Isolation of India and Sri Lanka at UNHRC

| by Thomas Raj Johnpulle
“To our east, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and the Philippines voted against the US-drafted resolution while Malaysia abstained. To our west Maldives, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, voted in support of Sri Lanka.” – G Parthasarathy, Daily Pioneer, India

( March 29, 2012, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Isolation of Sri Lanka at and following the UNHRC summit is widely discussed. There is no doubt there is a reduction of support compared to 2009 for Sri Lanka. Wider support for the resolution this time compared to 2009 is mainly due to the mildness of the 2012 resolution compared to the 2009 intended resolution. It means even those who voted for the resolution want a milder approach to Sri Lanka. After all they only want a government’s own report implemented! In 2009, 18 countries voted against Sri Lanka against carrying out Sri Lanka’s own LLRC process stating it lacks objectivity and independence. But in 2012 most of those countries and 6 others accepted the government’s LLRC and demanded its implementation. In conclusion, the credibility of government commissions has improved dramatically since 2009, internationally. However, locally government commissions have a very low credibility.
Mr Dilip Sinha, Permanent Representative of India, UN

From a purely Tamil point of view, the resolution was all about the government of Sri Lanka verses the government of Sri Lanka. It was another hilarious event of inconsistency, self contradiction and rapid change of mind. Agreements with the All Ceylon Tamil Congress (ACTC) by the ruling party in 1947 collapsed in 1948; the 1957 B-C Pact was in tatters in 1958; the 1982 District Councils concept was in total jeopardy by 1983; the 1988 elect North-East Provincial Council was dissolved in 1989; cessation of hostilities of 1994 reversed in 1995; interim administration promised in 2001 reversed in 2002; peace talks that started in 2002 ended in 2003. If the 2012 resolution is to remain alive in 2013 when progress has to be reported, a publicly acceptable process must be in place as opposed to a process forced upon the public.

Isolation is relative
However, what seems to escape the grasp of those who talk of isolation is India’s incredible isolation in the region. To add to G Parthasarathy’s factual comment, all nations at the UNHRC surrounding India isolated it at the UNHRC. Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and the Philippines from the east; most of them bordering India in its long land and maritime boundaries voted against India. From the west Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia voted against India. From the north, China and Russia voted against it and from the south Sri Lanka displayed immense displeasure at India for voting for the resolution. India is totally isolated in the region. It makes little sense to have many distant friends at the expense of close relatives.
Relevance of Indian political solutions must be looked at in this context. With total regional isolation of India, what will be the fate of Sri Lanka if the latter follows Indian advice on political solutions? 

As it goes, there are no permanent friends or enemies in international relations. Turkey a formidable NATO member and a strong US ally was punished by officially calling the early 20th century events in Turkey as the Armenian Genocide by the USA after almost a hundred years later. Therefore, the sustainability of India’s distant friends is highly doubtful. They have repeatedly voted against India on Kashmir.

From the point of view of Sri Lanka, it is not isolated at all. All Sri Lanka’s neighbours represented in the UNUHRC except India voted against the resolution. The decision of the Philippines to vote for Sri Lanka is a long drawn one. President Obama seems to be in full appreciation of this fact when he recalled Patricia Butenis as the US ambassador to Sri Lanka and replaced her by Michelle who is of Philippines descend who has proven many times her understanding of Asian values. Also noteworthy is the US decision to relax military purchases and associated restrictions on Sri Lanka since 1983 immediately following the UNHRC summit. Further, US military carried out a number of joint military exercises with the Sri Lankan military since 2009 and pro-US nations including Australia rewarded Sri Lankan military officers with generous scholarships to study and share their ‘expertise’ at prestigious Australian defence academies. It is on record that Robert Blake requested ‘counter-terrorism’ expertise from the ministry of defence in 2009 to fight violence in Afghanistan. Although direct assistance was denied on grounds of local political sensitivities, high level limited assistance was promised. Most countries that voted for the resolution including the US participated in a defence ministry event held in Colombo on ‘counter terrorism’ last year.
In wide contrast USA went through India in 2009 to approach Sri Lanka. Little or nothing was achieved. The US strategy of operating through India has obviously changed today.
These recent events indicate the desire of USA to engage Sri Lanka positively, bypassing India. Has India walked right into a trap laid by USA that made it a pariah state in South Asia, South and South East Asia and generally in Asia among nations represented in the UNHRC?
Irrelevance of Indian political solutions in this context
Relevance of Indian political solutions must be looked at in this context. With total regional isolation of India, what will be the fate of Sri Lanka if the latter follows Indian advice on political solutions? That will surely lead to real isolation of Sri Lanka by those who voted for the island nation. It will make Sri Lanka without friends in the vital Asian region just like India. Needless to say that is a highly unenviable position to be in.
It also means Sri Lanka must engage China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Russia and ironically the USA (a strategic military partner of Sri Lanka) in devising a new political solution as envisaged in the UNHRC resolution. Interestingly these countries follow the model of ethnic integration as opposed to India’s ethnic enclaves model. This brings to light a fundamental shift to the notion of devolution. Devolution is no longer the Indian model of devolution of power into ethnically homogeneous enclaves but the new model of devolution of power to multiethnic administrative units as in most nations.
Continuing with the Indian models in politics, the economy and in defence will lead to isolation of Sri Lanka in the region that matters to it most. Sri Lanka’s decision to close down a number of embassies in Europe in favour of new diplomatic relations in Africa and Latin America seems to be a very calculated move to engage in productive diplomacy as opposed to pompous diplomacy. What it means is Norway’s long bipartisan (supported by both the UNP and the SLFP) role of facilitation, mediation and moderation of a political process regarding the ethnic problem from 1997 to 2010 with tacit Indian support comes to an end.
This is a golden opportunity to rethink wartime political solutions including the 1987 13th Amendment, 2000 Political Package and 2002 Interim Self Governing Authority. Apart from the obvious fact that wartime solutions are inconsistent in times of peace, the current reconciliation framework calls for inclusive not exclusive units of power devolution. New devolution units must not be ethnically homogeneous; they must be multiethnic as in USA, Australia, Canada, China, etc.
All northern provinces including the northern province, north central province and the north western province can be merged into one multiethnic province. Similarly the central, western and Sabaragamuwa provinces can be merged into one multiethnic province. Southern, eastern and Uva provinces should be merged into one multiethnic province. In sum, three large multiethnic provinces will share power. All provinces will have Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim representatives holding ministerial portfolios who will be forced to work in cooperation. That is the perfect way to dismantle ethnic enclaves and advance reconciliation and harmony among people of all ethnicities. If the UNHRC resolution achieves this outcome, it will lead to sustainable peace.

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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