New Delhi: In a sign that it was unhappy with the way, Sri Lanka was treating its minority Tamil community almost four years after the end of the three-decade old civil war, India has urged the Sri Lankan government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into alleged human rights violations during the last phases of the conflict that ended in May 2009.
This comes ahead of a crucial vote on Sri Lanka’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council this week.
At the universal periodic review of human rights in Geneva, India said it hoped “for early progress towards reconciliation (between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils), reduction of high security zones and return of private land by the military”—a reference to ways to integrate Tamils into Sri Lanka’s national mainstream.
India also hoped that “investigations of allegations of human rights violations and loss of civilian lives will be independent and credible,” and that “phasing out of security forces in civilian activities in the Northern Province (one of the main theatres of war) will be done in an effective and timely manner.”
The statement also comes as a key ally in Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), over the weekend threatened to pull out its ministers from the cabinet if India did not vote in support of a US-sponsored resolution censuring Sri Lanka for its human rights record due on 21 March.
The DMK has 18 parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha, lending crucial support to the Congress-led coalition government. The welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils is a sensitive issue in India because India’s 62 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu share close cultural and familial links with Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority community, which constitutes about 12% of the island’s population.
The DMK and its political foe, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which is in power in Tamil Nadu, have been raising the issue of the treatment of Sri Lankan Tamils in India’s ongoing budget session of Parliament. The Sri Lankan civil war, which broke out in the 1980s and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, has been attributed to a sense of political and cultural isolation of Tamils in Sinhalese majority Sri Lanka.
The allegations of war crimes date back to the last stages of the civil war that ended in May 2009 with the death of rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) chief Velupillai Prabhakaran and many of his followers. A UN-mandated report in 2011 found credible allegations of abuse by the Colombo government that could have caused as many as 40,000 civilian deaths in the war against Tamil insurgents. Another inquiry by Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission had also urged Colombo to look into the deaths of civilians.
The UN review is a statement by member states of their human rights records and does not involve a vote at the end of country presentations— made once in four years—and does not entail punitive action by others. But on 21 March, Sri Lanka faces a vote on its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council. Last year, India, alongwith 23 other nations, had voted in support of a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council, censuring Sri Lanka on its rights record. The move had led to a strain in ties.
In New Delhi, Indian officials were tightlipped on India’s likely vote this time around though a recent news report cited V. Narayanasamy, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s office, as saying that India would vote in favour of censuring Sri Lanka. The text of the US resolution is expected to be known only on Monday, after which India would decide, a government official said, requesting anonymity.
G.Parthasarthy, former Indian envoy to Australia, Pakistan and Myanmar, said Asian countries were unlikely to accept a resolution condemning Sri Lanka though he pointed out that both the Tamil Tiger rebels and the Sri Lankan army were equally to blame for rights violations.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal said he would not be “surprised if India voted against Sri Lanka” given the compulsions of domestic politics and the fact that Sri Lanka had not taken any visible steps to improve its record.