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India Confronts Sri Lanka over Tamils at UNHRC

Context

India chastised Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for failing to meet its commitments to find a political solution to the ethnic Tamil minority issue.

Relevance

GS Paper – 2: Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India’s Interests, India and its Neighbourhood

Mains Question

“Despite deep ties, India and Sri Lanka have experienced some unpleasantness in bilateral relations in recent years.” Discuss. (150 Words)


Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UNHRC)

  • The Human Rights Council is a United Nations system inter-governmental body.
  • The UN General Assembly established the council in 2006, with headquarters in Geneva.
  • It is composed of 47 states that are responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights worldwide.
  • The majority of General Assembly members directly and individually elect 47 Member States by secret ballot.
    • Candidates for the Human Rights Council are chosen in geographical groups to ensure equal representation.
  • Members of the Council serve for three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms.
  • The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is the organization’s top human rights official.
  • The council meets three times a year to investigate human rights violations around the world.

The Tamil Problem

  • Since the early 1940s, tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities had been building.
  • In May 2009, the nearly three-decade-long armed conflict between Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE came to an end.
  • Since then, the Indian government has been lobbying the Sri Lankan government for greater devolution of power to Tamils.
  • India has emphasised the importance of national reconciliation through political resolution of the ethnic issue at the highest levels.

The 13th amendment to Sri Lanka’s Constitution

  • In November 1987, the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, with the goal of establishing provincial councils based on the provisions of the July 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord.
  • The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides for:
    • The formation of Provincial Councils
    • The Governor of Provinces’ appointment and powers
    • Provincial Council membership and tenure
    • The Provincial Councils’ legislative powers
    • Tamil as the official language, with English as a liaison language
  • Elections were held in three provinces: Northern, Central, and North Western. The terms of Sri Lanka’s nine provincial councils, on the other hand, expired about three years ago and have remained dormant since.
  • India has expressed concern about Sri Lanka’s lack of measurable progress toward a political solution to the ethnic issue through full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
  • India made this statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 51st session in Geneva.
  • India emphasised that its two fundamental concerns remain:
    • Support for Lankan Tamils seeking justice, dignity, and peace;
    • Sri Lanka’s unity, stability, and territorial integrity.

The importance of this statement

  • India’s statement comes ahead of a possible Council vote on a resolution on Sri Lanka.
  • Since 2009, India has voted three times in favour of the United Nations. two critical resolutions on Sri Lanka, and abstained twice, in 2014 and 2021.
  • Regardless of its vote, India has consistently emphasised the importance of a political settlement within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, ensuring justice, peace, equality, and dignity for Sri Lanka’s Tamils.

Why is Sri Lanka in the crosshairs of the UN Human Rights Council

  • Survivors of Sri Lanka’s civil war continue to demand justice and accountability for war crimes 13 years after the conflict ended.
    • It is claimed that tens of thousands of civilians were killed and disappeared during Sri Lanka’s civil war.
  • Concerns were raised in the post-war years about continued militarization, particularly in the Tamil-majority north and east; repression; and the shrinking space for dissent.
  • In its most recent report on Sri Lanka, the U.N. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, “embedded impunity for past and present human rights abuses, economic crimes, and corruption was one of the underlying factors that led to the country’s devastating economic crisis.”

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October 2022
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