At UNHRC, India urges Sri Lanka to implement constitutional amendment on Tamil reconciliation

India’s Permanent Representative to UN says country supports Sri Lanka’s unity & territorial integrity, but is committed to aspirations of its Tamil people.

New Delhi: India Thursday urged Sri Lanka to implement the 13th amendment to its constitution that is aimed at reconciliation with the country’s Tamil minority, even as New Delhi said it supports its neighbour’s “unity and territorial integrity”.

At the ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Indra Mani Pandey, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, said India remains committed to “aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity”.

“We call upon Sri Lanka to take necessary steps for addressing such aspirations, including through the process of reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka,” Pandey said.

The 13th amendment became part of the Sri Lankan constitution as a direct result of the Indian intervention in 1987, under the countries’ accord. It proposed the establishment of a provincial council system and devolution of power for nine provinces in Sri Lanka. However, successive governments in Sri Lanka have not implemented it.

India has been urging Sri Lanka to implement and enforce the amendment ever since the country’s war with Tamil separatists ended in 2009. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also taken up the issue with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he came to India on a bilateral visit in 2019.

Sri Lanka’s request

India’s statement comes after Sri Lanka requested the UNHRC to reject a draft resolution that calls for punitive measures against it for the alleged war crimes committed in the decades-long civil war between its Sri Lankan security forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Thousands are estimated to have been killed and displaced during the war. The bloodshed mostly happened towards the end of the war, when President Gotabaya’s older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa — the president of Sri Lanka at the time who is now prime minister — allegedly oversaw brutal war crimes against the Tamil minority. Gotabaya was the defence secretary at the time.

At the ongoing session of the UNHRC, Sri Lanka sought India’s help in getting the resolution rejected, with Gotabaya Rajapaksa writing to PM Modi seeking India’s support earlier this month.

The draft resolution has been submitted by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro and North Macedonia, for the 47-member UNHRC to discuss and debate. The session, which is on till 23 March, is yet to take a call whether or not a vote will take place to adopt the resolution.

Speaking about the previous discussions about the issue at the UNHRC, Pandey pointed out: “The Council (UNHRC) has adopted seven resolutions on the question of human rights in Sri Lanka since May 2009, when the three-decades-old conflict in that country ended. India has been an active participant in the discussions on these resolutions and has remained engaged with Sri Lanka as its close friend and immediate neighbour.”

He added: “We believe that respecting the rights of the Tamil community, including through meaningful devolution, contributes directly to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. Therefore, we advocate that delivering on the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community is in the best interests of Sri Lanka.”

Efforts to bring justice have ‘failed’

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated Wednesday that Sri Lanka’s efforts to bring justice to war victims have “failed” as she presented a report titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’.

“The growing militarisation of key civilian functions is encroaching on democratic governance. The continued failure to implement comprehensive reforms — or to vet personnel — leaves in place security and military officers who have been implicated in alleged grave crimes and violations,” Bachelet said.

To this, India’s envoy Pandey said: “The assessment of the high commissioner regarding developments nearly 12 years from the end of the conflict raises important concerns. The Sri Lankan government has articulated its position on these issues as well. In evaluation of both of these, we should be guided by a commitment to find a lasting and effective solution for this issue.”