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World News


Sri Lanka Is a Human Rights Council Failure

A Sri Lankan daily recently ran an opinion piece on Sri Lanka’s performance vis-à-vis the country’s UN Human Rights Council (HRC) commitments. The author correctly notes that Colombo hasn’t complied with a resolution it co-sponsored in 2015. He also rightly calls the government out for laughably declaring a public relations victory in the wake of the HRC’s latest session. Other valid points are made when appraising the reform agenda.

But the author’s conclusion worries me: “And they [HRC member states] should keep Sri Lanka on the Council agenda until its commitments are met in full. To ask for less than that risks Sri Lanka becoming a historic failure of the HRC’s capacity and interest in following through on justice and accountability.”

As I’ve previously written: “The notable lack of progress thus far reiterates that the crafting of a robust transitional justice agenda has always been about cosmetic maneuvering, placating international actors, and rehabilitating Sri Lanka’s sullied image on the international stage.”

Why keep providing the process with an unwarranted veneer of legitimacy? Why squander precious time and resources on what appears to be a road to nowhere?

Let’s stop behaving like Sri Lanka might be acting in good faith. Let’s disabuse ourselves of the notion that the continued scrutiny of the HRC actually matters; the case of Sri Lanka already constitutes a failure. There’s just no getting around that.

Time after time, Sri Lanka has underscored the limits of action taken through the HRC.

Time after time, Sri Lanka has shown that perceptions pertaining to engagement supersede actual progress or the plausible political trajectory of a country that’s come under intense scrutiny.

Time after time, Sri Lanka has been able to pretend that it’s wrestling with transitional justice when nothing could be further from the truth.

The HRC, while flawed, is an important and – at times – helpful multilateral body. Nonetheless, it can’t handle Sri Lanka. Keeping the island nation on the HRC’s formal agenda beyond March 2019 would be a colossal mistake.