Having got involved in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka on the side of its persecuted Tamil minority in the 1980s, India has double responsibility in delivering international justice to victims of the civil war which ended in 2009.
Even after 12 years, domestic initiatives for accountability and reconciliation have repeatedly failed to produce results. Instead of supporting the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution on Sri Lanka in Geneva this week, India chose to abstain, much to the disappointment of campaigners for justice and human rights for the victims in Sri Lanka. Ashok Mani Pandey, India’s representative in Geneva had said that New Delhi’s consistent position was based on two pillars: support for Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity and abiding commitment to the aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity.
There was no evidence of the ‘second pillar’ in India’s action. The UNHRC Resolution 40/1 titled “Promotion of Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka,” tabled by a core group comprising the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia called upon the Sri Lanka government to ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, and, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international human rights law. In the 47-member Human Rights Council 22 members voted for the resolution while 11 voted against and 14 abstained. Congress leader P Chidambaram described India’s abstention as “gross betrayal of the Tamil people and their unanimous sentiment.” The resolution will take immediate effect.
Since the coming to power of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019, the Sri Lankan administration has been targeting minorities with discriminatory laws and intimidation. He was defence secretary in the government of his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, now Prime Minister, between 2005 and 2015.
During this period the Sri Lankan forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam committed numerous war crimes and human rights abuses. The Gotabaya administration has reneged on its commitments to UNHRC by withdrawing its support to the consensus Resolution 30/1 which was co-sponsored by the previous government. His proposed 20th amendment to the Constitution will have a negative impact on the independence of key institutions, including the National Human Rights Commission.
The pardon given earlier this year to a former Army sergeant convicted for the wanton killings of innocent Tamil civilians and the appointment of senior military officials involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity to key civilian posts bode ill for the safety and security of the linguistic and religious minorities in Sri Lanka.
Crucial issues like the plight of Tamil prisoners of war and the families of Tamils subjected to enforced disappearance are ignored. Public Safety Minister Sarath Weerasekera had signed a Cabinet memorandum to ban niqab and burqa since this had direct impact on “national security” and to ban madrasas in the island nation.
The Organisation of Islamic Countries has denounced such discriminatory moves. By abstaining from the vote on the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka, India tried to convey its support to the Gotabaya administration but the President has kept the office of the Sri Lanka High Commissioner in New Delhi vacant for the last 15 months.