India votes against Sri Lanka but sugarcoats US resolution

Lankan MPs
India today voted in favour of a US-sponsored resolution at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council on alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka but worked to push "significant amendments" so that Sri Lanka's "sovereignty" was respected.

The resolution was adopted with 24 votes in favour to 15 against. China, Bangladesh and Maldives, along with Russia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia were among countries that voted against.

India's vote came after pressure from the DMK had prompted the Prime Minister to say that he was "inclined" to vote for the resolution. This after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had earlier indicated New Delhi's opposition to it.

Today's vote came after opposition from Sri Lankan Plantation Industries Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who said "no one from outside could dictate to his country about human rights". Flanked by Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G L Pieris and senior Tamil leader and Minister Douglas Devananda, Samarasinghe rejected the US-sponsored resolution terming it as "misconceived, unwarranted and ill-timed".

One amendment said that any visit to Sri Lanka on the implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report must be "in consultation and with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan government".

The Indian side also leaned on Western countries to drop a word that Sri Lanka has to "respect" the assistance offered by the UN. Sources said these changes make the resolution "unobtrusive" in nature and "non-judgemental" in approach.

Said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this evening on the sidelines of the Padma awards ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhawan: "We don't want to infringe on Sri Lanka's sovereignty but our concerns should be expressed so Tamils get justice and dignity."

This "tweaking of the text" was part of an elaborate consultative exercise over the last 10 days held by National Security Advisor Shivshanker Menon in Delhi with officials from the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian High Commission officials in Colombo. The Permanent Representatives in Geneva was also in touch with their counterparts from the Western sponsor countries in the process.

The resolution was today adopted at the 47-member UNHRC with eight countries abstaining. While India, along with the US and several European countries like Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay voted in favour of the resolution,

India, while explaining its vote, underlined the sovereignty issue: "India believes that the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights lies with the states. Consequently resolutions of this nature should fully respect the sovereign rights of states and contribute to Sri Lanka's own efforts in this regard."

It also made it clear, in its explanation of the vote about Colombo's consent for any mechanism. "While we subscribe to the broader message of this resolution and the objectives it promotes, we also underline that 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," it said.

Opposing the resolution, Beijing's representative at the UNHRC said that resolution was "against the principles of UN charter" as it attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and called all members to vote against the resolution.

Bangladesh, also opposing the resolution, said that the policy of constructive engagement is better than condemnation, and that Lanka needs to be given encouragement, time and space. Maldives echoed as it said that it understood Lanka's trauma and that it should be given "time and space" to implement the LLRC report.

The resolution has noted with concern that an internal inquiry report in Sri Lanka does not adequately address "serious allegations" of violations of international law. It also asked Colombo to present as expeditiously as possible a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to address the alleged violations of international law.

India's explanatory note at the UNHRC also said, "These are norms which all of us in the Council subscribe to. A democratic country like Sri Lanka has to be provided time and space to achieve the objectives of reconciliation and peace," the explanatory note said.

In the Council, India said, everyone has the responsibility to ensure that "our conclusions do contribute to this objective rather than hinder it." New Delhi also urged the Sri Lankan government to take forward the "the measures for accountability and to promote human rights that it has committed to." It is these steps, New Delhi said, "which would bring about genuine reconciliation between all the communities of Sri Lanka, including the minority Tamil community."

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