The civil war in Sri Lanka was both brutal and a human tragedy. The United Nations estimated that the death toll from the Tamil Tigers’ long secession struggle might exceed 100,000. The Tigers were brutal in their tactics. Their kidnapping and exploitation of young Tamils was not unlike that perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. Like radical Islamists, the Tamil Tigers exploited a culture of martyrdom to promote suicide bombing. Like Hezbollah, the Tamil Tigers received technical assistance from North Korea (making Condoleezza Rice’s recommendation to remove North Korea from the state sponsor of terror list indefensible).
In May 2009, the Sri Lankan army did what hundreds of diplomats and UN pronouncements over more than a quarter century had failed to do: They defeated the Tamil Tigers and finally liberated Sri Lanka from the nightmare of terrorism and insurgency. No civil war is pretty, and the conclusion of Sri Lanka’s bloody struggle was no different. Britain’s Channel 4, for example, has acquired footage purporting to show the execution of the 12-year-old son of the rebel leader son of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the Tamil Tigers’ leader. If he was executed, that was wrong. But given Prabhakaran’s use of children and his glorification of suicide bombing, it would be unfair to ask any Sri Lankan soldier to risk life and limb to take prisoners. Had the Tamil Tigers cared an iota for the Geneva Conventions, perhaps it would be different, but if they eschewed the Conventions in life, then they should not seek their recompense in death.
Enter the United Nations: After decades of trying to talk to terrorists and legitimizing the Tamil Tigers, the United Nations now seeks to condemn Sri Lanka and force it to reopen old wounds. Rather than build toward a peaceful future, the United Nations Human Rights Council seeks an inquisition for Sri Lanka, a move that will set the country’s future back years and could ultimately reopen conflict.
Now, enter the Obama administration: Even as the Human Rights Council demonstrates repeatedly that it stands for anything but, and rather shields dictators, condemns democracies, and glorifies terrorist groups past and present, the Obama administration has chosen to side with the Council and undermine Sri Lanka’s future. Maria Otero, Secretary of State Clinton’s Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, has confirmed that the United States will support a Council resolution this month which will demand greater Sri Lankan support not only for the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, but also greater “accountability,” a catch all term that will paralyze the Sri Lankan government and its efforts to rebuild. Internationalizing reconciliation may provide the human rights community with billets to fill, but it often undermines true reconciliation.
Rather than meddle, the White House should celebrate Sri Lanka’s win in the war against terrorism and cheer the Tigers’ demise. The Sri Lankans did against the Tigers what the United States seeks to do against al- Qaeda. Instead of seeking to force the Sri Lankans to rehash the past at this point in time, the United States should help the Sri Lankans rebuild their country with aid and investment. Rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to send diplomats to Sri Lanka to lecture Colombo, the Obama administration should rather spend that money conducting lessons learned to determine whether years of diplomacy and mediation emboldened the terrorists rather than resolved the conflict. Absent a coherent strategic vision, perhaps Mrs. Clinton should simply leave Sri Lanka alone.