Shame on the Human Rights Council

by Kevin Jon Heller

I want to believe in the Human Rights Council, and I hope its new members — including the US — will improve things. But the HRC’s “response” to the conflict in Sri Lanka is simply appalling. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the resolution the Council passed praising the Sri Lankan government, which reads like something out of The Onion:

Welcoming the conclusion of hostilities and the liberation by the Government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE against their will as hostages, as well as the efforts by the Government to ensure safety and security for all Sri Lankans and bringing permanent peace to the country;

Welcoming further the recent reassurance given by the President of Sri Lanka that he does not regard a military solution as a final solution, as well as his commitment to a political solution with implementation of the 13th Amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka,


1. Commends the measures taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the urgent needs of the Internally Displaced Persons;

2. Welcomes the continued commitment of Sri Lanka to the promotion and protection of all human rights and encourages it to continue to uphold its human rights obligations and the norms of international human rights law;


4. Welcomes the announcement of the proposal to safely resettle the bulk of the Internally Displaced Persons within six months, and encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to proceed in these endeavours with due respect to persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities;

5. Acknowledges the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to provide access as may be appropriate to international humanitarian agencies in order to ensure humanitarian assistance to the population affected by the past conflict, in particular IDPs, with a view to meeting their urgent needs and encourages the Sri Lankan authorities to further facilitate appropriate work;

Meanwhile, back in reality, actual investigation continues to reveal the true horrors of the Sri Lankan government’s actions, such as killing 1,000 Tamil civilians a day in the last few weeks of the conflict through indiscriminate shelling. And, of course, the government continues to limit access to the internment camps it has created to hold displaced Tamil civilians, which the ICRC recently — and unusually, for it — criticized.

But that’s okay. At least the President of Sri Lanka doesn’t regard military action as a “final solution.”

11 Responses

  1. Kevin,

    Do you really expect anything else from the HRC?  Of course, the HRC’s position is undesirable, but was it a surprise to you?

  2. I want to believe in the Human Rights Council, and I hope its new members — including the US — will improve things

    Good luck with that. And what HLS said.

  3. HLS,

    No,  but hope springs eternal…

  4. Actually, I think this is much too simple. The Sri Lankan story is actually something that should give us serious pause, given our current involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is this what it takes to win? And, if so, isn’t this a price worth paying to get rid of one of the worlds first serious terrorist organisations? The Sri Lankan government shelled the last remaining Tamil positions, we send unmanned drones into Pakistan, and Israel send rockets through people’s bedroom windows.
    The ius in bello does not necessarily forbid “indiscriminate shelling”, if that is indeed what they did. It forbids deliberately targeting civilians, and beyond that disproportionate attacks, but even if there were as many casualties as reported, I’m not convinced that makes these attacks unlawful. Enemy forces and civilians were close together in a small pocket of land that was still under LTTE control (think Battle for Berlin, only smaller), with Tamil Tigers deliberately deploying somewhat of a  human shield approach. In those circumstances, it can’t be said that the Sri Lankan government acted unlawfully by continuing its attacks.
    That said, the resolution as you’ve quoted it seems too cheerful by half. (If you read the full resolution, the tone is already much better, because of the sober references to R2P, various resolutions, etc.)

  5. Is this what it takes to win?

    No, it isn’t. But it would be helpful to have an idea about what it is we’re trying to win, exactly.

  6. Wait, they forgot  to capitalize Final Solution…

  7. Anyone who thinks that this represents “winning” is an idiot. How many future “terrorists” do you suppose have been generated over the last few months?
    And just how idiotic or ignorant does someone have to be forget the long history of England from Magna Carta to Commonwealth to Glorius Revolution to American Revolution?
    Self-determination = “terrorism”
    Tyranny =  “self-defense”
    The only thing that’s going on here is that the FASCIST GOONS who’ve afflicted humanity throughout the civilized era have gotten a great deal smarter about public relations, and weapons just keep getting more and more vicious and difficult for rebels to match.
    The United States and Israel have esentially degenerated into gangster states operating under a completely fallacious paradigm that cannot and will not survive. They jhave even gone so far as to attempt to recast trhe laws of war into implements of tyranny. The only real question here is whether or not the states in question will wise-up enough to survie the paradigm, and as it stands, they won’t — they’re essentially committing suicide out of sheer hubris, hypocrisy, and malice.
    If the Security Coiuncil wanted to (or could) actually do it’s job for a change, they’d have imposed a partition and peace keepers on Sri Lanka a long time ago. I supprot the concept of the UN, but the current set-up is clearly disfunctional.

  8. @dmv: I have Kilcullen’s book here, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

    What fascinates me about Sri Lanka, apart from the moral issues, is how the Tamil Tigers have somehow transformed from a terrorist organisation to a regular army. Regular armies can lose a war in the traditional sense, if they run out of territory. That is what has now happened. A more irregular army, like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, cannot be defeated in this way. So it seems like the Tamils have come to view themselves as a regular army, and that their concession of defeat is the result of that. The future will tell whether LTTE or some other Tamil organisation will go back to old methods.

  9. Well, I’m not sure the LTTE was defeated because they became a regular army so much as the government simply killed the vast majority of them.  Perhaps they’d have had better luck had they adopted more unconventional approaches.

    However, either the Taliban or Al Qaeda can be destroyed by killing most of their members.  It’s just  how to do it that’s the contention.

    Will Sri Lankan ruthlessness succeed?  I suppose we’ll see.

  10. Tolstoy once said something that a lot of folks who claim to be Christians would do well to remember…

    “The only way to get rid of an enemy is to love him.”

  11. Is this what it takes to win?

    Well, I think it is what we are trying, in the hope of winning.

    See further, Pakistan.

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