Columns - Political Column

After Geneva, government must evolve clear-cut policy

  • G.L produces fig leaf to cover up multitude of debacles and failures
  • Reasons why India changed its stand, damage control measures urgently needed now
By Our Political Editor

Like the proverbial story, the United Nations Human Rights Council laboured hard like a mountain, and brought forth by majority vote a mouse or a 'non-binding,' seemingly toothless US backed resolution on Sri Lanka on Thursday. Yet, the dangers it portend cannot be underestimated. For the first time, a UN body has brought the country under its microscope and the international community's scrutiny.

For many days before the final document emerged, in Geneva, diplomats of India and the United States have been locked in secret consultations. India wanted to remove what seemed the only sting in the resolution - a provision that would empower the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to "provide, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing" the provisions of the resolution.

A greater part of the diplomatic bargaining fell on Dilip Sinha, India's new Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. He had arrived there only last Sunday, and was thrown into the deep end immediately. One night he was hosted to dinner by Sri Lanka's External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris. The tough diplomatic bargaining began only on Wednesday night, just a day ahead of the UN Human Rights Council vote on Sri Lanka. Sinha, with instructions from New Delhi, bargained with his US counterpart Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe to make changes.

The most important was the removal of the provision that was considered "intrusive." On the other hand, Ms Donahoe wanted the provision for UN to scrutinise all developments in Sri Lanka relating to human rights and connected issues to remain. This was on the grounds that US allies wanted such inclusion. Sinha was to drive a hard bargain. He was to say India would then be compelled to vote against the resolution. He cited previous UNHRC resolutions (5/1 and 5/2 of 2009) on institution building of the Council to support his claim. These resolutions referred to the participation of state's in rectifying any human rights violations rather than them being forced down their throats.

After much to and fro, Sinha succeeded in persuading Ms Donahoe to accepting India's position. Thus, the contentious line in the resolution requiring the Government of Sri Lanka to accept UNHRC technical advice was changed to "in consultation with, and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka." This meant that a clause which Sri Lankan officials feared was "intrusive" and "binding" was no longer in the resolution. Instead, the office of the UN Human Rights Council would now need to both consult and receive the government's approval before any action in Sri Lanka.

In fact, a note on legal and procedural implications of the resolution, which the government circulated to UNHRC members said, "The effort to impose technical assistance and advice from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is contrary to the principle that these should be based on consent." The montage on this page gives the full text of the resolution. It also shows the additions by India marked in red. As revealed in these columns last week, India also pressed on the US to further "moderate" the text so it could make it acceptable to all UNHRC members and Sri Lanka. This was to achieve consensus instead of a vote. If that did not materialise, India which was set to vote against the resolution -as revealed exclusively last week- was forced to change its stance. A chain of events formed the cause for it. Later paragraphs reveal more on that.

The US resolution was co-sponsored by 40 countries, 13 of them members of the UNHRC. In terms of procedure, any member country of the UN could be a co-sponsor of resolutions. Those backing the US as co-sponsors were: Hungary, Romania, Netherlands, Australia, Monaco, Spain, Lithuania, Finland, Cyprus, Croatia, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Greece, Israel, Slovakia, Malta, Georgia, Switzerland, Somalia, Canada, Cameroon, Liechtenstein, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, France, Belgium, Portugal, Austria, Poland, UK, Germany, Italy, Iceland and New Zealand. Clearly, the US displayed its seriousness in pursuing its line and fanned out its State Department diplomats far and wide to rope in Sri Lanka through this resolution.

The official response of the government of Sri Lanka came from External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris. He noted in a statement issued in Geneva: "With 15 countries voting with Sri Lanka, the final result was that 23 countries, out of a total of 47 members of the Human Rights Council, did not support the Resolution, while 24 supported it. The margin was as narrow as this." It is very true that 24 countries voted in favour of the resolution whilst 23 countries did not support it. It is also very true that 15 countries supported Sri Lanka and eight did not by choosing to abstain. Of course, Peiris could by his own logic argue what he told cabinet during a briefing last week, as reported in these columns, is correct. That is the fact that Sri Lanka stood a "50-50" chance when the resolution is put to vote. That is on the basis that 23 countries did not support the resolution.

