Citing ‘inadequate progress’ on rights front
by Meera Srinivasan, The Hindu, Chennai, September 13, 2023
India on Tuesday said the progress made by Sri Lanka, on its commitment to fulfill the Tamils’ aspirations, was “inadequate” and urged the island nation to “work meaningfully” to keep its promises.
“We have taken note of reaffirmation by the Government of Sri Lanka on implementation of its commitments. However, progress on the same is inadequate and we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to work meaningfully towards early implementation of its commitments to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens are fully protected,” India’s representative told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva at its ongoing 54th session. The position was consistent with New Delhi’s remarks last year, that voiced concern over the “lack of measurable progress”.
India’s intervention at the ‘Interactive Dialogue’, comes in the wake of the latest report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka’. Fourteen years after the civil war ended, Sri Lanka is far from reconciling the ethnic conflict that triggered it.
If the country’s past is troubled, its present is marred by last year’s devastating financial meltdown that has left over half its population vulnerable. The High Commissioner’s office sought to highlight both the challenges. Addressing the Council on Monday, Nada Al-Nashif, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights said one year after the “remarkable protest movement” — the Janatha Aragalaya that ousted the Rajapaksas as the island’s economy crashed dramatically — demanding deep political and democratic reforms, the transformation “has still not materialised”. Pointing to soaring poverty levels and the enduring impact of the crisis, she said an estimated 37% of households faced acute food insecurity.
Further, the top UN official underscored the limits placed on citizen’s political participation and free expression, owing to the delays in holding local government elections, and in reconstituting Provincial Councils under the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.
India, too, reiterated its position on power devolution, citing its “two guiding principles” of support to the aspirations of Tamils for equality, justice, dignity, and peace; and to the unity, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of Sri Lanka. “We hope that the Government of Sri Lanka will fulfill the aspirations of Tamils for equality, justice and peace and its commitment to implement the Thirteenth Amendment and conduct Provincial Council Elections to ensure a life of respect and dignity for Tamils in Sri Lanka,” the Indian diplomat said.
The UN official also highlighted escalating tensions in the island’s north and east, due to land acquisition “for expansion of military installations, Buddhist heritage conservation at Hindu or Muslim sites, and forestry protection.
At the ongoing session, the Council will not vote on a Sri Lanka resolution, but is reviewing the island’s own commitments. While the High Commissioner’s report said it “recognises” the Sri Lankan government’s initiatives in regard to truth-seeking and reconciliation, it stressed that “urgent confidence building steps” are needed for “genuine reconciliation and transitional justice process” to succeed. The Sri Lankan government rejected the report, and termed earlier resolutions of the Council “intrusive and polarising”.