Lukewarm Response To Government’s Call For More Time
- MR makes urgent calls to Manmohan
- South India to commence agitation
The Mahinda Rajapaksa administration has resorted to heavy lobbying with the international community in the face of a US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka at the 19th UNHRC sessions in Geneva, prompting even the President to make telephone contact with Indian Premier Manmohan Singh.
Rajapaksa’s telephone call to Singh is an acknowledgement of the important role played by India in regional politics.
It is learnt that Rajapkasa and Singh had been engaged in at least two telephone calls last week where Sri Lanka had requested India’s support to face any unfavourable situations the country might have to confront at the UNHRC sessions.
Both the Sri Lankan and Indian governments are tight lipped on the discussion between the two heads of state.
As pressure mounts on the Rajapaksa administration, the President has now taken it upon himself to canvass support.
The silence maintained by India was unnerving to the Rajapaksa administration, as it was an indication of Sri Lanka’s support base in the Council.
India supported Sri Lanka and made its stance clearly known to other member states in the UNHRC when a Resolution on Sri Lanka was presented to the Council in 2009 soon after the war.
However, given the incidents that unfolded during and after Indian External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna’s visit to Sri Lanka and the failure of the Rajapaksa administration to respond to India’s continuous call to implement the LLRC recommendations, India has opted to remain silent while a US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka is in the making.
The US also realizing India’s importance initiated a dialogue with the Indian government about the Sri Lankan issue last month.
Following Krishna’s visit to Sri Lanka, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai visited the US State Department in Washington where he met with several US government officials including US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero.
While the Sri Lankan issue figured in the discussions, Otero made her first official visit to Sri Lanka a few days after Mathai’s meeting.
It was during this visit that Otero and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake announced that the US would support a Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions.
Soon after concluding the Sri Lankan visit, Otero flew directly to New Delhi where she exchanged views with the Indian government about Sri Lanka and the US decision to push a Resolution seeking the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
Although India had previously objected to Resolutions moved by individual countries, a sentiment, which was once again expressed at the UNHRC sessions last week, it has remained silent so far since the Resolution being backed by the US deals with a matter that India has been pushing for some time.
Realizing the geo politics of the region, the US would not consider pushing for a Resolution on Sri Lanka without India’s consent given that the Chinese and Russians would support the Rajapaksa administration.
The likely scenario would be India abstaining from voting in the event the US draft Resolution on Sri Lanka is taken up for a vote.
South Indian pressure
A statement by Sri Lanka’s special envoy for human rights, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe that India has expressed support to Sri Lanka against a Resolution to be presented to the UNHRC gathered fire from South India.
A series of agitations are to be held in various parts of South India from March 3, calling on the Central Government to support the Resolution on Sri Lanka. The Communist Party of India is to hold a protest campaign in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday (6th) to demand that the Central government takes a firm stand on the matter and supports the Resolution.
All major political parties in the South are to participate in these protests.
Several TNA parliamentarians were in South India a few days back and lobbied with the South Indian politicians to put pressure on the Central Indian government to support the Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva.
It was MDMK chief Vaiko who first made a statement on the matter by urging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to support Sri Lanka
Vaiko has also said that India’s envoy to Sri Lanka had also reportedly assured President Mahinda Rajapaksa of New Delhi’s support.
“If it is true, that will be the ever unpardonable betrayal by the Indian Government against the Tamils of Sri Lanka. I would request you that the Indian government should not support the racist Sri Lankan Government in the UNHRC in Geneva,” Vaiko had said.
DMK’s M. Karunanidhi also said that India should not support Sri Lanka, which is facing war crime charges at the hearings being conducted by the UNHRC in Geneva.
“India should not back Sri Lanka at any cost when the UNHRC Resolution comes up for voting,” he has said in a statement.
He had charged that the party’s Resolution adopted at its high-level committee meeting in April had stressed that Sri Lanka should be tried for alleged war crimes and the Indian government should also make efforts in this regard.
PMK leader S. Ramadoss has also expressed concern over the issue.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalitha also noted in a letter to Premier Singh that India must support the US backed Resolution.
The Indian Central government has to now choose carefully keeping in mind that India will be facing elections soon while also maintaining good relations with the US and Sri Lanka.
US firm in its stance
The US meanwhile stands committed to proceeding with the Resolution on Sri Lanka and is currently continuing negotiations with its allies in Geneva regarding the Resolution.
The draft Resolution is being discussed at length by the US and several countries due to pressure from the Tamil Diaspora that has called for the Resolution to be stronger.
The US is still trying to find a sponsor and a co-sponsor for the Resolution to be presented to the Council.
