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EXPLAINED: Why India voted against Sri Lanka at UNHRC

Last updated on: March 23, 2012 00:21 IST

"Sri Lanka is our next door neighbour. Geography bounds us. We have overwhelming trade ties with them. India is their biggest trade partner and the largest investor in Sri Lanka. Every fifth tourist in Sri Lanka arrives from India. Both countries' bilateral relation are so intertwined that both of us will soon take India's vote against them in the United Nations Human Rights Council in their stride." says an Indian government officer involved in bilateral trade ties while responding to the query, by, if the Indian stand would be advantage China in the Island nation.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said after the voting, ''We had to weigh the pros and cons. What we did was in line with our stand.'' The Indian side insists that they have voted in favour of resolution only because it is 'non judgmental and non-intrusive'.

Soon after the voting, Indian diplomats were going at length to explain, "We don't see any contradictions in the position we have taken on Sri Lanka and in general." 

After the controversial vote against Sri Lanka, Indian sources in New Delhi highlighted how India played part in diluting the draft of the American sponsored resolution.

India insisted one correction in the preamble and another in the body of the draft.

The sources said that India managed to add a paragraph which said "recalling Council resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 on institution building of the Human Rights Council" which signified that resolution is not affecting Sri Lanka's sovereignty.

The other change was in reference to the wording of the last para of the resolution which talks about providing advice and technical assistance on implementing the agenda of the resolution.

The final amendment says that the advice and technical assistance would be provided "in consultation with and with the concurrence of" the government of Sri Lanka. Earlier Sri Lnka was asked 'to accept'.

In the 47-member UNHRC, 24 countries including India, voted for the resolution and 15 against it, while eight nations abstained.

Sri Lanka, China, Uganda, Indonesia, Maldives, Bangladesh, Cuba, Congo, Ecuador, Kuwait, Mauritania, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand voted against the resolution.

Angola, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Djibouti, Jordan, Malaysia, Kyrgyzstan, and Senegal abstained from voting. United States, Mexico, India, Nigeria, Austria, Belgium, Benin, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungary, Italy, Libya, Mauritius, Norway, Peru, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay voted in favor of the resolution.

A Ministry of External Affairs statement says, "India believes that the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights lies with the States. Consequently resolutions of this nature should fully respect the sovereign rights of states and contribute to Sri Lanka's own efforts in this regard."

India had welcomed the recommendations of Sri Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. India, after the voting, kept repeating that it wants Sri Lanka to move forward on basis of the LLRC report and have dialogue for a political settlement of ethnic minority.

Since India has resisted all kinds of efforts of international organizations of outside interventions in Jammu and Kashmir and other sensitive issues, the Indian government took care on Thursday to see that no ambiguity remained on why India voted for the resolution.

When asked about the nature of technical assistance to Sri Lanka that the resolution is talking about the Indian sources insisted, "The UN body will not be "monitoring", it is merely the technical assistance. 'Advice' will be given only with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan government."

The Indian statement added that India has been involved in a substantial way in the rehabilitation and resettlement efforts, and the reconstruction process in Northern Sri Lanka.

India is engaged in Sri Lanka in the areas of housing, de-mining, education, public health and connectivity that has helped restore a degree of normalcy in the area.

The issue before the government on Thursday to vote or not to vote was so complex that the ministry's statement even reminded the world, "As a neighbour with thousands of years of cordial relations with Lanka, with deep-rooted spiritual and cultural ties, we cannot remain untouched by developments in that country. We have been bound also by a shared quest for freedom and dignity. We will continue to remain engaged with the government of Sri Lanka to take forward the process of reconciliation to secure for all its citizens a future marked by equality, dignity, justice and self-respect."

In New Delhi it was believed that India changed it's stand under pressure from Tamilian political parties of Tamil Nadu, but sources claimed in view of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj party's clear stand in favour of government in the last three days, it is clear that the government was not facing any risk even if Dravida Munettra Kazhagam would have opted out of the coalition.

Obviously, the combination of political, diplomatic and strategic reasons worked behind the decision to vote against Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Plantation Industries minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, forcefully rejected the US-sponsored resolution terming it as "misconceived, unwarranted and ill-timed".

India is well-aware of the Sri Lankan position. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G L Peiris was in touch with the Indian side until the last moment.

Indian sources said, "India has ensured that the UN exercise will be only restricted to 'assistance to Sri Lanka."

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi