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Human Rights

UN Looks, Sri Lanka Ducks

International pressure has not dented support for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

COLOMBO, Feb 20 2013 (IPS) - It has now become an annual affair. When the Geneva based UN Human Rights Council readies itself for the first of its annual regular sessions in February, the government in Sri Lanka gets ready to ward off yet another attempt to scrutinise its rights record.

Till last year, for three years since the end of three decades of bloody conflict, the government was successful in its endeavours to keep international pressure at bay. In March last year that changed, when the council adopted a resolution introduced by the  U.S. called on the government to act on the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation  Commission (LLRC).  The commission was set up to investigate the conduct of the war and handed over its report to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November 2011.

The U.S. has announced it will introduce another resolution at this year’s Council sessions beginning Feb. 25.

Sri Lanka has clearly not liked the signals coming out of Geneva and from other Western backers of the proposed resolution. Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights said in her report to the council Feb. 13 that the government had been selective in acting on LLRC recommendations.

“To date, the government has made commitments on only selected recommendations of the Commission, and has not adequately engaged civil society in support of a more consultative and inclusive reconciliation process,” she said.

Despite the resettlement of over 400,000 displaced by the war and large-scale road, water and power supply projects, the Pillay report said that there were still disturbing instances of abductions and other rights abuses. “Considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation and resumption of livelihoods,” she said.

One of the underlying issues that caused concern in Sri Lanka last March was India’s support for the U.S. resolution. India had until then been supportive of the government’s effort to crush the separatist militancy spearheaded by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and was also instrumental in preventing Western and European nations from moving against Sri Lanka at the UN.

India’s backing of the resolution was believed to be due to the Rajapaksa government’s slowness in devolving power to the Tamil minority, and the considerable pressure New Delhi was facing from the southern state Tamil Nadu. Once again, with elections nearing, the hand of the Manmohan Singh government in India may have been forced already to vote in favour of a new U.S. resolution.

“As of now India is likely to support the U.S. resolution provided it conforms to the long-term interests of India,” R. Hariharan, a former Indian intelligence officer who served as the intelligence head of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in the early 1990s told IPS.

“The U.S. will probably sound India which may result in some dilution of the wording,” he added. After the 2012 resolution Singh wrote to Rajapaksa to say that India worked to introduce an element of balance to the wording.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is set to be held in Sri Lanka in November. Already there have been calls for a boycott, and what transpires at the Geneva sessions could set the tone for November.

However, a possible boycott would be largely symbolic. President Rajapaksa thrives on such international posturing, and projects himself as a strong-willed homegrown leader.

But rights activists and others told IPS that symbolic action, if sustained, could lead to long-term repercussions that may not be immediately recognisable.

Contending that a resolution and a boycott may not create any immediate changes on the ground, Ruki Fernando from Rights Now Collective said it nevertheless could “contribute towards longer term change.”

Commenting on a possible boycott, he said “such actions certainly send a stronger message than mere condemnatory statements.”

Lynn Yoshikawa, senior programme manager at the U.S.-based organisation Interaction, an alliance of U.S. aid agencies, said that major donors like the U.S. can set the trend for others.

“Major donors can also change the dynamics through sustained and joint diplomatic efforts, as well as through support to key civil society and aid actors who are working for change,” Yoshikawa said.

Interaction recently released the  report Sri Lanka: Transitioning From A Humanitarian Crisis To A Human Rights Crisis, that looks at the country’s recent rights and humanitarian assistance record.

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development based in northern Jaffna said that the U.S. and the UK were still Sri Lanka’s two most important trading and investment partners.

“The U.S. is the single largest source of portfolio investments in stocks and shares of  private companies in Sri Lanka and in government securities,” he said.

Despite China being the largest lender to the island, Sarvananthan said that the East Asian giant was neither a big investor nor a major export market. He also warned that Chinese loans came at high interest rates and insurance premiums.

“Foreign direct investments are largely from Asian countries, especially India and Malaysia. The flow of tourists to the country is dominated by Europeans particularly, British, French, and German. India is the single largest source.”

Sarvananthan dismissed claims that the island could weather a financial storm with Chinese support. “Sri Lanka’s foreign economic relationship is overwhelmingly dependent on the U.S., UK, other Western countries, and of course India.”

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  • AmericanMuse

    Thank you, IPS, for this thoughtful article. The Sri Lankan government is riddled with goons and assassins, beginning with its murderous head Rajapaksa on down. The country is on a suicidal path, if not already there.

  • srivan

    India, what will it do? Not long to wait. After all Rajpakse went on a pilgrimage to India. That should bring some returns at least from above!

  • garawi

    It is simple as this. Sri Lankans were living in fear of LTTE attacks and killings for 30 years for LTTE had a terrible track record as a treacherous terrorist out fit. None of the former presidents were able to supress it for various reasons. Mostly because of the LTTE tactics of winning the international community to their side by various lies and methods. Rajapaksa, williingly or not was able to overcome all opposition and managed to end the war. Sri Lankan are living in peace now. Sri Lankans know very well this do not want the IC to interfere again and lead the country to another war that may never end. Therefore with all the negative aspects of his presidency people are rallying to support him. The IC need to realize it.

