An update on Sri Lanka

I woke up this morning stunned at the following news:

Sri Lanka last night scored a major propaganda coup when the UN human rights council praised its victory over the Tamil Tigers and refused calls to investigate allegations of war crimes by both sides in the final chapter of a bloody 25-year conflict. In a shock move, which dismayed western nations critical of Sri Lanka’s approach, the island’s diplomats succeeded in lobbying enough of its south Asian allies to pass a resolution describing the conflict as a “domestic matter that doesn’t warrant outside interference”.

The UN also criticized the Tamil Tigers for using civilians as human shields in addition to supporting the Sri Lankan government’s decision to restrict international aid groups’ access to refugee camps.

The decision has already come under fire from human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch condemned the UN decision as one that had failed victims:

The United Nations Human Rights Council on May 27 passed a deeply flawed resolution on Sri Lanka that ignores calls for an international investigation into alleged abuses during recent fighting and other pressing human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said today. The council held a special session on May 26 and 27, 2009, on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, a week after the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by government forces.

“The Human Rights Council did not even express its concern for the hundreds of thousands of people facing indefinite detention in government camps,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The council ignored urgent needs and wasted an important chance to promote human rights… It is deeply disappointing that a majority of the Human Rights Council decided to focus on praising a government whose forces have been responsible for the repeated indiscriminate shelling of civilians,” said de Rivero. “These states blocked a message to the government that it needs to hear, to ensure access to displaced civilians and uphold human rights standards. They undermined the very purpose of the council.”

As for how this happened, the resolution passed with 29 votes in favor, 12 against, and 6 abstentions. The 12 votes that were seeking a more critical resolution included [corrected] Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; the countries that led efforts to push the resolution forward in its present form included Brazil, Cuba, India, and Pakistan.

The news of the decision (posted in the news feed) is still recent, so I’m sure we’ll hear more reactions in the next few hours. [Updated: the actual resolution can be found here. Thanks, ptr_vivek]

68 thoughts on “An update on Sri Lanka

  1. 49 · amber the U.N. is extremely corrupted.

    the tamils want hope.

    same with what happened between Gahza and isreal.

    SL Tamils (and, I have spent time in Colombo, and my mommy is (Indian) Tamil)–wake up! Disavow this left-wing BS (it is a dead end)–look at who just voted against you in the UN–India and the Islamic (desi/Arab/African/South-East-Asian–all of them!) countries. Join up with the winners–US/Japan–notice we don’t like the GoSL’s Chinese commie puppet-master either.

  2. Its interesting to see all this discussion. Is there anyone reading/commenting here lived in that region that can speak first hand about their perspective?

    What I am curious is whether the support from India is largely due to the Rajiv Gandhi assasination and whether India would have been more sympathetic otherwise? Of course, there is always the risk about getting involved in these matters by India in the context of Kashmir. Also, I wonder if there a deep feeling of hatred for India developing in the affected tamils in Srilanka and creating some more suicide bombers ?

  3. Context,

    you are right. Mano is simply derided as a Tiger lover. that’s bad enough, but certainly not dead.


    Jeremy Page (from whom much of the report is sourced) is the chief whipping boy of SL bloggers at the moment–his work is held up as the epitome of un-sourced, fleet street-style reporting that is heavy on innuendo, sensational details, and perhaps a sprinkling of named sources.. I would be careful about taking that article anymore seriously than British reporting usually is received by US journalists. Dean Nelson of the Telegraph is another good example (and he’s the Asian editor). The video really proves nothing more that what we already know–GOSL shelled with little to no regard for civilian life. I’m sure you noticed that the linked article features no local sources. Again, going with the objective of the art of the possible, it won’t matter to the Gamage on the street if 20k tamils died in the final stages of the war–it’s certainly not like the idea of 7,000 deaths is causing any of the respectable commentators to pause and reconsider the wisdom of going with the Brothers Rajapakse or of pressing the war when and how the GOSL did.

  4. Rob,

    is there a thread in which you can leave your anti-Muslim animus in the Vlaams Belang closet where it belongs? I’m sure you know that Mahinda has stuck his head in many a potentate’s caboose, only for a bit more FDI, and not in a discriminate fashion either…

  5. Nayagan, I didn’t bother to link to the newer article this morning from the Times that’s bandying about the 20,000 figure because the sources are even shoddier. After seeing some of the faults of my article magnified in this newer one, I realize that I should probably have refrained from linking to that article at all– but there wasn’t much out there, which surprised me; I don’t usually read the TImes, but that article’s vehemence caught my eye as representative of “something” in Europe/GB’s reaction to the resolution. (Perhaps it’s not.) You’re right to be suspicious of why people would inflate the number to something that’s unverifiable…

    • Its interesting to see all this discussion. Is there anyone reading/commenting here lived in that region that can speak first hand about their perspective?

