UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka opens door for international intervention: Will India abandon role of regional power?

An international body to be provided with an opportunity to directly interfere in an internal affair of a member of the world community, especially a country in South Asia, will definitely dent the position of India as the regional power, writes Sugeeswara Senadhira for South Asia Monitor

Sugeeswara Senadhira Mar 16, 2021
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As Sri Lanka faces a crucial vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), President Gotabaya Rajapaksa telephoned Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss the Geneva Resolution on (read against) Sri Lanka and other important bilateral issues. Although the outcome of the conversation has not been revealed, media reports indicate India would abstain at the voting slated for March 22.

Adaption of the resolution on Sri Lanka would allow the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to set up a mechanism to directly intervene in the judiciary process in Sri Lanka to “collect,  consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial proceedings in the Member States with competent jurisdiction.” 

UNHRC intervention

Paving the way for such an intervention in an internal affair of a South Asian country will not be in India’s long-term interest. An international body to be provided with an opportunity to directly interfere in an internal affair of a member of the world community, especially a country in South Asia, will definitely dent the position of India as the regional power.
 
New Delhi cannot but be highly concerned that such a resolution would set an unwanted precedent for the international bodies to directly interfere in a member country, and that could work against India or any other country one day. 

India’s long-term interests

There could be several factors for India’s decision to abstain at the UNHRC vote. India was not at all happy about recent statements made by different sections in Sri Lanka over the future of the India-backed Provincial Council system that devolved power, future of economic cooperation, Colombo Port terminal deals as well as proposed wind power projects in islands off the northern peninsula. Although the India-backed Adani Group has been invited to be the major partner for the Western Terminal Project of Port of Colombo, it was no secret that India was more interested in the already developed Eastern Terminal. 

Another reason attributed to the Indian decision was the upcoming Tamil Nadu state elections, where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a minor partner in the AIADMK-led alliance. The BJP is very keen to get a foothold in Tamil Nadu, the most important state in the south, and would not be prepared to back Colombo and antagonize Tamil voters, who sympathize with Tamil brethren across the Palk Straits.

The core group of countries - the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi, and Montenegro – is working on Sri Lanka’s issue at the UNHRC to finalize the resolution. Sri Lanka has already appealed that the resolution is rejected. During the informal consultations, most of the core group wanted strong wording of the resolution. They were backed by several European countries including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Ireland.

On the other hand, China, Russia, Cuba, Pakistan, and the Philippines stood for Sri Lanka and they made strong objections to the resolution. In view of the above acknowledgment, the countries supporting Sri Lanka urged the Core Group to be more sensitive to Sri Lanka’s difficulties and to collaborate with Colombo instead of acting with highhandedness and arrogance.

Many UNHRC member nations faced with threats of terrorism and internal conflicts will not be happy with some clauses of the resolution as they would set a precedent for future actions on any country. For example, clause 6 of the draft reads: “Recognizes the importance of preserving and analyzing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability, and decides to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to [collect],  consolidate, analyses and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial proceedings in the Member States with competent jurisdiction.” 

Several Asian and African members believe this would result in serious infringement on the sovereignty of a country. 

Western dominance of UNHRC is evident from the resolution on Sri Lanka. However, the 27 Asia-Pacific and African members of the UNHRC and eight Latin American and Caribbean States, together with five East European countries could easily resist the western attempts of dominance if they take a united stand. Unfortunately, some of the vulnerable developing and under-developed countries are unable to resist the affluent western countries because of their dependence on aid.

India’s support on crucial vote

Earlier this week, India expressed vehement opposition to the decision made by the British parliament to discuss the Indian farmers' protest. British High Commissioner in New Delhi, Alexander Ellis, was summoned by Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and served a demarche or formal diplomatic representation that conveyed India’s “strong opposition to the unwarranted and tendentious discussion on agricultural reforms in India in the British Parliament.” 

Most UNHRC member countries in Asia and Africa look towards India for guidance when there are major political differences over the resolutions before the Council. Hence, the Indian objection to unwarranted British interference in the farmers’ protest could provide guidance to the imperative need for the developing world’s opposition to external interventions.

When British MPs expressed concern over the safety of Indian farm protesters and the status of press freedom, the Indian High Commission in London said the parliamentary discussion was full of "false assertions." 

"We deeply regret that rather than a balanced debate, false assertions - without substantiation or facts - were made, casting aspersions on the largest functioning democracy in the world and its institutions," the Indian High Commission said and added, "When aspersions are cast on India by anyone, irrespective of their claims of friendship and love for India or domestic political compulsions, there is a need to set the record straight." 

Sri Lanka, as the oldest democracy in Asia, could use the same words with regard to unfounded allegations leveled against this country and the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. India and other friends should understand the hidden agenda of the West and their neocolonial strategies and resist them.

(The writer is Director (International Media), Presidential Secretariat, Colombo. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at sugeeswara@gmail.com)

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