India Abstains, Yet Again, on UNHRC Resolution, Opposed by the Sri Lankan Govt

The resolution, whose main sponsors were the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia, was adopted by 20 votes in favour and seven against, with 11 abstentions by the UNHRC.

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New Delhi: For the second consecutive year, India abstained during voting on the resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that enhanced the mandate of the UN body to collect evidence for war crimes for future trials and extended monitoring of Sri Lanka’s human rights situation to two years.

The resolution, whose main sponsors were the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia, was adopted by 20 votes in favour and seven against, with 11 abstentions by the Geneva-based UNHRC.

Tally of votes on the resolution critical of Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, October 6, 2022.

Last year, the UNHRC passed a resolution with 22 votes in favour, 11 against and 14 abstentions.

Among the main creditors of Sri Lanka, India and Japan abstained on the resolution, while China cast a negative vote.

In Geneva, Sri Lanka had opposed the resolution, terming it “yet another example of the unfortunate divisions and polarisation of this Council”. Pakistan, opposing the resolution, called for a formal vote.

India’s permanent representative to the UN, Indra Mani Pandey, made a statement before the voting took place, but did not mention that he would abstain.

He mirrored India’s statement of September 12 in being critical of Sri Lanka’s progress in implementing devolution and reconciliation with Sri Lankan Tamils.

“While we have taken note of the commitments by the Government of Sri Lanka on issues of implementation of the commitments in the spirit of the 13th Constitutional Amendment, meaningful devolution and the early conduct of provincial elections, we believe that the progress towards the same remains inadequate. Accordingly, we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to work meaningfully towards early implementation of these commitments,” said Pandey.

He also stated that “achieving prosperity for all Sri Lankans and realising the legitimate aspirations of Tamils of Sri Lanka for prosperity, dignity and peace are two sides of the same coin”.

The senior diplomat said India would “work with Sri Lanka and the international community to attain the related objectives of legitimate aspirations of Tamils of Sri Lanka and prosperity for all Sri Lankans”.

He also noted that India had “stepped up and provided unprecedented assistance to the people of Sri Lanka to face the challenges of the recent economic crisis”.

This is the seventh time UNHRC has passed a resolution against Sri Lanka over its human rights situation since the end of the civil war. In 2009, Sri Lanka sponsored the resolution. Under President Maithripala Sirisena, Sri Lanka backed a UNHRC resolution in 2015 but withdrew the support after the Rajapaksa family returned to power.

While India has not officially given any statement, the abstention is not surprising. New Delhi would not have voted ‘Yes’ as it has traditionally been against country-specific resolutions on multilateral platforms. At the same time, India would not have voted against the resolution, as New Delhi has signalled that it is not entirely satisfied with Colombo, whether on reconciliation issues or security concerns.

There was a drop in ‘No’ votes from eleven in 2021 to just seven this year. This was due to the Philippines and Bangladesh, who had cast a negative ballot last year, not being UNHRC members anymore. Russia was expelled as a member of the UNHRC by the UN General Assembly over the invasion of Ukraine. Somalia, having voted against the resolution a year ago, abstained this time.

In South Asia, India and Nepal abstained, while Pakistan voted against the resolution. Among African countries, only Malawi, a co-sponsor, voted in favour, while the rest largely abstained.

After the resolution was adopted, Sri Lankan foreign minister Ali Sabry said they had anticipated this result. “This is nothing unexpected. There was so much pressure on some countries to vote in favour of the resolution. So we knew this,” Ali Sabry told EconomyNext.

Earlier in his statement on the floor of the Council, Sabry had stated that his country was particularly against the proposal in operative paragraph 8. “As we have repeatedly stated, this so-called external evidence gathering mechanism will have wide-ranging legal and political implications for all countries,” he said.

Presenting the resolution, UK permanent representative to the UN in Geneva, Simon Manley, said that the operative paragraph 8 renewed the mandate for the UN human rights chief to collect and analyse information to support future judicial proceedings.

“This capacity was set up in response to the lack of progress made by Sri Lanka’s domestic legal mechanisms towards accountability for past alleged gross violations of human rights. Unfortunately, this capacity has only been fully operational since May of this year and so requires more time to complete its mandate,” he said.

The second ‘request’ is enshrined in the resolution’s operative paragraph 18, which enhanced the time frame of further reporting by the office of the UN human rights chief from 18 months to two years. “This is in recognition of the severe challenges which Sri Lanka is currently facing – allowing Sri Lanka sufficient time and space to make progress on human rights in what we all recognise is a very difficult context,” said Manley.

Rejecting the resolution, China said that the resolution was part of efforts to use human rights as a pretence to interfere and undermine another country’s sovereignty.