India abstains from UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka’s human rights record
India on Tuesday abstained from a crucial vote at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Sri Lanka’s rights record, though New Delhi called on Colombo to carry forward the reconciliation process and address the aspirations of the Tamil minority.
The 47-member UNHRC adopted a resolution – sponsored by a group of countries that includes the UK, Germany and Canada – which gives UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet the mandate to collect and preserve evidence of crimes related to Sri Lanka’s civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels.
A total of 22 countries voted for the resolution that was very critical of Sri Lanka’s failure to address human rights violations that occurred during the civil war. The resolution also contended the human rights situation has deteriorated under the Rajapaksa administration and that rights defenders and ethnic and religious minorities are facing problems.
Eleven countries, including Bangladesh, China and Pakistan, voted against the resolution, while 14 countries, including India, Indonesia, Japan and Nepal, abstained.
In a statement before the voting on the resolution on “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, Pawankumar Badhe, first secretary at India’s permanent mission in Geneva, said New Delhi believes states have the primary responsibility for protecting human rights.
“We would urge the government of Sri Lanka to carry forward the process of reconciliation, address the aspirations of the Tamil community and continue to engage constructively with the international community to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens are fully protected,” Badhe said.
India’s approach to human rights in Sri Lanka, he said, was guided by “two fundamental considerations” – support to the Tamil minority for equality, justice, dignity and peace, and ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of the island nation.
“We have always believed that these two goals are mutually supportive and Sri Lanka’s progress is best assured by simultaneously addressing both objectives,” he added.
India also supports the world community’s call for Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments on devolution of political authority to the Tamils, including through early holding of elections to provincial councils and ensuring that these councils are able to operate effectively in line with the 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution, Badhe said.
India has traditionally shied away from backing direct UN intervention on human rights issues because of its sensitivities related to the Kashmir issue. At the same time, the Modi government has repeatedly pressed Sri Lanka to take steps to devolve powers to the Tamil minority and address their aspirations.
The Tamil Nadu assembly election, to be held during April-May, is also believed to have been a factor behind India’s decision to abstain. The status of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority is often a factor in Tamil Nadu’s politics.
Though the Sri Lankan government reached out to India to vote against the resolution at the UNHRC, New Delhi has been irked with Colombo for reneging on a 2019 tripartite India-Japan-Sri Lanka agreement for developing the East Container Terminal at Colombo port.
The Sri Lankan government scrapped the deal last month following pressure from labour unions and instead offered to develop the West Container Terminal with Indian and Japanese investors.
Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Dinesh Gunawardena made a distinction while thanking countries that voted against the resolution or abstained. In a tweet, he appreciated “the support shown at Geneva” by countries such as India and Japan that abstained, and in another tweet, he extended a “very warm Thank You for solid support” shown by countries that voted against the resolution.
While presenting the resolution at the UNHRC, British ambassador Julian Braithwaite said: “Impunity has become more entrenched; progress in emblematic cases has stalled.” But Sri Lankan ambassador MCA Chandraprema rejected the document as “unhelpful and divisive”.