Inconsistent policy

India’s abstention from the UN vote on an international investigation of alleged human rights violations during the civil war in Sri Lanka was grounded neither in principle nor in national interest.

The UN Human Rights Council last week voted by a big majority the US-sponsored resolution which approves an enquiry into war crimes committed by both sides, especially in the closing period of the war. India had voted for two earlier resolutions in 2012 and 2013 which had also called for an independent and credible investigation.

There was no good reason to reverse that position and  be seen as inconsistent in policy and indifferent to the crimes committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces on the country’s Tamil population.

If there was a sound reason in the last two years to seek such a probe, there is a stronger reason for it now. The situation in Lanka has not changed since the last vote and the Rajapaksa government has not taken any worthwhile measures for national reconciliation or a political accommodation of the Tamil minority.

It has only become more authoritarian, insensitive and paranoid. Countries and societies which have had such violent and disruptive convulsions have benefited from self-examinations and enforcement of retributive justice on the guilty and the errant. The international community has a duty to pressure a recalcitrant government to respect human rights and to make violators accountable for their actions.

By abstaining from the vote, India abdicated this responsibility, which should have been all the more important for it because of the concern it has always expressed over the welfare of Tamils in Sri Lanka. New Delhi’s argument that an intrusive international probe would abridge Lanka’s sovereignty is weak. The idea of sovereignty does not give governments the privilege to violate people’s rights on a mass scale and get away with it. There are limits to sovereignty in certain situations.

If the alliance with the DMK and the perceived public opinion in Tamil Nadu were what prompted the UPA government to vote for the past years’ resolutions, it is worse. That would show that it had allowed its foreign policy decisions to be dictated by political considerations.  The country’s national interests would be better served by a principled adherence to human rights and consistency of policy.

A country that aspires for a UN Security Council seat should care more for the moral strength and profile such a position would give it, than for shifting contingencies.

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