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India cannot abandon us – Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary

Speaking to the Hindu, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, Jayanath Colombage pleaded for Indian support during the UN Human Rights Councils 46th session whilst also rejecting India calls for implementing the 13th amendment.

In his statement, he attacked the UNHRC claiming that it operated on “double standards and hypocrisy”. It would be “very uncomfortable”, Colombage claimed, if regional powers did not extend their support to Sri Lanka as India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, “are battling COVID-19 and facing allegations of human rights violations”.

He further criticised the High Commissioners recommendations which encouraged targeted sanctions; prosecutions of war crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction; and to consider referring Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court.

“We can’t do anything just because someone points a gun at our head and says, okay reconcile. It will never happen”, Colombage stated. He further asserted that reconciliation would take further time despite growing concerns over Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation.

 

Strained relationships

Colombage plea follows growing tension between Sri Lanka and India as the Rajapaksa administration unilaterally withdrew from the $500-$700 million East Container Terminal Agreement. Sri Lanka has further agreed to allow China to build power plants in three islands of the coast of Jaffna which has been seen as a security threat to India. Sri Lanka has also strengthened bilateral defence agreements with Pakistan, as Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, visited Sri Lanka last week.

Responding to the growing tensions, India’s Foreign Minister has raised concerns over the deaths of four Tamil Nadu fishermen in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s Navy has been accused of attacking these fishermen, with All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) leader M. Thambidurai reporting that at least 245 fishermen have been killed in Sri Lanka. India’s Foreign Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has maintained that these deaths are “unacceptable” and maintained that they had raised the issued with the strongest terms.

Colombage denied strained relationships with India, claiming that in strategic security matters, Sri Lanka granted India “top priority”.

He further claimed that:

“Sri Lanka is in dire need of support from our friendly neighbours. And we are not asking anything extraordinary, we are asking something based on your neighbourhood first policy, based on Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)”.

 

13th Amendment

 

(Footage of Indra Mani Pandey at UNHRC's 46th session)

Speaking at the Interactive Dialogue on Sri Lanka at the Council last week, Jaishankar reiterated India’s call for Sri Lanka to address Tamils’ “legitimate aspirations”, including through the process of reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th Amendment. These calls were also asserted by India’s delegate at the UNHRC, Indra Mani Pandey, who maintained that Sri Lanka must meet the “aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality justice, peace and dignity”.

Colombage has rejected calls for the 13th Amendment claiming that it would empower separatism and maintain that “India also should not really harp on” this. He decried the 13th Amendment noting that it failed to bring a close to the conflict and sharply criticising calls for devolution.

“When you say that you want a federal state, you want more devolution of powers, you want police powers, you want land powers, right? So that means you are asking for almost a separate state”.

Since the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka’s military has continued its occupation on the North-East with areas such as Mullaitivu harbouring as many as one soldier for every two civilians. The continued occupation and disputes over land rights has undermined the livelihood of Tamils in the North-East and furthered calls for the implementation of the amendment.

Read the Hindu’s full piece here.

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