Can International Intervention Assist Domestic Reconciliation?

The adoption of the third U.S.-sponsored resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka will now result in an international investigation being carried out in to the conduct of the civil war in the country.
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The adoption of the third U.S.-sponsored resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council, in as many years, on Sri Lanka will now result in an international investigation being carried out in to the conduct of the civil war in the country.

As was expected the Sri Lankan government, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, immediately rejected the resolution and suggested that his government would continue to pursue its own reconciliation plan. In Sri Lanka public opinion remains split with many in the Tamil dominated North and East welcoming the investigations that would seemingly encourage accountability on the part of the government. While the rest of Sinhala dominated areas have followed the government's stance of describing the resolution as "biased and carrying a political agenda."

According to the U.S.-sponsored resolution an international mechanism, which includes an investigation in to the war, is to be headed by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.

Such an investigation has been on the cards for several years with the United Nations having spent previous years urging the government to pursue a credible domestic investigation. On the government's part they have slowly begun adopting their own produced Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. While the international community, and members of the local civil society, have decried these efforts, the government has suggested that more time is necessary.

As was the case with the previous two resolutions, nationalist groups led protests in the country against the resolution in an attempt to sway public opinion towards the government. With many Sinhalese citizens opposing the investigation that they consider to have been forced upon them, a potential division is in the making with sections of the Tamil minority supporting such a move.

While accountability is deemed of utmost importance in Sri Lanka's pursuit of national reconciliation, the mixed feelings towards the resolution has threatened to overshadow this original goal. The question now to be answered is whether or not an international resolution adopted through vote regarding a country can achieve long-term and genuine reconciliation.

Sri Lanka's civil war between the Sinhala majority and Tamil minority was a conflict fueled through political decisions that were considered attempts to overhaul the remnants of Britain's Divide and Rule policy. Following independence in Sri Lanka in 1948, the political sphere adopted the Donoughmore Commission which implemented Universal Franchise that resulted in representation being proportionate to percentage of population. Many prominent Tamil politicians rejected this notion claiming that they would remain in the minority, and be forced to rely on alliances with Sinhalese politicians. Previously Sinhala to Tamil representation was a 2:1 ratio, this would undergo a shift following the implementation of Universal Suffrage.

While some Sinhalese rejected this, many other considered this a step in the right direction of democracy while nationalists argued that this was a breakaway from the former colonialists' willingness to favor the minorities over the majority.

Over time the idea that the Western powers supported the Tamil minorities continue to fester and Sinhalese governments adopted further racially motivated policies such as the Sinhala Only Act of 1956. This saw Sinhala replace English as the official language of Sri Lanka and fail to recognize Tamil. With Sinhalese-dominated governments appearing to favor the majority over the minority, Tamil political parties began to demand a further devolution of power through methods such as federalism.

This approach was favored by the international community when in 1987 the Sri Lankan Parliament adopted the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that called for the creation of Provincial Councils. These would govern the nine Provinces in regards to administrative issues. This was the result of the Indo-Lanka Accord signed between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene. The Sinhala nationalists have since strongly opposed this amendment, while the Tamil parties have demanded that the government implement the amendment fully and go further to ensure devolution of power.

With the Sinhala nationalists continuing to accuse the Tamil politicians of adhering to a foreign enforced amendment, and the Tamil parties accusing the nationalists of overshadowing the minorities, divisions continue to reign in Sri Lanka. These divisions have grown over time with the Tamil parties now being accused of seeking out an international intervention with regards to Sri Lanka. In turn the minorities have accused the Sinhala dominated government of ignoring the idea of reconciliation.

The Indian government chose to abstain from the recently concluded vote on the grounds that an international investigation was "an intrusive approach." The Indian delegation further added that they continue to encourage the government to implement its own reconciliation plan. The previous two years have seen India vote in favor of resolutions that were aimed at exerting pressure on the government to pursue a domestic mechanism.

The recently adopted U.S.-sponsored resolution threatens to follow in the path of the Donoughmore Commission and the 13th Amendment. Public opinion remains divided and the main goal of reconciliation appears to have been clouded over.

Instead such a resolution needs to ensure that enough pressure is exerted on the government to implement a widely accepted domestic mechanism that will ensure accountability is achieved. While an international investigation may yield results that will hold many accountable for their actions, public opinion towards the resolution will remain divided as ethnic groups continue to mistrust one another.

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