Most governments vote in international arenas based on special interests and in block interests. Before the fall of the European socialist states, there were two defined political blocks, which often voted antagonistically.
Poor countries in the “Third World” tended to vote with one or the other superpower. In the last two decades voting tendencies have usually been based on north-south, rich-poor interests; China and Russia are sometimes with the other capitalist and Western states.
Last month, March 22, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) made a shift from the May 2009 vote that applauded Sri Lanka’s government for crushing a popular Tamil liberation movement seeking their own nation within the state of Sri Lanka. The quarter-century-long armed struggle, fought by the guerrilla organization Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE), ended May 18, 2009.
This time, a crack in geo-political voting occurred when the majority voted to criticize the Sri Lankan government for “not adequately address[ing] serious allegations of violations of international law” —24 in favor, 15 against and 8 abstentions. Within a few weeks time at the end of the war, at least 40,000 civilian Tamils were massacred as they were shelled in three so-called No Fire Zones to which the government told the people to flee.
The new resolution simply called upon Sri Lanka to implement its own findings and recommendations made in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report.
The resolution added that the government should also “initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.” (“Independent action” is not defined.)
Furthermore, the resolution “encourages” the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to offer the government “advice and technical assistance” in implementing the LLRC recommendations, and to make a report on the provision a year from now.
Although quite bland, the resolution does imply a lack of confidence in the Sri Lankan government to enact even its own mild investigation. In so doing, it prevents discussion of a more solid international and independent investigation into serious allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity that the “Report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka” called for last year.
Strife between the majority Sinhalese (70%) and the minority Tamils (ca.15%) stretches over more than 2000 years on this island-state. They were organized in kingdoms and sometimes fought each other before colonialization, between the 16th and 20th centuries by Portugal, Holland and England.
Since independence in 1947, the Sinhalese have ruled over the Tamils like a colonial power. There is enforced legal discrimination and inequality against Tamils in language, religion, education and jobs. For three decades, Tamil political organizations and parties resisted, using non-violent tactics. They were met with severe brutality by police, the military and armed civilians led by Buddhist monks. Several thousands of Tamils have been hacked and/or burnt to death, mutilated, raped and tortured to death during half-a-dozen pogroms.
Seeing no way out, young Tamils took up arms in the late 1970s and a war of liberation was fought. Many governments of all stripes, capitalist and socialist, rich and poor condemned the movement because the people sought their own nationhood and because the LTTE was labeled terrorist by India, US, UK, EU, Russia, China, even Cuba and progressive Latin American governments.
Although it was the greatest terrorist state in the world that introduced this critical resolution, the United States is a partner in the war crimes and in genocide against Tamils. It always backed Sinhalese chauvinism. But it sees an opportunity here to polish its image as a “human rights supporter” while maintaining systematic human rights abuse in its torture chambers and its many invasions and military interventions in the world.
It was China, as well as Russia, Israel and Iran and Pakistan (not exactly blood brothers) that gave and sold more military hardware to Sri Lanka in the last two-three years of war to annihilate the LTTE. The US-UK-NATO offered far less in this period given that they were bogged down in the Middle East, but over the years their military contribution against a Tamil homeland amounted to 40% of all weapons sales to the Sinhalese government.
Latin America and Africa changed votes significantly. In 2009, all of the African governments on the Council voted in favor of Sri Lanka with one abstention. This time the vote was split with five for the slight criticism, three opposed and five abstentions.
In 2009, five Latin American governments voted to support Sri Lanka, two voted for the minor critique (Chile and Mexico) and Argentine abstained.
This time six governments voted for the critique with only the two ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America) governments voting against any critique (Cuba and Ecuador).
The Middle Eastern governments all voted not to criticize with one abstention, the same pattern as in 2009.
Europe, west and east, voted the same way: slight critique.
Russia and China fully backed Sri Lanka both times.
The countries still on the Council since 2009, which changed their votes from support of Sri Lanka to critique are: Cameroon and Nigeria; India; Uruguay.
The most significant reversal is India, given its several decades’-long-relationship supporting the Island nation so close to it.
Uruguay’s change is also important. Its new president, José Mujica, was a left-wing guerrilla who spent 15 years in prison, two years at the bottom of a well. He has placed poverty as the first order of business. The fact that two African governments have reversed their vote and that more NAM governments abstained this time as well may indicate that international agitation has had an effect.
Why the difference?
…Indian Tamils in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka Tamils living in the Diaspora in many countries have conducted many protests and lobbied governments for justice since the end of the war. A few Tamils have even committed suicide in despair and in protest.
…Mainstream Tamil parties in parliament in Tamil Nadu, India were a major influence in convincing the central government to change its vote from one of applauding Sri Lanka to this critical yet hesitant stance. Tamil Nadu called upon India “to declare President Mahinda Rajapaksa complicit in genocide and war-crimes and to call for economic sanctions against Sri Lanka till the country ensured equal status to Tamils”.
…UK Channel 4 two-part “Sri Lanka: Killing Field” series has influenced many. The second part was shown during these HRC sessions, which pointed a finger at the Rajapaksa regime for standing behind horrendous murders, mutilations and rape; in short, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
…The US is making it clear to Sri Lanka’s government that it is dissatisfied with it even while approving a World Bank loan of $213 million for development in the capital city, Colombo. The US keeps its fingers in the economy while it shows its unhappiness because Rajapaksa is offering more economic concessions to China and Russia.
The US has lost its long-hoped for port in Trincomalee harbor, which China will probably acquire. Obama also sees an opportunity to score re-election votes by pointing at a real culprit.
Perhaps nothing substantial for Tamils in Sri Lanka will come out of this Human Rights Geo-Political game, not simply in and of itself. Yet the game’s rules are changed, at least in this area of the world.
Cuba, which started the ALBA coalition with Venezuela in 2004, needs to reflect upon its foreign policy stance and especially in regards to Sri Lanka. It has politically backed Sri Lanka because, in they are both members of NAM, but Cuba often acts in a knee jerk manner when the US criticizes third world countries—understandably.
Yet Cuba goes overboard in backing this most ruthless Sri Lankan regime, which continues to make Tamils suffer, incarcerating many without due process, with “disappearances”, by taking over Tamil homes and businesses, and building hotels upon Tamil graveyards.
As such, Cuba has acted immorally, and in contradiction to its long-time solidarity with the oppressed and exploited peoples of the world.
If Tamils in India and in the Diaspora keep up the pressure, if grass roots groups and representatives of other oppressed peoples seeking liberation (such as Palestinians, Kurds in Turkey, Basques, Irish…) would join in united fronts for liberation for one and all, then we might be able to bring some real hope for Tamils in Sri Lanka and for other peoples’ liberation.
Be not fooled: The US does not want true accountability but the spotlight is turned on and peoples’ power could stoke the light bringing, at least, relief to the down-trodden Tamil people.
(1) The Vote:
YES: 24 (Benin, Cameroon, Libya, Mauritius, Nigeria, India, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Austria, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, USA, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Moldova and Romania)
NO: 15 (Congo, Brazzaville, Mauritania, Uganda, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Kuwait, Maldives, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Cuba, Ecuador and Russia)
ABSTENTIONS: 8 (Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Senegal, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and Malaysia)