India has assured support at U.N. Human Rights Council, says Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary...

India has assured support at U.N. Human Rights Council, says Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary

Jayanath Colombage’s statement comes just days before member countries vote on a new resolution on the island nation’s rights record. 

India has assured Sri Lanka of its support at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage has said, just days before member countries vote on a new resolution on the island nation’s rights record.

Sources in the Ministry of External Affairs in India told The Hindu that no decision on the vote has been “conveyed” yet, while Mr. Colombage said Sri Lanka “greatly appreciates” India’s position, “being the superpower they are.”

The state-run Daily News on Thursday reported the senior Foreign Ministry official’s remarks, made at a recent “digital dialogue” hosted by Sri Lanka’s Media Centre for National Development, a month-old initiative aimed at publicising the government’s efforts locally and internationally.

Contentious issue

Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva usually trigger sharp responsesfrom nationalist forces within Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist majority who see the process as “targeting” their country and “interfering with its sovereignty”. The Rajapaksa government, whose core support comes from Sinhala Buddhist nationalists, has “categorically rejected” the U.N. Human Rights chief’s latest report, while accusing the Council of being “politically motivated”, even as a ‘core group’ comprising the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Malawi, and Montenegro tables the new resolution.

Meanwhile, Colombo has also been reaching out to member countries during the past weeks, pitching its version of Sri Lanka’s post-war realities that the U.N. resolutions seek to address. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among other leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, seeking support at the 47-member Council where Colombo anticipates a hostile resolution. Mr. Rajapaksa spoke to Mr. Modi over telephone last week, reportedly following up on the letter earlier sent. China has officially declared its support to Sri Lanka.

All eyes are on India’s vote, not only because of its “influence” in the Council, but also because of its own tensions with Colombo, following the Rajapaksa government’s recent decisions on strategic projects involving India and China. Given India’s pressing geopolitical concerns in the island nation, and stated support for Tamil aspirations, it remains to be seen how New Delhi will approach the vote scheduled on March 22.

The only official intervention made by India so far on Sri Lanka at the ongoing 46th session of the Council in Geneva, was the statement by Permanent Representative of India Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, who spoke of India’s “consistent position” resting on two pillars of support to Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity, and an “abiding commitment” to Tamil aspirations for “equality, justice, peace and dignity”. “These are no either-or choices,” the PR had said, calling for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.

Apart from reminding Sri Lanka of its several pending commitments and failed promises on delivering truth, justice, and promoting reconciliation, the latest resolution calls for power devolution through the 13th Amendment.

Of the seven resolutions on Sri Lanka adopted by the Council since the end of the war in 2009, only four were contested and put to vote. India voted for three of those in 2009, 2012 and 2013, and abstained in 2014. The three resolutions adopted from 2015 were consensual and co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, eliminating the need for a vote.

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