Those semantics apart, Peiris gave the reason for Sri Lanka's defeat. He said "The most distressing feature of this experience is the obvious reality that voting at the Human Rights Council is now determined not by the merits of a particular issue but by strategic alliances and domestic political issues in other countries which have nothing to do with the subject matter of a Resolution or the best interests of the country to which the Resolution relates. This is cynical negation of the purpose for which the Human Rights Council was established."

In Colombo, there was a much tougher response by the acting External Affairs Minister, D.E.W. Gunasekera. He told Parliament, "We will not under any circumstances allow others to impose on us their advice or solutions." There was an even more revealing remark over recommendations in the resolution that recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) be implemented. Gunasekera said, "Analysing the range of opinion expressed internationally on the LLRC report, it was evident that some consider that it has gone further than envisaged, as expected, others regret that it has not gone far enough." He added: "Pre-judging the efforts of a sovereign and independent Member State of the International Community by way of such action will, wittingly or unwittingly subscribe to the efforts and agenda of the terrorist rump to derail the delicate peace and reconciliation efforts in the country."

Peiris, the minister responsible for the conduct of Sri Lanka's foreign policy, is indeed cynical in his diagnosis which is negated by some hard realities. Some strategic partners of the United States in West Asia voted in favour of Sri Lanka. They were Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The only exception was Jordan, which abstained. Similarly, members of the pro-western ASEAN regional grouping - Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines - voted in favour of Sri Lanka. Only Malaysia abstained. So did, SAARC members Bangladesh and Maldives. (See box story on how UNHRC member countries voted)
Hence, how Peiris determined that "strategic alliances" were the guiding factor is a question of importance. If indeed that was a pattern, how did Sri Lanka win a UNHRC resolution in 2009? Here are two salient features from that resolution: "Welcomes the resolve of the Sri Lankan authorities to begin a broader dialogue with all parties in order to enhance the process of political settlement and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka based on consensus among and respect for the rights of all the ethnic and religious groups inhabiting it, and invites all stakeholders concerned to actively participate in it;

"Urges the international community to cooperate with the Government of Sri Lanka in the reconstruction efforts, including by increasing the provision of financial assistance, including official development assistance, to help the country fight poverty and underdevelopment and to continue to ensure the promotion and protection of all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights."

The passage of that resolution in Sri Lanka's favour in 2009 came after the country's delegation lobbied intensely with member countries. Helping in the task was India. On the other hand, if his remarks were a left handed compliment to India, the question still remains. If India voted against the resolution, does Peiris believe it would have been defeated? If Peiris' earlier argument is correct, he did not address the issue ahead of the voting on Thursday but concentrated on touring countries which, it is now clear, supported the resolution. The reasons he gives now could therefore be a fig leaf to cover the multitude of failures and debacles in the conduct of the country's foreign policy. But the slip is showing.

Barely hours after the Human Rights Council had adopted the resolution, the US government reactions came from the highest levels. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton declared in a statement that "The United States, together with the international community, sent a strong signal that Sri Lanka will only achieve lasting peace through real reconciliation and accountability, and the international community stands ready to help. The next steps are clear…." Ms Clinton urged the government "….to implement the constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and take the necessary measures to address accountability." Ms Clinton added she was looking forward to Peiris' forthcoming visit to Washington to discuss "future actions". Colombo and Washington are in consultation to decide on a date next month. If he does undertake the trip, that will no doubt be a sign that the government will address at least some or most of the recommendations of the LLRC. At a government sponsored ceremony at Bandaragama on Friday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka would not tolerate any interference in its internal affairs by any other country.

How they voted

There was also a response from the National Security Council at the White House. NSC spokesperson Tommy Vietor said on Thursday," The United States urges the Sri Lankan government to develop a comprehensive action plan for implementing steps on reconciliation and accountability, as called for in today's resolution, and to work with UN experts and its partners in the international community to take meaningful action to achieve these important goals, The United States Government," the statement added, "applauds today's passage of the UN Human Rights Council's resolution on "Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka."

