1. Govt. asks PSU refiners to review Saudi oil deals
Move comes in the wake of the West Asian nation ignoring India’s calls to relax output curbs when prices started climbing
Amid tensions with Saudi Arabia over oil production cuts, India has asked its state refiners to review contracts for buying crude oil from the West Asian nation and negotiate more favourable terms, a top official said.
Keen to break the producers’ cartel dictating pricing and contractual terms, the government has told Indian Oil Corporation (IOC), Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL) and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL) to look for supplies from outside the region and use collective bargaining power to get favourable terms.
India imports 85% of its oil needs and is often vulnerable to global supply and price shocks. When oil prices started to rise in February, it wanted Saudi Arabia to relax output controls but the Kindgom ignored its calls. This has led to the government now pressing for diversification of the supply base.
“Traditionally, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC producers have been our mainstay suppliers of crude oil,” the official with direct knowledge of the discussions said. “But their terms have often been loaded against the buyer,” the official added.
Indian firms buy two-thirds of their purchases on term or fixed annual contracts. These contracts provide assured supplies of the contracted quantity but the pricing and other terms favour the supplier, he said.
“While buyers have an obligation to lift all of the contracted quantity, Saudi and other producers have the option to reduce supplies in case OPEC decides to keep production artificially lower to boost prices. Why should the consumer have to pay for decisions of OPEC? If we commit to offtake, they should also supply no matter what,” he said.
More importantly, the buyer has to indicate at least six weeks in advance of their intention to lift quantity out of the annual term contract in any month and has to pay an average official price announced by the producer.
“In an ideal market, the pricing should be of the day when the loading is taking place. That way we can get the advantage of any drop in international oil rates. But that is not the case. They (Saudi and other OPEC suppliers) insist on selling at their official selling price only,” the official said.
Shift to spot market
To begin with, Indian refiners will look to reduce the quantity they buy through term contracts and instead buy more from the spot or current market.
Buying from the spot market would ensure that India can take advantage of any fall in prices on any day and book quantities.
“It’s like the stock market. You would want to buy shares on a day or time when the prices are low. So is the case with crude oil — we would want to buy when we see there is a drop,” he said.
Indian refiners have raised spot purchases from 20% a decade back to 30-35% of the total oil bought now.
“We want pricing flexibility as well as the certainty of supply even during times when production falls due to any reason,” the official said, adding that the state-owned refineries have been asked to coordinate buying and also explore joint strategy with private refiners such as Reliance Industries and Nayara Energy.
West Asia accounts for 60% of oil bought by India. Latin America and Africa are the other big supplier blocks.
Organization of The Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
OPEC is an acronym for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. It is a permanent, intergovernmental organization, created at the Baghdad Conference in September 1960 by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Currently, it has 13 members.
OPEC Countries – Brief History
Government representatives from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela met in Baghdad to discuss ways to increase the price of crude oil produced by their countries, and ways to respond to unilateral actions by the MOCs.
Despite strong opposition from the US, Saudi Arabia, along with other Arab and non-Arab oil producers, formed the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries to get the best price possible from major oil corporations. Originally, Arab nations advocated for Beirut or Baghdad to be the headquarters of the OPEC but under strong objections from Venezuela, on basis of neutral grounds, Geneva in Switzerland was chosen. Due to Switzerland not extending diplomatic assurances, the headquarters of OPEC was shifted to Vienna, Austria on 1st September 1st, 1965.
By the early 1970s, OPEC’s membership accounted for more than half of worldwide oil production.
OPEC had its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, in the first five years of its existence. This was moved to Vienna, Austria, on September 1, 1965.
The 2019 OPEC World Oil Outlook (WOO) was launched on November 5, 2019, at the Wiener Börse in Vienna, Austria. The 13th edition of the WOO was about an in-depth review of the OPEC Secretariat’s medium- to long-term projections and assessment for the global oil and energy industry. The next meeting of OPEC is scheduled on December 5 at its headquarters in Vienna.
