Next week, the UN Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva to vote on a resolution that calls for an independent investigation into the last months of the Sri Lankan civil war. A recent documentary, aired on Britain’s Channel 4 and titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” details the very brutal ending of that war, and suggests some Sri Lankan officials might be guilty of war crimes.
The vote puts India in a tight spot. About 60 million ethnic Tamils live in India. Some of their brethren in Sri Lanka waged a long campaign for rights and independence against the Sri Lankan government, a campaign that featured suicide attacks on civilians and grew increasingly bitter on both sides. The Sri Lankan government’s response was tough and unyielding, and culminated in an invasion of the Tamil heartland of northern Sri Lanka in May 2009, where thousands of rebels and civilians were killed.
The US has backed the resolution on Sri Lanka. India has opposed it, saying the Sri Lankan government should be left alone to repair the damage of the civil war without international interference. But there is dissent in the ranks of India’s ruling parties. The Dravidian Progress Federation (DMK), a political party in India and a partner in New Delhi’s ruling coalition, is leading the calls for India to vote against Sri Lanka next week. DMK’s leader has suggested his party might withdraw from the ruling coalition if India sides with Sri Lanka.
There is an international aspect to this tussle as well. Sri Lanka has been cozying up to China in recent years. During the civil war, China gave Sri Lanka almost a billion dollars in aid, sold millions of dollars worth of military hardware, and even gifted six F7 fighter jets to the Sri Lankan air force for free. More recently, a Chinese company is leading the construction of a massive new port in the Sri Lankan city of Hambantota.
India is in a pickle. Supporting Sri Lanka by voting against the proposed war crimes investigation could anger Tamils in India and sow discord within the governing coalition. But in backing the investigation India might push Sri Lanka into a tighter embrace with China.
In Asia’s game of thrones, this is an important decision. Readers should ask themselves what their move would be.