UNHRC resolution: Understanding the long term agenda

| by Shanaka Jayasekara

( April 02, 2012, Sydney, Sri Lanka Guardian) Broadening Regional Stakeholders On the face of it, the Indian decision to vote in support of the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka seems a departure from its stated doctrine for the Indian sphere of influence. It was the former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, that stated, also referred to as the Indira doctrine that, “India will neither intervene in the domestic affairs of any state in the region unless requested to do so, nor tolerate such intervention by an outsider power”. By supporting the US resolution, India in some sense has outsourced its regional stake to an external power.
But is this a complete change in Indian foreign policy at the behest of Tamil Nadu, or part of a new Indian approach to broaden the stakeholders in the region. India has opted to stand in the shadow of multilateral processes to deal with regional issues in recent times. In Nepal, the Indians preferred to watch the UN special mission UNMIN manage the peace process. In the Maldives, the Indians have outsourced responsibility to the Commonwealth Secretariat to take the lead.
The new Indian policy of engaging with multilateral processes on regional issues is consistent with Indian strategic interest. India which is an aspirant of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council prefers to partner multilateral processes that demonstrate a capacity to act as a responsible member of the international community. India also views the benefits of drawing the United States and western allies into a containment alliance against China and Pakistan. There is a growing convergence of strategic interest between India and the United States. In Afghanistan the Indians have played a more reliable and credible role than Pakistan. On the issue of nuclear weapons the US decision to support Indian membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) by default recognises India as a legitimate nuclear weapons state. Therefore, drawing western powers as broader South Asian stakeholders serves Indian interest.
Complacency in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka had got into a state of complacency believing that Indian support was unconditional. India maintained a non-interventionist policy during the war which proved to be the game-changer for a Sri Lankan victory. During the conduct of the war Sri Lanka engaged closely with the Indian bureaucracy with regular visits and meetings. In the post-war period Sri Lanka adopted an indecisive approach on political power sharing. India sent several emissaries to expedite a power sharing mechanism in Sri Lanka but had limited success. The TNA talks were seen as a constructive process which India supported, however as time went by it became clear that the TNA talks were simply a prelude to the Parliamentary Select Committee process. The goal post for a political settlement kept changing and the roadmap for power sharing was indecisive and unclear.
The complacency in Sri Lanka was not a case of deception, rather a strong view within government that infrastructure development in the North will build peace and reconciliation. While the pro-LTTE lobby tends to present this as a deceptive ploy, the leadership in Colombo seems convinced that development is the key for lasting peace. Though there was not much progress on power sharing, the development in the North has been unprecedented. Keeping in mind a recession in Europe, a Euro crisis and a tsunami in Japan,that significantly limited traditional donors from supporting the reconstruction effort. However, Sri Lanka borrowed and infused capital resources to the North. Furthermore, the return of over 300,000 internally displaced persons in a short time is a notable achievement. The release of over 8000 former LTTE combatants to the care of their families is a success story and a magnanimous gesture which has gone un-noticed. There is no doubt Sri Lanka successfully delivered on, reconstruction in the North, the return of IDPs and reintegration of former combatants. However, when it comes to disarming dissident Tamil groups and a power sharing mechanism there has been limited progress. One could say it has been only three years since the end of the war and ittoo early to make a judgement.
India itself cannot hold the moral high ground on post-war reconciliation. In the aftermath of Operation Blue Star in Amritsar that annihilated the Sikh separatist movement killing thousands, the Indian government signed the Rajiv-Longowal Accord (July 1985) which agreed to transfer the capital Chandigarh to Punjab. Over 25 years since the agreement was signed, the city of Chandigarh remains a joint capital of both Haryana and Punjab.
Western Agenda
The US resolution was timed to coincide with the Indian budget, the US knew Indian support was vital and the budget provided the opportunity to break the Indian bureaucracy on this issue. It was no easy decision for India to vote against its neighbour at the UN. India has never been in favour of UN resolutions, had the timing not been so critical the Indians would have opted for a different course of multilateral action. The UN Security Council resolution 47 (1948) calling for a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir remains unimplemented. India regularly abstains from country specific resolutions at the UN, therefore this is not the path India would have preferred but had little option when the US sponsored resolution was tabled on the eve of the Indian budget.
The resolution serves several interests, firstly to counter criticism that the international criminal court has only prosecuted Africans for war crimes. The resolution on Sri Lanka, though not binding and at this stage not referred to the ICC, the principle of accountability in conflict has been extended beyond the African continent.
However to understand the underlying reasons for the US initiative, one needs to refer to President Obama’s speech to the 65th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2010. President Obama speaking at the UN stated “we see leaders abolishing terms limits”. It was inferred at the time that reference was highlighting the introduction of the 18th amendment to the constitution in Sri Lanka which took place a few days before President Obama’s speech. When the Executive branch of government attempts to stay in office beyond two terms (expect in a Westminster system) a form of entrenched authority sets-in to governance. In Africa, several executive presidents have served consecutive terms for over 20 years, such as in Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Sudan. There is a concerted effort by the international community to reverse this trend as seen in Ivory Coast, Senegal and even in Yemen and Myanmar. This is a sequel to the Arab spring the Middle East.
The US sponsored resolution places a mandatory requirement on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. While the LLRC recommendations are positive in general, the implementation should not be compulsory.
Furthermore, the open-ended mandate of the resolution which states “also address alleged violations of international law”, places a noose round Sri Lanka which can be tightened at anytime. Even if Sri Lanka fully implements the all recommendations of the LLRC, it will still be insufficient to fulfil the resolution. The resolution is extremely ambiguous and derives an open-ended mandate, that compliance with the resolution will always be subjective and contentious.

Long Term Plan
The resolution is setting the stage with a long term agenda. In the next twelve months Sri Lanka has to present an action plan on the implementation of the LLRC recommendation and address alleged violations of international law. The latter will remain a contentious which will come under perpetual criticism. When the action plan is to be appraised in 2013, President Rajapaksa would be close on three years into his second term of the Presidency which commenced in November 2010. The US membership on the UN Human Rights Council can run for two terms of three years each which takes them to 2018. President Rajapaksa will have to contest re-election of his third term by 2016.
The long term agenda is to set in place a formal process with international trappings that can be escalated if and when required. The initial response from Sri Lanka on the resolution was one of defiance. However, this approach needs to be considered carefully. While it is politically savvy with the domestic audience the long term implications have to be far reaching.
As stated above the resolution is ambiguous and open-ended. However, Sri Lanka has an opportunity to set the boundaries and the mandate by clearly defining the goals and objectives in the action plan. Sri Lanka needs to shift the reference point from the resolution to the action plan. It is imperative for Sri Lanka to turn the attention away from the resolution and develop an action plan that recognises domestic legal processes, presents realistic expectations and only promise what can be delivered. By working towards result-oriented deliverables, Sri Lanka will have an opportunity to present achievements year-on-year that are tangible and impact positively on reconciliation.

( The writer is a lecturer at the Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism
Macquarie University,Sydney )

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Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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