The Human Rights Council’s votenot to authorize a commission of inquiry for Sri Lanka does not, as Mark argues, reflect well on the Council itself. Neither, though, has it brought out the best in the Sri Lankan government, which is trumpeting this regrettable decision as a “vindication” of its military’s conduct during the war with the Tamil Tigers.
This, needless to say, is an entirely backwards assessment. The commission of inquiry would be designed to investigate whether or not crimes occurred, on both sides of the conflict. Convincing the Human Rights Council to move any sort of spotlight away from the country — where the media and humanitarian agencies already have deplorably restricted access — does not, contrary to whatever its government may claim, amount to a rubber-stamp approval of what Sri Lanka is all too ready to bill as its anti-terrorism campaign.
By perversely casting proponents of a commission of inquiry as “trying to undermine Sri Lanka’s efforts in countering terrorism,” Sri Lanka has created an utterly false dichotomy between combating terrorism and protecting human rights. Its unwillingness to have potential human rights violations investigated only casts doubt on its wartime conduct, rather than exonerating its actions at a stroke, as the government absurdly claims.
For the United States to make a difference in changing this dynamic on the Council, it goes without saying that it will have to accept and embrace what should be an uncontested truism: that effectively countering terrorism not only allows for, but in fact requires, wholehearted defense of human rights. This means, once again, fully renouncing torture and working to undo years of policy and rhetoric that make it little surprise where Sri Lanka’s leaders incubated such a supreme self-confidence in their own war on terrorism.