Sunday Leader, 25 March 2012
Let not the Rajapaksa government and its supporters pooh-pooh the Resolution adopted at the UNHRC on alleged war crimes committed by the government. The Resolution was adopted by the 47 member council by 28 to 15 with 8 abstentions and it is a serious indictment against the government that could have a severe bearing on the future of the country. We hope government apologists will not give juvenile interpretations to the voting such as adding on the 8 abstentions to the Sri Lankan vote and claiming that Sri Lanka was condemned by only one vote. Such a childish interpretation was attempted by a Central Bank statistician when Sri Lanka’s bid to stage the Commonwealth Games was rejected.
The Resolution proposed by the United States and some European countries is a ‘non binding Resolution’ – a Resolution which this country is not bound to implement but the failure to implement the recommendations may result in some counties treating Sri Lanka as an ‘untouchable’. The adoption of the Resolution is an indication of the strong international support for the call for accountability of alleged abuses committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and international dissatisfaction with Sri Lanka’s accountability efforts.
While a ferocious reaction may result in Lanka as a consequence of the Resolution being adopted, it is quite clear that the Resolution is not a condemnation of the people of Lanka but that of the Rajapaksa government. Not a word is mentioned about the conduct of the people but the condemnation is about the failure of the Rajapaksa government to heed to requests of Western nations and human rights observers to investigate the alleged crimes committed on civilians during the last stages of the war against the LTTE.
Teresita Schaffer former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka writing to The Hindu on Thursday (March 22) said that from the US perspective the sour tone that has come to dominate Washington’s dialogue with Colombo stems from the Sri Lanka government’s unwillingness to take these issues [allegations of violation of human rights of civilians] seriously. Sri Lanka, she says, became a symbol of human rights problems – a country where the US could show that it was pursuing a serious policy. Washington has other interests in play: business and economic ties and its strategic location. However without indications that human rights and war crimes were moving towards resolution those in the Obama administration who championed broader dialogue with Colombo were outgunned in the Washington policy debate. Proposing the Resolution was the result.
Western nations, India, UN and human rights organisations both within and outside the country kept pressing the government to address the issue of human rights violations. India was more concerned about bringing about a political solution to the Tamil grievances than human rights violations. Indeed moving towards a political solution was much more easier a task than investigating alleged violation of human rights of civilians by troops who were being venerated as ‘war heroes’ by the government itself. But Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cabal of brothers celebrated the ‘historic victory’ in every town and village with raban playing, kiributh and kavun parties for three years. Their one achievement was the resettlement of nearly 200,000 Internally Displace Persons about which they crowed a lot. But that was not enough. Countless numbers of Tamil civilians had disappeared even many of those who had surrendered to the army after the war, families members claimed. Some Tamil youth are still being held in prison and not being brought before the Courts. Their homes too have disappeared from the face of the earth and thousands have lost their lands.
In the North it is still military rule and basic freedoms denied even though emergency has been lifted. Three years is too long a time for prevarication on the all important question of a burning national issue.
The ability of the ruling Rajapaksa clique to circumnavigate the problems of the Tamil people without making a genuine effort to resolve them is a classic instance of artful political dodging.
Before the end of the war Rajapaksae and his brothers were kowtowing to New Delhi politicians and bureaucratic Brahmins at every possible opportunity. But after the end of the war that ceased to be and New Delhi’s demands for implementation of pledges made years before to meet Tamil demands such as the implementation of the 13th Amendment are still on the promissory list. The 13th Amendment has been a provision in the Constitution for 25 years! An Indian commentator has aptly described the Rajapaksa regime’s ability for taking Indians round in circles as: their infinite capacity to weave circles around well known interlocutors.
President Rajapaksa would have well realised the immense pressures Manmohan Singh’s government was being subjected to by Tamil Nadu politicians who have taken up the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils as a main issue. DMK leader Karunanidhi still has 18 of his MPs propping up the Congress government but he too is in grave difficulties. Jeyalalitha his bete noire in Tamil Nadu who routed the DMK in the recent state assembly elections has been demanding that the Congress coalition government with DMK in the fold votes for the Resolution against Sri Lanka. But the Rajapakses’ appeared to be more concerned about the Sinhala vote bank in the South of Lanka and not the welfare of Manmohan Singh’s government. Manmohan Singh naturally saved his own skin on Thursday.
President Rajapaksa speaks very rarely about Tamil rights and grievances. Most probably he is influenced by some of his advisors who hold the view: ‘What problems do the Tamils have that we Sinhalese do not have?’ The moment of truth arrived on Thursday at Geneva. Abraham Lincoln’s advice: You can fool all the people some of the time; some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time came true for Rajapaksa whose supporters have put up a huge cut-out at Baudhaloka Mawatha comparing Abraham Lincoln to Rajapaksa. The most objectionable part of the Resolution that called for the office of the UNHRC and ‘relevant mandate holders’ to provide advice and technical assistance in complementing the steps recommended to be taken and for the Sri Lanka government To Accept such advice and technical assistance was suitably amended to: UNHRC advice and technical advice to be made ‘in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka’. This amendment thwarts the attempt to make Sri Lanka subservient to the UNHRC office and its officials – certainly a degrading status for any sovereign nation.
This amendment was moved on the last day on a proposal made by India. Whether the Indian move was inspired by good neighbourliness or because India too faces the threat of allegations to be made at the UNHRC for human rights violations is not clear, but it certainly takes out the venom at the tail end of the Resolution. This Resolution would have brought the Rajapaksa brothers down to mother earth after living in cuckooland having won the Presidential Election by an unprecedented margin and having acquired a two third majority in parliament by buying over opposition MPs with ministerial portfolios. Quite apart from international law and human rights laws even the fundamental laws of the Constitution such as the 17th Amendment was grist to their mills.
Some have demonstrated on the streets during the past week protesting the violation of the sovereignty of the nation. On the other hand if such limitations could be placed on the Rajapaksas riding rough-shod over the fundamental laws protecting the people, this could be considered a safeguard of the sovereignty of the people.