Canada, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution has sent in a team of three Canadian parliamentarians to evaluate the situation. Chris Alexander, a former diplomat and now a Conservative MP, Conservative MP Rick Dykstra and Conservative Senator Vern White, a former police officer, are to meet with government officials and non-governmental organisations, as well as community representatives. The trio will report back to Foreign Minister John Baird on the findings of their trip. They were in Jaffna yesterday meeting local officials as well as civil society leaders in the Tamil community.

At Thursday's Human Rights Council sessions, US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe presented draft resolution L2. It was listed as Item 2 in the Agenda. She gave the reasons for doing so. Here is a brief account: "It is almost three years since the end of Sri Lanka's long and painful conflict. For the past three years, my government has worked bilaterally, and with like-minded countries, to engage officials at the highest levels of the Sri Lankan government on the steps that are necessary to build a peaceful future for the Sri Lankan people. For those three years Sri Lanka has had the time and space to develop its own roadmap for lasting national reconciliation and accountability. Most recently, we have encouraged Sri Lanka to address actions taken on both sides of the conflict through its domestic Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission Process. We looked forward to the Commission's report, and understood that Sri Lanka would develop its own action plan to implement the LLRC recommendations.

"We have also worked bilaterally, and with like-minded countries, to encourage Sri Lanka to take advantage of the resources of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. And we have encouraged Sri Lanka to engage with the Council, and to benefit from the broad range of experiences of Member States that have dealt successfully with their own post-conflict situations.

"Given the lack of action to implement the recommendations of the Sri Lankan government's own LLRC report, and the need for additional steps to address accountability issues not covered in the LLRC report, it is appropriate that the UNHRC consider and adopt this moderate and balanced resolution. It is a resolution that encourages Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its own LLRC report and to make concerted efforts at achieving the kind of meaningful accountability upon which lasting reconciliation efforts can be built."

Contrary to claims and some media reports in Colombo, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights issues, remained the leader of the Sri Lanka delegation in Geneva. Confirmation of this came when he delivered the country's response to the resolution before a vote was taken. External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris was on a rear seat flanked by Minister Douglas Devananda and Minister Rishard Bahurdeen. His namesake former Attorney General Mohan Peiris however took a front row seat next to Minister Samarasinghe. Minister Peiris looked visibly nervous on a live webcast of the Council meeting on Thursday. Samarasinghe complained that Sri Lanka has been "selectively targeted by certain countries at the behest of some who, we believe, still bear resentment at the clear and decisive decision taken at the Special Session in 2009. Here are edited excerpts of what he said:

"….This attempt to undermine the Resolution of 2009 is unacceptable especially because of the continuing improvement in Sri Lanka during the intervening period. A resolution that dwells on the past will impose on this Council the character of an adjudicatory body, with no limitation as to its competence to reopen and revisit matters of the past, which could have consequences affecting many others.
"Those who live in glass houses are best advised to exercise caution before throwing stones. We are a nation proud of our history, heritage and values as much as any other nation state. We take our responsibilities as a member of the international community very seriously and needless to say, are more concerned about ensuring sustainable peace and reconciliation and further promoting the unity of our nation that is multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic in its composition.
"After 30 long years of instability and violence, we have achieved stability and peace. We need to be given time to further consolidate the clear progress that has been achieved in a short period of three years. It is against this backdrop that my country is compelled to face a misconceived, unwarranted
and ill-timed draft resolution, which embodies several harmful elements that clearly violate important principles that will have adverse ramifications, not only for my country, but many other countries. This is why we took a decision, on a matter of principle, that we will not accept such a Resolution, in an endeavour to also ensure that a bad precedent is not established by this Council.

"The way in which we will deal with this matter today will decide whether or not purely parochial, if not political, agendas far removed from the promotion and protection of human rights, will be permitted to prevail. When we look at this draft resolution, it is clear that the founding principles of the Human Rights Council which are anchored in universality, impartiality, cooperation, non-selectivity and objectivity, are being assailed. If we are true to our consciences, it is not difficult to concede that the situation in Sri Lanka does not warrant the attention and criticism in this Resolution.

