UN rights council to take up competing resolutions on Sri Lanka war crimes, aid

Sri Lanka will fight a resolution backed by Western nations calling for an inquiry into possible war crimes during the conflict against the Tamil Tigers.

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The United Nations Human Rights Council is expected to clash Tuesday over two competing resolutions on how to provide aid to thousands of people displaced by the Sri Lankan military campaign against the Tamil Tigers.

The first resolution, tabled by Switzerland and supported by European countries, proposes that international aid agencies be given direct access to those affected by the long-running war, including more than 300,000 people housed in government camps. It also calls for investigations into possible war crimes during the conflict against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A counterresolution, tabled by Sri Lanka and backed by powerful allies including China, Russia, and India, calls for the UN to cooperate with the Sri Lankan government in providing humanitarian assistance.

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During the session, Sri Lanka is expected to clash with Western countries as it attempts to curtail investigations into allegations of war crimes, reports The Times of London. Tuesday's special session on Sri Lanka was requested by 17 nations, including France, Germany, Britain, and Canada. A Human Rights Commission special session has been convened on only 10 previous occasions.

Observers at yesterday's preliminary meeting in Geneva, which was described as acrimonious, said that the 47-member Council was divided over the European resolution, with 18 countries for and 18 against. The other nine are undecided….
The two competing agendas clashed in the preliminary meeting when an Asian bloc led by India, Pakistan and Malaysia argued for today's special session to be abandoned altogether. India, China and Egypt walked out of the meeting after this was refused.
Sri Lanka goes into today's meeting backed by powerful new allies such as China, which provided much of the military hardware for the final offensive that defeated the Tamil Tigers last week after a 25-year war….
Several undecided countries, including Chile and Mexico, are pressing for a compromise resolution incorporating elements of both drafts.

International human rights groups are dissatisfied with the European resolution because it fails to call for an international war crimes inquiry and instead suggests that Sri Lanka launch internal investigations, reports Agence France-Presse.

Although the European-led text targeted violations during the conflict and backed investigations, the watchdog group UN Watch dismissed it as "a joke".
"Despite the call by UN rights officials for an international inquiry into possible war crimes, the proposal instead asks Sri Lanka to investigate itself -- it's a joke," said UN Watch's executive director Hillel Neuer….
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch said that the Council needed to examine the creation of an impartial commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights violations committed by both parties as a matter of urgency.

Analysts have said that UN's stance on Sri Lanka remains undecided due to the lack of independent assessments of ground realities. According to The Christian Science Monitor, access to the northeastern war zone remains rare even after the defeat of the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan government has granted only sporadic access to aid workers of the International Committee of the Red Cross to supply food aid and help the injured. Journalists and independent observers, meanwhile, are denied access to the region.

"There's only one thing you can surmise from this," says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives. "The government doesn't want the world to see what happened there – or is currently happening there."...
International observers argue that it needs urgent access to the former battle zone to not just check on civilians left behind but also to provide a safeguard against human rights violations, torture, and arbitrary detention for any remaining Tamil Tiger rebels.

According to the Daily Telegraph, a London-based newspaper, the government has been accused of "ethnic cleansing" in Tamil areas in Sri Lanka's northeast region.

Aid officials, human rights campaigners and politicians claim Tamils have been driven out of areas in the north-east of the country by killings and kidnappings carried out by pro-government militias.
They say the government has simultaneously encouraged members of the Sinhalese majority in the south to relocate to the vacated villages….
[A local campaigner for the families of Tamils who have disappeared] said much of the "ethnic cleansing" was being done in the name of economic development in which Tamil villagers were being moved out to make way for new roads, power plants and irrigation schemes, while Sinhalese workers were being drafted in with incentives including free land and housing.

But the Sri Lankan government denies such reports and insists it is in favor of a national reconciliation campaign. On the eve of the Human Rights Commission session, a Sri Lankan government official said international monitoring was unacceptable, reports The Nation, a Sri Lankan daily.

The international community is welcome to provide Sri Lanka with assistance, but it should be according to the wishes of the people of this country, including the people of the North, Senior Presidential Advisor and MP Basil Rakapaksa said in a message to the international community.
"If they want to be our friends, then they should be genuine friends. We do not want 'monitors,' we need partners. Be our partners in this task to help our people," Rajapaksa said.

An opinion piece in an Indian newspaper, the Deccan Herald, argues that the Human Rights Commission's disagreement on how to tackle Sri Lanka is evidence of a global power play underway in the Indian Ocean.

In essence, Sri Lanka is the theatre where Russia and China are frontally challenging the US's incremental global strategy to establish NATO presence in the Indian Ocean region. The US has succeeded in bringing the NATO up to the Persian Gulf region. The NATO is swiftly expanding its relationship with Pakistan. But it is Sri Lanka that will be the jewel in the NATO's Indian Ocean crown. Russia and China (and Iran) are determined to frustrate the US geo-strategy. The hard reality, therefore, is that geopolitics is sidetracking Sri Lanka's Tamil problem.

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government on Tuesday rejected the Tamil Tigers' offer to participate in the country's democratic process after being defeated last week, reports the BBC.

In an interview with the BBC, [Sri Lankan defense secretary] Gotabhaya Rajapaksa said the LTTE rebels could not be trusted to give up "terrorism"....
He said: "I do not believe the LTTE can enter a democratic process after years of their violent activities." He added that there were "enough democratic Tamil political parties in the country" to represent the Tamil minority....
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