After the adoption of the US/UK-led resolution against Sri Lanka in a highly fraught session at the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that from now on everything has changed. Sri Lanka’s conversation with the world will have to factor-in the consequences of that resolution at every turn and [...]



UNHRC, Sri Lanka and the importance of India


After the adoption of the US/UK-led resolution against Sri Lanka in a highly fraught session at the UN Human Rights Council on Thursday, it’s difficult to avoid the feeling that from now on everything has changed.

Sri Lanka’s conversation with the world will have to factor-in the consequences of that resolution at every turn and if, even at this late stage, it doesn’t get its foreign policy coordinates right, its international standing will suffer irreparable damage. Further, if it doesn’t clear up the post-war (ideological) debris that continues to hamper the reconciliation process — in other words, if it fails do what it takes to reach a lasting political settlement with the Tamils — it will suffer internal rupture as well.

Resolution A/HRC/25/L.1/Rev.1 mandated an international war crimes investigation that vests control in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and will take place without the consent of the country concerned, Sri Lanka. It was adopted with 23 voting for, 12 against and 12 abstentions.The redeeming (if unexpected) feature of this vote from Sri Lanka’s point of view was India’s abstention. India’s principled and carefully calibrated statement explaining its position against the resolution merits some study. This time the central government refused to be buffeted by ‘domestic compulsions’ as in 2012 and 2013. Non-endorsement by democratic regional giant India stripped the resolution of its veneer of legitimacy, laying bare its political aspect. If not anything else, this one point should serve to illustrate to Sri Lanka’s policymakers the extreme folly of alienating India.

In a statement explaining its abstention, the country’s nearest neighbour was critical of the resolution for its ‘intrusive approach’ that undermined national sovereignty and institutions. Any departure from the core principles of dialogue and cooperation had the potential to undermine the Council’s efforts for promoting universal respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, it said. “Any external investigative mechanism with an open-ended mandate to monitor national processes for protection of human rights in a country, is not reflective of the constructive approach of dialogue and cooperation” envisaged by previous UN General Assembly resolutions, it argued. “We are therefore concerned that the resolution has the potential to hinder the efforts of the country rather than contribute constructively to its efforts, and hence inadvertently complicate the situation.”

India pointed out that the resolution ignores the progress already made in the field of human rights and ‘placed in jeopardy the cooperation currently taking place’ between the government and the Office of the High Commissioner “Besides, the resolution is inconsistent and impractical in asking both the Government of Sri Lanka and the OHCHR to conduct investigations simultaneously.”

In their remarks in the Council all the South Asian countries — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan and Myanmar — expressed support for Sri Lanka, showing that this resolution was pushed through in contempt of sentiment in the region.

The extreme divisions created, and the gulf between the opposing viewpoints was illustrated in comments by the US and Cuba respectively. “Today’s vote in the UN Human Rights Council sends a clear message: the time to pursue lasting peace and prosperity is now; justice and accountability cannot wait” said the lofty message from US Secretary of State John Kerry. Cuba on the other hand describing the resolution as biased and politically motivated said the resolution’s “message to the world is that cooperation is not important.”

Pakistan said the resolution was “about politics, not human rights, a crass example of hypocrisy and double standards.” The main sponsors could hardly afford to hold Sri Lanka to account when they themselves were guilty of gross violations of human rights such as illegal renditions, extrajudicial killings, torture etc. Still they arrogate to themselves the right to pass judgment, Pakistan alleged.

During the interactive dialogue Russia said “Human rights is not for settling of political accounts and gaining geopolitical advantage.” The new draft “goes far beyond the issue of reconciliation and is direct interference in the affairs of a sovereign state.”

Venezuela said it rejected “in strongest possible terms initiatives like this – ones that tarnish the Council.” It was an ‘interventionist’ attempt not based on dialogue and cooperation. Several speakers observed that the resolution departed from the Council’s spirit of dialogue and cooperation, and undermined its founding principles of ‘universality, impartiality and non-selectivity.’

In comments after the vote China said the draft went beyond the mandate of the High Commissioner. Human rights were being used to put pressure on Sri Lanka, interfere with its affairs and its efforts at reconciliation. “This resolution does not reflect the consensus of the Council” China declared.
If China’s assertion was right, and if the dissenting voices held the moral high ground in the HRC as the comments would suggest, how was it that Sri Lanka lost, one may ask. It has to be said that if the voting pattern relating to resolutions in 2009, 2012 and 2013 is analysed, it becomes clear that Sri Lanka did not have to lose this vote.

All 12 abstentions came from states in either the African group, or the Asia Pacific group. As countries of the global South there is no ‘built in’ reason why these states should not have voted for Sri Lanka. Out of the 12, four had on an earlier occasion voted in support of Sri Lanka. They are Indonesia, Kuwait, Philippines and Bukinafaso. South Africa that voted for Sri Lanka in 2009 abstained this year. Argentina which abstained in 2009, voted against Sri Lanka in 2013 and 2014. Brazil that supported Sri Lanka in 2009, voted against this year.

Several states whose comments in the Council were in fact quite positive, nonetheless either abstained or voted against Sri Lanka. New Council members Namibia and Morocco would belong to this category (both abstained). Korea, with whom Sri Lanka has so much interaction nowadays in the areas of education, foreign employment etc, votes against Sri Lanka.

Why was it not possible to retain the support of the countries that abstained? Could their votes have swung the balance? Sri Lanka’s friends, big and small, certainly did their bit in the Council that day. But had Sri Lanka done its own homework? Were the setbacks the result of a failure in diplomacy – in neglecting to formulate a coherent policy that built on solidarity with the NAM and the OIC? It’s a bit late now, but these questions still demand answers.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.