U.N. Rights Council to Vote on Resolution on Sri Lanka

un ny      The resolution, sponsored by the United States, calls on Sri Lanka to investigate possible violations of international human rights laws. It also cites reports of abuse that has continued since then, including extra judicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, intimidation and violent reprisals against journalists and human rights activists The New York Times says.

Without accountability for the civilian deaths, the United States and its supporters argue, there will be no lasting reconciliation to allow Sri Lanka to turn a corner on a civil war that dragged on for 26 years as the Tamil Tigers unleashed extremes of violence to win autonomy for the mainly Tamil northern and eastern parts of the island.

Since the war’s end, the government  has made huge strides in resettling more than 200,000 people displaced by fighting, clearing large areas of land mines and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into rebuilding the social and economic infrastructure of the north and east.

Moreover, Sri Lanka has already embarked on restoring harmony, the government says, pointing to a reconciliation commission set up in 2010 and a national plan of action and national humanitarian plan adopted later to carry out its recommendations. “Sri Lanka needs adequate time and space to resolve such wide-ranging and deep-rooted issues,” Mahinda Samarasinghe, the president’s special envoy on human rights, told the council at the start of its current session.

A day or two before they vote on the resolution, council members will hear a report from Navi Pillay, the United Nations human rights chief, acknowledging significant government progress on rebuilding infrastructure but saying that the steps Sri Lanka’s leaders have taken to investigate abuses are “inconclusive and lack the independence and impartiality to inspire confidence.” Ms. Pillay calls instead for an international investigation, a move that drew a rebuke from Sri Lanka and accusations of bias.

Last year, India worked hard to ensure that a human rights resolution against Sri Lanka was scrubbed of “intrusive” provisions and protected Colombo’s sovereignty.a The new US resolution is far more intrusive. If India supports this resolution, it will upend a number of cherished foreign policy positions that India has held onto for years. Most importantly, the resolution, unless it is significantly modified, pushes forward the principle of “responsibility to protect”, which India is still uncomfortable with.

Indian government is likely to take a decision. Sources following developments said the resolution uses aspects of international humanitarian law to push external intervention inside a sovereign state. The resolution states, “States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.”

The Indian apprehension is whether these provisions could be used against India on the Kashmir issue, which is a politically expedient for Pakistan.

Sri Lanka has been actively encouraged by India to get into direct consultations with the US on this issue. While in 2012, Sri Lanka saw no reason to do so, this year, Sri Lanka’s other “backers” like China and Russia are not in the Council — and the US has more than enough votes on its side to get the resolution through. While this reduces the importance of India’s vote, the very fact that India might vote against its close neighbour, will influence many fence-sitters in the Council.

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