Possibly there is no precedent of the kind elsewhere. By underlining the importance of addressing ‘underlying governance factors and root causes’ that have ‘contributed’ to Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis, the UNHRC resolution, as Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, said was all a product of ‘geo-politics’ that has ‘polarised’ the UNHRC Council one more time.
The carefully-crafted resolution has sought to justify it all by identifying ‘deepening militarisation, lack of accountability in governance and impunity for serious human rights violations and abuses’ as a central obstacle to the rule of law, reconciliation and sustainable peace and development in country. It also recognised. that the ‘promotion and protection of human rights and the prevention of and fight against corruption are mutually reinforcing’.
As is evident, all of it is aimed at justifying why the ‘international community’ (read: West) had to take note of economic crises though the original mandate in 2012 and subsequent resolutions were only about allegations of war crimes and human rights violations, but expandable with every other session of the UNHRC and every other report of the incumbent UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
That the mandate was extended to include direct access for OHCHR staff to collect ground-level evidence to all such allegations, which began with the woes of the Sri Lankan Tamil (SLT) community but went on to add those of the Muslims, not when the BBS was after them (and why?) under the post-war Mahinda Rajapaksa second innings, but after the Easter bomb-blasts 2019. It happened under the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime but has come to be tagged on to the Rajapaksas, for no fault of theirs, during that limited space.
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Winner gets less
Translated, the UNHRC vote this time implies an indirect ‘international diktat’ on how Sri Lanka should be governed, and not stopping with human rights, or even the larger R2P concerns, unless the latter’s scope is also being sought to be expanded to include ‘non-traditional human security’ involving economic, food and fuel security, not to leave out medicines and nutrients.
It is anybody’s guess if the UNHRC or any other arm of the UN had dealt out such a treatment to any other nation, brought before them on specific issues concerning their limited focus and work. It remains to be seen if the victorious view, sitting on the IMF high-table, would cite the UNHRC mandate, to delay/deny the bail-out package, tentatively promised to the nation, during staff-level discussions. It is not known if President Ranil Wickremesinghe foresaw such possibilities when he spoke about an ‘Asian consortium’ with India, China and Japan – the kind of which the predecessor Rajapaksas had practised from day one.
It looks possible that the West wants to run the Sri Lankan government through its agencies, namely, the UNHRC, if not the UN, and the IMF, successive governments elected by the local population having failed to measure up to their geo-political and geo-strategic demands and expectations, especially viz China.
It thus remains to be seen if they are all going to be satisfied with the Supreme Court’s post-vote directive on FR petitions against the Rajapaksa brothers and their Cabinet colleagues for their failures on the economic front. Rather, that the domestic system would take care of it all, and there was no need or place for any international intervention. Yet, as with domestic war-crimes probe, they could still claim that they were not satisfied with the domestic probe.
For the second time in a row, the UNHRC vote has sent out a larger and louder message to the US-led sponsors than possibly even to Sri Lanka. The vote count showed that the resolution won a ‘majority’, if 20 in a total of 47 votes in the Council is a majority. Seven nay-sayers and 20 abstentions together brought up the total against the passage of resolution to a much higher 27. Among the abstaining nations were India, Japan and Brazil, which had participated in the negotiations with the Core Group.
The last time the vote was taken, in March 2021, 22 nations were for the resolutions and 11 against with 14 abstentions. Though Minister Sabry conceded that on vote-eve that they would get fewer supporters than the last time, the fact is that aye-sayers also have a reduced number, from 22 to 20.
It is thus safe to assume that if abstention was not an option, many among the abstaining nations this time could have cast their vote against a resolution of this kind. It does not mean that all the abstaining nations backed Sri Lanka. They were just beginning to get tired of the West going after a Third World nation, that too when it was in a financial mess – which many of them fear, in these years after the Covid pandemic and the Ukraine War.
The West has come to accept neighbouring India’s abstention in these past years, barring early rounds, as taken. The Tamil polity in Sri Lanka and their Diaspora have come to blame India for all that has gone with them, both during the war and afterwards.
Suffice it is to point out how they all have forgotten how six of their political parties had sent a joint letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January this year, for New Delhi to facilitate the full implementation of the 13th Amendment, for power-sharing between Sri Lanka’s Central Government and the Provinces.
As may be recalled, India had midwifed the birth of the 13-A and also the provinces as far back as 1987., But the LTTE wanted war, which it got and lost, though after two-plus decades, in 2009. Tamil leaders who have been after India with varied demands since the end of the war, including the full implementation of 13-A this time, were all behind the LTTE when it threw out the same, and wanted war and war alone.
The engulfing economic crisis during the March session of the UNHRC was not the time for India to talk about 13-A, but when it did in its opening remarks this time, the six Sri Lankan Tamil men have forgotten what they had sought. They have seemingly approached India with the demand, maybe because they were told that they needed to keep India in the loop and happy – for the West to proceed with their combined agenda, where the latter was using the Tamils to sub-serve their geo-strategic interests.
The Indian stand has all along been principled. In the eighties, in the aftermath of the ‘anti-Tamil pogrom’ of 1983, new Delhi wanted the community to be able to defend itself against State brutality, and at the same time negotiate from a position of as much muscle-power as political power, which India was extending, anyway. The Tamils got it wrong, or maybe, they did not have the kind of diplomatic exposure and acumen to read India correctly. There are others who say that the LTTE read India right, but wanted to use it, defy it.
The same applies to the TNA mandarins who held post-war negotiations on power-devolution with the Rajapaksa government, both keeping India in the invisible loop, yet jumped the boat, and without notice to claim that the US-led 2012 resolution at the UNHRC was at their instance. India might have been perplexed, but Colombo felt cheated, stabbed. Yet, India voted for the US resolutions in successive years, 2012 and 2013, as it concerned the Tamils’ rights and livelihoods.
All this got increasingly obfuscated by the West’s eye-for-an-eye perceptions of transitional justice, alien to the sub-continental socio-political culture. Else, India would not be doing business either with the Tamils or with the Colombo government after both reneged their respective commitments on 13-A and the like, and repeatedly so.
If further proof is needed on India’s principled general approach on not voting on ‘country-specific resolutions’ at the UNHRC, the Tamils and the rest need to look only at another UNHRC vote this time round. As much as abstaining from the Sri Lanka vote, India also abstained from the West’s resolution for opening a debate on allegations of human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang Province. Adversity with China should have meant India voted against the nation, and not abstained.
Clearly, New Delhi is opposed to international debates and probes into internal affairs of UN member-nations. Of course, there are those that may argue that India does not want HR allegations on Jammu & Kashmir, North-East, etc probed or even commented upon. But considering that the West votes on politics and not principles, one vote more, that too, the Indian vote, on China this time, would have meant a lot more than the obvious.
(The writer is a policy analyst & commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email: [email protected])