India is among 24 countries that voted against Sri Lanka today at a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UN's top human rights body has passed a resolution, sponsored by the US, for 'promoting reconciliation and accountability' in Sri Lanka after its army won a 26-year-long civil war by defeating the rebel Tamil Tigers.
"One has to weigh pros and cons. What we did was in line with our stand on Sri Lanka. We do not want to infringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka but concerns should be expressed so that Tamil people can get justice and lead a life of dignity," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Sri Lanka had rejected the resolution. "After 30 long years of instability and violence we have achieved stability and peace. We need to be given time to further consolidate the clear progress that has been achieved in a short period of three years," said Mahinda Samarasinghe who led Colombo's large delegation of 70 members.
15 countries including China and Russia backed Sri Lanka, which had rejected the resolution, saying it unduly interfered in the country's domestic affairs and could hinder its reconciliation process. Eight countries abstained from today's vote. The resolution says the Sri Lankan government could benefit from advice by the UN human rights office. India was careful to stress that this is the prerogative of the Sri Lankan government. A statement from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs underlined, "While we subscribe to the broader message...any assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights or visits of UN Special Procedures should be in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan Government. A democratic country like Sri Lanka has to be provided time and space to achieve the objectives of reconciliation and peace." (Read: India explains its stand on Sri Lanka resolution)
Earlier this week, Dr Manmohan Singh said in Parliament that India "is inclined to vote in favour of the resolution." The Prime Minister had been warned that if India did not vote against Sri Lanka, his key ally, the DMK, would pull out of the government. Sri Lanka's Tamils, who are in a minority, have long complained of persecution by successive governments. Members of the Sri Lankan delegation to Geneva said today before the vote that they understand India's domestic compulsions. But they urged that as the super-power in this region, India must recognize that Sri Lanka needs time to investigate the allegations against its defence forces as well as the LTTE, before settling accountability.
Today's resolution followed an inquiry conducted by a United Nations panel which said last year that it had credible allegations of serious violations committed by both the government and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which was classified as a terrorist organisation by more than 30 countries.
The UN resolution adopted today asks for Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of a committee it created internally, the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Process, to study the allegations of war crimes. The US delegation in Geneva today referred to the government's "lack of action to implement the recommendations" of that commission. It described the resolution it has moved as one "that encourages Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of its own LLRC and to make concerted efforts at achieving the kind of meaningful accountability upon which lasting reconciliation efforts can be built."
China has thrown its weight behind Sri Lanka, saying it is against any country putting pressure on others in the name of rights violations. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Sri Lanka and its people were capable of dealing with their own affairs.
China, in recent years, has made big investments in Sri Lanka besides assisting the island with major projects like building a modern port at Hambanthotta. Earlier this month, Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa visited Beijing to seek its support to stave off the US-led move.