Originally Published 2014-02-07 07:01:40 Published on Feb 07, 2014
Now there is a consistent and continuing apprehension about the West coming up with a draft at the Geneva session that will have greater acceptability in the UNHRC already. It is here India may be called upon to take a position all over again.
Sri Lanka: Thinking beyond UNHRC-3
" It is now becoming increasingly clear that the US prime-mover of the two earlier resolutions against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC seems to have been caught in a cleft-stick, as was only to be expected. It does not mean that Sri Lanka has got off it all. Instead, there will be more to follow, follow on and follow upon, in the UNHRC sessions and years to come. Yet, there is now a consistent and continuing apprehension about the West coming up with a draft that will have greater acceptability in the UNHRC already. It is here India may be called upon to take a position all over again.

Looked at from the Sri Lankan perspective, it would be enough if it is able to bring down the number of nay-sayers to any new UNHRC resolution by a small number. Even abstentions would do. A minor or marginal victory for their resolution would not suffice the cause (if any) and image of the movers behind any new resolution, given their collective prestige that's at stake. If today Sri Lanka is able to get away with it, then their own say would have no purchase from other small States in the future, be it on domestic or international affairs.

Call it apprehension or caution, the US over-reach on the preparations for the UNHRC-3 resolutions seem to suggest that they would want a resolution that adds to the current bark, but could not - hence would not -- bite. That's how many voting-members at the UNHRC would want it, if they have to back a super-power initiative without a negative vote or even an abstention. Or, so goes the perception.

How to word the draft, and where and when to negotiate with other voting-members to make it as consensual as it could be is the question that should be now uppermost in the mind of the US, the UK and other western nations. They can afford to wait, not Sri Lanka. Any next step in the UNHRC initiative, which will also draw extensively from Chairperson Navi Pillay's detailed report after her Sri Lanka visit last year, would be one more step closer to UN action or sanction, though not now.

This could imply that suggestions and demands for an 'international probe' could be off, at least for the time-being. Will Third World members on the UNHRC bite it remains the question. They constitute the single largest bloc in the UNHRC at any given time, and to keep them united in favour of an 'anti-Sri Lanka resolution', either through pressures or purse-strings, consistently would be a million-dollar question. Or, how far could either or both be sustained, if the West were to move on from one UNHRC session to the next, without satisfying itself that the end-result is also what they themselves would have desired.

The western predicament does not mean that Sri Lanka is off the hook for good. Conversely, it implies that the painful process would rather be slow but could still be sure, when the end-game plays itself out. Having made deals of the kind in the past would have also known that it would be a waiting game, after all. The 'tormentors' at the UNHRC are willing to wait it out. Not Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans, for whom it's a one-time experience. Over the past two-plus years, it has exhausted the nation's energies and time that should have been diverted to the betterment of the people nearer home.

Over the medium-term, the Sri Lankan leadership of President Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have been able to whip up 'national sentiments' against 'one-time colonisers' and their 'neo-colonising' successors. It may also help the ruling SLFP-UPFA combine to win election after election, in Province after Province, as it had done through the years of successful 'Eelam War-IV'. The leadership can also be expected to advance the presidential polls by about two years, to have it any time after the four-year mandated minimum period, ending in November 2014.

Though the parallels do not go too far, it was this way that President Rajapaksa capitalised on the post-war national (read: Sinhala) mood to sweep the advanced presidential polls of January 2010. The question then will be if the Government would advance the parliamentary elections that are not otherwise due before April 2015. Just as the international community's opprobrium may not hold water nearer home in the Sinhala community, the reverse may also be true when it came to the likes of UNHRC going ahead with precisely what they may have in mind - now, or later.

Unless the Sri Lankan Government is able to keep the majority Sinhala mood against the UNHRC initiatives high on the negative on the domestic front there is the likelihood of it becoming a losing diplomatic battle. The Tamils are caught in between. The international community has not delivered for them what they had been promised on the 'accountability issues', as yet. They cannot be seen as giving it up in between - nor, are they in the habit of doing so.

How then to proceed would be a million-dollar question before the Tamils in Sri Lanka and their Diaspora brethren in particular. Will (inordinate) delays of the kind that they were not originally aware of 'soften' them and help revive the political process back home in the company of the Government of the day that the people elect? This again is a question needing an answer, as early as the Tamils can bring themselves to asking those questions of the self.

