Can An American Resolution Help Reconciliation?

While the debate is on in the UNHRC assembly in Geneva, on the streets of Sri Lanka and even on the streets of some cities in Europe, the objectives of the American sponsored Resolution on alleged human rights violations by Sri Lankan armed forces, appear to be lost on most of those concerned, even the sponsors. The objective should be not only to bring justice and relief to victims of the long drawn conflict but also reconciliation of the two estranged communities. But the intensity of the debate seems to be working against this objective of reconciliation.

American diplomats have been saying that their Resolution would be calling for the implementation of the recommendations made by the LLRC while noting that it did not call for ‘accountability’ for alleged ‘war crimes’ now  euphemistically called violation of international law. With the Resolution now made public, it does appear that it is calling for much more than constructive implementation of the LLRC recommendations. It calls upon the Sri Lanka government to: additionally take immediate steps to fulfil its relevant obligations and state its commitment to address serious allegations of violation of international law by initiating credible and independent investigation of those responsible for such violations. The LLRC did in fact in broad terms call for such investigations such as on disappearances of those reported to have surrendered to the army,  those civilians killed during exchange of fire in civilian areas, investigation of reports of deliberate attacks on civilians and necessary action be taken and where necessary to institute prosecutions.

The second part of the Resolution calls for the government to present a comprehensive action plan before the 20th Session of the UNHRC (the next session) detailing steps taken by the government to implement LLRC recommendations and also address alleged violations of international law.

The third and last part of the Resolution appears to be the most insidious and would undoubtedly draw much fire from the Sri Lankan delegation. It ‘encourages’ the ‘Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special mandate holders  to provide advice and technical assistance on implementing those steps’ and for the ‘government of Sri Lanka to accept such advice and technical assistance’.

This part of the Resolution is vague because it does not specify what ‘those steps’ are and even more it implies that the government of Sri Lanka has to accept such  advice and technical assistance. Besides who are ‘the relevant special mandate holders’? No sovereign government will take compulsory ‘advice’ from  UN officials and  will the Sri Lanka government take advice (Orders?) from the present Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillai who has been rebuked by Sri Lankan government leaders for the hostility which she has exhibited in dealing with Sri Lankan issues.

The Americans must be living in cuckooland if they expect the Rajapaksa government to comply with this part of the Resolution.

This is clearly an attempt by the United States to make Sri Lanka bow to its bidding through the orders of the UNHRC. This is an attempt by the superpower to teach and make Sri Lanka obey their version of the laws on human rights. These pedagogical exercises on international law by world powers should be resisted to the hilt by smaller countries. On Thursday it was reported  that the Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady M. Gatilov had informed the UNHRC that Russia would not endorse attempts to transform the UNHRC into a tool of political pressure to divide governments into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ governments or into ‘students and teachers’ or to dilute the inter governmental character of the primary human rights organisation. This is precisely what the United States and its Western allies are attempting to do with Sri Lanka.

The liberal American President Barack Obama appears to have neen taken for a ride by the over zealous officials of the State Department. It is difficult to imagine Barack Obama the liberal Democrat who swept to power with the assistance of  the youth vote 3 years ago adopting the stance of a Cold War warrior. This may be an aberation resulting from his fight for the  presidency within an economy that nearly collapsed. The tendency among Sri Lankans right now is to abuse America but still it is a democracy where freedom of thought prevails.

We refer to an editorial of the prestigious Boston Globe (February 3) on Sri Lanka. It says that the UNHRC should push Sri Lanka to investigate war crimes but accountability of past crimes must not come at the expense of Sri Lanka’s future. It says that Tamils who are full of bitterness over their defeat must not miss the chance to offer a vision of peaceful co-existence.

The Boston Globe notes: ‘The questions that have perpetuated this terrible conflict remain unresolved: How much autonomy will the Tamils have? What must be done for Tamils to feel as equal citizens? Until recently many Tamils refused to accept anything short of a separate country. Even today hard core Tamil leaders in US and Canada cling to that dream. Their denial is a disservice to their people. Many refuse to accept war crimes were committed by their own fighters; the LTTE pioneered suicide bombings and kept civilian as human shields. Both sides committed unspeakable crimes. The Sri Lankan government is also in denial about its crimes which include systematic shelling of hospitals, arbitrary arrests and disappearances. Allegations of rape and executions are abound”.

The Boston Globe says that the Sri Lanka government must implement the modest recommendations of its own inquiry commission including investigations into disappearances, end attacks on journalists and halt policies aimed at settling Sinhalese in Tamil areas.

If Sri Lankan leaders prove unwilling the UN should set up an independent probe but no UN investigation can replace an honest effort by Sri Lanka to come to terms with what they had done to each other says the Boston Globe.

The newspaper despite its reliance on a UN probe carried an overall message: Sri Lankans must not miss the chance of having a peaceful co-existence. Since 1956 various formulae in constitutional law have been tried out and failed. Now an attempt is being made to resolve the problem through UN adjudication on the degree to which justice has been denied to the Tamil minority by the armed forces. Only government representatives are present in Geneva. There are no representatives of Tamils at all. The government by no means represents all sections of the Sinhalese.

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