    What I am curious is whether the support from India is largely due to the Rajiv Gandhi assasination and whether India would have been more sympathetic otherwise? Of course, there is always the risk about getting involved in these matters by India in the context of Kashmir. Also, I wonder if there a deep feeling of hatred for India developing in the affected tamils in Srilanka and creating some more suicide bombers ? *

    India will always be interested in Sri Lanka due to its geographical importance and in order to assert its regional monopoly. It also carries the guilt of being responsible for the LTTE becoming a militant organisation and then subsequently getting badly burnt with the Rajiv Gandhi incident. India is now uneasy about the increased involvement of Pakistan and China and will be making the necessary diplomatic moves to regain its topmost position with regards to Sri Lanka. I doubt that a potential LTTE insurgency will play directly with India in terms of suicide attacks as long as it still continues to receive the on and off sympathy of Tamil Nadu.

  6. . Also, I wonder if there a deep feeling of hatred for India developing in the affected tamils in Srilanka and creating some more suicide bombers ?

    I think it is not just restricted to Sri lankan Tamils and spreading to Tamilnadu Tamils. Now that the bogey of LTTE is gone, India should support Sri lankan Tamils and first get them out of the “camps”.

  7. is there a thread in which you can leave your anti-Muslim animus in the Vlaams Belang closet where it belongs?

    As you wish, Nayagan–I’ll do that on all of the spelling-bee threads. 😉 BTW, Koenraad’s heart-transplant was successful, and he’s returning to the Desh later this year!

  8. While there may truly be crimes that need to be investigated, the Americans and British are the last people who need to be involved.

    When the Americans needed to win battles, they massacred plenty of people (Eg- Fallujah). Why should Countries like Sri Lanka deal with Insurgencies in their country any less brutally than the Americans and British who do so in places thousands of miles away.

  9. I understand that Nations are supposed to more responsible and accountable for their actions. However, what can a small nation like Sri Lanka do when facing a strong terrorist opponent?? And this is the same LTTE that frustrated the Indian peace keeping force!! And there is always going to be some collateral damage when you are trying to expunge a parasitic organization from your own country… I am not trying to justify any human rights violations that the Sri Lankan army might have committed.. However, the civilian deaths were unavoidable in this case..

  10. Nilanjana, thanks for the informed post and subsequent commentary. It is amazing to see the LTTE-bad/GoSL-good or the LTTE-good/GoSL-bad rhetoric continue onwards, even now. The war is over. The question now, as it was before, is whether all sides – LTTE, GoSL, IPKF, will ever be held accountable for what they have done to ordinary people. During the war, the best voices on Sri Lanika focused not on the violence against Tamils or the violence against teh Sinhalese or ‘terrorism’ or ‘state violence’ – but that there were hundreds of thousands – millions of people – caught in this situation in which there were (at least ) two horrible political forces they had to deal wtih all of which was built on a chain of events set into motion by some horrible, horrible colonial practices (whether done malevolently or for ‘administrative convenience’).

    But that’s just the personal and moral – the situation on the ground is taht the Sri Lankan government controls the island. It has engaged in specific actions,a nd the LTTE is gone. So can we focus on the matter at hand, as this post does, and talk about the serious problem that is posed by situations like this – on the one hand, we hate imperialism; ont he other hand we hate ‘internal situations’ that generally involve a massive amount of violence against groups of people or pehraps the entirety of the people.

    So what do we do? In this case, after talking to people I know and trust who don’t support anti-imperialism at all, I was okay supporting the U.S. pushing the IMF to delay a loan and opposed to the UN stating that it did not support that. I’m not sure what I feel about the resolution that’s the subject of the post – it’s an enormously complicated situation, but one obvious lesson is that governments are governments – and whether it is the U.S. government or the Chinese government or the LIbyan government or the Indian government, they don’t give a f”£k about what happens to Tamils or Palestinians unless it serves or at least works with their domestic political interests. And this is a serious problem – both for the billions of poor people in the world who are already affected by climate change or in this case hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka – whether Estate Tamil or Colomban Sinhalese or Tamil Muslim or Jaffna Tamil or JVP or Hindu or Muslim or Buddhist or whatever else. I think it requires thinking on a case by case situation, and thinking carefully, and with as much information in hand as possible.

    on an aside, yes, rob, please go spout anti-muslim stuff on a spelling-bee thread rather than this one.