The five Founding Members were later joined by eight other Members:
- Qatar (1961)
- Indonesia (1962)
- Socialist Peoples Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (1962)
- United Arab Emirates (1967)
- Algeria (1969)
- Nigeria (1971)
- Ecuador (1973–1992)
- Gabon (1975–1994)
OPEC – Current Members
- Saudi Arabia
- Republic of Congo
- Equatorial Guinea
OPEC’s main objectives are given below:
- Unification and coordination of petroleum policies among Member Countries, in order to achieve just and stable prices for petroleum producers
- Ensuring of an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consuming nations and an adequate return of investment
Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has a working methodology which is mentioned below.
- The OPEC Member Countries adjust their oil productions activities in order to bring stability to the petroleum market and help manufacturers get a good return on their investments. This policy is also designed to ensure that oil consumers continue to receive stable supplies of oil.
- Twice a year, the ministry of energy and hydrocarbon affairs meet twice a year to review the status of the international oil market and decide upon steps that will bring security in the oil market
- The Member Countries also hold other meetings that address various point of interests including that of petroleum and economic experts nad specialized bodies such as committees and panels in charge of the environment.
2. U.S., Iran agree to indirect nuclear talks
Announcement marks the first major progress in efforts to return both countries to the 2015 accord
The U.S. and Iran said on Friday that they would begin negotiations through intermediaries next week to try to get both countries back into an accord limiting Iran’s nuclear programme, nearly three years after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal.
The announcement marked the first major progress in efforts to return both countries to the 2015 accord, which bound Iran to restrictions on its nuclear programmes in return for relief from U.S. and international sanctions. President Joe Biden came into office saying that getting back into the accord was a priority. But Iran and the U.S. have disagreed over Iran’s demands that sanctions be lifted first, and the stalemate threatened to become an early foreign policy setback for the Biden administration.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the resumption of negotiations, scheduled for Tuesday in Vienna, “a healthy step forward”. But Mr. Price added: “These remain early days, and we don’t anticipate an immediate breakthrough as there will be difficult discussions ahead.”
Mr. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018, opting for a “maximum pressure” campaign of stepped-up U.S. sanctions and other tough actions. Iran responded by intensifying its enrichment of uranium and building of centrifuges, while maintaining its insistence that its nuclear development was for civilian and not military purposes. Iran’s moves increased pressure on major world powers over the Trump administration’s sanctions and raised tensions among U.S. allies and strategic partners in West Asia. Agreement on the start of indirect talks came after the EU helped broker a virtual meeting of officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran, which have remained in the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Mr. Price said next week’s talks will be structured around working groups that the EU was forming with the remaining participants in the accord, including Iran.
“The primary issues that will be discussed are the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take in order to return to compliance with the terms of the JCPOA, and the sanctions relief steps that the U.S. would need to take in order to return to compliance as well,” Mr. Price said.
The U.S., like Iran, said it did not anticipate direct talks between the U.S. and Iran now. Mr. Price said the U.S. remains open to that idea, however.
In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the aim of the Vienna session would be to “rapidly finalize sanction-lifting & nuclear measures for choreographed removal of all sanctions, followed by Iran ceasing remedial measures.”
Iranian state television quoted Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s nuclear negotiator at the virtual meeting, as saying during Friday’s discussions that any “return by the U.S. to the nuclear deal does not require any negotiation and the path is quite clear”.
“The U.S. can return to the deal and stop breaching the law in the same way it withdrew from the deal and imposed illegal sanctions on Iran,” Mr. Araghchi was quoted as as saying.
Russia’s Ambassador to international organisations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said “the impression is that we are on the right track, but the way ahead will not be easy and will require intensive efforts. The stakeholders seem to be ready for that”.
Any return of the United States would involve complications. Iran has said before it resumes compliance with the deal, the U.S. needs to return to its own obligations by dropping the sanctions.