"We are clearly justified in asserting that we require time to realize comprehensive reconciliation. This Resolution also runs counter to the principle of international law that domestic remedies must be exhausted and should be the first resort, prior to superimposing external mechanisms. In respect of Sri Lanka's situation, it is barely 3 months since the presentation of the domestic mechanism's report. Is it fair for this Council to pre-judge our commitment to all aspects of the domestic process at this juncture? Shouldn't we be given the time and space to continue this process of implementation and of reconciliation without undue interference?..... Physician, heal thyself"…."

The days before the passage of the resolution have seen a number of demonstrations particularly in Colombo. It was not only those in the state sector including trade unions and members of the clergy who took part. Even the captains of the country's commerce, banking and industry turned up holding placards though most of them were in flashy ties and shirts. They protested outside both the US Embassy as well as the Indian High Commission, both located within half a kilometre along the Galle Road. At least one senior Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) cabinet minister was responsible for organising most of these events. They did have an impact. They generated considerable interest among electronic news media. Firstly such reportage was largely on anti US sentiments increasing in Sri Lanka as a result of the protests. It later extended to India with a flurry of activity on mobile phones where some Indian nationals in Sri Lanka began receiving abusive and even obscene SMS messages over their government's move to support the resolution. Some state media outlets also targeted both NGO staff as well as journalists reporting to foreign media outlets. Some were named whilst others, anchors said, would be named soon for their "treacherous activities." This drew a strong protest from the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists. The government has a long and alarming record of intolerance to criticism," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator in a statement. He added, "The international community must be extra vigilant in ensuring that Sri Lankan journalists are not subjected to reprisals for voicing their concerns to the Human Rights Council."

Since revealing in these columns exclusively last week that India would not support Sri Lanka by voting for the US backed resolution, there were a number of developments, some public and others behind the scenes, which prompted New Delhi to take this decision. The Sunday Times has been able to reconstruct the sequence of events. The first development came when Minister Samarasinghe, who was in Geneva first for the 'high level segment' of the UNHRC, told Colombo based electronic media that India was extending "100 per cent" support to Sri Lanka. His remarks were well meant.

They were to convey to Sri Lankans that the country's powerful northern neighbour was fully backing its efforts. However, it was to lead to two northern politicians obtaining voice cuts of the statements. They flew to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu and briefed Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) leader, Muthuvel Karunanidhi of what they perceived was a secret deal between the Centre in New Delhi and the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration in Colombo. They claimed that the Indian government had secretly assured to support Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. That saw an exchange of letters between Karunanidhi and the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. While that went on, an MP in the Lok Sabha was to raise a question from the Indian External Affairs Minister, S.M. Krishna's visit to Colombo and his remarks that President Rajapaksa had agreed to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and provide what was termed "plus" - a reference to the creation of a Senate or a second chamber. He wanted to know what the position was since President Rajapaksa had denied giving any such assurance.

During a noon news briefing after a breakfast meeting with Rajapaksa on January 16, Indian External Affairs Minister Krishna commenting on the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution said, "I discussed this matter with His Excellency the President this morning. The President assured me that he stands by his commitment to pursuing the 13th Amendment plus approach." The Indian side had checked with Minister Peiris if this statement can be made public. Peiris then contacted the President and said, "Yes". Peiris was also seated next to Krishna when the statement was made. However, Rajapaksa during a meeting with Editors of local media on January 30 declared, "Whether it is 13 plus or 13 minus, these and more issues should be sorted out through the PSC (Parliamentary Select Committee) mechanism. Parliament must tell me what is 'plus'. I'm blamed for not consulting Parliament. The Opposition must join in this effort as the problems at hand should be resolved democratically. It is the PSC which must clear-up all outstanding questions. Parliament's decision on these matters is my decision."

In the backdrop of the query by the Lok Sabha parliamentarian, Krishna wrote to his counterpart G.L. Peiris, seeking clarification on the official position of the government. The Sunday Times learnt that for reasons not yet known, the Indian External Affairs Minister's letter was not replied to. The result was a statement by Krishna to a joint session of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha. He re-iterated India's position when he said, "We have been assured by the Government of Sri Lanka, including during my visit to Sri Lanka in January this year, of its commitment towards pursuit of a political process, through a broader dialogue with all parties, including the TNA, leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, so as to achieve meaningful devolution of powers and genuine national reconciliation. We hope the Government of Sri Lanka, recognising the critical importance of this issue, acts decisively and with vision in this regard…."

