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Updated: March 28, 2013 01:28 IST

Top official denies U.S. toned down UNHRC resolution at India’s behest

Narayan Lakshman
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U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake. File photo
AP U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Robert Blake. File photo

Blake notes that New Delhi and Washington "worked very closely throughout the process"

Describing as “fair and balanced” the text of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution passed last week calling on Sri Lanka to expeditiously implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, a top U.S. official has said the resolution “reaffirms that Sri Lanka had to take meaningful action on reconciliation and accountability.”

While Robert Blake, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka, said in his interview with the BBC’s Sinhala Service that Washington had “not seen any indications,” that the Sri Lankan government was “prepared to undertake a serious investigation of their own” into alleged war crimes during 2009, he added that he would “reject [the] premise” that the resolution’s wording was toned down due to Indian influence.

Commenting positively on the role of India during the negotiations on the UNHRC resolution’s wording, Mr. Blake noted that New Delhi and Washington “worked very closely... throughout the process and we indeed welcomed some of the changes that India made.” He said the U.S. was “quite satisfied” with its cooperation it had with India in this regard and “going forward it will be very important for all of the international community to continue to work with India to encourage progress, since India has quite a lot of influence on the island.”

Mr. Blake also remarked on both the alleged shortcomings in the internal investigation into the possible commission of war crimes as well as prospects of unfettered access to external investigative agencies.

On the investigations by the Mahinda Rajapaksa government, he said the U.S. was “obviously disappointed” with the conclusions of the internal military inquiry that absolved the military of all responsibility for civilian casualties. A statement to this effect by the Sri Lankan military “raises the scepticism of many that the government is prepared to do its own investigation.”

Asked whether the U.S. still meant it intended for “unfettered access” to be provided by the Rajapaksa government to special rapporteurs, including from the United Nations, Mr. Blake said “Certainly.”

According to reports, the U.S. had allegedly earlier backed the removal of the word “unfettered” in the context of the nature of this access.

Questioned on whether the international community, including the U.S., took any responsibility for the significant civilian casualties in the final stages of the battle in May 2009, Mr. Blake said, “None of us had good information and we still don’t have good information about what happened at the end of the war. As you know, the government asked all of the NGOs, the non-governmental organisations to leave. It refused to allow access to journalists. So there were no independent observers in the north to record and understand what was going on during that last phase of the war.”

It was unclear whether this interview with Mr. Blake was broadcast in Sri Lanka because, in what appeared to some as a stroke of irony, the BBC’s World Service reportedly suspended all its broadcasts on the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation due to what it described as “continued interruption and interference” in the corporation’s Tamil programming.

World Service director Peter Horrocks was quoted by the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade as saying, “We regret the disruption in service to our loyal audiences in Sri Lanka, but such targeted interference in our programmes is a serious breach of trust with those audiences, which the BBC cannot allow.” He added that the BBC had “warned them they were in breach of their broadcasting agreement. Further disruption… has left the BBC with no alternative but to suspend the service with immediate effect.”

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