India believes that New Delhi has acquired greater leverage with Sri Lanka and therefore can apply more pressure to achieve its aims following abstention on the vote in Geneva that approved an international probe by United Nations Human Rights Council on human rights abuses in the last stages of the Lankan civil war.
On Thursday, India abstained on the US-sponsored vote in the UNHRC, which was a break from the pattern of the last two years. The explanation given was that the resolution called for a probe by an international organisation, which would be intrusive and counterproductive.
A day later, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh reiterated that India’s position at UNHRC was the right thing to do. “We believe that our decision to abstain on the UNHRC resolution adopted on Thursday will strengthen our hand in achieving our objectives vis-a-vis the Tamil community in Lanka,” Sujatha Singh said on Friday.
She added, “We must understand that the international community needs to work with the Government of Sri Lanka in ensuring justice and progress for the Tamils in Sri Lanka”.
She clearly said India expected more progress from Sri Lanka in the areas of “missing persons, detainees, reduction of high security zones, return of private lands by the military, and withdrawal of security forces from the civilian domain in the Northern Province”.
The foreign secretary believes “Our abstention on Thursday is in the best interest of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and will assist us in our efforts to help them. Additionally, it is also in the interest of the fishermen’s communities in Tamil Nadu and in Puducherry.”
In the same breath, she highlighted that the Sri Lankan government had released all Indian fishermen in custody as a ‘good will gesture’. “This is the first step towards a long-term solution to the fishermen’s issue,” she said, referring to the release of 98 Indian fishermen and 23 boats earlier on Friday by the Lankan government.
When asked why ‘sentiments’ of TN were discounted in not supporting the resolution, a senior government official said the views of the State government and people were considered carefully, but ultimately it was a balancing act between various factors.
The ‘final objective’ of all the parties, as well as the Indian government was to be able to give a fair deal for Lankan Tamils within the framework of a united Sri Lanka, it was pointed out.
“Lanka has already rejected the resolution... If India had voted yes, how will it have helped to achi-
eve the objective of bettering the lives of the Tamils?” asked a senior official of external affairs ministry.
On the issue of Colombo repeatedly blocking the implementation of 13th amendment, the official said it was not an easy issue, but expected some progress on this matter. “Even on this, what result can you expect through an international resolution, that you will not get through dialogue,” said the official.
Officials here insisted that the best way to push Colombo to make concessions was not through the multilateral route, but on bilateral basis.
Making a direct link between India’s abstention and release of fishermen, officials were hopeful of more positive development to find a solution to this intractable solution, once another meeting between fishermen association from both sides took place.