US – IRAN RELATIONS
- The United States and Iran have a long history of tensions, but the latest escalation started when an American drone strike killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani recently.
- The roots of the latest Iran-US crisis go back to 2018, when US President Donald Trump walked away from the Iranian nuclear deal, one of the signature achievements of his predecessor Barack Obama, and reimposed harsh sanctions on the country.
About Iran Nuclear Deal:
- Iran agreed to rein in its nuclear programme in a 2015 deal struck with the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany (P5+1 countries).
- Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA)Tehran agreed to significantly cut its stores of centrifuges, enriched uranium and heavy-water, all key components for nuclear weapons.
Why did Iran Agreed to the deal?
- It had been hit with devastating economic sanctions by the United Nations, United States and the European Union.
- Billions in overseas assets had also been frozen.
Why has US pulled out of the Deal?
- Trump and opponents to the deal say it is flawed because it gives Iran access to billions of dollars but does not address Iran’s support for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah which the U.S. considers as terrorists.
- It also doesn’t curb Iran’s development of ballistic missiles and that the deal phases out by 2030.
The Implications of US sanctions on Iran
- Other countries have promised to uphold it, but their ability to do so will depend on how their companies can be firewalled from U.S. sanctions if they continue their engagement with Iran.
- The sanctions often referred to as “secondary sanctions”, which primarily target non-US companies engaging in business in or with Iran entirely outside US jurisdiction.
- The Iran deal, despite its shortcomings, was a shining example of the capacity of world powers to come together and sort out a complex issue diplomatically.
- It assumed greater significance given the recent wars and chaos in West Asia.
- It should have set a model in addressing other nuclear crises.
- Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, is necessary to convince countries like North Korea, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.
- The deal is important in ensuring the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and regional peace and stability.
Impact on India
- India and Iran relations are on downward trend in recent times.
- Oil supplies are reduced to India and Iran is not in favour of allotting gas fields to India in recent times. Mostly India’s relations with the US might be the reason for this.
- But India is in a better position having been forced to diversify its crude supplying base.
- It may impact on Chabahar port project if US impose more sanctions on Iran.
- It will impact India’s balance in the complex West Asia region.
3. Maternal deaths rose during pandemic: study
‘Risk of stillbirths also increased’
The failure of the health system to cope with COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an increase in maternal deaths and stillbirths, according to a study published in The Lancet Global Health journal.
Overall, there was a 28% increase in the odds of stillbirth, and the risk of mothers dying during pregnancy or childbirth increased by about one-third. There was also a rise in maternal depression. COVID-19 impact on pregnancy outcomes was disproportionately high on poorer countries, according to the study published on March 31.
The report is an analysis of 40 studies across 17 countries including Brazil, Mexico, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, India, China and Nepal. “The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to avoidable deaths of both mothers and babies. Policy makers and healthcare leaders must urgently investigate robust strategies for preserving safe and respectful maternity care, even during the ongoing global emergency. Immediate action is required to avoid rolling back decades of investment in reducing mother and infant mortality in low-resource settings,” the authors urge.
The study attributes the worsening trend to the failure of the “inefficiency of the healthcare system and their inability to cope with the pandemic” instead of strict lockdown measures. This resulted in reduced access to care.
In the Indian context, an analysis of HMIS data by Population Foundation of India shows that during the months of national lockdown last year between April and June, compared to the same period in 2019, there was a 27% drop in pregnant women receiving four or more ante-natal check-ups, a 28% decline in institutional deliveries and 22% decline in prenatal services.
The authors recommend that personnel for maternity services not be redeployed for other critical and medical care during the pandemic and in response to future health system shocks.
4. Disquiet over policy for rare diseases
‘Those who need lifelong care require more help’
Caregivers to patients with ‘rare diseases’ and affiliated organisations are dissatisfied with the National Policy for Rare Diseases, 2021 announced on Wednesday. Though the document specifies increasing the government support for treating patients with a ‘rare disease’— from ₹15 lakh to ₹20 lakh — caregivers say this doesn’t reflect actual costs of treatment.