  11. this article asks a number of very good questions that are worth thinking about now. i have issues with it (as all else), but given what’s out there, it’s a good summary:

    1) How many civilians died in the final weeks of assault on the LTTE inside the ‘no fire’ zone and what has happened to their corpses? 2) Why were hospitals treating the injured and the sick inside the ‘no fire’ zone repeatedly shelled by the Sri Lankan army and what is the fate of the Tamil doctors who reported this to the global media? 3) What kind of banned weapons did the Sri Lankan forces use in their operations against the LTTE and which governments around the world supplied these to them? 4) Despite repeated official assertions that the ‘war is over’ why is the Sri Lankan government afraid of allowing independent media, humanitarian workers and human rights groups access to war affected areas? 5) Why are the thousands upon thousands of Tamil refugees – Sri Lankan citizens all of them- still being kept behind barbed wires like cattle corralled off before slaughter and why are Tamil youth being abducted from within these camps ? 6) Why are the repeated reports of Tamil women being raped by Sri Lankan army personnel not being investigated? 7) Why are Sri Lankan journalists questioning the conduct of the war being killed, tortured or forced into exile if the government has nothing to hide? 8) How can a chauvinist regime responsible for the worst kind of prejudice and atrocities against its minority population be entrusted with either their immediate rehabilitation or long-term solutions to the island’s ethnic question? 9) How long will it be before Mahinda Rajapakse and all high officials under his command are brought before an International Tribunal to account for their war crimes and crimes against humanity? 10) Now that the Tamil Tigers are defeated is it not time for the world to tame the rampaging Sinhala Lion too?
  12. Dr. A,

    I will have to reiterate from PTR–delaying the loan will only lead to GOSL printing worthless money to pay for the bills. Fuel and many food staples are imported and subsidized. POTA is still in force and there is no political will to unwind and shrink the military Making it more expensive for the average citizen to buy essentials will not endear them to what they rightly see as the shrill hypocritical chiding of a heretofore uninterested international community.

    False is the faith placed in toothless international action, censure and symbolic spluttering. SL can, has and will continue to seek wealthy patrons outside the western sphere. It may be frustrating to the child raised in optimistic environments, but there’s nothing you, I nor anyone else can do about it.

  13. Nayagan, I am not as optimistic as you seem to think, but I do think it’s important to take note of when and where systems fail instead of accepting that they always have– and always will–fail. In the meantime, reports from human rights groups have proved enough of a thorn to inspire such diatribes as the “Human Rights Watch’s War on Sri Lanka” on the GoSL Ministry of Defence web site. I agree that the UNHRC is toothless, but exerting international pressure on big donors may not be an entirely lost cause.

  14. Nilanjana,

    Thanks again for putting up the post.

    I would, however, once again and most respectfully ask you to read the sources I provided, especially

    When hardcore chauvinists and the moderates agree on policy prescriptions, the actual effects of IC actions are almost irrelevant. Are you familiar with the 50-yr old embargo of Cuba?

    I am not claiming privilege of identity, as many do when discussing the issue with out-group observers, but only that HRW and the UN have been considered ‘thorns in the side’ for many years now by the defence establishment and civilian commentators alike. Diatribes of this sort are not a unique data point in the history of SL–they are very common.

    Advocating the withholding of IMF funds and aid, which will lead inevitably to hardships for average citizens, is tantamount to snatching food out of their mouths, bleeding petrol out of their cars and generally strangling the throat of an already palsied SL market. I’m struggling to see the morality of pressuring big donors to stay away. Does not one of these humanitarian GI Joe’s think of the consequences of their actions? This is how the moderate Tamil opinion is driven out of mainstream human rights discourse–when we say that IC action will hurt the LCD in SL, we are greeted with the same kind of fundamentalism of thought that pervades the Sinahala chauvinist discourse.

    if you want to ‘take action,’ i suggest donating to actlanka. You can see timely updates of purchased items and know that it is actually getting to Manik and Cheddikulam Farms as it is a domestic NGO.

    This is my last comment here on this topic. I can see why DBS Jeyaraj graced me with the following advice:

    What I have learnt through painful experience is that one can only advise those who realise that they need advice. There’s no point in advising those who think nothing is wrong with them and only others are to blame for their predicament

  15. Nayagan,

    I am trying to understand this situation the best I can, and I’m learning through this discussion. I don’t advocate the withholding of funding to Sri Lanka, which I agree would be disastrous, but is pressuring donors (like Japan) to demand some accountability in addressing issues with IDPs, etc., the same thing as asking them to stay away? I’m asking because I don’t know. The tone of posts on seems to suggest that we shouldn’t focus on the lofty war crimes question in the wake of more practical and pressing humanitarian concerns; I can and do appreciate that. If the government is providing sufficient relief, that’s a point in this discussion that needs to be acknowledged; if it is not, is there a role for the international community to help without hurting the situation? (And yes, I can accept that shutting up about war crimes and offering more aid may be what is needed right now.)

