UN Human Rights Council sells out Sri Lanka's Tamils

The UN Human Rights Council May 27 dropped a Swiss-EU draft resolution calling for an investigation into possible war crimes during Sri Lanka's recently-concluded war on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and adopted Sri Lanka's counter-resolution. Of the 47-member Council, 29 voted for Sri Lanka's resolution, 12 against and six abstained. UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Council there is credible evidence both the armed forces and LTTE grossly violated international law.

But Sri Lanka—backed by China, India and Pakistan—managed to push through its own resolution. The text condemns the Tamil Tigers and "welcomes...the liberation by the government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE against their will as hostages." The Council called on Sri Lanka to "continue strengthening its activities to ensure there was no discrimination against ethnic minorities in the enjoyment of the full range of human rights." (The Hindu, May 29)

Writing in the London Times June 1, Catherine Philp sees a deft strategy by Sri Lanka's government to play the regional powers off against each other—characterized now by a tilt away from India and the West, and towards China and Russia (links added):

China's role in the Sri Lankan civil war is well known. Its deal to build a major port at Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka is part of a regional strategy to create a "string of pearls" of friendly harbours in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma, along key shipping routes through the Indian Ocean. Less well known is India's involvement in this and other deals. It was Delhi, not Beijing, that Sri Lanka first approached over the Hambantota deal. But having no need of a port so close to home India declined.

China's entry into Sri Lanka has put India in an awkward position. Should it refuse any of Sri Lanka's wishes, like weaponry and training, it knows that Beijing will be the next number Colombo calls. Any pressure India might try to exert on Sri Lanka is cancelled out by Chinese acquiescence, and—worse still for India—Pakistan's acquiescence.

Pakistan has been selling arms to Sri Lanka with China's encouragement throughout the last stages of the civil war. Hence the bizarre partnership of India, China and Pakistan on the supporting side of Sri Lanka's self-adulating resolution at the UN Human Rights Council.

Next month, for the first time, Sri Lanka will attend the Shanghai Co-operation Council as a dialogue partner, a blessing bestowed by Russia and China in recognition of its importance in the new Indian Ocean great game.

Russia, which continues to growl over NATO expansion in Eastern Europe, is also observing keenly any activity in the Indian Ocean. Already NATO has encroached up to the Persian Gulf. In October 2007 it conducted its first ever naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, part of an American strategy to establish NATO's presence in this crucial region. Russia, Iran—and even China — fear NATO's expanding alliance with Pakistan will give it a foothold in the region.

See our last post on Sri Lanka.

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Sri Lanka bars access to refugee camps

The Red Cross has been barred from visiting some camps in Sri Lanka to check on people held by the government since the country's military defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels, the agency's president said May 27 in Geneva. "We have access to some camps and we don't have access to others," said Jakob Kellenberger.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually refrains from publicly criticizing governments, is mandated under the Geneva Conventions to aid victims of warfare. But the ICRC, like the UN and other aid agencies, complained that the Sri Lankan government denied it access to the war zone during the final weeks of the conflict. The other agencies also had access to the camps restricted since the war's end.

Most of the displaced persons have been confined in Manik Farm, described by the UN as the world's largest displacement camp—housing 210,000 people in endless rows of white tents on a 570-hectare lot of former scrubland in the country's north. (AP, May 30)