV channels claimed the world premiere of the Callum Macrae film No Fire Zone:
The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, depicting the last 138 days of the war that ended on May 19, 2009. But the horrific images were first shown on March 1 this year in Geneva on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting.
That is fitting given that the UNHRC will, on March 22, vote on a US-sponsored resolution which includes allegations of war excesses committed by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) resulting – according to UN estimates – in nearly 40,000 civilians deaths.
Sri Lankan ambassador in Geneva Ravinatha Aryasinghe protested the screening of the film, describing it as part of an orchestrated campaign to influence the outcome of the UNHRC vote. The new film, hosted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, is different from BBC Channel 4’s two videos screened two years ago, which depicted grave violations of human rights.
Colombo has realised that though it won the war, it lost the information campaign. The western effort is to denigrate its war victory for failure to protect the Tamils who were apparently used as human shields by the LTTE. In retaliation, Colombo established Sri Lanka Media Watch in London to challenge the credibility and veracity of the two BBC videos, and of UNspokesperson in Sri Lanka Gordon Weiss’s book, The Cage, which demolishes Colombo’s record vis-à-vis the responsibility to protect (R2P) norms.
Further, Colombo blasted the findings of the UN secretary general-appointed Darusman panel, calling it a perversity. Instead, it produced reports highlighting Sri Lanka’s humanitarian effort in resettlement and development in the Northern Province.
For two years running, Colombo has been showcasing its victory in the humanitarian war and its commendable post-war efforts when it comes to the five Rs – reconstruction, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and reconciliation. But President
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s four Ds – demilitarisation, democracy, devolution and development – have been missing the devolution part.
Having voted against Sri Lanka at Geneva in the non-binding resolution last year which shocked Colombo, India is again confronted with a dilemma: how to vote on the upcoming resolution. The 30-year ethnic conflict ended only after New Delhi gave the nod and strategic military intelligence for a fight to finish the LTTE. India was, therefore, complicit in a war which wasbound to incur civilian deaths.
The establishment of no fire zones (NFZ) or safe zones, declaration of non-use of heavy weapons and the promulgation of two ceasefires (one during general elections in Tamil Nadu on May 14, 2009) by Colombo were designed to mask the inevitability of civilian casualties. This smokescreen compounded the fog of war and was totally out of India’s control. The end of the LTTE was the beginning of India’s marginalisation in Sri Lanka.
Last year’s UNHRC resolution sought three actions from Colombo: implementation of the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) including independent and credible action on alleged human rights violations; an action plan for this; to accept advice and technical assistance from the UNHRC.
Colombo has formed an LLRC implementation task force with an action plan which is headed by secretary to the president Lalith Weeratunga. The army has conducted a court of inquiry absolving the military of any human rights violations and blaming the LTTE for civilian deaths. In sum and substance, there is no outcome on accountability and devolution, both vital for reconciliation.
Tamil Nadu politics mixes hypocrisy with diplomacy. When civilians were being killed during the war, there was little hue and cry except DMK chief Karunanidhi’s mock fast. Now, the shrill debates in Parliament and the Tamil Nadu legislature are simply displays of electoral politics with DMK demanding an independent international probe into alleged genocide and sanctions against Sri Lanka.
With the China card in his pocket, Rajapaksa has put India in a spot by virtually disowning the constitutionally enshrined 13th amendment on devolution. This year, as Colombo’s steadfast allies Russia and China are not in the UNHRC, Sri Lankan foreign minister G L Peiris says India has a moral responsibility to support Sri Lanka.
At the heart of the new USsponsored resolution is the need to devise a truth-seeking mechanism for alleged war crimes and violations of human rights centred on R2P. Last week three drafts – American, Sri Lankan and Indian – were exchanged. The preliminary US draft, based on the report by the UNHRC, wants time-bound devolution and a credible inquiry into charges of human rights violations, which India considers an infringement of Colombo’s sovereignty.
As for India, its reluctance to include DMK’s strictures in the resolution has led Karunanidhi to pull the DMK from the government. Accommodating DMK and AIADMK demands, which are music to western ears, won’t be easy.
The task ahead is drafting a consensual resolution acceptable to both Washington and New Delhi which Colombo is able and willing to implement. That will be tough. Whatever the final draft, India will likely vote with the resolution but affirming Colombo’s sovereignty. Matching imperatives of human rights with strategic and domestic political compulsions is at the heart of the great game being played out in Geneva right now.
The writer is a former general officer commanding, IPKF Sri Lanka.
THERE IS SIMILARITY BETWEEN CYPRUS AND SRI LANKS AND THERE IS DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TURKEY AND INDIA.
TO PROTECT THE LIVES AND PRIVILEGES OF THE TURKS IN CYPRUS, “MANLY” TURKEY INVADED CYPRUS AND OCCUPIED ONE THIRD OF THE ISLAND FOR THE TURKS THERE WHO WERE ONE QUARTER IN POPULATION.
NATO LOOKED ON.
EU LOOKED ON.
USA LOOKED ON.
THE WHOLE WORLD LOOKED ON.
NOW LOOK AT SRI LANKA WHERE TAMILS OF INDIAN ORIGIN WERE FIGHTING FOR SOME BASIC AUTONOMY. INSTEAD OF COMING TO THEIR AID THE CALLOUS GOVERNMENT OF INDIA SENT HER OWN TROOPS TO MASSACRE THE TAMILS THERE.
INDIA WAS MOST DISHONOURABLE TOWARDS THESE TAMILS OF INDIAN ORIGIN WHILE TURKEY WAS MOST HONOURABLE TOWARDS THE CYPRIOTS OF TURKISH ORIGIN.
THE WORLD SAW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A JACKAL AND A LION.
WHILE THE GOVERNMENT IN TURKEY IS FOR THE TURKS, THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA IS AGAINST THE INDIANS- BE THEY AT HOME IN INDIA, OR ABROAD IN SRI LANKA, FIJI AND UGANDA.
THE SUPPRESSED COWARDLY HINDUSTHAN IS WATCHING PASSIVELY WHILE BEING STRANGULATED BY “ITALY & ISLAM”.