In case the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to postpone its report on alleged Sri Lankan war crimes gives the mistaken impression that the movers of the Resolution 25/1 have become more ‘accommodating,’ it would be useful to take a closer look at their reasons for acceding to the request for deferral, and for the [...]


UNHRC Resolution 25/1 and the new charge of ‘genocide’


In case the UN Human Rights Council’s decision to postpone its report on alleged Sri Lankan war crimes gives the mistaken impression that the movers of the Resolution 25/1 have become more ‘accommodating,’ it would be useful to take a closer look at their reasons for acceding to the request for deferral, and for the keen interest shown by its key architects, the US and the UK, in Sri Lanka.

Three days before Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera requested the UNHRC to delay the report, Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Council adopted a resolution calling on the UN to inquire into what it called ‘genocide’ against Tamils, which (it suddenly decided) had taken place from independence under every government since 1948. TNA leader R. Sampanthan did not sufficiently distance his party from this amazing resolution when he said it ‘reflects the view of the Northern Province.’ It was tabled by the NPC’s Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, a former judge who, some months ago, had himself cautioned his council against the use of the word ‘genocide.’ For the architects of this resolution the LTTE never existed, it would appear. It is ironic that Wigneswaran, who not long ago referred to Prabhakaran as a ‘great hero,’ seeks to defend the resolution on the basis of the need for ‘truth.’

NPC resolution
The NPC resolution called upon the OHCHR team to “comprehensively investigate and report on the charge of genocide in its submission to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015.” It asked the UN Security Council to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court, and for countries to use ‘universal jurisdiction’ wherever possible to prosecute the alleged crimes.

This is the background against which US Secretary of State John Kerry in his remarks ahead of talks with Minister Samaraweera in Washington on February 12 — two days after the NPC resolution — said “we’re going to talk today about President Sirisena’s thoughts about how to move Sri Lanka away from 30 years of war with the Tamils…” It is unlikely that Secretary Kerry was unaware that Sri Lanka was fighting an outfit that the US’s own Federal Bureau of Investigation had described as one of the world’s deadliest terrorist organizations.

Kerry’s apparent ‘mistake,’ coming at a time when the spotlight was on a crucial HRC report on alleged war crimes has caused outrage among Sri Lankans worldwide. It led to the launch of a petition in the US demanding that he retract the statement, with some demanding that he apologise.

Distorting the narrative
Author of the petition, Los Angeles-based freelance writer Hassina Leelarathna says it’s a pity Samaraweera did not immediately set the record straight, and that the remarks should not be ignored as ‘just a cavalier disregard of facts.’ It might well be a calculated attempt to distort the narrative to support the LTTE diaspora’s claims of “genocide” by the Sinhalese”, she says. “In any case, a correction is needed and, hopefully, there will be no more references to this “war on Tamils” that never took place.”

By Friday morning, the online petition that started on Saturday (21st) had 688 signatures from 20 countries including one from Aland Islands (an archipelago of Finland, in the Baltic Sea). “Do I believe he will retract the reference to the “war on Tamils?” Between you and me, not really” she said, in response to an email query. “But this will likely deter his aides from throwing in that phrase in future statements. At least they might think twice.”

“With the ISIS threat taking centre stage, Americans are better able to relate to the issue of separating terror groups from their communities. Obama is constantly pointing out that we’re not at war with the Muslims and that ISIS is not really “Islamist.” This new awareness might explain the excellent response we’re getting from our American friends by way of signatures” she said.

Retract the reference
The petition says any serious effort by the US or others to help Sri Lanka must start with the recognition that Sri Lanka was no more at war with its Tamil population than the American people with Muslims. “The distinction is fundamental to the narratives of both nations.” In its concluding paragraph it says “We respectfully urge Secretary Kerry to retract the reference from his statement and substitute it with fact, viz., that Sri Lanka waged 30-years of war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a ruthless terrorist group.”

The recent developments give rise to misgivings as to whether there is an element of collusion between the western architects of UN resolution 25/1 who for their own strategic ends wish to see Sri Lanka’s war victory reversed, and sections of the Tamil political leadership. It may be recalled that when British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire made his post-election visit to Sri Lanka — ahead of the US’s Nisha Biswal in fact — his priority, following in the footsteps of Prime Minister David Cameron during CHOGM, was Jaffna. Swire also met Samaraweera in London before Kerry did in Washington.

Diaspora votes
Britain goes to the polls on May 7 and analysts say it will be a close fight between Cameron’s Tories and the opposition Labour Party. Ethnic minorities’ votes are expected to play a more influential role than ever before in this election. A recent analysis shows that migrant votes could determine the fate of a number of prospective parliamentary candidates across the country, according to the Guardian. The need to woo Tamil diaspora votes may partly explain Britain’s eagerness to secure a damning verdict on Sri Lanka (or to hold out that promise), and the Foreign Office’s frantic outreach activity with Tamil groups in Sri Lanka and the UK.

The new Sri Lankan Government in its bid to re-set relations with the West needs to be aware that the professed concerns for human rights by the US and UK are not as righteous or disinterested as these powers would like to make out. It needs to consider the likelihood that the ‘new information’ that the UN human rights chief expects to gather for the deferred war crimes report, may relate to a new and preposterous charge of ‘genocide.’

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