“The new policy offers no support to patients awaiting treatment since the earlier National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases 2017 was kept in abeyance. In the absence of any funding support, close to 130 patients are left with no option but to wait for the inevitable. Several patientshave already lost their lives in the interim period. Unlike conditions under Group 1 and Group 2, patients with Group 3 disorders require sustainable treatment support,” said Manjit Singh, National President, Lysosomal Storage Disorders Support Society.
“Looking at the number of rare disease patients diagnosed and considered eligible for treatment by the respective State technical committees, the immediate requirement of funds to support the immediate treatment needs of the diagnosed patients shouldn’t have exceeded ₹80 crore to ₹100 crore annually. The Centre’s contribution would work out to ₹40 to ₹50 crore — if it is able to convince the State(s) for a load-sharing model, as a few States like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have already indicated,” said health economist Prof. Viswanath Pingali.
“It is alarming that the Union government has left patients with Group 3 rare diseases to fend for themselves. The new policy has absolutely no consideration for Group 3 patients, who require lifelong treatment support,” said Prasanna Shirol, co-founder and executive director, Organisation for Rare Diseases India, an umbrella organisation.
Rare Diseases in India
It was reported that the application of the majority of patients suffering from Lysosomal Storage Disorders (a rare disease) has been pending with the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for several months.
- There are more than 2,000 children infected with rare diseases across the country. Many of them require Enzyme Replacement Therapy (ERT).
- ERT is a medical treatment which replaces an enzyme that is deficient or absent in the body.
- There is also a demand for the reformulation of National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases, 2017.
Lysosomal Storage Disorders
- Lysosomal storage disorder is an inherited metabolic disease that is characterized by an abnormal build-up of various toxic materials in the body’s cells as a result of enzyme deficiencies.
- It may affect different parts of the body, including the skeleton, brain, skin, heart, and central nervous system.
- There is currently no approved treatment for many lysosomal storage diseases.
- A rare disease is a health condition of low prevalence that affects a small number of people compared with other prevalent diseases in the general population.
- There is no universally accepted definition of rare diseases and the definitions usually vary across different countries.
- Though rare diseases are of low prevalence and individually rare, collectively they affect a considerable proportion of the population.
- 80% of rare diseases are genetic in origin and hence disproportionately impact children.
- In India there are 56-72 million people affected by rare diseases.
National Policy for Treatment of Rare Diseases, 2017
- The policy highlights the measures and steps, both in the short as well as in the long term, that need to be taken to deal comprehensively with rare diseases.
- The policy intends to constitute an Inter-ministerial Consultative Committee to coordinate and steer the initiatives of different ministries and departments on rare diseases.
- It also mentions for the creation of a corpus fund at Central and State level for funding treatment of rare diseases.
- The policy aims to create a patient registry for diseases housed in Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).
- However, recognizing the higher cost of treatment for rare diseases, the policy also seeks to strike a balance between access to treatment with health system sustainability.
- It also aims to create awareness among health professionals, families of patients and the public in general, about rare diseases.
5. India wants total disengagement
Chinese forces yet to disengage from Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang & Demchok
The remaining points of tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh should be resolved “quickly”, said an official of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Friday. Addressing the weekly press briefing, official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said “prolongation” of differences in the remaining points of friction was not helpful for restoration of peace and tranquillity along the LAC.
“There is a consensus that the two sides should now quickly resolve the remaining issues along the LAC in eastern Ladakh,” said Mr. Bagchi, highlighting the positive outcome from the 10 rounds of Senior Commanders-level talks which helped in achieving “disengagement” in the Pangong Tso area. The official indicated that despite negotiations, similar disengagement is yet to be achieved at the remaining friction points.
“At both the senior commanders’ meeting and the WMCC (Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination), the two sides had detailed exchange of views on the remaining issues. The two sides continue to remain in touch through military and diplomatic channels,” said Mr. Bagchi, emphasising the need to resolve the issues.
