“Illegal”; “totally reject”; “biased”; “double standards” – these stock phrases have been the refrain from Government voices these past weeks leading to the vote on the resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva last Thursday. And post-vote, we have heard a learned professor say that Sri Lanka in [...]



Geneva vote: Govt. in the dock


“Illegal”; “totally reject”; “biased”; “double standards” – these stock phrases have been the refrain from Government voices these past weeks leading to the vote on the resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva last Thursday. And post-vote, we have heard a learned professor say that Sri Lanka in fact won the vote when counting the ‘abstentions’ with the ‘No’ votes, a lesson in ‘new math’.

But the hard, cold fact of the matter is that the UNHRC voted to start an investigation into allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka. It has put the country on the rack, a diplomatic torture instrument where its political leaders will be, metaphorically, tied and stretched.It is an unprecedented event in Sri Lanka’s post-Independence history that such an intrusive move by a multi-nation organisation into the internal affairs has occurred. If this could be considered a victory, in any sense, by those in Government, let them live in a fool’s paradise.

Resolutions against Sri Lanka in Geneva are not new. Back in the 1980s, when India was fanning and funding the separatist insurgency in the battlefields of Sri Lanka, it went full thrust in the diplomatic circuit as well. Geneva was its hunting ground. By the 1990s and the 2000s, however, Sri Lanka was able to take the heat off with some deft diplomacy; cooling relations with India and a period of confident engagement at the UNHRC, then known as the UN Commission on Human Rights and with Europe and the US, with the LTTE receiving some stunning blows by being banned as a ‘terrorist organisation’ in those countries.

Again, in the post-2009 era, Sri Lanka lost it. With each passing UNHRC resolution the noose was getting tighter and tighter.The upshot of last Thursday’s resolution enables the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights to start a “comprehensive” international inquiry into the alleged violations of International Humanitarian Law — and to monitor domestic inquiries into them. In the process, it has also internationalised what is purely an internal issue, the Provincial Council system and basic good governance matters.

In short, the West, through this resolution has put a foot in the door of Sri Lanka’s home affairs. Five years of consistent pressure by the West instigated by the Sri Lankan Diaspora in those countries has borne fruit. Some of the countries that spearheaded this resolution, led by Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and a host of high-level persona have more than their share of skeletons in their cupboards, but the Sri Lankan Government failed to grasp the realpolitik of international affairs — that double standards are an established part of international affairs. Neither did the Government comprehend the domestic political compulsions of the political leaders of these countries.

Had it not been for Pakistan’s lobbying of Islamic countries, Thursday’s vote could have been even more detrimental to Sri Lanka. It also showed that banking entirely on China and Russia to salvage the Government has its limitations. While Government leaders are gaga over India’s abstention, such euphoria is misplaced.
It is known that India was very much involved in the drafting of the resolution. The inclusion of paragraphs relating to the 13th Amendment came from India. Once satisfied that the resolution would pass muster, India decided to abstain and keep its peace with Sri Lanka. The bottom line is that India did not vote against the resolution. The subsequent explanation that the vote was a decision by the Indian bureaucracy because only an interim government is in place in New Delhi must be taken with a pinch of masala.

All this is now water under the bridge. What matters now is how the Sri Lankan Government is going to respond to an international war crimes tribunal. It has ignored the age-old idiom that a ‘stitch in time saves nine’. How it reacted to the Darusman report is textbook case of inconsistency. Having rejected it initially, the Government went through the back door to change it and gave more undertakings than it needed to.

Successive elected governments of Sri Lanka have recognised the promotion and protection of human rights not only as a Constitutional obligation but as a fundamental duty. Sri Lanka has been a party to international human rights instruments and all obligations when undertaken voluntarily serve to create the thrust and enabling environment for the strengthening of the capacity of national mechanisms.

Now, having dragged its collective feet internally, the Government is faced with intrusive international scrutiny like never before.

The façade behindthe PC polls
With a defeat abroad, the Government is seeking some solace in victory at home. The leaders have campaigned on the theme ‘defeat the Geneva resolution by voting UPFA in the Southern and Western provinces’ at yesterday’s polls for these provincial councils. Deliberately, or inadvertently, they have now put the People of Sri Lanka as their shield, changing the goal posts for those countries contemplating unilateral sanctions in the months ahead against individual politicians to direct them towards the country as a whole for propping up the Government.

Unfortunately, the just concluded elections had much to do with the efficiency of provincial councils as a system of either devolution of power or as a mechanism of streamlined local government. The Government is paying dearly for the sheer vacillation in overhauling the Provincial Council system, partly through the fear of India, and introducing a more meaningful system of devolution for the better administration of Sri Lanka. The Northern Provincial Council and the party that controls it openly canvassed for the anti-Sri Lanka resolution in Geneva. In some other democracy they would have been hauled over the coals under a Patriot Act.

A victory for the UPFA Government in these Provincial Council elections, whether they were free and fair, would indicate that it continues to enjoy the people’s confidence despite all that has happened in recent times. But in the bigger scheme of things, it would only be a Pyrrhic victory.
The Northern Provincial Council is going to be the Government’s Achilles heel in time to come.

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