Indo-Sri Lankan Ties: The China Problem and Human Rights in the Island State

Yashvi Agarwal

Contributing Researcher

Internationalism Research (AbhiGlobal Legal Research & Media)

Madhvi Wadhavan

Contributing Researcher

Internationalism Research (AbhiGlobal Legal Research & Media)

In the ongoing 46th regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, being held in Geneva, the issue of Sri Lanka was discussed, with countries like China, India and the USA putting forth their viewpoints and strategies to help establish stability and peace in the coastal country. While China supported and commended the Sri Lankan government for their efforts to “protect and promote human rights”, India and the USA had concerns about marginalization of minorities and the “lack of accountability” and transparency, respectively.

The majority population group of Sri Lanka is that of the Sinhalese, also known as Hela. They contribute 75% of the total population of the island country. The minorities of the countries include the Muslims and the Tamils. Discrimination and violent persecution of minorities have been very common in Sri Lanka. In 1983, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) launched a movement to fight the government of Sri Lanka to create their own independent Tamil state, named “Tamil Eelam” in the north-east part of the country, because of the oppression and constant discrimination against them. This movement went to create a situation of civil war in the country, that went on for 26 years, till 2009, when the military of the country defeated the LTTE. The conduct of the LTTE against the government of their own country got them enlisted as a “terrorist organization” in 32 countries (Council_on_Foreign_Relations, 2009). President Mahinda Rajapaksa declared the defeat of LTTE and other rebels in a G11 summit, in May 2009 (The_New_Yorker, 2011). The Tamil diaspora all over the world criticized and protested against the huge number of Tamil civilian casualties in Sri Lanka.

After this defeat of the LTTE, Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa declared that their government is dedicated to arriving at a political solution to the problem in Sri Lanka and for the same, he announced that the government would take action in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka (Ministry_of_Defence, 2009). The allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity also surfaced. In fact, one of the main concerns of the US ambassador to UNHCR, Daniel Kronenfeld. It is alleged that a majority of the military heads and other political high-ranking officers in Sri Lanka are people being involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity (Human_Rights_Watch, 2020).

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka (13A) contains provisions for the creation of Provincial Councils in Sri Lanka (Sri_Lanka_Guardian, 2013). It also makes “Sinhala” and “Tamil” the official languages of the country, and “English” the “link language” (The_Asia_Foundation, 2018).

India-Sri Lanka ties

Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayewardene signed the “Indo-Sri Lanka Accord” on July 29, 1987, which provides for devolution, i.e., distribution of power (Hindu, 2016). In February 2016, the Chief Minister of Sri Lanka’s northern province, C.V. Wigneswaran sought India’s direct aid in the complete implementation of the amendment (Business_Standard, 2016). In the ongoing 46th meeting of UNHCR also, Indian Ambassador to the UNHCR Indra Mani Pandey spoke about hoe the implementation of Amendment 13th and with devolution of power, the objectives of stability, peace and unity can be achieved. He also spoke about the rights of the Tamilians and other minorities.

India and Sri Lanka share a very deep “racial and cultural” link, and they also share a maritime border. India is the sole neighbouring country of Sri Lanka. These link between Sri Lanka and India were put to test during the Civil War in Sri Lanka, especially due to the controversy around India intervening during the war. In the past few years, China has also been quite successful in establishing excellent bilateral relations with Sri Lanka, especially in the field of naval agreements. To improve our relations with Sri Lanka, India signed a nuclear energy pact with Sri Lanka in the year 2015 (Mahr, 2015).

The relations between India and Sri Lanka started out with the spread of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. India intervened directly for the first time in the civil war in 1987, after much deliberations and negotiations, Sri Lanka and India entered into an agreement, also called the 13th Amendment. India’s intervention in the civil war was inevitable as the conflict in Sri Lanka also had a huge impact on the “unity, national interest and territorial integrity” of India. Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, allegedly by LTTE. Owing to this, LTTE was declared to be a “terrorist outfit” in 1992. Since then, our bilateral relationship with the island country has significantly improved. India has consistently supported Sri Lanka’s peace process but now refrains to get directly involved. Both India and Sri Lanka are members of some common international organizations, like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), BIMSTEC, etc., dedicating efforts to flourish in the areas of both cultural and economic ties.