Following months of tension on the LAC, Indian and Chinese Senior Commanders had managed to disengage on the north and south banks of the Pangong Tso. However, the Chinese forces are yet to disengage from Gogra, Hot Springs, Depsang and Demchok. “We therefore hope that the Chinese side will work with us to ensure that disengagement in the remaining areas is completed at the earliest. This would allow both sides to consider de-escalation of forces in eastern Ladakh as that alone will lead to the restoration of peace and tranquillity and provide conditions for progress of our bilateral relationship,” said the official spokesperson.
6. Editorial-1: A missing science pillar in the COVID response
India’s fight against the resurgence of the coronavirus is a challenge requiring strengthened data and better science
The optimism that India might have beaten the COVID-19 pandemic has given way to pessimism from a sharp increase in new cases and deaths from the disease. Maharashtra seems to be particularly affected, but nearly all States are reporting increases. The epidemiology of COVID-19 is poorly understood, but some early understanding of the transmission of the virus can enable a more effective science-driven response.
Spread of variants
First, the surge is probably driven by variants from the original, as variants worldwide comprise much of the current wave. A resumption of global travel meant that spread of variants into India was inevitable, with the only question being when. Evolutionary theory would expect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to mutate to become more transmissible. After all, the only task of a virus is to reproduce. However, the expected concomitant decrease in lethality has not yet been documented. Anecdotal reports that the current surge is occurring more in younger adults and accompanied by unusual symptoms also support the idea that variants are responsible. Direct evidence is needed from genetic sequencing of the virus.
Second, it was, and remains, wishful thinking that India had achieved “herd immunity”. The patterns of infection in India clearly suggest multi-generational transmission, with younger adults the engine of transmission into the elderly. Various serosurveys have consistently found that half or more of tested urban populations have antibodies to the virus. However, this high level of infection is not the same as a markedly reduced level of transmission, which is what is required for herd immunity.
Notions of herd immunity do not fully capture the fact that for largely unknown reasons, viral transmission is cyclical. Delhi had two major peaks, in 2020, of death rates and case rates, one in June and another in November, and now is entering a third major wave. Within Mumbai, the current wave appears to be affecting more affluent areas and private hospitals, in contrast to last year where the highest infection levels were in the slums and poorer areas. Our forthcoming mortality-based analyses (https://bit.ly/3sY0KYZ) suggest several sub-waves exist within major viral peaks, reflecting subtle changes in community transmission. The ebbs and flow of vaccine transmission are far more variable than we assume.
As well, much of infection in India might well be mild, with less durable immune protection than induced by vaccination. ‘Asymptomatic infection is more commonly reported in Indian serosurveys, exceeding 90% in some, in contrast to high-income countries, where about one-third of infections report as asymptomatic’. Recent findings from Wuhan, China show most seropositive infections were asymptomatic and among these, the important protective antibodies were low during follow-up periods. Milder infection might well also correlate with lower severity of clinical illness, helping to explain the Indian paradox of widespread transmission but with low mortality rates.
Data must guide decisions
India needs to increase the quantity, quality and public availability of actual data to guide decision-making. Theories or mathematical models are hugely uncertain, particularly early on in the epidemic. Better understanding of the unique patterns of Indian viral transmission has a few pillars, which can be achieved quickly. First, collection of anonymised demographic and risk details (age, sex, travel, contact with other COVID-19 patients, existing chronic conditions, current smoking) on all positive cases on a central website in each State remains a priority.
Second, greatly expanded sequencing of the viral genome is needed from many parts of India, which can be achieved by re-programming sequencing capacity in Indian academic and commercial laboratories. Third, far better reporting of COVID-19 deaths is needed. Daily or weekly reporting of the total death counts by age and sex by each municipality would help track if there is a spike in presumed COVID-19 deaths. The Registrar General of India’s verbal autopsy studies are invaluable, but must be reactivated to review deaths occurring in 2020, given that the last available results are from 2013.
