Sri Lanka: US ‘procedural’ resolution at UNHRC

Saturday, 2 March 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Col. (Retd). R. Hariharan

A US draft resolution on Sri Lanka’s accountability for alleged war crimes being brought before the 24th meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) now in circulation (received from an Indian TV news channel) is at Annexure. While it is not an official version, in this article, I have analysed its contents in the belief that it is probably the real one.

There is a feeling of déjà vu about the US draft. So far, the reaction of the important players, both for the US, moving to bring a ‘procedural’ resolution as a follow up to the UNHRC in March 2012 is almost the same as before. However, the protests were less shrill in Colombo (or is it too early for protests?), perhaps due to the realisation of the inevitability of karma catching up with inaction; or as we say in the army: “If it is inevitable, better to grin and bear it.”

Would this indicate a change in Sri Lanka’s attitude to the dispassionate investigation of the allegations? I doubt it. In the present scheme of things, ‘pigs will have to fly’ for it to happen. The reason is simple – the US has given no indication that it is contemplating any new action but is only following up on what has been said before.

The draft resolution I have received is no threat to the status quo but it is a little more elaborate in listing the things not done as promised by Sri Lanka. It neither proposes scaling up the degree of pressure on President Rajapaksa nor contemplates any collective action against Sri Lanka for non-compliance with the earlier resolution.  It buys more time for President Rajapaksa to set the house in order. Its title, ‘Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka’ (the same as the March 2012 resolution), sets the tone of US action. In no way does it intimidate or intrude into Sri Lanka’s internal affairs.

Expressing concern In essence, the draft expresses concern:

At the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and failure by the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments, including those on devolution of political authority to provinces as called for in Sri Lanka’s constitution.

That Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan does not adequately address all of the findings and constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarise the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all, and enact rule of law reforms.

Setting the course for future action

Setting the future course for action it:

Reiterates its call upon the Sri Lankan Government to expeditiously implement the constructive recommendations made in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability, and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.

Urges the Sri Lankan Government to formally respond to outstanding requests, including by providing unfettered access, by special procedures mandate holders, in particular the Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers; human rights defenders; freedom of expression; freedom of association and assembly; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; minority issues; and the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances; and discrimination against women.

It would like the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in consultation and in concurrence with the Sri Lankan Government, to provide advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps.

It also requests the High Commissioner to present a report on assistance provided and progress on reconciliation and accountability, including investigations of violations of international law in Sri Lanka, in the 25th session of the UNHRC.

So the US draft is truly procedural, to give a push to the unfinished issues raised in the March 2012 resolution and nothing more. As things are done in the UN forums, the draft treads the middle path and takes cognisance of the progress made by Sri Lanka and what it should be doing. If Sri Lanka has lived with the earlier resolution, there is no reason for the country to panic now.

Concerns of damage

But Sri Lanka should be concerned that this draft is more damaging than the earlier one as it notes Sri Lanka’s growing list of actions lacking accountability a little more elaborately in comparison with the earlier resolution which was more generalised.

It underlines the growing unhappiness of international community at Sri Lanka’s continued disregard, not only for issues of internal governance and post war reconciliation, but for the larger issue of violations of international law as well. As war crimes are violations of international law, the draft provides the space for taking up recourse to international investigations into them.

Discussions in Indian parliament

Discussion in Indian parliament yesterday was as expected. Opposition parties, particularly the AIADMK and the CPI, went at the government hammer and tongs for ignoring the war crimes and human rights violations in Sri Lanka, while DMK as usual wanted to prove they were the sole champions of Tamils the world over.

The External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid’s speech was pedestrian, he skirted the war crimes issue but expounded upon India’s determination to pursue the devolution issue and full implementation of the 13th amendment.

It is indicative of India’s lack of new ideas turning its Sri Lanka policy into the realms of irrelevance. India still talks of implementing 13th amendment when President Rajapaksa has consigned it to the constitutional morgue.

The US draft is not going to exactly set either Kelaniya in Colombo or the Palk Strait on fire. It is only a follow-up to a resolution that India has already voted on. Considering this, Khurshid’s silence on the Indian vote at the UNHRC was surprising. Only a few days back, the Minister of State at PMO Naryanaswamy categorically said that India would be voting for the US resolution. What is this, misinformation or confusion?

Business as usual?

While it could be business as usual for all some stakeholders, Sri Lanka may not have that luxury. Sri Lanka should take serious note of the mounting protests around the world. Every action taken by the Sri Lankan Government is now coming under close scrutiny and is commented upon worldwide.

This time, the protests were better orchestrated and coordinated than before and involved Channel 4 video releases, release of INGO reports, civil society protests organised at important global capitals, protests organised by Tamil Diaspora organisations and political lobbying in important capitals including New Delhi and Geneva.

It does not matter whether Sri Lanka calls it an international conspiracy or a global plot to destabilise the country. Unless it changes its style, it could get only worse. The decibels raised against it will be shriller, the protests more massive and embarrassments for Sri Lanka officials and the Government a little more frequent. It is a pity that a nation which rode the crest of victory over one of the most dreaded terrorist groups in the world three years back, has been brought to this pass.

Col R. Hariharan, a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia, served with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka as Head of Intelligence. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies and the South Asia Analysis Group. Reach him via [email protected] and