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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2615

UNHRC Resolution vote: A Pyrrhic victory for the West

By A Special Correspindent

For several reasons, the UNHRC adoption of the resolution against Sri Lanka is a pyrrhic victory for those who voted for it. The cost of this victory is manifold. It has created a serious fissure within the international community on how to address human rights issues in member countries, with half of it not in agreement with the resolution.

It has furthered divisions amongst communities in Sri Lanka and strengthened extreme elements making reconciliation and accountability even more difficult. It has created a precedent by intruding on the sovereignty of a nation and giving way to a new brand of colonialism. Above all, it will have the effect of driving Sri Lanka even closer to China, the real reason why the West acted against Sri Lanka.

It is likely Sri Lanka will snub this resolution distancing it from the UNHRC and the countries that voted for it considering the hurt Sri Lankans have been subjected to in being treated as a pariah of the international community when some of those countries that have committed worse human right violations have had the gall to sponsor this resolution against Sri Lanka, a proud country with a rich culture and traditions, and a long history. The cost of this for Sri Lankans will be that if any human rights violations have taken place and are taking place as alleged, they will have less chances of being investigated as the focus now will be on defiance and a public campaign against the resolution.

A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with such a devastating cost that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way; however, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit (another term for this would be "hollow victory", or "a ruinous situation")- Pinker, Steven (2011). The Better Angels of Our Nature

The cost of this victory is therefore very high and the resolution will not help to address the objectives set out in it.

The vote had a total of 24 votes cast not in favour of it as either a vote against it, or an abstention, or 23 votes for it. It was not a clear vote for adoption of the resolution. It managed to divide the UN body whereas what would have been expected of this body would have been a consensual arrangement with Sri Lanka that would have had the unanimous support of member States, or at least a clear majority of votes without abstentions. If the UN and its agencies take it on themselves to divide the world rather than unite it, one can justifiably wonder why the UN and its agencies are termed “United Nations” agencies.

Many States which voted against the resolution and many who abstained had a common thread of thinking. They would echo the words of Dilip Sinha, Permanent Representative of India to the UN office, who said in explaining India’s decision to abstain from voting that “It has been India's firm belief that adopting an intrusive approach that undermines national sovereignty and institutions is counterproductive. Any significant departure from the core principle of constructive international dialogue and cooperation has the potential to undermine efforts of this Council for promoting universal respect for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Moreover, any external investigative mechanism with an open-ended mandate to monitor national processes for protection of human rights in a country, is not reflective of the constructive approach of dialogue and cooperation envisaged by UN General Assembly resolution 60/251 that created the HRC in 2006 as well as the UNGA resolution 65/281 that reviewed the HRC in 2011”.

They would also echo his words “During the past year, there have been some notable developments in Sri Lanka. The Government of Sri Lanka has honoured its commitment to the international community to hold elections to the Northern Provincial Council. Further, it has taken steps to implement some of the important recommendations of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), such as Trilingual Policy, promoting the official use of the Tamil language and the upgrading of schools in the Northern and Eastern Provinces”
These words clearly indicate an acceptance of progress made although more has to be done, and that the UNHRC has exceeded its mandate and have become an antagonist to its member States rather than a friend and supporter who would assist in constructive ways to overcome the internal difficulties that sometimes hamper the maintenance of ideals that they subscribe to.

The second reason to call this a pyrrhic victory is because it will impact adversely on the domestic mechanisms in place to further reconciliation. The vote has strengthened the hand of extremists on both sides of politics in Sri Lanka in relation to a conflict that has receded although these extremists would not agree it has.

The fact that the hand of moderates within the TNA was forced by the extreme elements within it to campaign for the vote, and the fact that this will strengthen the extreme elements within the Sinhala community who will unjustifiably regard the entire TNA as their enemy and hamper the Sri Lankan Presidents efforts to unify rather than divide, is a consequence that Sri Lanka did not want. The UNHRC vote has delivered this unwelcome divisive trigger that will make reconciliation even harder.

The UNHRC and those countries who voted for the resolution obviously has no idea of or do not wish to acknowledge domestic considerations that has to be taken into account when seeking intrusive action. Sri Lankans will view such intrusions as today’s colonialism, and as they have fought yesterday’s colonialism for centuries and eventually prevailed over it, so they would with this latest salvo against it.

What does this do to the country? Its leadership will have to become more strident than before in order to match the mood of the people as they would be out of step and out of power if they don’t. A pertinent example is an issue held by the Tamils as a key issue associated with the conflict, the Sinhala only policy. It was the consequence of a tidal wave of public opinion for recognition of their language when more than 75% of the population were Sinhalese while the official language of the country was English with only 7% of the country’s population being English literate when Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) gained independence from Britain.

Both SWRD Bandaranaike and the then UNP leader John Kotalawela supported this policy in 1956, but the latter lost to the man who was better able to ride the wave of public opinion. If indeed the Sinhala only policy is seen as a crucial issue behind the ethnic conflict, it would not be out of place to state that had this been better handled by the British colonialists in a constructive and far thinking manner before independence, it would not have become the strident and divisive issue it did after independence.

The UNHRC action may see a similar stridency taking root in Sri Lanka again resulting in adverse consequences to the country’s fragile communal harmony. Unless the international community demonstrates some understanding of these, and works in a constructive way to address issues such as human rights infringements and crimes against humanity, the very same problems and shortcomings are bound to exacerbate rather than improve and recede.

Following from this, if in fact there are human rights infringements in Sri Lanka, there is a likelihood that they may get worse and not better as attacking the new brand of colonialism could increase intolerance and an erosion of law and order and freedom, as the State, pressured by extremists could call on all people to make a decision whether they are for or against colonialism and infringement of Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, even at the cost of some freedoms they should legitimately enjoy in a democracy. The new “war” against this development, as one saw during the 30 years of terrorism and the final war against the LTTE, could take a toll on human rights and law and order. If the UNHRC does not regard this as a negative consequence of their vote to intrude in Sri Lanka’s domestic issues, then they are either blind or absolutely duplicitous with their intentions.

This UNHRC vote has made the job of any Sri Lankan leader even more difficult than what it is now. President Rajapaksa, while treading a very tight rope when it comes to constituency politics, has made significant strides towards reconciliation and economic development as acknowledged by virtually all member States of the UNHRC. However, his hand has been weakened by this vote as it has strengthened those of the extreme elements amongst the Sinhala and Tamil communities.

He will have to be even more resolute than before to identify himself with the moderate population which is the majority rather than the vociferous extreme minority. His dilemma would be his desire to be in power to continue what he has started, and the need to play constituency politics in order to be in power as that is how elections are won or lost in Sri Lanka. Strengthening the extreme Sinhala or the Tamil constituency would not help his objective and neither would it be in the country’s best interest.

- Asian Tribune -

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