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Ravi Nair – Investigating War Crimes in Sri Lanka

May 30, 2009

The Dissenter – Investigating War Crimes in Sri Lanka

Illusion and Reality

The European Union (EU) did not need a crystal ball to predict that its resolution at the special session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) convened on 28 May 2009 to discuss the human rights situation in Sri Lanka had as much chance of success as the cow had of jumping over the moon.

A few hopeful Tamils across the world, clueless about the Byzantine ways of the UN, thought the world’s premier human rights body would soon send in the blue helmets to save Tamils in distress. In fact, the UN cannot, on its own, send even its independent experts, the Special Procedures, to Sri Lanka since Colombo has not issued a standing invitation to any of them.

If the EU and its allies failed, the non-governmental community did no better. In view of the fact that all the dirty dozen countries in the regional blocs of Asia, Africa and Latin America were expected to gang up and shout down calls for accountability, NGOs should have sent a clear, forthright signal and proposed a sound strategy for the road ahead. But all they had to show for was non-representative discussions. Certain Asian NGOs, even those that call themselves ‘regional’ organisations, on the other hand opted for profound silence.

The road to hell…

The EU resolution failed, as the EU might have expected. It was not even a moral victory, as the EU might have been hoping. The Czech opening statement in the debate on behalf of the EU was indifferently drafted and delivered, and was not about to stir a leaf, let alone the consciences of the majority of the diplomats, most of whom have long smothered any altruistic stirrings in their individual hearts at the altar of their nations’ geopolitical priorities.

The debate started with a forceful statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. It was rebutted with a stout but disingenuous statement by Mr. Mahinda Samarasinghe who heads Sri Lanka’s aptly named Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. The Cubans speaking on behalf of that cold war relic that they have appropriated, the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), launched their usual diatribe. The Indian statement did little credit to a country that is democratic. This once again underscores the need for the Indian Parliament and citizens to exercise scrutiny over what Indian diplomats get away with at forums like the UN, purporting to interpret the sovereign will of the Indian people.

The statement by Canada was uplifting. It made specific demands of the Sri Lankan government. It sought to emphasise international scrutiny and the need to strengthen key national protection mechanisms in Sri Lanka. Also, the US would have taken its place as a member of the Human Rights Council in another fortnight. Why did the EU not wait until the US brought its force multiplier effect to the Council? Old Europe has much to learn from the world across the Atlantic.

It would also have been a quantum leap if the EU resolution had sought an adequately staffed and resourced field presence of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Jaffna and Colombo. The current presence in Colombo consists of a solitary UN Human Right advisor to the UN system in that country assisted by two junior colleagues.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. V Sivasubramaniam permalink
    July 21, 2009 11:39 pm

    Why does your piece appear scrambled in these pages? Could this be editorial censorship. You may email your piece to


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