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Toothless UNHRC resolution stays Rajapaksa ‘Spring’ against US

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( March 12, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The anticipation of a strong UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution in Geneva, which caused immense angst among the ruling cabal of the Rajapaksa regime, by all indications, is going to end up a damp squib. Even though the final draft of the resolution is yet to appear at UNHRC, it is almost certain now that much talked about international investigation will not be in it.

In all probability, Mahinda will opt for a Presidential Election after November this year. Even if the current resolution, in whatever final form it is presented to the UNHRC, receives its approval, what will be most crucial and decisive for Mahinda will be the UNHRC sessions next September and also March next year.
It is now emerging that the Rajapaksa ruling coterie had planned a series of protest rallies, marches and demonstrations against the US and its cohorts who are pushing for an international inquiry, if they scored a victory at the UNHRC. What the government had planned was something on the lines of Arab Spring with a difference. The original Arab Spring was unleashed to depose unshakable dictators in a majority of Middle-Eastern countries. But the Rajapaksa Spring was meant to protect their government.

A comprehensive plan of action for the campaign had also been meticulously prepared. Plan envisaged large crowds of people to be brought to Colombo from all corners of the country and set up a human wall in and around the city blocking the roads, demanding withdrawal of the US resolution calling for alleged war crimes investigation. A leading advertising agency had been chosen to handle the media campaign and the samples of advertising materials developed by the firm had been watched and passed by the Rajapaksa power coterie. Unlike on previous occasions when protests against UNHRC resolutions were limited only to one day, this time protests were planned for a prolonged period of several days, drawing the attention of the entire country to it.

The plan

The plan envisaged Mahinda to address the country on the last day of protest and declare a Presidential Election and exhort the crowds to go back to their respective villages and canvass people's support to elect him President again, to defeat Western conspiracies against the motherland. The advertising firm charged with the propaganda campaign was well prepared for the role, having done their homework on every aspect of Arab Spring. Campaign was to be launched strictly along the lines of Arab Spring, noting its singular success. The Rajapaksa regime's objective in this strategy was two-fold. Firstly, they wanted to mobilize countrywide people's support for a snap Presidential Election and win it with the biggest majority of votes any candidate has so far commanded in a Presidential Election. In other words, to win the Presidential Election exceeding 63% majority that Chandrika obtained at her Presidential Election. Secondly, Mahinda wanted to deliver a message to the world that they have turned the logic of Arab Spring upside down by using it to make their hold on power stronger.

That message, though uplifting to them, could be humiliating to the US and the West. However, the resolution, though not in its final form, looks to be heading for an anticlimax. Movers and shakers of governmental power now hold the view that the intended resolution now does not carry too much of sting as it does not include a recommendation for an international investigation. Rajapaksa Spring should wait until such time it becomes relevant again, if at all, they say.

Obviously, India's hand was at work in the preparation of the watered-down version of the resolution. In 2012 and 2013 India did not play any proactive role in the initial stage of the resolutions, which came before the UNHRC. It only intervened during the latter stages to dilute the resolution's harsher conditions. But this time, India has got itself involved in the framing of the resolution itself. It is patently obvious from the contents given prominence in the latest resolution. It includes the recommendation that the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution should be fully implemented and the necessary powers should be devolved to the Northern Provincial Council. India's hidden hand has been at work.

Tamil Nadu factor

The Tamil Nadu Government strongly criticized the Congress-led Central Government after Geneva resolutions in 2012 and 2013 as they considered India had used its influence with the US to tone down the severity of the respective resolutions. This time, India has intervened at the preparatory stage of the resolution, thereby avoiding any criticism from the Tamil Nadu Government. Even more important for India was to pre-empt the use of the allegation in the resolution about war crimes. India's position had always been that war crimes tag is irrelevant here as it could apply only in the case of a war between two countries. But, Sri Lanka's war was between a country and a terrorist group and as such a reference to war crimes does not arise. Current resolution before the UNHRC includes the words in its body, "alleged violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka." It clearly points to India's hidden hand behind the current resolution.

Be that as it may, Indian intervention in the preparation of the Geneva resolution has paved the way for Rajapaksa Spring to be postponed probably for the time being. Cognoscenti in diplomatic affairs has given a new twist to the purported reference in the resolution about an investigation by the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner; they say it is tantamount to an international investigation and if the Sri Lankan Government refuses access to a rapporteur appointed by the UNHRC, it could face economic sanctions from European countries. Diplomatic analysts call it a virtual trap. But, India has shown the way out from that problem too; implement the 13A in full and devolve necessary powers to the NPC. If the Rajapaksa Government uses this window of opportunity wisely, it can avoid harmful consequences of the Geneva resolution. Notwithstanding the fact that the final draft of the UN resolution is not out yet, the Rajapaksas have put their 'spring' on hold.

In all probability, Mahinda will opt for a Presidential Election after November this year. Even if the current resolution, in whatever final form it is presented to the UNHRC, receives its approval, what will be most crucial and decisive for Mahinda will be the UNHRC sessions next September and also March next year. Until then, contenders in the arena, the US, India and Sri Lanka will be sizing up each other, in preparation for a final showdown.

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