- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
The U.N.’s controversial Human Rights Council met today to consider a proposal to investigate claims of human rights abuses by both sides in Sri Lanka’s recently concluded civil war. The stakes were high for the council said Mark Leon Goldberg this morning:
Now that the fighting has stopped, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamils are trapped in concentration camps run by the Sri Lankan military. These camps are off limits to the media and most international humanitarian organizations, like the International Committee for the Red Cross. In a recent trip to the region, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called the IDP camps, "by far the most appalling scenes I have seen" — this, from a man that has visited Darfur, Gaza, and Eastern Congo, mind you.
So, in all, this meeting is an important test of the Human Rights Council. A few weeks ago it proved able to authorize an investigation of alleged human rights abuses in Gaza committed by Israel and Hamas during Operation Caste Lead. Should the council vote against action on Sri Lanka it opens itself to familiar accusations that there are double standards when it comes to Israel–which is a charge that may become more resonant should member states maintain that the situation in Sri Lanka is a wholly internal matter undeserving of the attention of the Human Rights Council.
Well, we appear to have an answer:
China, Cuba, Egypt and 26 others on the 47-member council voted in favor of a resolution that described the conflict as a "domestic" matter that did not warrant outside interference. The council also supported the Sri Lankan government’s decision to provide aid groups only with "access as may be appropriate" to refugee camps.
Twelve mostly European countries opposed the resolution after failing to get support for a resolution that criticized both sides.
All in all, the implications of this vote for the image of the human rights council itself, as described by Mark, were probably larger than those for Sri Lanka. The HRC regularly condemns Israel’s actions, (thanks largely to the fact that the Palestinians, unlike the Tamils, enjoy a good deal of international support) but the possibility of condemnation doesn’t seem to be much of a factor in Israeli government decision making. I can’t imagine it would be that much different for Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government appears to still be fighting with remnants of the Tigers.