The adoption of a US-sponsored resolution at the UN Human Rights Council at Geneva today should not be seen as the end of the world by Colombo although it fought tooth and nail to get the resolution defeated.
What must have hurt Sri Lanka the most was India’s 180 degree turn and decision to go with the US.
To begin with the resolution for “Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka” is not binding.
And, the last paragraph amended at the very last minute should give Colombo some kind of a face saver.
The amended last paragraph said: “Encourages the OHCHR (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights ) and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide,… IN CONSULTATION WITH, AND WITH THE CONCURRENCE OF, the GoSL (Govt of Sri Lanka) to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing the … steps.” (emphasis mine)
Colombo will of course see this as the rap on the knuckles by the international community.
India however says it worked very hard to get this amendment included so as to make the resolution “non-intrusive.”
An Indian External Affairs Ministry statement explaining why India voted in favour of the resolution said: “India subscribe to broader message of resolution & objectives it promotes.”
“India Will continue to remain engaged with Govt of Sri Lanka to take forward process of reconciliation,” the note said.
At best this is glossing over ground realities.
One look at who voted with Sri Lanka and it should be clear that India is losing ground in Sri Lanka.
China, Russia, Maldives, Indonesia, much of ASEAN in fact supported Colombo.
Despite India stressing on “thousands of years of cordial relationship” with Sri Lanka, today’s development will drive Colombo further into China’s arms.
As a long-time observer of Sri Lankan affairs remarked in the immediate aftermath of the vote: “India has just handed over its backyard to China.”
More worryingly, the resolution may trigger another round of aggressive chauvinism by the majority Sinhalas and repressive measures by a wounded Government against ethnic Tamils in the Island nation.
The Sri Lankan state has repeatedly said that it needs “time and space” to complete the process of rehabilitation and reconciliation.”
Now it may be tempted to go slow with those measures.
In the short term Colombo will also be peeved enough to make India’s task of contributing to the welfare of Sri Lankan Tamils that much more difficult. So the very very Tamils whom India wants protected may be the losers in short and medium term.
India may continue to think Colombo has no choice but to remain engaged with New Delhi in the ultimate analysis but the but the fact is: India has repeated its mistake of allowing the US to set the agenda in its own neighbourhood as it did almost two decades ago in its policy towards Myanmar.
That time, smitten by the prospects of cosying up to Washington India went against its own national interest, supported Aung san Suu kyi and contributed to declaring Myanmar a pariah state only to reverse the policy in less than five years to once again re-engage with the military junta.
By that time China had already made huge inroads into Myanmar.
The same scenario may play out in Sri Lanka in the next half a decade.
For all its wishy-washy explanation, India has proved the adage that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.