Nevertheless, Krishna concluded, "I would like to highlight here that on such sensitive issues we will need to consider the implications of our actions carefully. Any assertions on our part may have implications on our historically friendly relations with a neighbouring country. We would also need to examine whether our actions will actually assist in the process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and enhance the current dialogue between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil National Alliance ………. I therefore, would like to inform this House that our objectives, as always, continue to remain the achievement of a future for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka that is marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect."

The statement however gave no hint which way the Indian government was going to vote on the resolution. So much so, that a reference to not generally being supportive of country-specific resolutions had Colombo confident that India would vote with Sri Lanka. The Indian mission in Colombo backed by officialdom at the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi had argued strongly to give Sri Lanka the opportunity to 'move on; with its reconciliation efforts without undue international pressure. By then, the DMK, a constituent partner in the Congress led United People's Alliance government, was not the only one to pressure the Centre. Joining in was Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister Jeyaram Jeyalalitha. In their bid to outdo each other, Karunanidhi exerted pressure even suggesting that his party would pull out of the alliance - a move that would lead to the collapse of the Indian government. He threatened to bring work to a standstill in State establishments and stage a hunger strike. That was to see Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh make a statement in the Lok Sabha. He said, "We do not yet have the final text of the Resolution. However, I may assure the House that we are inclined to vote in favour of a Resolution. That, we hope, will advance our objective, namely, the achievement of the future for the Tamil community in Sri Lanka that is marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect."

Some significant highlights of what Premier Singh said: "……….The Government of India has emphasised to the Government of Sri Lanka the importance of a genuine process of reconciliation to address the grievances of the Tamil community. In this connection, we have called for implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission appointed by Sri Lankan Government that has been tabled before the Sri Lankan Parliament. These include various constructive measures of healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering the process of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

"We have asked the Government of Sri Lanka to stand by its commitment towards pursuit of a political process through a broader dialogue with all parties including the Tamil National Alliance leading to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution so as to achieve meaningful devolution of power and genuine national reconciliation. We hope that the Government of Sri Lanka recognises the critical importance of this issue, acts decisively and with vision in this regard. We will remain engaged with them through this process and encourage them to take forward the dialogue with the elected representatives of Sri Lankan Tamils.

"As regards the issue of a draft resolution initiated by the United States at the on-going 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Members have also raised the issue of human rights violations during the protracted conflict in Sri Lanka and on the US initiated draft resolution on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka at the on-going 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The Government of India has emphasised to the Government of Sri Lanka the importance of a genuine process of reconciliation to address the grievances of the Tamil community. In this connection, we have called for implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission appointed by Sri Lankan Government that has been tabled before the Sri Lankan Parliament. These include various constructive measures of healing the wounds of the conflict and fostering the process of lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka……….."

The Sunday Times learnt that diplomatic efforts by India to further 'moderate' the resolution did not meet with success. The US probably had enough of their resolution being watered down. However, after the voting was over at the UNHRC, India's External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi acknowledged its role in taking out the only sting in the resolution. It said, "While we subscribe to the broader message of this resolution and the objectives it promotes, we also underline that any assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights or visits of UN Special Procedures should be in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan Government. These are norms which all of us in the Council subscribe to. A democratic country like Sri Lanka has to be provided time and space to achieve the objectives of reconciliation and peace. In this Council we have the responsibility to ensure that our conclusions do contribute to this objective rather than hinder it."

The Indian Establishment was concerned at the diplomatic fallout in Sri Lanka by voting for the anti-Lanka resolution. Again, it was trying to balance its otherwise good relations with Sri Lanka and the domestic compulsions in Tamil Nadu.