  • Sanath

    Let any resolution or boycotting happen. We know its not good for our country, but does not matter. We will rally around our President and stand on our feet with the help of our well-wishers. The Tamil diaspora will not achieve what they wanted. Remember… Sri Lanka will soon be the “wonder in Asia”. . . Sanath

  • BunkerRat

    All this was started by India… by training and arming Tamil terrorists in her soil and then unleashing them in Sri Lanka. There would never have been any violence in Sri Lanka, if India had acted like a true big, powerful, brotherly neighbor! Shame… Shame… Can we ever trust you again????



  • Jim

    You are truly correct. Country is booming. President and his team has very bravely saved Sri Lanka and it’s nations from ruthless, covered LTTE. IC leave SL alone.

  • HC

    AmericanMuse, you are not amusing anybody with your arm chair philosophy. Speak with you have something thoughtful and factual to say.

  • HC

    Ever notice how the negative press about Sri Lanka in many, if not all, international newspapers are authored by Tamils or LTTE sympathizers, rouge TNA PMs who were mouth pieces of the LTTE during the war, and not Tamils living in Sri Lanka living normal lives and running successful businesses well integrated with their fellow countrymen and women. It’s an LTTE run propaganda machine that pays senators, parliamentarians and so called international human rights groups to support their twisted cause. These poor excuses for journalists are not going out and getting facts to write balanced and factual stories, they are simply regurgitating what their biased sources are paying them to do. Get real world, the BS has to stop, a country is at work seriously trying to heal its wounds.

  • kali

    Garawi I think you are so naive when you say that Sri Lankans were living in fear of LTTE attacks for the last 30 years . For your information I would like to give you a bit of history lesson and either you are not aware or you dont care what the Tamils have been through since independance. There were three race riots since independance and your beloved country is the only country which has witnessed three race riots during which thousands of innocent Tamils were slaughtered simply for being Tamils and I lost three members of my family.

    There are no LTTE lies and methods but are documentary evidence and you I am convinced are a racist and will deny everthing that has happened which is to be expected.

    We know that the vast mjority ( 99.9% )of your countrytmen are not going to grant Tamils equal rights and that can only happen under a federal system with checks and balances. Therefore we have to look to the internationl community to give us freedom justice equality and above all dignity.

    We will use every mean at our disposal to achieve this and there is no force in the world which can stop it now because the realisation by the world that MR is not sincere and is ruling by deception has been confirmed when he recently uttered the word that he is not willing to devolve power has built up its own momentum which cant be stopped.
    Unless people like you understand and come to terms with the fact that Prabakaran was a creation of Sihalese brutality and grant Tamils their equal rights and enable our sisters and brotters to live with security and dignity which you have denied for so long Sri Lanka will pay a heavy price. The sooner this happens the better.

  • kautilya

    Anyone with any kind of intelligence and thinking ability think about this….despite the sri lankan govt resettling 400,000 persons in their original homes, despite de-mining the entire north of mines, despite construction or reconstruction of water supply, road, telecommunication, bridges, railway lines, schools, hospitals, housing, despite giving loans to the newly resettled to start SMEs, despite even building new fishery harbours for the fishermen and providing new boats and helping farmers with equipment and fertilizer, despite spending huge amounts of money rehabilitating and releasing into society and providing vocational training to almost 12,000 former LTTE combatants who surrendered after the war including child soldiers despite all this………..

    the sri lankan govt is violating human rights!!!

    Can you believe this rubbish nonsense? Anyone with a modicum of sense realises that the sri lankan people and the sri lanka govt is being witchunted by the set of countries the US,UK,EU,Canada,Australia,Norway and club for no reason whatsoever.

    About so called political solutions we already have a political solution in the form of a provincial council system of power sharing since 1987 and it has been functioning for over twenty five years to take into account power sharing needs and provincial concerns and this has been functioning well. We cannot provide new and extra ‘political solutions’ to every Tom, Dick or Harry and every international busybody country which poke their nose into sri lanka’s internal affairs every few years as they want. This is as far as the sri lankan people’s consensus will go with regard to this issue especially the sinhalese majority consensus.

    Please leave sri lanka along and mind your own business. This is what needs to be said to all the busybody countries the US,UK,EU,Canada,Australia,Norway and club stop harrassing sri lanka and witch hunting sri lanka for no reason whatsoever and mind your own damned business.

    Additionally this UNHRC circus against sri lanka must stop because it is increasingly becoming a joke. Every year this circus and wailing and gnashing of teeth, bashee like screaming and general misbehaviour against sri lanka by this US,UK,EU,Canada, Australia, Norway and club is now becoming increasingly an irritation retarding the real progress of sri lanka towards peace. harmony and normalcy.

  • David Ratnavelu

    Ennada Kaali Amma, I see your paw prints yevery wherer in, amongst the articles in infolanka. They are always negative, anti-sri lankan and pretty pathetic. Are you some kind of a frustrated retired person with time on your hands and nothing to do? And also what’s this ‘YOUR COUNTRYMAN’ business, pretending that you are a NON-SRI LANKAN. Who are you trying to fool?