Background: Irrespective of this month’s vote in Geneva on the US-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), things may not be the same again in Sri Lanka. There is more to the UNHRC vote than winning and losing. Either way, it has already stirred up a hornet’s nest. It may only be a beginning, when the sponsors of the resolution believed it would be confined to “accountability issues” pertaining to alleged “war crimes” targeting the Sri Lankan state, its institutions and individuals attaching to it.
Comment; This is not the first time Sri Lanka has been hauled over the UNHRC coals on “accountability issues”, as many in the country seem to believe. Within days of the end of the “Eelam War IV” in May 2009, the European Union initiated a similar action in Geneva. A counter-resolution initiated by friends of Sri Lanka, such as India, Pakistan and China, put paid to the EU efforts at the time. Today, by clearly attaching its name to the UNHRC resolution, the US may have forced issues already in Sri Lanka – but not necessarily in ways that all initiators of the move would appreciate.
No-one is saying that HR violations during the war period should not be investigated. The West, now as in 2009, wants “independent” (international?) investigations. Sri Lanka wants the world to be satisfied with the findings of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), which it appointed after the international community took a greater interest in the issue than Colombo may have bargained for, at the conclusion of the war.
The two US drafts for the UNHRC vote acknowledge the good work done by the LLRC, but indicate the sponsors’ desire for “international supervision” in implementation, by insisting on Sri Lanka seeking and accepting “technical assistance” from the UN Human Rights Commissioner. The drafts did not refer to the Darusman Report, named after the leader of the three-member team of advisors appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but which was later forwarded to the UNHRC.
The US backing for the UNHRC resolution has stirred fresh hopes among the Tamils, both within Sri Lanka and their Diaspora brethren elsewhere. It had started off with war victims nearer home and their political leadership, represented in particular by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). The TNA felt that any intervention of that kind by the world’s sole superpower would mean a better deal for them on rehabilitation, reconstruction and, more importantly, reconciliation.
At this stage, however, the US interests and efforts seem concentrated only on “accountability issues”, and nothing more.
The decision of the West to move the issue to the UNHRC, rather than to the UN Security Council, where friends of Sri Lanka, like China and Russia, have veto power, turned it into all-out politico-diplomatic warfare. As a result, the stakes have steadily been pushed higher and have become incomprehensible, rather than the move providing a straightforward way of easing the situation for the victimised Tamil community in Sri Lanka.
The last time the US was seriously in the news on the Sri Lankan ethnic issue, the “trans-national government of Tamil Eelam” (TNGTE), the rump political outfit identified with the dreaded Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, had conducted its “parliament session” on American soil. That V. Rudrakumaran, the self-styled “prime minister” of TNGTE, is an American citizen living on US soil, also did not go unnoticed in Colombo.
Independent of the Geneva result, the agenda of the pro-LTTE sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora will not change. Their tactics, arguments and consequent priorities alone may alter, however, depending on the result of the Geneva vote. Either the world is with them – and they have nothing to fear – or, the world has mortgaged their fear and feeling at the altar of self-centred politico-diplomatic expediency, and they have nothing to lose. Either way, Sri Lanka as a nation could lose sleep all over again.
Known hotheads in the majority Sinhala-Buddhist polity and society, and also the Sri Lankan state system, can also be expected to act/react on predictable lines. They will require little or no provocation, which will be easy to find. The post-9/11 anti-terror benefits, accruing to Sri Lanka and this part of South and South-East Asia with the conclusion of Eelam War IV, may well have been frittered away.
N. Sathiya Moorthy, Future Directions International Associate