India raises Sri Lankan Tamil issue in U.N.

Also makes unusual reference to crisis-hit island nation’s “debt-driven” economy in the context of its current crisis.

September 12, 2022 11:52 pm | Updated September 13, 2022 10:49 am IST - Colombo

India made the statement at the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo: Twitter/@UNGENEVA

India made the statement at the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo: Twitter/@UNGENEVA

India on Monday voiced concern over the “lack of measurable progress” in Sri Lanka’s promised political solution to the long-pending Tamil national question, while making an unusual reference to the crisis-hit island nation’s “debt-driven” economy in the context of its current crisis.  

In its statement at the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, India said it has “always believed in the responsibility of States for promotion and protection of human rights and constructive international dialogue and cooperation” guided by the U.N. Charter. “In this regard, the Indian delegation notes with concern the lack of measurable progress by Government of Sri Lanka on their commitments of a political solution to the ethnic issue — through full implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, delegation of powers to Provincial Councils and holding of Provincial Council elections at the earliest,” India said. The terms of Sri Lanka’s nine provincial councils expired about three years ago, and they have remained defunct since.  

India’s statement comes ahead of a resolution on Sri Lanka that will likely face a vote at the Council. Since 2009, India has voted thrice in favour of the U.N. resolution on Sri Lanka — two were critical — and abstained twice, in 2014 and 2021. Irrespective of its vote, India has consistently underscored the need for a political settlement “within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, ensuring justice, peace, equality and dignity for the Tamils of Sri Lanka,” as it reiterated on Monday as well.  

Also Read | Retracing historical and cultural links between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka

Over 13 years since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, in which tens of thousands of civilians were killed and disappeared, survivors continue demanding justice and accountability for war-time crimes. In the post-war years, Sri Lanka’s human rights defenders have frequently flagged concerns over persisting militarisation, especially in the Tamil-majority north and east; repression, and the shrinking space for dissent.  

In her latest report on Sri Lanka, the U.N. Human Rights Chief said “embedded impunity for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes and corruption” was among the “underlying factors” that led to the country’s “devastating” economic crisis.  

India has extended nearly $ 4 billion crucial assistance to Sri Lanka this year but has not made any public remark on the island’s economic choices so far. However, making a rare departure, at the ‘Interactive Dialogue’ segment of the ongoing Council session, India said Sri Lanka’s current economic crisis “demonstrated the limitations of debt driven economy and the impact it has on the standard of living.”  

China, Japan, and India are Sri Lanka’s three main bilateral creditors, while the island nation owes the biggest chunk of its foreign debt to International Sovereign Bond holders.  

“It is in Sri Lanka’s best interests to build capacity of its citizens and work towards their empowerment, for which devolution of power to the grassroots level is a pre-requisite,” the Indian delegation said, apparently connecting the long-pending promise of power devolution to citizens’ empowerment in the context of the economic recovery.   

“In this connection, operationalisation of Provincial Councils through early conduct of elections will enable all citizens of Sri Lanka to achieve their aspirations for a prosperous future. We therefore urge Sri Lanka to take immediate and credible action in this regard,” the Indian delegation said. 

Making a statement at the session, China said it “firmly supported” Sri Lanka to “safeguard its sovereignty and independence”, maintain social stability and achieve economic recovery. “China also urged relevant parties to respect Sri Lanka’s right to independently choose its path for development,” the Chinese official in Geneva said.  

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