UN Body Passes Diluted Sri Lanka Resolution; Fallout in Delhi

Uproar in Rajya Sabha (Upper House/Indian Parliament

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Geneva/Washington, DC – The controversial final phase of a sanguinary 26 year war raged by Sri Lanka’s army to defeat the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) came back to haunt the island nation as the UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on March 20 passed a US supported resolution highly critical of the role of the army and encouraged President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into alleged war crimes.

After the passage of the resolution, Washington asked Colombo to “implement the plan that they have never implemented. They should listen to the words of the international community.”

Answering a question at the daily press briefing on March 22, Victoria Nuland, the US State Department spokesperson said, “We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its obligations to its own people. The resolution very clearly expresses the support of the international community for Sri Lanka, addressing its outstanding issues related to reconciliation and for meeting its obligations for accountability, which it has not yet done.”

Asked what the US would recommend if Colombo doesn’t take necessary action as stipulated in the resolution, Nuland said, “We want to see the Sri Lankans take their own decisions. As we’ve said before, if those are not forthcoming, the international community will look at whether there are other steps we can take.”

Echoing the sentiments of journalists covering the event that the resolution was a much watered down version of the original, Rajesh Sundaram, Executive Editor of News Nation, told India America Today, “The resolution does not offer justice to the over 40,000 Tamil civilians who were killed during the last stages of the war. Regardless of who killed them, this mass killing of Tamil civilians should be investigated through an impartial, credible, international mechanism.”

India joined 24 other countries to pass the resolution, while 13 voted against it, with eight abstaining, but Sundaram felt Delhi could have done more to pressurize its tiny island neighbor to bring justice for thousands of Tamils.

“It is shameful that India did nothing to amend the resolution and seek an international investigation. 40,000 Tamil men, women and children were killed during the last days of the war, regardless of who killed them it is a genocide,” said Sundaram, adding, “It is difficult to fathom why there is reluctance to call it that.”

There was immediate fallout in Delhi as the Dravida Munnethra Kazagam (DMK), a Tamil party from south India pulled out of India’s governing coalition, United Progressive Alliance (UPA), accusing it of not taking a hard enough line against the Sri Lankan government.

The DMK move came amid widespread protests in Tamil Nadu state denouncing the resolution as not being tough enough.

The resolution “encourages” Colombo to take action, rather than the earlier draft “urging” the government, and the resolution does not have the earlier draft sentence which accused Sri Lanka of breaking its own commitment to political devolution to Tamil areas.

The resolution fails to demand an independent international investigation and this was highlighted in a statement from Amnesty International.

Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert, said, “It is regrettable that the resolution fails to establish an independent and international investigation into the armed conflict, and alleged crimes under international law by both the government and the Tamil Tigers.”

Foster reiterated the need for an international probe, saying, “It is clear that the Sri Lankan government is unwilling and unable to investigate these events itself.”

Regarding the ongoing tightening of the government’s grip on power, Foster accused the Sri Lankan government of cracking down on dissenting views. “Human rights defenders, journalists and the judiciary are among those that have been targeted through threats, harassment or even violent attacks – this has to stop,” said Foster.

Amnesty International expressed concern at reports of enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture, threats to the rule of law, religious discrimination, and intimidation of civil society activists and journalists. The organization highlighted the cases of the recent sacking of the top judge in a process domestic court and a wave of hardline Buddhist attacks on Muslims and Christians.

A 2011 UN investigation reported it was possible up to 40,000 people had been killed in the final five months alone and concluded there was credible evidence of war crimes.

British Channel 4 produced a documentary exposing the Sri Lankan military’s extrajudicial killing of the 12 year old son of LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran in the final days of the war in 2009. Human Rights Watch also compiled a report on the widespread sexual harassment of Tamil detainees.

Contradicting the independent international evidence, the Sri Lankan government released its own estimate that about 9,000 people perished in those few months and its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) cleared the military of allegations that it deliberately attacked civilians.

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