    As for ‘action,’ small actions do add up, so publicizing them here can’t hurt. Thanks for the links.

  16. Nayagan, I think that there are a few dangers to supporting a call for more wealthy and powerful countries to use economic pressure on a smaller and less powerful country to change its policies (whatever they are). These include supporting a world in which this happens routinely, the economic pain that you point to, and other measures. In other words, I have about as much faith in the intentions of the ‘world community’ as you do.

    At the same time, I think the position you end up taking on such an action is connected to a lot of factors, including whether in fact you have any effect or are just cheerleading, what effects pressure from donors would have, the larger culture of imperialism / geopoltiics, and the effects it can be expected to possibly have on the Sri Lankan government in this case.

    Where I vehemently disagree with you is the ideat hat nothing can be done. This was posed to me in the context of Israel / Gaza when the Israeli invasion was at its height (the blockade and misery continue, btw). The idea that ‘nothing can be done’ was raised and I responded, ‘well, if 100 White American Jewish children went to Gaza and stood in the face of the tanks and were killed, on a day to day basis, that would put a significant dent in the Israeli invasion.’ Now, both my friend and I felt that this was not something we would want to organise but my underlying point was that in many situations, there is something that can be done – the question is whether poltiically and personally we are willign to bear the costs of what it would take or whether we woudl sit by and do nothing. Granted, I am overestimating perhaps the impact that an individual person can have and that I am underestimating the ways in which social movements will be coopted by larger structural forces (see, e.g. the Bush Administration’s use of women’s rights and other talking points in justifying the war on Iraq).

    However, if we get a ltitle creative, we can engage in political actions and not fall into the trap of thinking that humanitarian reliefa nd politics are totally separate. For example, there is a Non Violent Communication centre in Sri Lanka. There are assuredly organisations that are better or worse in terms of who you want to support. There are groups like MSF and ICRC and Reporters without borders that can be contribtued to rather than efforts that the current government of Sri Lanka will take credit for. most notably, there is the role that we can play in our individual lives – as Nilanjana has done here – in initiating a sound and smart discussion on something like this so taht we can again say ‘Never Again’ as we do every time this happens – but start getting to the point where we can actually mean it when we see it.

    Because it has happened too many times, and it is enough. As someone who is outside the situation without any deep connections on a personal level to the conflict, we need to live our lives, and its hard to do so while this massive violence is occurring in a world outside our lives – or perhaps remotely in connection with it. Just like with Palestine, with poverty in other places, etc. And I can’t accept the fact that there is nothign to be done – only that we may not be willing to bear the costs of doing what it is that needs to be done, right now. But even thinking about that and trying to get a bit more comfortable with coming closer to bearing more costs if not to the extent described above might make a difference of some kind.

    But you may be right – American optimism is both eternal and occasionally insipid, but if you don’t believe, what can be done?

  17. If the government is providing sufficient relief, that’s a point in this discussion that needs to be acknowledged; if it is not, is there a role for the international community to help without hurting the situation? (And yes, I can accept that shutting up about war crimes and offering more aid may be what is needed right now.)

    If the government is providing ‘sufficient’ relief – which is questionable in and of itself – that is the what. There still remains the questions of to whom, why, where, how is it going about it, and in what timescale. Given the actions of this government thus far, the banning of observation of its actions, and many other facets, in the context of a 26 year war and an even longer marginalisation of the population currently suffering, I would think a close eye to its actions now would be in order. Granted, that might mean less focus on ‘war crimes’ and more focus on current crimes or discrepancies in distribution – i.e. a new phase, because the old one has ended – but it by no means means shutting up. That’s exactly what the GoSL wants – I can almost guarantee it.

    And why would you give money to help someone-even if only to help their credibility by improving the situation- if you don’t trust them? if giving money to whomever allows the government to avoid its responsibilities, taht’s no good – but that’s a question worth exploring.

    So to deal with the supreme urgency of the situation – it clearly makes sense – but then isn’t the case everywhere? And everywhere, is it really wrong to make calls for accountability alongside the other objectives we have? cause it’s for damn sure that the Sri Lankan government will try to obliterate this episode or rewrite it thoroughly in order to ‘move forward’ and that of itself could endanger people in Sri Lanka – Tamils and others – both in the present and the future. It’s their choice, ultimately, but if they tell me I can help, I will.