We have seen how the human rights violation issue is often used by terrorist and insurgent organisations and their supporters to demoralise the security forces.
We had seen how after the Khalistani terrorism was defeated in Punjab, dozens of police officers were sought to be harassed in Punjab on the ground that they had allegedly violated the human rights of the people while putting down terrorism. A senior Indian Police Service officer, who was harassed by human rights activists, even committed suicide. He was unable to bear the humiliation and the mental harassment.
We had also seen how India was sought to be reprimanded before the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva in 1994 for allegedly violating the human rights of the Kashmiris. Pakistan, which spearheaded the campaign against India, failed to have India rebuked due to lack of support from Iran and other countries.
We should keep our past experience in mind while taking a decision on what should be our stand on the resolution which is proposed to be moved by the US and some other countries in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva against Sri Lanka for alleged violations of the human rights of the Tamils by the Sri Lankan Army while putting down the terrorism and insurgency of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.
Certain issues need to be underlined. Firstly, the Sri Lankan Army had every right and obligation to crush the LTTE, which had carried out innumerable acts of horrendous terrorism in Sri Lankan and Indian territory, including the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, our former Prime Minister, in May 1991.
Secondly, there were serious violations of the human rights of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan Army during its anti-LTTE operations. These violations were partly due to the disproportionate use of force by the Sri Lankan Army and partly due to the deliberate use of civilians by the LTTE in order to protect itself.
Thirdly, disproportionate use of force during counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations had taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan too, but they were not considered as amounting to war crimes. It will be absurd and unfair to treat the violations in Sri Lanka as amounting to war crimes, as demanded by the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora which has been in the forefront of the campaign against the Sri Lankan government.
Fourthly, the fact that the LTTE had indulged in horrible acts of terrorism against the civilian population is not an excuse for the violations of the human rights of the Tamils by the Sri Lankan security forces. These violations call for a full-fledged enquiry and follow-up action against those responsible. Instead of doing so, the Sri Lankan government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been conducting itself in an unsophisticated and crude manner while evading its responsibility for holding enquiries that would carry conviction to the Tamils living in Sri Lanka, whose conviction is more important than that of the Tamil diaspora.
Fifthly, the credibility of the Rajapaksa government has been further undermined by its wriggling out of the commitments to India and other States of the international community for finding a satisfactory political solution to meet the aspirations of the Tamils. After having crushed the LTTE, it has been trying to impose a dictated political solution on the Tamils and has disregarded all the promises that it had made to India in this regard.
Sixthly, the government of India finds itself in a dilemma as a result of the duplicity of the Rajapaksa government after it succeeded against the LTTE.
Despite India’s justified dissatisfaction against the Rajapaksa government, it would be counter-productive for it to join the US and other countries in having Sri Lanka condemned before the UN HRC. It is totally incorrect and unwise on the part of the Tamil Nadu political parties to exercise undue pressure on an increasingly weakening Manmohan Singh government to join the US and others in having Sri Lanka condemned.
While standing against the condemnation of Sri Lanka by the UNHRC, India should use all means of political and economic pressure at its disposal to make the Rajapaksa government hold credible enquiries into the human rights violations with follow-up action against those responsible and to meet its commitments to the Tamil people.
India should not hesitate to use the big stick against the Rajapaksa government due to fears that it might drive it into the arms of China and Pakistan. Indian unhappiness can hurt Sri Lanka and it should be made clear that we would not hesitate to hurt it if it continues to follow its present policy of duplicity.
Our present dilemma in Sri Lanka is due to our inability and unwillingness to talk and act tough when the time for it has come. The time to use the big stick has come.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies