A dominant thesis across the international community has been that the United States and other democracies can do little to defend and promote human rights. It is the domain of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The UN General Assembly is legally bound to choose members for the Rights Council from its regional groups: 13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for Eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean, and seven for the Western European and Others Group. Most of the members of these groups have poor rights records themselves. They cannot be sensitive enough to create an agenda for strict compliance with human rights obligations.
One finds there is little substance in this thesis. Last March the United States, backed by the United Kingdom and others, got its pro-rights Sri Lankan resolution passed despite the present Council composition. The resolution called on the UN High Commissioner to investigate the allegations of war crimes committed by both the Lankan forces and the Tamil Tigers during the Sri Lankan civil war that ended in 2009 resulting in the deaths of as many as 40,000 civilians.
According to a report by a panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, both parties of the war had been inhuman in their conduct during the conflict. The Sri Lankan forces engaged in widespread abuses, including indiscriminate shelling of civilians, summary executions and rape. On the other hand, the Tamil Tigers held civilians as human shields, used child soldiers, and killed families who tried to flee.
Hopefully, following this resolution, the UN High Commissioner will now investigate all allegations of war crimes and do what is needed for justice. Shockingly, Colombo has not seemed to be sensitive to the rights of its citizens. It has failed in delivering its promise to the UN Secretary-General (2009) to address accountability on the matter. Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (2010) has also failed to address it.
Also, Colombo’s record has been dismal in meeting two previous Human Rights Council resolutions seeking national investigations into violations of human rights and laws during its fighting with the Tigers.
Colombo has in fact cynically absolved its forces of any wrongdoing and lashed out at those seeking accountability. It is reported that even after the conflict has ended, those who speak out publicly on human rights abuses continue to face harassment and threats at the hands of the state authorities. The government in Colombo has continued to use its war era legislation, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for political purposes – against human rights activists.
One would suggest that taking cue from their success in the Sri Lankan case, the United States and other liberal democracies must now attend to addressing rights violations elsewhere in the world. The UN General Assembly established the present Rights Council in March 2006 to protect rights in general and freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women’s rights, LGTB rights and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities in particular. But the Council has been overlooking rights violations in most of the states in the world.
Everyone knows that the doctrine of Wahabism is totally antithetical to human rights. It considers all non-Muslims ‘kafirs’ and non-Wahhabi Muslims, including Shias, Sufis and Ahmadiyas,‘apostates.’ In a recent sermon in Doha some time back, clerics Yusuf al-Qaradawi called upon ” Muslims everywhere to kill” Syria’s Alawite sect branding them as “more infidel than Christians and Jews.” This ideology has no respect for women’s rights and liberties. It justifies crimes against women such as female genital mutilation and forced child marriage.
About the Author: Jagdish N. Singh is an Indian journalist based in New Delhi.
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