A mandate for the UNHRC

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:23 pm IST

Published - March 29, 2014 01:16 am IST

In adopting a country-specific resolution against Sri Lanka that calls upon the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner to “undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka,” the UN Human Rights Council has again brought the focus as much on the killings in the last phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka, as on the international investigation into issues in a sovereign state. No progress has been made to fix responsibility for the mass killings in the last phase of the civil war in 2009. The resolution, co-sponsored by 41 countries and piloted by the U.S., contended that Sri Lanka has failed to achieve reconciliation following the end of the three-decade long civil war. But it does not build on the earlier resolutions against Sri Lanka; it rather marks a worrying point of departure. So far, the emphasis has been on ‘encouraging’ and ‘urging’ Sri Lanka. The new mandate of the international investigative mechanism is open-ended. Opponents of the resolution were against the imposition of an international investigation by expanding the role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the Special Procedures of the HRC. The resolution includes many prescriptive elements. The U.S. sees the vote as an act that seeks to push Sri Lanka into pursuing lasting peace, and wants to drive home the point that justice and accountability cannot wait.

India was in the limelight at the 25th session of the HRC. It had unconditionally backed Sri Lanka in the 2009 session, soon after the end of the war. It went to the other extreme and voted against Sri Lanka in 2012 and 2013. In fact, in 2013 it even worked to make the language of the resolution harsher. The same conditions as in 2013 exist now: elections to the Northern provincial council were held in September 2012. The Tamil Nadu factor that had influenced India’s vote the last time round seems to have lost steam with the Congress and the DMK parting ways. In any case, it is debatable if even at its height it would have overcome India’s long-standing opposition to intrusive international investigations as envisaged by the latest resolution. By voting twice against Sri Lanka in the past years, India had already antagonised the majority Sinhala community. With India abstaining this time, the northern Tamils seem to have lost faith in India. Not many believe anything will change for Tamils in Sri Lanka if the OHCHR carries out the investigation. An intrusive investigation has so far not yielded genuine reconciliation, and a life of dignity and self-respect for people anywhere. Sri Lanka can’t be any different.

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