These past few weeks, the Sri Lankan media and Indian officials have echoed US claims that its latest draft resolution is only procedural and, hence, will not harm Sri Lanka’s national interests and sovereignty. According to other media reports, “there is no call for an international investigation.” A closer examination of the latest draft text will show, however, that such claims are incorrect and misleading.
Despite certain changes made to earlier drafts, some of which reflect concessions to neutralise or win over hesitant developing countries or to satisfy India, and others essentially cosmetic, to placate Sri Lanka or provide it with a face-saving device to acquiesce, the bottom line as far as bringing Sri Lanka under international scrutiny is concerned, remains unchanged and negotiations have produced a harsher rather than a softer text.
The Navi Pillay Report calls for “an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” which, she says, “could also monitor any domestic accountability process.”
In the Darusman Report, monitoring of the domestic accountability process is one of three “concurrent functions” envisaged for the “independent International mechanism”
The bottom line is the maintenance of operative paragraphs 3 and 6, which have to do with the establishment of an international mechanism to monitor an internal process. The mechanism envisaged is, in fact, the international investigation mechanism initially foreseen in the Darusman Report and reproduced in the Navi Pillay Report, albeit in its embryonic form. By adopting the US draft, the Council will mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor the domestic process.
The message that the latest US draft seeks to convey is clear: the international community has lost, or is rapidly losing, confidence in the Government’s willingness and ability to carry out its domestic accountability process effectively and to protect its own citizens, and Sri Lanka is failing in its duty to cooperate with UN mechanisms in resolving problems of a humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights, and, hence, acting contrary to the UN Charter.
Gradually, the stage is being set for resort to the so-called “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) and an international war crimes investigation, with the attendant consequences for people and country of possible unilateral economic, trade, financial, political sanctions, embargoes, etc.
One of the first steps that the High Commissioner is likely to take is to establish a team to undertake the monitoring operation, including through reinforcement of the human rights advisor currently attached to the UN Office in Colombo.
We could anticipate that the High Commissioner’s next reports would seek to demonstrate that Sri Lanka has not complied with the Council’s request, has failed to cooperate with the UN, and is unwilling or unable to protect its own citizens, a conclusion that may lead to the establishment of the full-fledged international investigation mechanism envisaged in the Darusman and Navi Pillay reports.
For the United States, Sri Lanka is a pawn on the Grand Asian Chessboard.