The United States is set to table a resolution against Sri Lanka at the next sitting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva later this month. The Americans have voiced their concerns over human rights violations in Sri Lanka before, but so far had not taken the step of bringing it forward at the HRC.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has mentioned the option of a resolution in a letter to Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Pieris, whom she will meet next month in Washington.
In March 2011, the US government already warned that Sri Lanka should do more to investigate the killing of many thousands of civilians during the final stages of the separatist war with the Tamil Tigers, which ended in 2009.
Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robert Blake said last year that Sri Lanka could be hauled before an international war crimes tribunal if Sri Lanka’s own internal investigation did not meet international standards.
That investigation, carried out by the government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC), was published in November, but it has since been met with international criticism. “The report was really, really bad,” says Fred Carver of the London-based Sri Lanka Campaign. “It lacked any accountability. Subsequently, the government failed to take any action. There was no next step, which is very necessary.”
Benefit of the doubt
Mr Carver is positive about America’s move to support a resolution against Sri Lanka at the HRC. “They’ve never been very critical of Sri Lanka, so this is new. So far there’s been a general feeling throughout the Western world that they give Sri Lanka the benefit of the doubt. This really would be a welcome change of opinion.”
Mr Carver warns that a failure of the reconciliation process could lead to a resumption of the civil war. “That could in turn lead to a new wave of international terrorism or money laundering in Europe. The world has an invested interest in Sri Lanka not returning to a civil war.”
Alan Keenan of the International Crisis Group (ICG) says it’s clear that the international community is not satisfied with Sri Lanka’s steps towards a satisfactory reconciliation process. “The possible steps by the US and other countries at the HRC are a way of keeping pressure on Colombo,” he told RNW.
But he can understand why some countries – most notably Western countries – chose not to push too hard on what happened during the final stages of the Tamil war.
“If that had happened, they risked further inflaming passions in Sri Lanka,” Mr Keenan says, “with a risk of polarizing the communities and also strengthening the Rajapakse government.”
President Rajapakse could then portray himself as “the victim of Western neo-colonialism trying to steal the fruits of his victory,” Mr Keenan adds.
Nevertheless, the ICG says that this fear is not a strong enough argument to allow impunity. “It’s undermined the country’s core institutions of the judiciary, police and political parties,” says Mr Keenan. “This needs to be addressed for Sri Lanka to move forward.”
Encourage Sri Lanka
David Kennedy, the spokesman for the US delegation at the HRC in Geneva, agrees: “If there is a resolution, it will be to encourage Sri Lanka to move towards reconciliation with all communities,” he told RNW. “It needs to be addressed, as it is an important human rights issue. A resolution at the HRC is just one tool to achieve that goal.”