[Editorial Analysis] Tactical abstention

Mains Paper 2: International relations
Prelims level: U.N. Human Rights Council resolution
Mains level: India and its neighbourhood relations.


• India has abstained from voting in the United Nations Human Rights Council on a resolution on alleged human rights violations by Sri Lanka during the final days of the Tamil Eelam war.

• India has signalled its unwillingness to upset its neighbour. At the same time, it does not want to be seen as ignoring Sri Lanka’s reluctance to meet the political aspirations of the Tamils or endorsing the country’s stubborn refusal to ensure any sort of accountability for its war-time past.

Promotion of Reconciliation Accountability and Human Rights:

• The resolution titled ‘Promotion of Reconciliation Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ was adopted by the UNHRC after 22 members out of 47 voted in favour of it. Eleven members, including China, voted against the resolution.

• The resolution had accused Lanka of war crimes with threats to take those responsible to the International Courts and impose targeted sanctions against officials allegedly responsible for human rights violations.

• A UN report had called for drastic measures against those allegedly responsible for rights violations during last phase of the armed conflict with the LTTE (2009).

• Sri Lanka described the draft resolution as ‘unwarranted, unjustified and in violations of the relevant articles of the United Nations’ Charter.

India abstention:

• It may be easy for the political opposition to dismiss India’s abstention as showing intent to shield Sri Lanka from a credible investigation into allegations of war crimes.

• A more reasonable assessment would be that India seems to have utilised the opportunity to preserve its diplomatic space and to contain the pervasive influence of China over Sri Lanka even while maintaining its support for the Tamil minority.

• To achieve equality, justice, dignity and peace. India has not been comfortable with externally mandated investigative mechanisms. Even when it voted in 2012 in favour of a credible investigation into human rights, India had got the resolution to incorporate the need for Sri Lanka’s ‘concurrence’.

• To any assistance that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights may offer in such a probe. In this session and just ahead of the vote, India stressed on both meaningful devolution to meet Tamil aspirations and the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka aspects that it believes are not an ‘either-or’ choice.

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC):

• The UNHRC was established by the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 to replace the UN Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR, herein CHR) that had been strongly criticized for allowing countries with poor human rights records to be members.

• The UNHRC works closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and engages the UN’s special body.

• The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is a United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world.

• The UNHRC has 47 members elected for staggered three-year terms on a regional group basis. The headquarters of UNHRC is in Geneva, Switzerland.

• The UNHRC investigates allegations of breaches of human rights in United Nations member states, and addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities.

The Significance of UN resolution:

• The present regime withdrew from the commitments made to the UNHRC by its predecessor on constructive engagement with the international community, and the consensual resolution on justice and accountability.

• The UN High Commissioner’s report raises concern over increasing militarisation, heightened surveillance against rights defenders and NGOs, interference with the few prosecutions in emblematic cases from the past, and the dangerous anti-minority rhetoric.

The Indian Concern:

• India’s concerns in Sri Lanka have always been different from the rest of the international community, informed by a sense of the long-term well-being of the Tamils, and that power-sharing doe’s foster reconciliation.

• India’s emphasis on devolution rather than accountability. It is clear that India has its own limitations in expressing disappointment over the island nation’s move away from reconciliation and devolution.

• It continues to be weighed down by the Chinese presence in the region. Even the need to be in accord with sentiment in Tamil Nadu in the midst of an election was not motivation enough for India to change its position from tactical neutrality to one of open support for the resolution.

• When pragmatism and principle were needed in equal measure, the Centre seems to have chosen abstention as an easy way out.


• India urge that the Government of Sri Lanka to carry forward the process of reconciliation, address the aspirations of the Tamil community and continue to engage constructively with the international community to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens are fully protected,

• India stance over support to the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, dignity and peace. The other is in ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

• It is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the expectations of the Tamil people for equality, justice, peace and dignity within a united Sri Lanka are fulfilled. That applies equally to the commitments made by the Sri Lankan government on meaningful devolution, including the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Project RE-HAB, consider the following statements:

1. It is an initiative of Greenpeace International.

2. It intends to create “bee fences” to thwart elephant attacks in human habitations using honeybees.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: B

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Highlights the significance of the UNHRC? By abstaining from voting India was keen not to lose diplomatic space to persuade Sri Lanka on devolution for Tamils. Comment.

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