Pakistan has been one of Sri Lanka’s most active supporters, providing considerable military and other assistance.(1)

So an op-ed critical of events in Sri Lanka in a major Pakistani newspaper – DAWN – is no small step forward.

Democrats and human rights defenders in Pakistan are right to be concerned about the precedents that have been and are being set in Sri Lanka since the parallels are disturbingly close.

Pakistan is also near to what Basil Fernando terms the ‘abysmal lawlessness’ of Sri Lanka.(2) Impunity is common, the disappearance of legality is the norm, “missing persons” happen frequently, powers are heavily concentrated in the executive head, many forms of legal institutional structures have been degraded and the citizen is “a big zero”. The main difference today is that Pakistan still has an independent and functioning judiciary.

So just as Pakistan’s elite have supported Sri Lanka’s elite, so there is a need for all those in Pakistan who support democracy and human rights to support their peers in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka’s ‘war crimes’. 15 July 2010
One doesn’t have to feel intrigued by the protest in Colombo. Led by a loyalist minister of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, the demonstrators want the United Nations to call off the probe into war crimes the Sri Lankan army is alleged to have committed against the Tamil in the closing days of the civil war last year.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s move to set up a three-member panel has come more than a year after the war had ended and reports of the army’s atrocities against civilians had started filtering out. The war was conducted by the army but had the full backing of the president who believed that Tamil Eelam was an intractable problem which could not be resolved through political means. The war had dragged on for 27 years and the final assault is believed to have been brutal with 7,000 civilians having been killed in the last few months of the fighting. Besides the Sri Lankan government is known to have resorted to ham-fisted measures vis-à-vis the media and the opposition.

The panel has been asked to advise the secretary-general on “accountability mechanisms for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict”. Considering that the changing nature of warfare is neutralising the effectiveness of the Geneva Conventions which lay down the principles of international humanitarian law, it is important that the principles of these conventions are observed by men in uniform even if they are fighting against dissidents and insurgents.

The verdict on Sri Lanka should come as a warning to other armies fighting on their own soil. The principle of showing humanity to civilians and wounded enemy soldiers and prisoners is sacrosanct and must be respected.