In a pragmatic move, which has sound geo-political and economic basis, the Sri Lankan ‘national’ government of major parties, headed by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, on Thursday co-sponsored with the United States and an overwhelming majority of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a resolution which ties Colombo to far-reaching institutional reforms for bringing about reconciliation and accountability. Among the reforms, one which will have an immediate impact on the ethnic question is the establishment of an ad hoc Judicial Mechanism with the participation of foreign judges and other legal personnel to try cases of alleged war crimes and rights abuses. Lanka’s historic step at Geneva stemmed from its new rulers’ desire to abjure divisive and confrontationist domestic and international politics, which had taken the country to rack and ruin, and opt for dialogue and accommodation. The Tamil problem, the root cause of Lanka’s woes, may now move towards a solution with the country’s judicial system acquiring legitimacy and credibility in Tamil eyes.
India, which faces a potentially destabilising fallout from the Lankan Tamil problem, will be relieved. Former president Rajapaksa had driven India to despair as he dragged his feet on the devolution of power to the Tamils. Except for a decade under President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Lanka was looked upon with disfavour by the West because of its uncompromisingly confrontationist approach to the Tamil question. Under Rajapaksa, it was in danger of facing unaffordable western trade and economic sanctions. It stood to lose a huge trade surplus of USD 2.5 billion with the US, and also Euro 2.3 billion worth of exports to the EU. China, which the Rajapaksa government favoured, is no substitute, importing only goods USD 153 million. The present government’s Look West policy promises to bring in FDI and the restoration of GSP Plus concessions for a wide range of Lankan exports.
But, Sinhalese ‘nationalists’ led by Rajapaksa will denounce the stand taken in Geneva as a ‘sellout’ to recapture power. But if, unlike its predecessors, the present government implements its commitments, thereby satisfying the Tamil minority, and also convinces the majority Sinhalese to accept the deal, the Tamil problem will be mitigated and the resultant peace will benefit all stakeholders.