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It's a chance to correct past mistakes

India must join the US and other nations in the UN to demand that Sri Lanka treats Tamils as full and equal citizens.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2013 21:37 IST

The photographs of a 12-year-old boy (supposedly Balachandran, son of LTTE leader V Prabhakaran) taken just before and after he was shot are a testament to what human beings are capable of. Balachandran was one of about 40,000 people killed during the annihilation of the LTTE by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) in May 2009.

India must share the blame for the way things have turned out in Sri Lanka. Our foreign policy in the 1980s lurched between prioritising our own geopolitical interests under Indira Gandhi to becoming an unwanted broker under Rajiv Gandhi.

We armed and abetted Tamil groups, including the LTTE, to put pressure on President JR Jayawardene. The resulting Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987 pleased neither the LTTE nor mainstream Sinhala opinion.

The Indian Peace-Keeping Force sent to implement the agreement ended up fighting the LTTE and losing nearly 1,200 soldiers. The tactic of aiding extremists as part of covert diplomacy backfired with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi by the LTTE on May 21, 1991.

Recoiling from these experiences, by the early 1990s we largely disengaged from Lanka. This intensified after the attacks by al Qaeda on the US in 2001. That event blurred the distinction between 'terrorism' and legitimate aspirations of minorities.

If the LTTE was slow to appreciate this shift, the Lankan regime under President Mahinda Rajapaksa did so with devastating consequences for the Tamil minority. Prioritising military victory and securing the support of China, Pakistan, Russia, the US, the European Union and India, Rajapaksa routed the LTTE by May 2009.

Since then, a UN-appointed Panel of Experts found widespread shelling of civilians and hospitals; survivors denied humanitarian assistance; and serious violations outside the conflict zone by the SLA.

It noted that the recommendations of the Lankan government-appointed 'Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee,' (LLRC) that included restoration of the rule of law, accountability, devolution and reconciliation - went unheeded by the government. In its April 2011 report the UN panel recommended an independent inquiry into the war.

Under Rajapaksa, executive power was further concentrated with the repeal of the 17th and passage of the 18th Amendments to the Constitution. The former had authorised a constitutional council to appoint or dissolve independent commissions to look into corruption, human rights, elections, police and the judiciary.

he latter negated its autonomy by tasking the president with the appointment of these commissioners. The 18th Amendment also eliminated the two-term limit on the presidency ensuring Rajapaksa will remain in power for the foreseeable future.

The Rajapaksas run Sri Lanka. One brother is secretary of defence, a second is minister of economic development and a third is speaker of parliament: between them the three brothers control over 70% of the nation's GDP.

Nearly one lakh Tamils remain displaced and in the north there continues to be arbitrary seizures of land. Southerners now visit the north as war tourists, graves of Tamil warriors have been destroyed and political activity among Tamils repressed. The demographic balance of the north will be irrevocably changed (as has already happened in the east.)

India's reactions have been confused and contradictory. After diluting the Human Rights Council's 2012 Resolution calling for reconciliation, we did support it with the US, whereas China voted against. On the other hand, India has been either silent or has looked the other way as Tamils continue to be repressed and the regime refuses to permit an inquiry into the war.

To condone what is happening because our past actions have been less than defensible would be to compound those errors. To do so because otherwise it may move Lanka closer to China would be to sacrifice ethics for expediency.

The ongoing meeting of the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, where the US has proposed a new "procedural resolution," gives India an opportunity to redeem itself.

We should join the US and other nations in demanding that Lanka treat Tamils as full and equal citizens; implement the recommendations of the LLRC; and institute an impartial international inquiry into human rights violations during the war. We owe at least that much to the Sri Lankan Tamils.

Sankaran Krishna is professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, US. The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Mar 14, 2013 21:35 IST