The statement also emphasised the need to implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It said "………. we urge the Sri Lankan Government to take forward the process of broader dialogue and show concrete movement towards a meaningful devolution of powers, including the implementation of the 13th Amendment and beyond. We would also urge that Sri Lanka takes forward the measures for accountability and to promote human rights that it has committed to. It is these steps, more than anything we declare in this Council, which would bring about genuine reconciliation between all the communities of Sri Lanka, including the minority Tamil community."

The TNA that is pushing for a political package that would encompass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution welcomed the resolution. A statement said, "……….We believe that the Resolution will benefit all Sri Lankans, regardless of ethnicity. We sincerely hope that the Resolution and the clear collective will of the Council will encourage the government to face the future with fortitude and move decisively to protect human rights and take tangible action to advance genuine reconciliation. The need for substantial progress in human rights protection, genuine and meaningful reconciliation and accountability are deep-felt needs of all citizens of the country…….…"

Domestic compulsions, or to put it more forcefully, keeping the UPA government in power, are the overriding factors that prompted India to vote in favour of the resolution. However, it made an unsuccessful effort to further "moderate" the resolution to obtain a consensus vote but did
succeed in changing a key operative paragraph. Notwithstanding these matters, a strong message to Colombo emphasised in the varied statements, including those from Premier Singh, External Affairs Minister Krishna and the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi repeatedly emphasise the point that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka should be enforced. Hence, this bone of contention in Indo-Sri Lanka relations will remain until Sri Lanka responds to New Delhi's request and clarifies matters. There is little doubt that even the proposed PSC or the talks between Government and TNA leaders will get under way until issues are sorted out.

It is in this backdrop that some ministers close to the UPFA leadership are speculating of a possible cabinet re-shuffle. Whether President Mahinda Rajapaksa chooses to do that or not, he has maintained a studious silence from making pointed references publicly to either US or other countries that backed the resolution. On Friday however he told a government sponsored meeting at Bandaragama he would not permit any other country to interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. On the other hand statements are continuing to be made by other cabinet ministers. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a constituent partner of the UPFA government is calling for the closure of diplomatic missions in Europe, except one in Brussels saying that the European Union takes collective decisions. In the absence of these parties being reined in, each pronouncement passes off as an official government viewpoint.

There is an imperative need for the government to clearly define not only its national goals but also its strategy to cope with the US-backed resolution now that it has been passed. There are two aspects to this issue. One is the response to the UNHRC resolution. A mere non-action on the issues raised will only see the matter reappear at the 20th sessions of the Human Rights Council in March, next year. It could then turn out to be a more costly exercise as the international community will perceive such a course of action as an affront. The other aspect is the bi-lateral relations with India. It is a well-known fact that governments may change during elections in India but their foreign policy remains, by and large constant, as can be seen from the messages to Colombo in the recent statements. Therefore, there is a compelling need to engage India not only on a constructive but also on a genuine note by addressing the issues that have become irritants.

For all this to be done there is no gainsaying that there is a crying need for professional diplomacy in a vibrant Ministry of External Affairs. Aggressive and belligerent behaviour by some members of the Sri Lanka delegation, to say the least, has not been well received by some of their counterparts in Geneva. A close study of how the two different Sri Lanka delegations conducted business, during the "high level segment" and thereafter, will not only help save money and even embarrassment at future events, it will also help the government learn where colossal blunders were made. One such blunder is the assumption that decisions at the UNHRC were taken by diplomats who were on the spot in Geneva without recourse to their foreign ministries in their capitals.

This seems the basis for large delegations from Colombo. In almost every instance, such decisions are made by the latter and passed down to the envoys in Geneva. On rare occasions, the envoys are given an option subject to prevailing circumstances. Without proper guidance, members of the Sri Lanka delegation went around lobbying oblivious to some of the ground realities or even diplomatic niceties.

The UN Human Rights Council's 19th sessions have ended. So have most of the demonstrations in Colombo. Sri Lanka now has just one year to decide what next to do. There is a strong need to look beyond naming and shaming people, and evolve a strategy. The UPFA can formulate one itself or consult the opposition parties too since the matters revolve around national issues. The significant question therefore would be what the UPFA government would do beyond mobilising people through protests and rallies. The government has to speak out. The public will have to be told where the nation stands.

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