In face of the mounting civilian casualties between January and May 2009 in the island of Sri Lanka, the international community “did little beyond issuing statements of concern” and “neglected its responsibility to take timely action when it was apparent that violations of humanitarian law were taking place”, states a report authored by Madeleine K. Albright, former US Secretary of State and Richard S. Williamson, former US presidential special envoy to Sudan. For Sri Lanka, the report lays emphasis on the IC supporting a “national reconciliation” process. The report titled “The United States and R2P: From Words to Action” released on Tuesday, analysing cases of Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Syria, Sudan and South Sudan, Congo, and Sri Lanka, provides general recommendations for US policy vis-a-vis R2P. Tamil activists have taken a different perspective on R2P’s role in Sri Lanka.
The failure of the international community to invoke the third pillar of the R2P in Sri Lanka to prevent genocide of Tamils has been noted earlier by Tamil analysts, activists in the homeland and in the diaspora.
The recently released “Findings towards a Formation of Policy” document at the diaspora youth event ‘Seeking Perception sans Conditioning’ also touched on this subject.
“The International Community and the UN failed to invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in 2009 to save the Eelam Tamils from a blood bath in May, preferring instead to protect the Sri Lankan state. A genuine political gesture by the International Community towards the Eelam Tamil nation in the current period of structural genocide in our homeland would be the recognition of our right to Remedial Sovereignty,” the document stated.
Earlier in February 2013, the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), in its appeal to UNHRC members regarding the resolution on Sri Lanka, had said “What is now public knowledge of credible allegations of what transpired during the last stages of the war, amply points to the complete failure of the UN and the international community in its obligations under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to have intervened on behalf of the Tamil Nation.”
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The “United States and R2P” report, released at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, by the ‘Working on R2P’, recommends to the US that “U.S. policy should be to endorse and support all three pillars of R2P, recognizing that the doctrine provides an essential but not necessarily exclusive mechanism for preventing genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. U.S. leaders should be clear that our government retains the responsibility, within or beyond the framework of R2P, to assist populations that are threatened by mass atrocities, especially when one or more well-established regional or subregional organizations support such an endeavor.”
However, despite the genocidal nature of the war on the Eezham Tamil nation till May 2009, and the ongoing structural genocide through militarization and Sinhalicisation of the Tamil homeland – not to mention the routine abuses that forcible military occupation brings about – the report authored by Albright and Williamson is still referring only to the first and second pillars of R2P with regards to the international community dealing with Sri Lanka. Likewise, the legitimacy of the unitary state structure of Sri Lanka, the root cause of the oppression of the Tamil nation, is not contested.
Relevant excerpts from the report are reproduced below:
“For over twenty-five years, the conflict in Sri Lanka pitted the army against the separatist insurgency of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). However, levels of violence escalated rapidly as the government pursued a strategy of military victory and advanced into LTTE-held territory between January and May 2009.”
“During this period, the civilian population suffered significant casualties and were unable to escape the conflict zone due to LTTE threats and the Sri Lankan military’s prohibitions on movement. The United Nations estimates that up to forty thousand civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands were displaced during the final phase of the conflict, which ended with the defeat of the LTTE and the deaths of its senior leaders.”
“Despite the high number of civilian casualties, the international community did little beyond issuing statements of concern. The UN Security Council, High Commission on Human Rights, and General Assembly held no formal sessions on Sri Lanka during this period. In Sri Lanka, both the government and the rebels can be faulted for failing to protect civilians.”
“However, the international community also neglected its responsibility to take timely action when it was apparent that violations of humanitarian law were taking place.”
“The case of Sri Lanka exemplifies a challenge for implementing R2P when sovereign governments confront an internal threat from a group that is designated as a terrorist organization. Since the end of the conflict, the government has steadfastly denied that the mass killing of civilians and war crimes took place.”
“While launching its own inquiry into the military’s actions, the government has obstructed international efforts to investigate potential war crimes and crimes against humanity. Critics question the independence and balance of the government commission’s report and argue that accountability requires a more credible investigation. If a recurrence of conflict in Sri Lanka is to be prevented, the international community should help the government respond to the needs of all communities in the country, while undertaking a national reconciliation process that addresses wounds inflicted during nearly three decades of conflict.”