Last week eleven Tamil political parties and civil society groups wrote to 47 member states of the UN Human Rights Council urging them to refer Sri Lanka to the UN Security Council and set up an international outfit similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) on Syria to ‘inquire into the crime of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.’
The letter was signed by R. Sampanthan, Leader, Tamil National Alliance (TNA), G.G. Ponnambalam, Leader, Tamil National People’s Front, (TNPF) Justice C.V. Wigneswaran, Leader, Tamil Makkal Tesiya Kootani (TMTK), and representatives of eight civil society groups.
They urged the UNHRC to adopt a resolution, declaring that Sri Lanka had failed to investigate the allegations of violations committed during the ethnic conflict. “It is now time for the Member States to acknowledge that there is no scope for a domestic process that can genuinely deal with accountability in Sri Lanka,” they wrote.
They asked that Sri Lanka be referred to the UN Security Council and the international community “take suitable action by reference to the International Criminal Court and any other appropriate and effective international accountability mechanisms” and ‘establish an evidence-gathering mechanism similar to the International Independent Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) in relation to Syria established as a subsidiary body of the UN General Assembly with a strict time frame of twelve months duration.’
This came in the wake of the Core Group on Sri Lanka- — Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and the UK- are planning to bring in a new resolution at the forthcoming 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which will meet from February 22 to March 19, during which Sri Lanka would be taken up. The government has already rejected an offer to co-sponsor the resolution with the Co-Group.
The rhetorical calls to refer Sri Lanka to international criminal court, The Security Council and an investigative mechanism similar to the one on Syria are as much as futile, will also be explosive at home
My old colleague, Namini Wijedasa quoted Foreign Secretary Admiral Jayanath Colombage as saying it would be ‘politically challenging’ to co-sponsor even if it is a ‘consensus resolution’. The latter prospect itself is unlikely if one is to go by a strongly worded report on Sri Lanka by Human Rights High Commissioner Michele Bachelot that had been shared with the government for observations.
The current troubles over the UNHRC are partly the government’s own making. Its decision in September last year to withdraw from three previous UNHRC resolutions, which its predecessor co-sponsored upset the apple cart. And that was a needless escalation at the worst possible time.
Opposition rhetorics should not be given practical expression when in government. Yet, the government’s misplaced policy choices that were intended to cater to a small but articulate segment of its nationalist electorate have now set off a chain of reactions that Sri Lanka would confront in the coming months and years.
Its predecessor co-sponsored with the Co-Group of nations the resolution 30/1 in 2015 and two rollover resolutions thereafter. Though the political opposition, the stakeholders of the current government, then cried betrayal, the Yahapalana strategy provided Sri Lanka with time and space at no cost and a global anti-Sri Lankan campaign by usual culprits of the fringe Tamil diaspora and assorted NGO captains were dying a slow death. The government’s misplaced choices have now rejuvenated its nemesis.
However, the Tamil political class is also indulging in an equally flawed political strategy. That, though in most cases, is a replication of the same old fallacies of the forefathers of Tamil nationalist politics, who since the independence had entertained the misgivings that the Sinhalese majority and their political leadership could be intimidated to submission by internationalizing what was then minor domestic grievances.
The latest letter to the UNHRC is both an act of political expediency and desperation. The rhetorical calls to refer Sri Lanka to international criminal court, The Security Council and an investigative mechanism similar to the one on Syria are as much as futile, will also be explosive at home. All you have is to wait till some private television channels pick up the story. Tamil political leadership has done much to foster the distrust within the Sinhalese majority and thrived in that for it is mutually reinforcing and propel the case of the Dravidian nationalism of Tamil politics.
Also, the political underpinnings of the latest ploy are self-evident. Tamil politics is taking an increasingly nationalistic tone after the bitterly fought general election which saw the advent of two fringe Tamil nationalist parties led by Justice Wigneswaran and Gajendra Kumar Ponnambalam. Rather moderate TNA is forced to toe the line for the fear of losing support.
However, all this hyper Tamil nationalistic, pro-LTTE and anti- Sri Lankan activism can go on only as long as the government permits it or the next claymore mine goes off. Once one of the two happens, it would be the Tamils who would be left to pick up pieces for yet again.
Does Tamil political class think all these rhetorics serve the interests of average Tamil folks? Unlikely. Yet they press ahead, in the same way, S. J. V. Chelvanayakam and the Tamil old guard did, even while knowing very well that passage of the Vadukkodai resolution is a dangerous slippery road, yet they did so due to intense political competition.
Similarly, the stakeholders of the current government had thrived in the confrontation with the West at the UNHRC. With the strong personalized backing from the mandarins in Beijing, the current government would ride off the UNHRC challenge much easier than the previous Rajapaksa regime did. Most likely, it would end the engagement with UNHRC over the final phase of ethnic conflict at the end of 2021, as its interlocutors have earlier announced.
It would be the Tamils who would lose out. Tamil political leaders should understand that they can not intimidate the Sinhalese political leadership- and by and large, the Sinhalese majority who vote them to power –by going to Geneva, Washington, and in the very near future, also to New Delhi. Instead, the Tamil political class should learn to engage.
Follow @RangaJayasuriya on Twitter