INDIA: GHE fear at New Delhi 

INDIA: GHE fear at New Delhi

Reading the proposed draft resolution mooted at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) concerning human rights in Sri Lanka, one cannot help wonder why India did not propose such a resolution before? Today by delaying in arriving at a decision, whether to support the resolution or not, India has once again proved that it lacks leadership, courage and political wisdom expected of it to lead the world on issues concerning human rights and democracy. Not supporting the resolution would earn India a unique position to be shared with some of its clouded neighbours for pushing the island nation further deep into chaos that would result in further loss of lives and freedom from which there would be no easy return.

At the core of the draft resolution is the state responsibility of Sri Lanka to protect, promote and fulfil its human rights mandate to its citizens. No country, India included, has legitimacy in arguing that such a discussion and a resolution therefore should not occur in a body like the UNHRC. The states that interpret such a discussion as encroachment into a country’s sovereignty or ‘punishing’ Sri Lanka share similar human rights records like the island nation. The question to be asked then is what is India’s position on its global responsibility, just like any other member state in the UN, in protecting, promoting and fulfilling human rights?

Indeed it is true that the floor of the UN has been used to ostracise and isolate states. It will be so as long as states interpret what human rights implies according to their whims, to better suit their diplomacy and political agendas, which is influenced by manifold factors, including a state’s business interests. For instance, United States, that has taken the lead to propose the debate, itself does not have a satisfactory human rights record. In fact many of its acts could be interpreted as crimes against humanity, committed against alien populations across the world. The infamous ‘Bush doctrine’ is an example.

The world has not forgiven the despicable role played by the US preventing the UN arriving at a timely and appropriate decision during the civil war in Rwanda. One could cite many more, not just about the US, but also about France, United Kingdom, China, Japan and India from the immediate and distant past. None of this however limits a state’s right to point out back as black and white as white in a body like the UN. It is at this point that one may convincingly argue of the many roles that the UN play globally through the opinions of its member states, fundamentally to ensure and guaranty universal human rights to every person of the world, Sri Lankans included.

One cannot however find a convincing place for a country like India to tow along with other proponents of the fake Asian value theory and thereby not support a resolution concerning human rights in Sri Lanka. It is important thus to know what is being mooted in the resolution?

In essence the proposed resolution encourages Sri Lanka to “credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, demilitarise the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, revaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement involving devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right to freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms.”

It would be hard for a country like India and for its people to accept that the country’s government is opposed to all this from being achieved in a neighbouring state. No Indian, including those who form the government, could read a different meaning in the above quote from what Indians hold close to their heart as the basic document – the constitution – that promises to every citizen dignity, freedom, independence and equality. So what is this uncertainty about?

It at this that Indians must pay more attention to what Government of India is up to, like their other cloudy counterparts in the neighbourhood. The head-scratching exercise in New Delhi whether to support or not a resolution, which means nothing more than encouraging a country fulfil its human rights mandate, is perhaps because India is scared that similar debates could come up concerning human rights violations in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Nagaland, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

Or what is India’s business and military interest with Sri Lanka that is at stake that New Delhi is scared to deal with Colombo in a manner appropriate for a government that calls it democratically elected? Or is it just one more example of double standards by India, from its public declaration after a ministerial visit to Colombo that human rights is a fundamental norm that India encourages Sri Lanka to comply and Colombo readily agreeing? Or is New Delhi afraid of Colombo looking further northeast, which Sri Lanka has been doing since the past four years? Are fundamental human rights of lesser priority to political interest in New Delhi? What national interest could be protected negating basic human rights? Perhaps New Delhi cannot offer an answer to any of these questions.

In fact keeping silent or negating human rights dialogues is the real punishment that India could award to Sri Lanka. This is because what is going to be discussed is not about the legality of those who hold ministerial positions in Colombo, but is about the unconditional duty of a government to guarantee fundamental human rights to its people. It is support for such debates and initiatives that India has promised – voluntarily to its citizens and to the world – while contesting successfully twice for a seat at the UN Human Rights Council, and some 67 years before by becoming one of the founding members of the UN, five years before the country declared to the rest of the world that it is a sovereign, [socialist, secular], democratic republic, assuring its citizens justice, equality, and liberty. Which government in India can legitimately form a policy beyond this mandate?

The resolution mooted is the product of civil society lobbying to ensure human rights and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. The Indian civil society also is part of this larger global grouping. However, India is still to upgrade it’s diplomatic hardware and architecture to meet the sophisticated standards of today’s civil society networking and their lobby power as opposed to the past.

The country’s civil society has not been and will not become a spokesperson with malicious interest for anybody outside its border. Viewing public opinion as ‘foreign funded’ is a failed democratic vision, which the Prime Minister of India and many of his cabinet colleagues endorse. It is the cold war era, Lee Kuan Yew and Hun Sen style, rhetoric. It is a spent currency of no value in today’s world.

Citizens today know much more than what the government wishes the people should know. No government in the world can prevent this anymore. Calling opinion makers foreign mercenaries shows the immaturity of the government. All governments that have opposed the resolution against Sri Lanka are infamous for having such 1970 dead debate as a national policy. Worst of them all perhaps is Hun Sen who asked Dr. Yash Ghai to attend to human rights violations happening in Kenya than spent time on Cambodia when Dr. Ghai was the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights (termed as a Rapporteur on Cambodia since 2008) in Cambodia.

Dr. Manmohan Singh though has voluntarily subscribed to this club; the Asian Legal Resource Centre expects that Dr. Singh’s cabinet will have the collective wisdom to advice the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister that refusing to encourage a neighbour like Sri Lanka to protect, promote and fulfil its human rights mandate is definitely not the wish of the country’s people.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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