Sri Lanka to be Investigated for War Crimes

by V. Gunaratnam, May 3, 2014

If seeing is believing, then what brought Sri Lanka to international attention was the Britain’s Channel 4 expose of war crimes. From that time onwards Sri Lanka has been back-peddling on the war crimes charges. Then the international community took an interest and it ended up in the UNHRC, which decided the case against Sri Lanka was a persuasive one and needed investigation.

As a result Sri Lanka came under fire at the 2013 sessions of the UNHRC in Geneva. It resulted in a US resolution, debated and passed, that required Sri Lanka to investigate possible war crimes committed by its forces in the war, and to start the reconciliation process going with the Tamils. But Sri Lanka did virtually nothing, and opened itself to further action year later at the 2014 sessions of the UNHRC.

When it came up for review at the 2014 sessions of the UNHRC in Geneva, High Commissioner Navi Pillay’s report was tabled, and it emerged that Sri Lanka had done nothing to carry out the terms of the 2013 resolution of the UNHRC. It was then left to them to take further action.

Following this, on a US resolution, debated and passed by the UNHRC, it required that the war crimes committed by the Rajapaksa government should be investigated by an external investigators, with an openended mandate. India however took exception to the terms, because it did not agree with parts of it, saying it was “extremely intrusive and counter productive. But India knew beforehand that there were enough votes for the US Resolution to be carried through, and it probably had some strategy worked out with them.

Amnesty International was critical of India’s decision to abstain on the crucial UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka, and said it is an abdication of its human rights responsibilities and unbecoming of an emerging democracy. But if one examines the record it will be clear that India never shied away from the accusations of war crimes against Sri Lanka, which was borne out by the US Resolution of 2013.

The Indian Government for its part said after the 2014 vote at the UNHRC, the resolution had the potential to hinder the efforts of India rather than contribute constructively to its efforts.

India believed it can play a constructive role in the conflict and keep the door open for dialogue with Sri Lanka and the Tamils to forge an accord. This is consistent with the role it had played all along as an intermediary, even if there was no successful outcome. India at one time even trained Tamil rebels. They dropped food parcels to besieged Tamils when they were under attack by Sri Lankan forces. They pressured Sri Lanka into conceding that the North and East were Tamil provinces. They fashioned the 13th Amendment, under which elections were held in North of Sri Lanka in 2013. It one had followed the developments between the two, it could not have escaped their notice that Sri Lanka and the Tamils, at separate times, visited New Delhi for talks about a settlement. There is no question that both parties always looked to India as an acceptable intermediary. No other country is there to play that role. It is a historical reality.

Let us also look back and see what was achieved in peace talks between Sri Lanka and the Tamils. They went to foreign lands to powwow, but nothing came of the yearly rituals. They were just holidays for both parties in salubrious climes, with all the trimmings. Over the decades, the Tamils achieved nothing of any consequence. But it never seemed to send a message to them that they were at a standstill. With every passing

day, the Sinhalese progressed as a state, using Tamil tax dollars to fortify themselves. But now China has camped itself in Sri Lanka and the dynamics have changed. But war crime charges hang over Sri Lanka, and some kind of change is in the offing. But its impact cannot be gauged at this time.

India could be an indispensable part of working out a solution. Keeping out of the vote at the UNHRC has given it the freedom to be an acceptable part of the search for a permanent settlement. It was probably a strategy worked out with the US. There is a need to find a breakthrough to an acceptable settlement which has defied both parties for almost 60 years, since Banda’s Sinhala Only Act of 1956.

After all, the end game is to bring about a successful closure to the saga of the Tamils, and not prolong it. The strategy is to keep the door open for Sri Lanka and the Tamils to exchange ideas with India on an ongoing basis, and bring them closer to a settlement, in the changed circumstances following the 2014 decisions of the UNHRC. Without India, there is no acceptable intermediary. It inconceivable that without India’s assistance there could be any solution, as any other route would prolong a settlement for the Tamils to an indeterminate period.

But China’s presence in Sri Lanka has complicated matters. The US does not look with favor on Sri Lanka’s relations with China. It would like Sri Lanka to have closer military relationship with Washington, in keeping with US strategy for the region. India would also welcome such a change. What Sri Lanka could do to influence the outcome, and with the UHHRC decision hanging over its head? The most acceptable would be to do something and persuade itself to arrive at a solution with the Tamils.

To say that India has betrayed the Tamils is then not only a very shortsighted view, but it is also not justified by history or the facts, and not helpful.

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