India abstains on human rights vote on Sri Lanka, rescues foreign policy

NEW DELHI (TIP): In a brave decision marking the reclamation of foreign policy from narrow political interests, India abstained from voting on a USsponsored resolution on human rights situation in Sri Lanka. While India had supported the resolution in 2012 and 2013, the latest resolution was much tougher, calling for an independent investigation into Sri Lanka.

The resolution passed with 23 votes for, 12 against and 12 abstentions. India’s abstention comes after MEA raised red flags about the resolution, saying it would be creating precedents that would be difficult to withstand. Sri Lanka too had mounted a strong diplomatic offensive with the Indian leadership, including long meetings with the national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon. Pakistan did its best to help Sri Lanka by proposing a separate vote on the operative paragraph 10 (deemed most offensive) hoping to remove it totally from the resolution — it failed 16 votes to 25.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy today congratulated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for India not supporting the resolution. “I congratulate PM Manmohan Singh for ordering the Indian delegation in UNHCR not to support the dangerous US resolution seeking international probe into the so called human rights violations during 2009 anti-LTTE war by Sri lanka,” Swamy said in a statement. In 2013, Menon and MEA failed to prevail against a determined Congress offensive led by finance minister P Chidambaram to punish Sri Lanka. Sources said this had a lot to do with the ruling UPA government’s sensitivity to Tamil parties. This time, Chidambaram is not fighting an election, and the government has been free to take a decision based on India’s foreign policy interests.

If India had voted against Sri Lanka, the government could have opened itself to the charge that it was influencing the Tamil vote. Besides, it would have dealt a body blow to relations with a neighbour that is arguably India’s closest economic and security ally in South Asia. The abstention gives India greater flexibility with Sri Lanka, greater ability to push for changes that Mahinda Rajapakse needs to undertake. Rajapakse has taken several steps in the last year like holding provincial council elections in the north which did not happen because of the HRC vote, but because of intensive Indian diplomacy. “Things will go in the right direction now,” said diplomatic sources following relations with the island nation.

If India had failed to stand with Sri Lanka at this time, it would not be able to stop Chinese influence spreading in the country. Moreover, the government has concluded that many countries pushing the resolution are being pressured by their Tamil-Lankan diaspora. India is wary of allowing its policies to be dictated by such interests, though in the past couple of years the UPA government has caved in to short-sighted tamil politics endangering India’s foreign policy. This year marks a correction in what most foreign policy analysts called a downward trajectory.

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Explaining why it abstained from the vote, MEA said, “It has been India’s firm belief that adopting an intrusive approach that undermines national sovereignty and institutions is counterproductive…. any external investigative mechanism with an openended mandate to monitor national processes for protection of human rights in a country, is not reflective of the constructive approach of dialogue and cooperation envisaged by UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 that created the HRC in 2006 as well as the UNGA resolution 65/281 that reviewed the HRC in 2011.” The passage of the resolution was welcomed by human rights groups. Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch said, “This is a welcome decision, and one that will encourage victims and activists in Sri Lanka who have strived so courageously for accountability and justice.

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