Third, the Indian Council of Medical Research’s national serosurvey had design limitations such that it probably underestimated the true national prevalence. A far larger and better set of serial surveys is required. Finally, we need to understand better why some populations are not affected. For example, COVID-19 infection and death levels in Thailand and Vietnam are remarkably low, and cannot be assigned to their stronger testing and tracing programmes. Widespread existing immunity, perhaps from direct exposure to bat coronaviruses might be one explanation. Rapidly assembled comparative studies across parts of India and Asia are a priority.
Counter growing inequity
The science pillar of a response is complementary to action. The central and State governments have already pushed for a rapid expansion of COVID-19 vaccination. India can learn from Chile, which has successfully provided at least one dose to over half of its population. Affluent and connected urban elites of India are vaccinating quickly, but the poorer and less educated Indians are being left behind. Vaccination campaigns need to reach the poor adults over age 45, without having to prove anything other than approximate age. Follow-up studies among the vaccinated can establish the durability of protection, and, ideally, reduction in transmission.
Similarly, India must capture and report data on who is vaccinated, including by education or wealth levels. The poor cannot be left in the dark.
Adult vaccination plan
COVID-19 could well turn into a seasonal challenge and thus, the central government should actively consider launching a national adult vaccination programme that matches India’s commitment and success in expanding universal childhood vaccination. The Disease Control Priorities Project estimates an adult national programme would cost about ₹250 per Indian per year to cover routine annual flu vaccination, five-yearly pneumococcal vaccines, HPV vaccines for adolescent girls and tetanus for expectant mothers. Per year, vaccines for one billion adults might save about 200,000 lives from the targeted diseases. Annual flu vaccination reduces the risk of influenza pandemics and perhaps even COVID-19 infection. Indeed, we might already be in the era where major zoonotic diseases are not once-a-century events, but once a decade. Thus, adult and child vaccination programmes are essential to prepare for future pandemics.
More draconian steps, such as another full national lockdown should be considered carefully, as they incur a huge toll on the poor and stunt education of Indian children. It also remains unclear if the population would comply. The resurgence of COVID-19 presents a major challenge for governments, yet the best hope is to rapidly expand epidemiological evidence, share it with the public and build confidence that the vaccination programme will benefit all Indians.
7. Editorial-2: In Geneva face-off, outrage versus hope
The Human Rights Council is where Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms meet and confront each other
“Hey Geneva” laments Ajith Kumarasiri (musician, songwriter, and composer in Sri Lanka) in powerful Sinhala rhythm and blues. “We no longer kill.” “We don’t shoot anymore.” “Give us our island back.” Geneva as an idea is firmly embedded in the Sri Lankan consciousness. For many Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhalese, it is an attack on national honour, a place where their vulnerability as a small island is exploited. For many Tamils and now Muslims, it is a place of hope. For human rights activists the world over, it is their forum.
The Human Rights Council in Geneva is a place where Sinhala and Tamil nationalisms meet, confront each other and fight countless shadow battles. In some of the side events of the Council, before the novel coronavirus pandemic, people have fainted, come to fisticuffs and been removed by UN security. It is the place where both communities have large demonstrations next to the legless chair that reminds the Palais de Nations of the consequence of war. There are heated, blood-chilling speeches aimed at the supporters. For bystanders, much of this drama is quite unsettling.
The government playbook with regard to the Geneva process at the UN Human Rights Council is to present it as an enormous power play full of double standards. It is seen as western countries ganging up on Sri Lanka for its closeness to China. Imperialism and neocolonialism remain in the frame. There is no government recognition that there may be any grievance or a victim. This just compounds the insensitivity.
The government’s aim this year was to have no resolution at all, while the major Tamil groups wanted the Human Rights Council to begin a pathway to the International Criminal Court. In the end, the resolution decided to create capacity at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to collect, preserve and consolidate evidence not only on war crimes but also on other gross violations of human rights and serious violations of humanitarian law. There is no date or time period.