Crying over 'spilt milk'

Whether moderates or militants, whether LTTE or others, successive Tamil leadership has demonstrated an uncanny knack of converting adversities into opportunities, time and again. It is true of their hard climb-up as a community, which the Sinhala nationalists could not stomach in the past. It got demonstrated, both by the moderate and militant leaderships in their time. The LTTE had the occasion and leadership to display such skills, both on the political and military fronts.

Before that the Tamils had the moderate leadership that did the same thing but in political ways, but the new-generation youth had had enough, when militancy became the preferred method. It would be interesting know if the 'Vadukottai resolution' for a 'separate Tamil nation' was aimed also at stalling the visible advancement of Tamil militancy from within - and keep the legitimate Tamil aspirations as much political as they were liberal. It's in the past, and post-war moderate Tamil leadership too has gone through the same course, almost the same way - minus the presence in the periphery of youthful militants hoping for the former to fail and otherwise ready to take off. Is the non-militant Diaspora a substitute now for the militants of the yore?

Hard-line Tamil 'nationalists/separatists' have made a fine art of 'crying over spilt milk' - and making the other side always take the blame. Once again, they could now - or, not afterward - say that they had trusted the 'international community', but the latter (too) cheated them (once again). By then, they would have ratcheted up enough of post-war antagonism in the Tamil community back home, to begin hating the Sri Lankan State and the majority Sinhala polity all over again.

The question is this: Will the Tamil community and polity in Sri Lanka also turn inward, and ask itself a few pertinent questions that it had avoided asking itself in the past, whether under moderate or militant leadership. Those questions (should) pertain to the Tamils' own contribution to the present state of affairs, and their greater reliance on external players than internal mechanisms, whatever the drawbacks of the latter.

The questions should also relate to the Tamils' own experience with the international community's success at obtaining for them what they had sought to obtain otherwise, too - and what the future thus held best for them, though in relative terms in the interim. Three, if they do not get what they had wanted from and through the international community, are they still going to complain all over again, or revisit their own position(s) and contextualise them to contemporary realities.

Believing 'wronged'

In the past, the Tamil leadership, again moderate or militant, had made a made others believe that they had been 'wronged', as much by the latter that they had believed in as the Sri Lankan State. Every such 'wrong' had led the Tamils, particularly the 'Tamil nationalist' thinkers to convince themselves and the rest of the community that fighting for their rights, all by themselves is the only answer and a 'separate State' is the only goal. Is the present trend inching towards such inevitability all over again as if some of them were anticipating it after all, and some among them even more would have wanted it that way - if only to convince themselves and the rest of the Tamils that they had little choice in the matter than to fight back?

If so, would the Sri Lankan State alone be the target, as it is now in political terms, or the 'collaborators' with Sri Lanka also the fall-guy, as the 'international community' could expect to be branded in time (if they are seen as doing anything that does not inch towards the final formation of a 'separate State)? Or, would the interim 'stalemate' in the UNHRC and elsewhere be cited as reason and justification for the Tamils, nearer home and afar, inching back to some of the old and forgettable ways, with the international community being made to feel guilty and convinced of the former's methods?

Or, will the international community have any other take on the matter - and, if so, how would they be able to justify their 'constantly changing positions', to themselves, the Tamils and the Sri Lankan State, as well? If such could become the case, would the international community pause for a while, take stock/re-stock of the situation before proceeding further? After all, they do not seem to have any clear-cut goal or strategy for the 'day after' , going beyond 'accountability issues' and resolving the ethnic issue as a whole. That is, if they have not counted in the possibility of a 'separate State' and their blessings for the same at the time of their choosing.

The recent Northern Provincial Council resolution, demanding an 'independent, international probe' into 'accountability issues' hints at such a possibility, after all. Either the Tamils have begun losing faith in the 'international community', or it is a part of the project to pressure into believing that the Tamils are losing patience and expect more from the latter and early on.

Whatever that be, the new resolution that dubbed it all as 'comparable to genocide' (modified at the instance of TNA Chief Minister, Justice C V Wigneswaran) has left the issue wide open - if it was aimed only at the Sri Lankan State, leadership and armed forces, or also included the LTTE. Or, is it that the prime-movers of the resolution were just too involved with it and had only the Sri Lankan authorities in mind that they did not see the ambiguity while drafting the same?

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)

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