The US Government is not alone in acting like an ostrich, burying its head in the sand and ignoring what has happened and continues to happen in Sri Lanka. Many members of the UN Human Rights Council played a similar role in May 2009 (1) and have yet to acknowledge their mistake. But unlike those members, the USA – indeed Secretary Clinton herself – spoke at that time of the “untold suffering” of civilians at the hands of the Sri Lankan government.(2)
Now the Sri Lankan government seems to have persuaded Mrs Clinton to make a volte farce and accept its proposal for a domestic inquiry into what happened in the last months of the war. (3) This despite very credible reports from the International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and many others, documenting how the government committed war crimes on a huge scale. With painstaking effort, these groups have put figures and details on this “untold suffering” but for Mrs Clinton – or more accurately some of her key advisers – it remains conveniently “untold”.
Of course, it’s obvious that perpetrators of war crimes would have to be totally stupid or completely mad to propose a process that could find themselves guilty. But the case against a domestic inquiry in Sri Lanka’s case is even stronger than this generic, common sense argument. According to Amnesty International, there have been 20 years of “make believe” commissions of inquiry which have had little, if any, value. (4) You could say these commissions have become an important Sri Lankan export, designed to soothe the troubled brow of squeamish outsiders.
And this is not just Amnesty’s judgement. According to the highly respected international law scholar Philip Alston, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, “I believe there is no realistic prospect this internal initiative will give serious meaningful consideration to very significant violations that exist,” adding that Sri Lankan domestic inquiries since 1977 had “all failed”.(5) Alston, like Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are two of the handful of senior UN officials who have come out of the whole debacle with their personal reputations intact. Both are leading the rearguard campaign for an independent inquiry, a campaign which Ban Ki-moon has avoided supporting- another ostrich?
Now a very brave local expert has added his voice to the debate. M.C.M Iqbal is the well respected Sri Lankan civil servant who was Secretary to two Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances in Sri Lanka. He explains clearly why the latest proposal cannot be anything other than an exercise in wasting time, diffusing pressure and protecting war criminals. (6)
The supreme irony, of course, is that having effectively endorsed yet another facet of the “Sri Lanka model” for neutralizing troublesome groups – i.e. allow the state terrorists to investigate themselves after they have done the dirty deeds – both the UN Human RIghts Council and the US Administration are now caught with their proverbial pants down.
Why shouldn’t Israel have the same right?
The stupidity of this idea is as clear as should be the stupidity of allowing the Sri Lankans to investigate their war crimes. If the USA, the UN Secretary General and the democratic members of the UN Human Rights Council don’t want to go down in history as the facilitators of the “Sri Lankan model”, now’s the time for them to show more integrity and consistency. Later may be too late for many people in many countries and it may even be too late for stopping a new norm in state sponsored terrorism and illegal warfare. (7) Timesonline http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6390626.ece  Reuters http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSWBT011095  US Govt http://www.america.gov/st/texttrans-english/2010/May/20100528153614ptellivremos0.5893976.html?CP.rss=true  Amenesty International http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA37/005/2009/en [5) Reliefweb http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900SID/MUMA-86543T?OpenDocument&RSS20=02-P  Groundviews http://www.groundviews.org/2010/03/23/still-waiting-for-justice-in-sri-lanka/  According to the International Crisis Group, the following countries are exploring the “Sri Lanka model”; Burma, Colombia, India, Israel, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand.See Foreign policy http://turtlebay.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/05/24/is_the_un_complicit_in_sri_lankan_war_crimes