In this article, the author explores the resolution’s impact on Sri Lanka, and its probable implications with reference to Sri Lanka.
By Rithika Nair, 3rd April, 2012
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) judgment on Sri Lanka’s efforts at post-conflict reconstruction, invited an abundance of opinions and debate globally. Newspapers cried out country decisions to the US sponsored resolution with regard to their foreign policies, domestic policies and moral policies. In lending an ear to all the global justifications and rationalizations, the importance shifted away from what Sri Lanka had to say with regard to the resolution and its possible impact on the island.
In 2010, the Government of Sri Lanka created the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) suo moto, to look into the causes of the conflict, its consequences on the people, and to promote national unity and reconciliation. The LLRC, though criticized for overlooking the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Sri Lankan army, stated that there were “considerable” civilian casualties. This was opposed to the government claims, which insisted on a zero-casualty rate.
The international community had already begun to push Sri Lanka to begin its post-conflict reconstruction agenda. The LLRC report increased this demand for the Sri Lankan government to act – prosecute those who were accountable for civilian massacres, and bring relief to those displaced and devastated by the war.
This never happened.
The disappointing LLRC report largely exonerating the government, and the subsequent government inaction to suggested accountability procedures encouraged the international community to act.
In March 2012, the US submitted a resolution at the 19th session of the UNHRC, urging the Sri Lankan government “to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations.” The resolution, after being slightly amended to word that the implementation of any external advice or investigation by the Human Rights Commissioner or Special Procedures must unfold only “in consultation with and the concurrence of ” the Sri Lankan government, was passed with 24 votes in favour, 15 against, and 8 abstentions.
The closing of Sri Lankan embassies in Europe, the threats to human rights defenders and the anti-Americanism in Sri Lanka are some of the immediate effects of the resolution. But it’s long-term implications – constructive and destructive, are nothing but analytical renderings as of now.
The resolution with its honorouble intentions could be a possible check on the quasi-dictatorship of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It could be the warning hand on the back, reminding Sri Lanka of what it had promised to deliver three years ago, a paternal gesture offering assistance if needed. It could imply that dialogue and soft diplomacy may harden, and the whispers of a ‘South Asian Spring’ may jump to reality with an international demand for the removal of Rajapaksa from his throne. With the Sri Lankan Tamils still dissatisfied with their government’s empty promises of reconciliation, and Sinhalese human rights activists being called traitors if they stood up for the Tamils, it would not be long before Sri Lanka could walk the line with Maldives, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. If such a future be predicted, then the precautionary resolution – a very fair and balanced one, has been passed at a very appropriate juncture.
The resolution may have been a UN step to avoid being blamed for not taking action. Perhaps the UN was guilty of its own lack of action while the crisis unfolded over 26 years. Then, the resolution is but a ticking pendulum, softly but notably reminding Sri Lanka of its obligations and responsibility – and in doing so, delivering rehabilitation and hopeful justice to the victims of the war – the people of Sri Lanka.
On the other hand, the resolution placed the ball back in the Lankan court, and it ordered the multi-faced Lankan king to finish what he had promised to do. It asked him to submit an action plan detailing what he had done, and will do to implement the LLRC recommendations, and to address all matters that violated international law.
The king, with all ten heads, rejected the resolution.
Neither he nor his court thought that it added any value to the humanitarian and justice implementation process in Sri Lanka. They felt the resolution was ‘counterproductive’, ‘ill-timed’, and ‘an unwarranted initiative’. They perceived the supporters and sponsors of the resolution to be LTTE sympathizers – those who underestimated the violence and trauma that the LTTE had unleashed upon them. They felt that the unpunished situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and India removed the moral legitimacy of the resolution. Lobbying against the vote in Geneva transcended into anti-America lobbying, and human rights activists and defenders of the resolution were threatened in Sri Lanka. In such circumstances, the significance of the resolution is undermined.
This resolution should not and cannot be rejected by comparing them to conflict situations where deeds committed by the sponsors and supporters go unchecked. This matter pertains to and reflects on Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka alone. This does not mean that this case supersedes any of the other situations, but the current context is Sri Lanka, and that should be respected. If the world and its leaders were to act and re-act following the policy of every eye for an eye, and every tooth for a tooth, the vicious cycle of blame and revenge would never stop spinning.
However, as the ambassador for Bangladesh very prudently stated at the Council session, if Sri Lanka is not on board, then the resolution will have a very limited impact. Without the Sri Lankan nod to implement efficient rehabilitation and accountability measures, the resolution is but an empty bell with no sound.