Letters written by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the DMK and AIADMK leadership clarifies India’s stand on the US-sponsored UNHRC resolution asking Sri Lanka to address the issues of human rights violations during the last phase of the Eelam war in 2009. New Delhi wishes to underline its position as a benefactor rather joining the US to corner Colombo. However, even as it duly plays out the role as per Colombo’s expectations, there is an urgent need to emerge from the rather prolonged phase of quiet and virtually ineffective diplomacy to purposefully ensure that the rights and dignity of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka are restored.
Two issues remain. First, Sri Lankan security forces did commit widespread atrocities on the Tamil population during the final phases of the war. Second, three years since the end of war, Colombo has failed to address issues of resettlement, rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils, has progressed nowhere with regard to devolution of power and, has only done lip service to address human rights violations by its forces.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government has gone about defending its actions at home and abroad. It says that 99 per cent of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been resettled. It points at a massive development drive in the north and east of the country to provide infrastructure facilities to the Tamil population. It also says that recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) “that can be implemented instantly” have already been implemented and “the rest will be implemented systematically”. Such claims, however, have few takers outside Sri Lanka.
New Delhi thinks that the tactic of shaming Sri Lanka at the UN might produce a counter-effect: hardening Colombo’s stand. It will push the country further into the lap of the Chinese — a constant fear that has influenced Indian foreign policy towards Sri Lanka in recent years. India would, thus, hold on to its policy that it does not support any country-specific resolution at UNHRC. Such a position would fend off potential attempts to internationalise similar human rights debates in India’s own conflict theatres. Further, it would prevent focus on India’s own role as a military aid provider during the Eelam war.
Interestingly, Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna maintains that the “welfare and well-being of the Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka”, their “resettlement and rehabilitation have been of the highest and most immediate priority for the government”. Any honest assessment, however, would reveal that India’s achievements have remained negligible.
India keeps insisting on devolution of power through the implementation of the 13th amendment, forgetting the fact that the 18th amendment has already increased the executive powers for the President and ensures the consolidation of his government in Parliament with Sinhala nationalist vote. There is little dependency on minority votes to stay in power, which further means that Colombo has very little reason to be compliant to India’s suggestions.
In the Parliament on February 14, Krishna spoke of the Indian project to build 50,000 houses for the Tamil IDPs in Sri Lanka. During his January 2012 visit, he handed over the first lot of few hundred houses and bicycles to some of the IDPs. What Krishna did not mention is that these projects in no way reverse the systematic attempts by Colombo to marginalise the Tamil minorities for all times to come.
Recent reports indicate that the reconstruction projects in the Tamil-inhabited areas have seen a surge in military activities. The armed forces have occupied both public and private land and are gradually establishing themselves as a major economic force by involving themselves in commercial and agricultural activities. Northern and eastern Sri Lanka, as a result, is being systematically converted into some sort of a green zone, all in the name of checkmating any future revival of Tamil extremism. An attempt to impose the culture of the majority on the entire geographic expanse of the country is also underway. The gains made by Colombo are irreversible and the project of marginalisation of the Tamils is complete, almost.
Notwithstanding the token positive developments, which include relaxation of some emergency regulations, Tamil NGOs continue to face harassment. The “white van phenomenon” — mysterious men in white vans accounting for abduction and subsequent disappearance of suspected anti-establishment persons — continues to be a reality. Colombo is in no mood to change and that is more than evident.
Post-Geneva, India needs to revisit its utterances on and its action in Sri Lanka. Not just an LTTE-free Sri Lanka, but also a contented and secure Tamil population within it, is in India’s national interest.
(The article was written few days before India voted in favour of the resolution on March 22.)
Source: Express Buzz