India squirms as US lays resolution on violations in Lanka

India faced backlash when they supported similar resolution.

Bureau Report

NEW DELHI: India’s government, like last year, is in a bind over Sri Lanka as the U.S., in a resolution to be put before the United Nations in Geneva this month, will express concern about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, four years after the 26-year civil war ended there.

The war climaxed in a May 2009 offensive by the Sri Lankan army against Tamil separatists, which a United Nations panel estimated cost 40,000 lives, mainly civilians, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa promised soon after the war to mount an independent probe into allegations of rights abuses. The U.S. and other governments say the country has failed to do so and authorities continue to carry out abuses against the country’s Tamil minority.

Sri Lankan officials blame the Tamil diaspora in the U.S. and elsewhere for fueling the allegations, which they deny. “Separatist forces are still very active in this country and abroad,” said Mohan Samaranayake, a spokesman for Rajapaksa, said the Journal.

India’s Tamil parties, who are strong in the south of the country, want India to support the U.S. resolution at the Human Rights Council. On Thursday, some of them walked out of India’s Parliament in protest at India’s refusal to say whether it plans to back the U.S. or not.

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid replied that India had to be careful not to “play the policeman of the world or the big brother in any country.”

While India’s Congress party-led coalition government doesn’t want to anger Rajapaksa, it also has to keep its Tamil party allies happy. Last year, India backed a similar U.S.-sponsored resolution at the Human Rights Council under huge pressure from Indian Tamil parties, causing a backlash in Sri Lanka.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Parliament today: “We are making all efforts with the Sri Lankan government for reconciliation and an honorable settlement for Tamil people.”

Sri Lankan newspapers have printed what they say is the latest draft of the U.S.-sponsored resolution, which has been circulated among diplomats and will be put before the Human Rights Council before its current session ends March 22.

According to the Sri Lankan reports, the U.S. will express concern at continued “reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture, violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, and threats to judicial independence and the rule of law.”

The draft also calls on Sri Lanka to follow through on recommendations from its own state commission on how to bring about reconciliation in Sri Lanka after the brutal civil war. The commission suggested Colombo demilitarize Tamil-majority areas in the north, among other measures to reach out to Tamil communities, but this has not happened, rights groups say.

In a report last month, New York-based Human Rights Watch claimed the Sri Lankan army is using sexual violence to torture suspected members or supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the militant group better known as the Tamil Tigers that lost the 2009 offensive.

Rights groups also point to Rajapaksa’s removal in January of Shirani Bandaranayake , then chief justice, as evidence his government is moving to quash judicial independence, said the Journal.

A parliamentary committee earlier had accused Bandaranayake of amassing unexplained wealth while in office and misusing power. She denies the charges and claims to have been targeted for defending the judiciary from political interference.

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