The US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka calling for an international investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka was adopted last Thursday at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva.
But it was totally eclipsed by Saturday’s elections to the Western and Southern Provincial Councils. The resolution was in the limelight only for a day in spite of its possible serious repercussions on the country. One would reasonably doubt whether Sri Lankans got the key message underscored in the resolution -- the imminent international investigation -- because none of the newspapers, except for two published in any of the three national languages highlighted it. Nearly all the newspapers highlighted the results of the vote on the resolution instead of the essence of the resolution. Hence the majority of the people in the country might be of the view that the third US resolution was the same as the previous two resolutions, which included just a warning to the Sri Lankan government to hold an international investigation.
The government was aware of the outcome of the vote on the resolution beforehand and expected and wanted it to have a bearing on the results of the two provincial council elections that were scheduled to be held two days later. President Mahinda Rajapaksa at an election meeting rhetorically said, “they will win there, but we will win here the next day.” From the very beginning of these elections the opposition too accused the government of having timed the elections in a manner that it would be able to exploit the resolution at the PC elections.
But the voters were either seemingly ignorant of the crux the core of the resolution or were not concerned about it saw a sizable number of voters not even showing up at the polling centres, while others showed the red light to the government with reduced votes, seats and vote percentage for the UPFA compared to the previous elections in the two provinces.
The government has said it would reject the UNHRC resolution, just like it did after the previous two resolutions. There have also been suggestions to the government from its own ranks not to allow the UNHRC to intervene in the internal affairs of the country by way of an international probe on human rights. It is not clear as to how these ideas could be materialized or whether these ideas are practical with the country being largely dependant on foreign loans and grants for almost all development projects. One of the ambitions of the government is to bring in 2.5 million tourists to the country by 2016. An international investigation might have a bearing on all these foreign investments, and tourist attractions.
Patriotism and rhetoric alone without a comprehensive strategy would not work at this juncture. We have to face reality. One would remember that the government even responded to the request by the first US resolution in 2012. In that instance too the government rejected the call to “present a comprehensive action plan before the 20th session of the Human Rights Council detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law.” Also the authorities reopened the cases pertaining to the deaths of five students in Trincomalee and the deaths of 17 aid workers in Mutur, both of which took place in 2006.
Hence a comprehensive strategy is the need of the hour. The latest resolution itself has kept open a window of opportunity for the government. Before requesting the Office of the High Commissioner to “undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes” the UNHRC “calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, where applicable; to hold accountable those responsible for such violations and to end continuing incidents of human rights violations and abuses in Sri Lanka.”
As people always tend to think relatively and the relativity is a driving force in any society, to use this opportunity would not irk the local mindset. Even Minister Champika Ranawaka in an article on a post-Geneva strategy in the Daily Mirror of March 11 said, “all perpetrators of violence and illegal killings should be brought to book and equality among all communities and civil groups should be established.”