Though geopolitics is the framework for decision making at the Human Rights Council, the actual process is more nuanced and may be described as geopolitics “plus”. Unless one acknowledges this “plus” factor, one will never understand the actual workings of the Human Rights Council. The activism, agitation and the momentum around a resolution created by this “plus” factor spills over and creates the atmosphere in which the resolution is adopted.
The “plus” factors around the Sri Lankan resolution were easy to identify. First came the legal experts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Special Rapporteurs and procedures who took very strong positions. The pivotal input by the Office was the Report of the High Commissioner on “Promoting Accountability and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka”. Michelle Bachelet as a High Commissioner, a torture victim, President, and a Minister of Defence, put her full weight behind the report. More than anything else, her report and words made the resolution inevitable.
In addition to the work of OHCHR, the Tamil groups nationally and globally were extremely active. But, it was Muslim civil society and the Muslim diaspora that made the difference for this resolution. Their passion, energy and sense of injustice filled the spaces. Despite heavy lobbying from Pakistan, (the Coordinator on Human rights and humanitarian issues in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, at Geneva), and from Bangladesh, after Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit in March, despite pressure from China and after the Rajapaksas made personal calls to OIC members, the large majority of Muslim countries still decided to abstain.
Elements to a global cause
Though the diasporas are always active, it is an international civil society made up of a whole array of disparate groups that dominate the agitational space of the Human Rights Council. These groups are often at odds with each other but act in solidarity when it comes to global causes. Sri Lanka has again become a global cause. Once you get on the agenda of international civil society, it is difficult to get off. As Christine Schöwebel-Patel, the academic in international law and political economy, has recently written, there is a kind of “branding” in a communications sense that takes place and has severe consequences for country and community.
The events unfolding in Geneva are particularly disturbing because of their shortsightedness. In 2014, Sri Lanka faced a hostile Council and was an outlier in the international system very much like today. Most people have conveniently forgotten this history. The Resolution of the Human Rights Council in 2015 that Sri Lanka cosponsored after the government changed was to pull Sri Lanka out of the rut that it had fallen into. If that resolution were not passed, Sri Lanka would have had the evidence collection and preserving mechanism in some form by 2016.
The 2015 resolution accepted international best practices, an office for missing persons, an office for reparations, a truth commission and a judicial process for those guilty of serious crimes. At that time, the focus was on the need for a system that gave confidence to the victims. Victim groups were clear that a purely domestic process had failed them before. As a result, it was agreed to have a framework with an element of foreign participation.
International, resolution 30/1 became a great success though victim groups thought it was a failure due to a lack of implementation. International hostility disappeared; Sri Lanka was dropped from international punitive agendas, became open to GSP plus (or the European Union’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus) and other trade and financial benefits and was welcomed back into UN peacekeeping. Despite its international success, 30/1 was reviled nationally as a resolution that “sold out the soldiers” — blurring the lines between the few who have committed war crimes and the large majority who have not.
Fundamentally, there was also a lack of understanding of what “co-sponsorship” meant and the enlightened self-interest that it entailed. Co-sponsorship has always meant accepting international standards while keeping control of the national process — the legislation to be enacted and the personnel to be appointed. By arbitrarily withdrawing from the resolution, Sri Lanka created the space for the Human Rights Council to create a new mechanism to collect and preserve evidence. This process is now independent of the Colombo government and will eventually have a life of its own.
The two sides
With this dedicated capacity at the OHCHR, the human rights issues regarding Sri Lanka will not go away. For many Sri Lankans, especially the Sinhalese, this is an outrage of double standards. There is real fury at what they see as global inequity. For many members of the minorities, opposition leaders, journalists, lawyers, victim groups and civil society activists who claim they are being harassed, prosecuted and intimidated on a daily basis by a surveillance state, there is relief to know that someone will be watching.