Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa will have much to worry about when the 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council takes up the ‘report of the OHCHR on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka’ on March 26. Despite the fact that the 47-member Council has 14 new members, including some known friends of Sri Lanka, such as China, Cuba, the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia, the draft resolution submitted by the United States is forceful as it incorporates several new aspects: it includes ‘Human Rights’ in its title, elaborates upon the attacks on minorities, dwells on the importance of transitional justice and reparation policy, and asks the Sri Lankan government to broaden the scope of its national action plan based on its reconciliation commission, the LLRC. Though the draft resolution, ‘Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka’, stops short of using the phrase “international investigation into war crimes” – a fact that has disappointed the Tamil diaspora and pro-LTTE elements in Tamil Nadu – Sri Lanka has no reason to feel let off the hook. The resolution “welcomes the High Commissioner’s recommendations and conclusions on the need for an independent and credible international investigation,” and asks the High Commissioner to “assess the progress toward accountability and reconciliation, to monitor relevant national processes, and to investigate alleged violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka.”
In effect, this gives the High Commissioner many tools to carry out her work. These are new mandates, and move up from the oral update that was given in the last session. And, from “encouraging” Sri Lanka to cooperate with the High Commissioner, the draft resolution steps up the tone and “calls upon” Sri Lanka to do so. Thus boxed in, Mr. Rajapaksa’s meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Nay Pyi Taw on the sidelines of the BIMSTEC summit on March 4 gained significance. Dr. Singh, who has steadfastly refused to visit Sri Lanka since the 2008 SAARC summit — while he has met his Pakistani counterpart more often — once again brought up the most critical issue that affects the Tamils of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province: the Army’s brazen occupation of vast areas of civilian land. Dr. Singh asked Mr.Rajapaksa to pare the Army presence in the North. No doubt, the mellow mood in the Sri Lankan ruling establishment comes from the realisation that slowly but steadily the UN Human Rights Council, and, by implication, the international community, is becoming tougher on the issue. In the long run, there is no escape from a credible investigation that establishes accountability. And the question of the political rights of Tamils remains to be addressed with a measure of seriousness and urgency.