India Sri lanka Bilateral Issues
INDIA SRI LANKA BILATERAL ISSUES
- Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) needs to be signed quickly. However, there is considerable concern about the agreement in the Sri Lankan business circles. India needs to correct the perception that CEPA will only benefit the Indian side and the non-tariff barriers in India will be an obstacle to Sri Lankan businessmen.
- The Sampur coal-fired power plant has lingered for more than a decade. The delay in its implementation by India has led to several new problems like environment-related controversies, Land acquisition problems as some Tamils live and have land inside.
- Oil tank farms on the east coast–These British vintage storage farms give India enormous scope for oil trade in the whole of South East Asia. India should quickly operationalise these oil tank farms. It must not forget that the previous government in Colombo had offered them to the Americans. It should start negotiations for setting up a refinery in Trincomalee area to treat crude oil.
India’s strategic and economic priority should be to develop the east coast of Sri Lanka, especially the Trincomalee-Batticaloa belt. The Trincomalee belt has an enormous potential for trade, tourism, industry and commerce. It has vast stretches of virgin beaches. The Trinco port can be developed into a major port. A new airport can be developed in the area and can be connected directly with Tamil Nadu for the benefit of the Tamils in the north and east of Sri Lanka. Most importantly, by entering Trinco coast, India will be making a big presence in the trade routes of the Indian Ocean.
- The Sri Lankan government should gratefully acknowledge this huge contribution of the TNA and move forward with specific steps to address the Tamil issue. Granting more constitutional powers to the provinces is the first important step.
- The UNHRC resolution on war crimes is another important issue on which both the countries have to reach an understanding. Sri Lanka can gain from the expertise available in countries like the U.S., India, and so on, to facilitate a credible investigation by its agencies. It is important for justice to be seen by the Tamils and the international community to be delivered.
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SRILANKAN GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCEMENT AND UNHCR REPORT
- Sri Lanka plans to go ahead with the promise of devolution of power to Tamil- majority areas, a move guaranteed under its constitution but not implemented so far.
- The Sri Lankan government’s revelation in the current session of the UN Human Rights Council that it is committed to the setting up of a Constituent Assembly of Parliament that will adopt a new Constitution, besides a truth and reconciliation commission, is a laudable step forward six years after the end of the horrific civil war. It reflects the dramatic change in the political context in the country.
- While many Tamil parties, including the ruling TNA, have demanded an international war crimes tribunal to investigate the alleged atrocities, the Sri Lankan government has offered alternatives of domestic inquiries and the setting up of a South Africa-model “Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence”.
- The setting up of a government of national unity with the two largest political parties, the United National Party and the Sri Lankan Freedom Party, sharing power, with the Tamil National Alliance being given the post of Leader of the Opposition, has provided a welcome space for a credible initiative on the Tamil question.
- The UNHRC report shared with the Sri Lankan government. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said
“our investigation has laid bare the horrific level of violations and abuses that occurred in Sri Lanka”.
- UNHRC report has urged Sri Lanka to establish a special court to try the “horrific” abuses committed by the authorities and the rebels in the last phase of the country’s civil war.
- The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), which released the report in Geneva on Wednesday, called upon Colombo to create the proposed court through specific legislation by integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators.
- “For an accountability mechanism to succeed in Sri Lanka, it will require more than a domestic mechanism,”
the OISL said.
- This would be “essential to give confidence to all Sri Lankans, in particular the victims, in the independence and impartiality of the process, particularly given the politicisation and highly polarised environment in Sri Lanka.”
- The report found fault both with the authorities and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in respect of “unlawful killing”, it pulled up the former on several counts, including
- sexual and gender-based violence
- enforced disappearances
- torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
As regards the detention of internally displaced people, the report said:
“Almost 300,000 IDPs were deprived of their liberty in camps for periods far beyond what is permissible under international law.” The report was critical of the LTTE in respect of “recruitment of children and their use in hostilities”.
