Charu Lata Hogg
Associate Fellow, Asia Programme

In March, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to fulfill its legal obligations toward justice and accountability, implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and address alleged violations of international law. India surprised its neighbour and the international community by going against its tradition of abstaining from country-specific resolutions and voted in support of the motion.  

The vote sent strong signals internally and internationally. It signaled Tamil Nadu’s importance and influence in Indian politics and demonstrated that its capital Chennai carries far more weight in New Delhi, than Colombo, which is indicative of state capitals increasing influence over India’s foreign policy. Internationally, India’s support, close on the heels of its support of a Security Council resolution on Syria, provided further evidence of its emergence as a voice on the global stage. Sri Lanka has previously relied on Indian support to enable it to offset western criticism and pressure; without Indian support Sri Lanka remains reliant on China alone as a bulwark against international attempts at scrutinising Sri Lanka’s conduct during its war with and defeat of the LTTE in 2009.

But Sri Lanka appears to be in no mood for a rapprochement with India nor is it taking any steps to offset western criticism about its human rights record. The situation of Tamil minorities continues to remain precarious. Reports of 'disappearances' of those considered ‘anti-national’ have escalated sharply since the start of 2012. The government continues to repress basic freedoms and the media remains under attack. The wave of anti-western sentiment sweeping through Sri Lanka caused pro-government media to lead a virulent campaign against journalists and activists participating in advocacy at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned against reprisals against Sri Lankan activists, noting 'threats and intimidation' carried out by the Sri Lankan government in the run-up to a contested war crimes probe vote. Undeterred by the UN rebuke, Sri Lankan Minister of Public Relations Mervyn Silva warned that he will 'break the limbs of some journalists, who have gone abroad and made various statements against the country, if they dare to set foot in the country'. 

The UN resolution thus, marks an important juncture in post-war Sri Lankan politics. The government and its supporters regard it as a Tamil inspired campaign that overlooks all that has been achieved in terms of infrastructure reconstruction in the north and steps towards development.  While it is true that the Tamil population in the North has benefitted from greater access to humanitarian and local human rights groups and the media, steps to normalize their living conditions have been far from adequate.  

Increasing militarization and military presence in the Tamil dominated areas of northeast Sri Lanka and what is being broadly termed as 'Sinhalisation' of the northeast - which involves changing names of places from Tamil to Sinhala, construction of memorials for Sinhalese heroes in the north and increasing Sinhalese settlers from the south - has reignited grievances among Tamils. 

Three years since the LTTE was militarily crushed, the government’s policies continue to remain centred on countering a possible resurgence of the LTTE. With an angry Tamil diaspora and a disillusioned Tamil community within, there are enough signs that this may become a reality.