WAR CRIMES | Globe Editorial

Probe both sides in Sri Lanka

December 29, 2010

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NO FOREIGN leader has fared worse in the cables released by WikiLeaks than Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has been resisting calls for an international inquiry into possible war crimes committed when Sri Lankan troops wiped out the secessionist Tamil Tigers in May 2009. In this particular case, disclosure of an American diplomat’s confidential assessment serves the cause of human rights, validating the stand of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Crisis Group. All three have argued, rightly, for a credible investigation of alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, whether committed by the Tamil Tigers or government forces.

The documents show that US Ambassador Patricia Butenis observed last January that no regime investigates “its own troops or senior officials for war crimes.’’ She then added, in a devastating aside, that in Sri Lanka “responsibility for many of the alleged crimes rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers.’’

The ambassador’s candor illuminates a recurring contradiction between the moral imperatives of human rights and the cold logic of diplomacy. Videos and survivor accounts strongly suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, of Tamils were stripped naked, had their hands bound behind their backs, and were murdered during the final weeks of the government’s war against the Tigers. Yet for reasons of state, neighboring powers India and China show no interest in documenting and punishing such crimes. All the more reason for America to heed the awful truth in Butenis’s cable and push for a legitimate UN investigation of war crimes in Sri Lanka.