Madam Secretary

Sri Lanka angry over Clinton’s rape comment

Sri Lanka angry over Clinton’s rape comment

Hillary Clinton, Ban Ki-moon, Sept. 30, 2009 | STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images 

Remember how Secretary Clinton got to preside over a session of the U.N. Security Council last week and led an effort to pass a resolution against wartime rape? Well this one sentence from Clinton has some people in Sri Lanka fuming:

We’ve seen rape used as a tactic of war before in Bosnia, Burma, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.

Sri Lanka lodged gave a “note of protest” to the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, complaining about Clinton’s suggestion that Sri Lankan security forces used rape as a weapon of war against Tamil LTTE rebels. “We vehemently reject and condemn the irresponsible statement made by US State Secretary Hillary Clinton,” the country’s defense spokesman was quoted as saying in the state newspaper.

Meanwhile, the prime minister said on a radio program that Clinton has apparently forgotten the Monica Lewinsky affair and should tend to her own backyard before alleging that women are being maltreated in other countries. There was also this rant in Sri Lanka’s state-run newspaper.

The State Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report had this to say about wartime sexual violence in Sri Lanka:

Civil society activists reported that the resumption of the conflict had led to an increase in gender-based violence perpetrated by the security forces. Statistics were unavailable because few, if any, charges were filed in such incidents. For example, human rights groups in northern districts alleged that the wives of men who had disappeared and who suffered economic deprivation as a result often fell prey to sexual exploitation by paramilitaries and members of the security forces.”

A January 2002 Amnesty International report titled “Sri Lanka: Rape in Custody” said this:

In Sri Lanka, like in many other countries, incidents of rape in the context of armed conflict such as the above examples are reported on a regular basis. During 2001, Amnesty International has noted a marked rise in allegations of rape by police, army and navy personnel.”

That’s one of the tricky things about being a Western outsider to a developing country. No matter how true and legitimate one’s criticisms of human rights violations may be, it rankles locals when it comes from someone perceived as a “neocolonialist” outsider. It’s one thing when criticism comes from your fellow citizen; it’s quite another thing when it comes from an outside “meddler.” Hopefully Clinton will be able to use her star diplomacy skills to advance human rights while not coming across as a judgmental outsider — which she, of course, isn’t. Based on Sri Lanka’s reaction, though, it can be a tough job.

Photo: STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images