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Special How will India vote in Geneva next month?

2014 Feb 05

By S Venkat Narayan

Our Special Correspondent

 India has politely declined to give an assurance of its support to Sri Lanka on a resolution the United States is planning to move in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva next month. The resolution may seek an impartial international probe into the excesses and human rights violations allegedly committed by the island nation’s security forces during the last phase of the socalled Eelam War IV in early 2009.
Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister Prof Gamini Lakshman Peiris met his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid here last Wednesday and sought India’s help against the US resolution, expected to be moved by Washington for a third consecutive year. The Sri Lankan government did little in response to the previous resolutions in 2012 and 2013 to assuage an agitated international community.

India had voted for the US-sponsored resolutions so far.

"We heard them out, but gave no assurance about what we will do in Geneva when the resolution comes for voting," an official who attended the Peiris-Khurshid talks told the Sunday Island. "They know what we want. They know what the world also wants from them. Let’s see what they will do between now and end of March, when the resolution may come up at the UNHRC."

Khurshid apparently advised Prof Peiris to engage with Washington directly, and told him that India will take a stand on the proposed resolution at an appropriate time.

The Sri Lankan minister was here primarily to interact with the 82 New Delhi-based heads of diplomatic missions who are concurrently accredited to Sri Lanka. They all met him in small groups during a two-hour session at the Sri Lankan High Commission here. Some of the ambassadors who met the very articulate Prof Peiris said the resolution the US is planning to bring at the UNHRC figured prominently in their discussions. The minister apparently explained to them the government’s efforts to help the Tamils, and sought the sympathy and understanding of the countries whose diplomats he addressed..

However, there is an unstated sense of disappointment here over the reluctance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government to take any visible action on the ground to pacify the global community agitated by the reported killing of 40,000 innocent Tamil civilians and the island’s Tamils who are clearly suffering from a collective sense of hurt and humiliation.

This is a highly sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu too. India goes to the polls to elect a new Lok Sabha—-lower House of Parliament—-from mid-April. The Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is being attacked on a regular basis by political parties in Tamil Nadu for not doing enough to ensure that justice is done to Sri Lankan Tamils. The DMK snapped its alliance with the UPA on this ground last March. The UPA has no allies in Tamil Nadu right now.

Having supported the US-backed resolutions on two previous occasions, India finds that Colombo has done nothing so far to justify any change of stance in Geneva this time. Therefore, it looks extremely unlikely that India will either support Sri Lanka or abstain from voting at the UNHRC next month.

Analysts here say President Rajapaksa is highly unlikely to order an impartial and credible probe any time soon simply because such a probe will expose the crucial roles played by himself, his brother and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and at least 14 other senior officials of the security forces, who were responsible for executing the brilliant but brutal assault on the LTTE to end the three-decade-long civil war, and thus successfully eliminate for good the world’s most dreaded terrorist outfit.

If the Nuremberg trials against the Nazis and the other war crimes trials conducted by United Nations-appointed tribunals into the killings in Cambodia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone and Lebanon are anything to go by, the roles of the top political and military authorities of the country concerned will be investigated, and punishment meted out to those held responsible for such crimes.

If such an independent probe were to be ordered in Sri Lanka, heading the list of people whose roles may be investigated is President Rajapaksa himself because he is Commander-in-Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces, and nothing would have happened without his approval.

Next to him may be Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who used his close access to his brother and President Rajapaksa to procure whatever arms and other equipment from wherever possible to defeat the LTTE.

Then Head of Joint Staff Air Marshal Donald Perera, Army Chief Sarath Fonseka, Navy Chief Wasantha Karannagoda, and Air Force Chief Roshan Gunathilake may be investigated. In addition, those whose roles will have to be probed include the Commanders of Divisions 53 (then Brigadier/now Major General Kamal Goonaratne), 55 (Brig/Maj Gen Prasanna Silva), 57 (Brig/Maj Gen Jagath Dias), 58 (Brig/Maj Gen Shavindra Silva) and 59 (Brig/Maj Gen Nandana Udawatta).

The Divisions led by them had enabled the humiliating defeat of the LTTE rebels by surrounding them and successfully shutting down all their possible escape routes and trapping them at one place in the Wanni.

The roles of Heads of Task Force One (Brig Rohana Bandara), Task Force 2 (Brig Satyapriya Liyanage and Task Force 8 (Col GV Raviprya, who actually killed Prabhakaran) too will be probed by such an investigation.

There is an uneasy feeling here that the issue may not be brought to a closure for a long time to come, at least till the next election in Sri Lanka a couple of years away. If President Rajapaksa wins that election too, the world may have to simply forget about a credible probe into the excesses of 2009.


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