New Delhi: India will once again support a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution that gives Sri Lanka another two years to address war crimes that were committed during the country’s decade-long civil war. However, India steered clear of feelers from the West to co-sponsor the resolution.
The draft resolution is expected to be taken up before the 34th session of UNHRC which is scheduled to conclude on March 24. Just like in October 2015, Sri Lanka will co-sponsor the resolution, along with the UK, Macedonia and Montenegro – essentially resulting in a roll over of the obligations spelled out in the October 2015 resolution.
The Wire has learnt that a large western power informally requested India to join the list of co-sponsors. However, New Delhi judged that co-sponsoring would be a step too far and simply supporting the resolution would suffice. This decision was taken as India had to be careful of navigating its complex relationship with various parties within Sri Lanka, as well as India’s own domestic politics.
Incidentally, Colombo had also indicated that it would not be too unhappy if New Delhi did not co-sponsor the resolution. It would bring another dimension to the issue if India, as the regional power, put its full weight behind the resolution – adding another complication for the SLFP-UNP government, Sri Lanka had earlier implied.
Presenting his report on Sri Lanka in Geneva on Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that while progress on establishing transitional justice mechanisms has been slow, he was “heartened” by the Consultation Task Force’s report on reconciliation mechanisms.
“What is needed now is agreement on a comprehensive strategy, with a time-line and detailed benchmarks, to address all the transitional justice pillars identified in Resolution 30/1 – which as the foreign minister recently reminded us, was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka,” he said.
The UN high commissioner reiterated that for the transitional justice mechanism to be “credible,” it should include “a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors and investigators”.
The participation of foreign judges in the war crimes probe, included in the 2015 resolution, has been opposed by Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena, who has been criticised on this provision by members of his own party as well as former president Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, Sri Lankan Tamil parties have been demanding that the commitments made in the 2015 resolution should be strictly implemented, including the provision involving foreign judges. However, the Sri Lankan Tamil parties have not shown similar unity on the new resolution which is listed on the agenda for March 23.
Speaking at the UNHRC on Wednesday after the presentation of the report, Sri Lanka’s deputy minister of foreign affairs Harsha De Silva said, “I take this opportunity today to reiterate our resolve and reaffirm our commitment to the reconciliation process and commitments articulated in Resolution 30/1.” He pointedly described the proposals made in Resolution 30/1 as “government of Sri Lanka-led” processes.
“This council knows that no country’s human rights record is perfect. It is always a work-in-progress. The people of Sri Lanka have been through extremely difficult and painful times, and although much has been done, there is much still left to do, including strengthening our institutions and achieving economic progress. There are multiple challenges that we face. But, as a responsible and committed government, under the leadership of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, we are determined to stay the course,” De Silva said.
Indian Tamil politician and former health minister, Anbumani Ramadoss read out a statement at the interactive dialogue, lambasting the Sri Lankan government and urging the council to refer Colombo to the International Criminal Court. The ruling party in Tamil Nadu, AIADMK has also urged the Centre to oppose the resolution to give Sri Lanka more time.