Human Rights

Accountability Process in Sri Lanka Disputed

Sign here and smile for the camera, please. Photo: vikalpasl/flickr

The report of the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka, published on 31 March 2011, reveals “a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka.” The panel findings indicate that serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Some of these violations, if proven, “would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The UN also got its share of criticism, for failing to take action that might have protected civilians during the final stages of the war.

Unsurprisingly, the Sri Lankan Government denounced the report as “fundamentally flawed”. The Ministry of External Affairs alleged that, among other deficiencies, the report was based on biased material and presented without verification. Although it was originally a joint commitment by the UN Secretary-General and the President of Sri Lanka, the government objected to the publication of the report and claimed that it could damage reconciliation efforts between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority in the country. The government is now seeking international and local support as part of an effort to counter the UN panel report and the implementation of its recommendations.

On the other hand, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – the main political party representing the ethnic minority – welcomed the panel’s recommendations and expressed hopes that they will be implemented.


The Arab Uprisings and the State of Emergency

Emergency exit
Some declare a state of emergency and others lift it in an attempt to get out of the mess. Photo: v1ctor/flickr

Perversely, it took a state of emergency to have Syria’s 48-year-old emergency rule removed. But although this had been a key demand of the protesters, the move is now seen as too little too late. In many ways, the situation is reminiscent of the events early February, when Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak’s vague promises of reform were only salt in the wounds of the crowds on Tahrir Square.

A state of emergency derives from a governmental declaration in response to an extraordinary situation posing a fundamental threat to the country. Too often, however, dictatorial regimes misuse such rules for self-serving purposes: they introduce unwarranted restrictions on human rights and civil liberties, neutralize political opponents or postpone elections. There has also been a tendency to maintain states of emergency long after the original reason for its proclamation has disappeared. The result is a constitutional dictatorship.

With the turmoil in the Arab world, it’s easy to lose track of where emergency laws still apply. Here’s a brief overview of some of the recent changes:


This Week in ISN Insights…

It's week 17 on our 2011 editorial calendar, Photo: Leo Reynolds/flickr

With the Easter holiday behind us, ISN Insights returns to our weekday coverage starting today:

  • Tuesday’s article was researched on the ground in Kigali by Jon Rosen, who examines Gaddafi’s legacy as a steadfast patron of sub-Saharan African governments.
  • Dr Shalva Weil of Hebrew University explores the ancient history surrounding the Tomb of Rachel on Wednesday – a site that UNESCO declared a mosque last year, further heightening tensions.
  • On Thursday we welcome an opinion piece about why the UN should reconsider punitive measures against Zimbabwe, by Michael Walsh of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
  • And Susin Park, head of the UNHCR Office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, discusses the UNHCR’s mandate to safeguard the rights and well-being of asylum seekers and refugees in our Friday podcast.

You can also catch-up on last week’s articles here: on the Libyan ‘test‘ for India’s foreign policy; the growing attraction of more community health workers in the developing world; the power and dangers of Rio’s new Police Pacification Units; and the fiscal policy shenanigans of Europe’s central bankers.


Easter Publishing Hiatus

Happy Easter from the ISN, Photo: Jim Deane/flickr

In keeping with the Swiss national holiday that marks Easter weekend, The ISN will be on publishing hiatus from Friday, 22 April-Monday, 25 April. We look forward to resuming our regular publishing schedule on Tuesday the 26th.

From all of us at the ISN, a happy spring weekend to you and yours!

International Relations

Sanctions for Sanctions’ Sake?

Still not much to celebrate. Photo: Valerie Sticher

Last week, the EU eased its long-held travel and financial restrictions on four Burmese ministers and lifted the ban on high-level visits to the country. The decision follows the swearing-in of a new government in March and is the first partial reversal of punitive measures against the suppressive regime. So, are things finally heading in the right direction?

It’s easy to suggest otherwise. The elections in November last year were neither free, nor fair. The new, nominally civilian regime is still dominated by the military elite. Praise for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release from house arrest is hardly due, given the regime’s bizarre reasoning for extending her detention in the first place. And ethnic conflicts are still a sad (and under-reported) reality in the resource-rich country. But some subtle changes give hope for restrained optimism. Perhaps most importantly, powers are now distributed more widely. In the past, literally everything – from defense and security issues to social and economic matters – had been controlled by a single, authoritarian leader. Now there are four (partially overlapping) key centers of power: the presidency, the military, the parliament and the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

These changes are not the result of sanctions, but most likely part of Than Shwe’s exit strategy. In an attempt to avoid the miserable fate he imposed on his predecessor, Than Shwe has put in place constitutional arrangements that make it difficult for a single person to emerge as a new strongman.