NEW DELHI: India is likely to back Sri Lanka on the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution over alleged war crimes if it is put to vote in Geneva on Thursday, officials said, attributing the decision to measures taken by the new government in Colombo to empower Tamil minorities.
The resolution, co-sponsored by the USA and Sri Lanka and supported by a few European nations including the UK, Macedonia and Montenegro, was tabled last week. India is backing Sri Lanka in its opposition to the inclusion of foreign judges, as envisioned in the draft resolution, to probe the war crimes committed during the conflict with the LTTE.
Officials said although India would prefer consensus to emerge on the resolution, the government is likely to support Sri Lanka if the resolution is put to vote on any contentious issue.
According to experts, the resolution is probably the best so far in post-war Sri Lanka on alleged human rights and war crime abuses. The erstwhile Rajapaksa government did not take adequate steps that would satisfy the international community, they said.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday made it clear that his government could only act within the framework of the country’s constitution, which does not allow foreign judges to operate in the country. While international expertise will be welcome, the country’s judiciary will have to approve the extent of its involvement, he said.
Wickremesinghe’s assertions came in the backdrop of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s call for a hybrid special court, integration of international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators to probe the alleged rights abuses during the civil war that ended in 2009.
But the US-sponsored draft resolution has called for a domestic judicial mechanism that includes foreign judges to probe the war crimes – in contrast to Al Hussein’s report – after the US and Sri Lanka held deliberations on the issue. Sri Lanka has been consistently insisting on a domestic mechanism to investigate the matter.
India, backing its neighbour, publicly stated that Sri Lankan sovereignty must be respected. External affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup, following a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President M Sirisena in New York on the sidelines of the UN where the UNHRC issue was discussed, said that Sri Lanka is actively engaging with the Human Rights Council on the issue.
“It is a sea change from the position that was there earlier. Our position is very clear. We stand for justice and at the same time we are respectful of the Sri Lankan sovereignty issues to the extent the Sri Lankan government is comfortable with the formulation that marries the two. We will be comfortable with that,” Swarup said last week, asserting that any resolution must be acceptable to Sri Lanka.
India is on principle opposed to the role of foreign judges in internal conflict or affairs of any country, officials said. They further said that India is satisfied with the steps that Sirisena government took within days of coming to power for emancipation of Tamils, including the decision to make Tamil National Alliance leader the leader of opposition after general polls in the country last month.
The Sirisena government has appointed eminent civilians as governors of the northern and eastern provinces in place of military commanders, in an effort to reach out to Tamil minorities, and decided to return 1,000 acres of private land under the army’s control to its owners in the northern part of Jaffna Peninsula. It has also decided to release land to resettle about 1,022 Tamil families displaced by the war in northern Sri Lanka.
Other confidence building measures for the minorities include lifting of travel restrictions to northern Lanka and release of political prisoners, many of whom are languishing in jail without either being brought to trial or even charges being framed against them. The Sirisena government appointed a Tamil as the chief justice of the Supreme Court and committed to 13th amendment in the constitution and more for devolution of powers to Tamils.