Remembering Srebrenica, Looking to Sri Lanka

Via Spencer Ackerman, I see that White House National Security Council aid Samantha Power is part of an American delegation to Bosnia for the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.  Spencer highlights an excellent interview that Power gave to a Bosnian publication in which she discusses why justice and accountability are crucial underpinnings to any lasting peace.  

Q: It seems you so firmly believe in this kind of justice in continuity?
A: And, not only because the outside world cares what happened in Srebrenica. We do. We clearly do. We also believe as a factual matter, as a historical matter – it is very difficult to see lasting peace and stability without this kind of justice. So the more Serbia recognizes, the Bosnian government recognizes what atrocities were committed by its forces, the Croatian government grapples as well, more progress you will see and the more forward we move. [Emphasis mine]

It is hard to read these words without thinking about the Sri Lankan government’s ongoing attempts to avoid accountability for war crimes committed in spring 2009 — crimes, keep in mind, that killed at least as many people as were massacred in Srebrenica in 1995.  The most recent manifestation of this was government-sponsored protests against a UN panel tasked to look into these crimes. These protests forced the United Nations to shut its office in Colombo last week 

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch accused the government of waging an anti-justice campaign against the United Nations: 

“The fracas around the UN headquarters is just the latest episode in the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to ensure nothing is done to bring justice for war crimes,” [HRW’s Elaine] Pearson said. “The expert panel may be a small step towards an independent international investigation, but it’s a real step forward nonetheless. Governments around the world who have pledged to end impunity for war crimes should back the secretary-general’s efforts to see justice done in Sri Lanka.”

So far, the highest ranking U.S. government official to lodge objections to Sri Lankan harassment of the UN has been Patricia A. Butenis, the United States Ambassador to Sri Lanka and The Maldives. But even in her statement, which was co-signed by nine other embassies, no mention was made of the government’s attempt to avoid accountability for a massacre perpetrated by its military against its own citizens. 

On the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, it seems that the United States government has still not internalized the lesson that Samantha Power was trying to impart in her interview.