- It is clear that institutional mechanisms are being put in order by the Sri Lankan government. This offers the hope that there will be a redressing of the long-standing grievances of the minority community related to devolution of power. This is besides the pressing issues of rehabilitation and reconciliation.
- The involvement of a substantive chunk of Tamil representatives belonging to the Tamil National Alliance in the prospective Constituent Assembly should give a fillip to these processes, and provide an ideal opportunity to thrash out differences related to devolution of power and questions concerning federalism and diversity, in a democratic manner.
- If violence, chauvinism and military conflict hampered this transition before the civil war, triumphalism, persisting militarisation and the concentration of power within an increasingly authoritarian coterie acted as restraining fetters after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
- The defeat of the quasi-authoritarian and chauvinist forces in both the presidential and parliamentary elections, the formation of a national unity government and its explicit call for an accountable and democratic form of governance by both the elected President and the Prime Minister, have eased the process of building an acceptable solution to the conflict.
- The international community should encourage Sri Lanka on this history-making reconciliatory path, and ensure that these efforts are not derailed on any account.
- Given Tamil people’s experiences, they cannot be blamed for not having confidence in the domestic mechanism. International inputs may become inevitable. The [judicial] process must be structured to ensure a comprehensive resolution of the conflict.”
The historic waters between India and Sri Lanka have become a battleground between the Tamil fishermen on both sides, leading to frequent clashes, incarcerations, and even deaths. A negotiated solution needs to be found on this issue. Pending the dispute over fishing, the adverse ecological impact of bottom trawling must also be addressed.
Moreover, their use of gill nets and synthetic nets has caused severe damage to the ordinary nets of Sri Lankan fishermen. The Indians have not been fishing at long distances deep in the Indian Ocean away from the contentious Sri Lankan maritime zone because they do not possess multi-day fishing crafts.
Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the former President of India, once opined that an apparent modus Vivendi(A temporary accommodation of a disagreement between parties pending a permanent settlement) could be for Indian fishermen and their Sri Lankan counterparts to fish in the Palk Bay and Straits on alternate days. The problem is relatively acute for the Sri Lankan fishermen because their livelihood is more dependent on the catch from the waters concerned, and, also their means of fishing are comparatively less expedient and effective vis-à-vis those of the Indian fishermen.The dependence of Sri Lankan fishermen on fishing in their maritime zone area is significantly more acute because, the present overall economic conditions in that country`s northern province, is still quite adverse.
It is relevant to mention here that Tamilnadu’s fishermen are not allowed to freely operate in the coastal waters of adjoining (newly created) Andhra Pradesh state either. It is the same situation vis-à-vis Andhra fishermen’s conventional jurisdiction off the Orissa coast. Indian fisher folk normally observe such territorial limitations and there is no reason why they should not do so apropos northern Sri Lanka.
- A restriction is also required on the number of Indian trawlers that are allowed to operate beyond the median line specifying the maritime boundary.
- Restrictions on the number of fishing craft and their technical capacity as well as the nature of the fishing nets will be more of essence than merely specifying the permissible period of fishing.
- However, for such measures to be effective, they have to be a part of an institutional framework in which the fishermen’s cooperatives of both countries are involved and committed, and there is an oversight body empowered with arbitral powers to resolve disputes.
- At the working level of the suggested mechanism, involvement of the District Collectors of Tamilnadu`s coastal districts concerned and the government representatives of Mannar, Killinochhi, Mullaitivu and Jaffna districts in Sri Lanka, will be a sine qua non for effective operability.
- India could provide technical advisory support with some financial commitment to Tamilnadu to help formulate suitable Centrally-sponsored welfare schemes, which could facilitate the setting up of processing units for fishery products and promote other income generating activities in the agro-allied sectors.
Centuries-old cultural and religious ties make the relationship irreversible. But the challenge is to make it ‘excellent’.