As at present the US draft Resolution calls on the government of Sri Lanka to: Implement the constructive recommendations in the LLRC report and additionally to take immediate steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and stated commitment to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations; Requests that the Government of Sri Lanka presents a comprehensive action plan before the 20th Session of the Human Rights Council detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law; and Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special mandate holders to provide, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing those steps.
Countries like Canada, UK, Norway and South Africa have called for stronger language to be included in the Resolution in order to impress upon the Sri Lankan government the severity of the issue.
The US however is determined to proceed with the Resolution in its current language claiming it would be a good start to engage the Rajapaksa administration.
Nevertheless, the US emphasized the need for UNHRC action on Sri Lanka to establish lasting peace saying that time was “slipping.”
Under Secretary Otero told the Council that the international community had waited three years for Sri Lanka to take action on the human rights concerns about the final stages of the war, but that the country had failed to act.
Otero said that the US government welcomed the release of the LLRC report but stressed that the recommendations of the report must now be implemented.
Although Otero did not specifically mention the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka, she expressed the US government’s frustration in the delays on the part of the Sri Lankan government and the need for action by the UNHRC.
“The international community has waited nearly three years for action, and while we welcome the release of the LLRC report, the recommendations of the report should be implemented. We have engaged Sri Lanka bilaterally on these issues since the conflict ended in 2009, and stand ready to continue to work with them. Action now in this Council will sow the seeds of lasting peace on the ground,” Otero said, indicating the need to push for stronger action in Sri Lanka.
Time Frame needed
The Sri Lankan government’s request for the Resolution to be delayed or withdrawn giving more time for the government to implement the LLRC recommendations has received a lukewarm response from the international community.
The Tamil Diaspora on the other hand has commenced lobbying with the international community stating that the Sri Lankan government’s call for more time to implement the LLRC recommendations was just a time buying exercise.
The letter sent by the TNA to the UNHRC member states has further explained the grievances of the Tamil community and the delay on the part of successive governments especially the Rajapaksa administration to address the issue of reconciliation.
Considering these issues, the international community maintains that while the Sri Lankan government needs to be engaged in a dialogue on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations, a time frame also needs to be given.
The EU countries have called on the government to give a specific time frame with regard to the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
“The issue is with regard to the time frame on the implementation,” a diplomat from Geneva said.
Another diplomat said that their view was that the discussion on Sri Lanka is not hostile, but aimed at continuing a discussion on the issues raised.
Meanwhile, the EU parliament last week adopted a Resolution on its stance on various issues at the UNHRC and Sri Lanka was also included in the Resolution.
The 10th clause of the Resolution states that the EU will support efforts aimed at keeping the issue of accountability in Sri Lanka on the agenda of the HRC. The EU will encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to fully implement the recommendations of the LLRC as a first step.
Officials meet NGOs
In the sidelines of the 19th UNHRC Sessions, in Geneva, a meeting was also held last week between the Sri Lankan government officials currently in Geneva and members of the Tamil Diaspora and NGOs.
Amnesty International Sri Lanka expert Yolanda Foster had reportedly challenged the Sri Lankans to make public their findings on killings and disappearances saying the government has not come clean on its promises to victims of violence.
Minister Samarasinghe had told the gathering that after 30 years the country is now coming out of a state of war and that the government wanted to engage with the Tamil Diaspora.
The government officials had noted that there was no need for a US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka.
The government officials while criticizing moves by some Western nations to interfere in Sri Lanka’s administrative affairs has also criticized NGOs affiliated to these nations.
However, members of the Tamil Diaspora have pointed out that the government has also failed to honor its pledges made with regard to the reconciliation process following the end of the war.
According to a diplomat who attended the session, a verbal argument had also taken place between members of the Tamil Diaspora.
“There were some members who are LTTE sympathizers and some who were interested in building a dialogue with the government. These two factions had a clash at the meeting,” the diplomat said.
A National Issue
The Rajapaksa administration is engaged in a massive propaganda operation to convert the issues faced by the government in front of the international community into a national issue.
Ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka are the main spokespersons in the campaign.
Weerawansa and Ranawaka have separately at various fora called on the people to stand against the “international conspiracies” and the US move to spread its influence in the region through the Resolution on Sri Lanka.
The government has conveniently withheld the fact that the US backed Resolution on Sri Lanka is in fact aimed at the Rajapaksa administration and its shortcomings in initiating the reconciliation process following the end of the war.
The fact that the draft Resolution refers only to the “government of Sri Lanka” has conveniently been kept away from the people.
The government’s massive propaganda campaign has so far managed to keep the people from focusing on the government’s failed economic policies and wastage by focusing on an “international conspiracy” instead.
Ironically, a US backed Resolution at the UNHRC at least for the time being has helped the government gain some support from the people who a few weeks ago were on the streets protesting against the cost of living.