Unslayable ghosts: Sri Lanka and the West head for a showdown over human rights
25 February 2012
BURY the past. Those killed nearly three years ago in the last, savage days of Sri Lanka’s civil war will never return. Foreign and local critics who harp on about horrors are doing down a fragile country. “Any sensible person will realise the advantage our people got. Today there is no more killing, fighting. It is peaceful, people are free.”
So argues Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s defiant and powerful defence secretary (and brother to the president, Mahinda Rajapaksa). But for the first time since the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lankan government may be forced to answer for its actions to the United Nations’ human-rights council. This week, a Sri Lankan delegation arrived in Geneva, for a council session starting on February 27th. America (with European support) is expected to propose a resolution, calling for the government to report on both how it is fostering better ties with Tamils and its inquiries into possible war crimes.
At the moment, the government is unrepentant. “Go by the facts”, advises Mr Rajapaksa. “Nobody can categorise [the crushing of the separatist rebel army which itself had committed atrocities] as a genocide.” He dismisses televised footage of Sri Lankan soldiers executing several naked prisoners as a fake (see picture). (…)
Outsiders need to speak up, since many locals seem increasingly cowed. (…)
Sri Lanka’s stance is that the rights council in Geneva has no business poking its nose into this. Along with a motley club of Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Algeria and China it is backing a counter-resolution criticising Western funding of the council. Another presidential brother and leading minister, Basil Rajapaksa, claims that it is the outsiders who are causing tension. He says criticism “has made us more nervous. If we were not pressurised we would do more than this” for reconciliation.
Americans and Europeans think the opposite is true. Sri Lanka undertook its LLRC inquiry partly because an investigation was being launched by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Many moderates, even in government, want friendlier ties with Europe—still easily the island’s biggest trading partner—and the West generally. Warm relations with India, too, rest in part on reconciliation with the Tamils. (…)
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