As a draft resolution on accountability in Sri Lanka does the rounds preparatory to being tabled by the United States in the current session of the Human Rights Council, the outcome that India may be hoping for most is that it will be adopted as a consensus document and no voting will be required.
That way, India will not need to take a position for or against the resolution. But it all depends on Sri Lanka. Though not in the 47-member HRC, Sri Lanka can lobby member countries for a vote, as it did in 2012.
This year though, there are indications that Colombo will not push for a vote. Unlike last year, it does not appear to be lobbying HRC member-states.
In March 2012, it seemed as if Sri Lanka was going more into a war than a U.N. session. There were anti-West and anti-resolution rallies on the streets of Colombo. The government shipped a huge media contingent to Geneva, along with a delegation of diplomats and politicians, all of whom kept the nationalist fires at home burning with their reports from ‘Ground Zero.’
But the tactic of turning the resolution into a do-or-die battle in which countries were seen as either “with us, or against us” failed. Sri Lanka lost the vote: 24 countries voted for the motion and 15 against, while eight countries abstained. The episode focussed much negative attention on the country, and created political embarrassment at home too.
This year, Sri Lanka may prefer a quieter outcome, even if a negative one. As it prepares to host the CHOGM summit in November this year, the last thing Colombo would want is one more confrontation with Western governments.
There are voices within the Commonwealth questioning if the meet should be held in Sri Lanka at all. Pulling it off in the teeth of opposition from powerful lobbies in Australia, Canada and Britain, would enable the Rajapaksa government to claim a huge victory and international legitimacy.
In any case, taking the resolution to a vote may not yield a different outcome from last year. Sri Lanka has provided no substantive reason to the countries that voted for the resolution in 2012, including India, to act differently this time.
In fact, with the change in the composition of the HRC, a vote may see fewer members on Sri Lanka’s side as some of its supporters last year, including China, are no longer in the Council.
Toning it down
On the other hand, if Colombo decides to let the resolution be adopted without a vote, it could engage with the resolution and work with member-states on its language. Despite Sri Lanka’s non-engagement last year, India worked hard to tone down the 2012 resolution. With political sentiment in Tamil Nadu running high, it may not do so this time.
A version of the draft is available with The Hindu. Though a resolution’s text is constantly revised and goes through several versions before being presented, the language this year is tougher and more wide-ranging.
The March 2012 document called on Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC).
This year’s draft expresses concern in the preamble that Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan, which sets out a timetable for acting on LLRC’s recommendations, ‘does not adequately address’ all findings of the Commission.
More significantly, it casts a wide net to cover other developments in Sri Lanka. It expresses concern at the “threats to judicial independence and the rule of law,” a clear reference to the controversial impeachment of Chief Justice Shiranee Bandaranayake.
It also brings up the Rajapaksa government’s failure to “fulfil public commitments, including on devolution of political authority to provinces as called for in Sri Lanka’s Constitution,” a reference to the delay in holding elections in the Northern Province.
In the operative part of the resolution, it urges the Sri Lankan government to “formally respond to outstanding requests, including by providing unfettered access” to the U.N.-mandated Special Rapporteurs on independence of lawyers and judges; torture; freedom of expression, association and assembly; extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and to a working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances.
The draft also ‘welcomes’ the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The Rajapaksa government has attacked Ms. Pillay for exceeding her mandate and producing an evaluation of Sri Lanka’s human rights situation instead of presenting, as the 2012 resolution mandated her, a report on assistance provided to Sri Lanka by the High Commission to implement the LLRC’s recommendations.