The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Sri Lanka War Crimes Complicate Great Game of Thrones

Next week, the UN Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva to vote on a resolution that calls for an independent investigation into the last months of the Sri Lankan civil war. A recent documentary, aired on Britain’s Channel 4 and titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” details the very brutal ending of that war, and suggests some Sri Lankan officials might be guilty of war crimes.

The vote puts India in a tight spot. About 60 million ethnic Tamils live in India. Some of their brethren in Sri Lanka waged a long campaign for rights and independence against the Sri Lankan government, a campaign that featured suicide attacks on civilians and grew increasingly bitter on both sides. The Sri Lankan government’s response was tough and unyielding, and culminated in an invasion of the Tamil heartland of northern Sri Lanka in May 2009, where thousands of rebels and civilians were killed.

The US has backed the resolution on Sri Lanka. India has opposed it, saying the Sri Lankan government should be left alone to repair the damage of the civil war without international interference. But there is dissent in the ranks of India’s ruling parties. The Dravidian Progress Federation (DMK), a political party in India and a partner in New Delhi’s ruling coalition, is leading the calls for India to vote against Sri Lanka next week. DMK’s leader has suggested his party might withdraw from the ruling coalition if India sides with Sri Lanka.

There is an international aspect to this tussle as well. Sri Lanka has been cozying up to China in recent years. During the civil war, China gave Sri Lanka almost a billion dollars in aid, sold millions of dollars worth of military hardware, and even gifted six F7 fighter jets to the Sri Lankan air force for free. More recently, a Chinese company is leading the construction of a massive new port in the Sri Lankan city of Hambantota.

India is in a pickle. Supporting Sri Lanka by voting against the proposed war crimes investigation could anger Tamils in India and sow discord within the governing coalition. But in backing the investigation India might push Sri Lanka into a tighter embrace with China.

In Asia’s game of thrones, this is an important decision.  Readers should ask themselves what their move would be.

Published on March 13, 2012 11:52 am
  • carvaka

    very predictably, india will abstain.

  • WigWag

    Whatever one thinks of the Tamil Tigers and the years of warfare they inflicted on Ceylon/Sri Lanka; the idea that international organizations should be sticking their noses into whether “war crimes” were committed during the civil war is ridiculous.

    There is simply no way to fight a war to a successful conclusion without committing what a bunch of loud-mouth, nattering leftist idiots consider to be war crimes.

    The only alternative to forgoing the type of violent behavior that has recently been labeled as war crimes is to give up on the idea of total victory which means that low level conflict goes on indefinitely. Why left wing morons think that interminable and non-conclusive warfare is more humane, just or acceptable than the alternative is a mystery to anyone who possesses an ounce of common sense.

    I take no position on whether the Tamils were or were not entitled to autonomy or a nation of their own on the island that used to be called Ceylon. Nevertheless, one thing is clear, the fight with the Tamil Tigers went on for decades and but for the massive violence that took place at the end of the war (the supposed “war crimes”) the long running conflict would still be taking place.

    Is there any question that judged by the standards of today’s foolish left that Sherman’s march through the South would have been considered a war crime? Is there any doubt that but for the behavior of Sherman’s army that the South would have fought on longer with additional violence and death being experienced by both sides to the conflict?

    Is there any doubt that judged by today’s leftist standards that the bombing of Dresden or dropping the nuclear devices on Hiroshima or Nagasaki would be considered “war crimes?”

    Of course not.

    But had the allies refrained from bombing German cities and if the Americans had refrained from using the nuclear bombs, how much longer would the war have gone on and how many more people would have been injured and killed?

    It’s not the idea of “war crimes” that the left dislikes; it’s the idea of decisive victory. Self-loathing as they are, they don’t even want their own country to benefit from decisive victory. Is it any wonder that the United States benefits from so few decisive victories today? We didn’t experience one in Korea or Viet Nam; we didn’t win one in the Balkans; we didn’t achieve one in the Second Iraq War or in Afghanistan. The United States and Western Europe is preventing Israel from achieving one in Palestine and in its quarrel with Iran. In recent years, only the First Gulf War could be considered a decisive victory and even there we left Saddam Hussein in place to fight another day.

    Not all nations live by the same scruples; China does was it takes to win decisively in Tibet and Russia certainly was brutal in destroying Chechnya. Of course, at the same time they are demanding that the Sri Lankans be held to account we hear little to nothing from these leftist idiots about “war crimes” committed by the Chinese or Russians.

    The world is a more violent, dangerous and thuggish place because of institutions like the International Criminal Court and various “war crimes” tribunals. These institutions and the naive and gullible leftists who support them are making civilian populations less safe not more safe.

    The best and safest thing for civilian populations is decisive victories where nations such as Sri Lanka can move on, not long drawn out conflicts that never end because the more powerful side is afraid of using the type of force that will bring these conflicts to an end.

  • Lyle Smith

    I feel like the “international community” is no place to criminalize the ruthless actions of the Sri Lankan government. It’s not like Abraham Lincoln was a war criminal for the Sand Creek massacre or FDR for obliterating German cities and civilians. I think the history of what should be noted and remembered, but recrimination over what has happened is a bit rich.

  • Kris

    This is one of the cases where I wholly agree with WigWag. (Dr Wig and Mr Wag? :-) )

    “In recent years, only the First Gulf War could be considered a decisive victory”

    And even that was almost a mistake; the victory was much quicker and easier than planned. See the famous “Highway of Death”. What bad form that was!

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    I think India should avoid doing what is politically expedient, and seek to uncover the TRUTH. As a Grand Strategy, always seeking and basing your actions on the Truth, will see you far ahead of those who hide the Truth, and base their actions on lies. A culture which is always seeking the Truth no matter where it leads, accumulates considerable soft power, in leadership, technology, trust, and economic activity. The never ending search for Truth is the defining characteristic of the Civilized.

  • Shiva

    All that Tamils wanted was a sense of dignity in country they have lived for thousands of years. All they got was a careless attitude from the world who allowed the Sri Lankan war criminals kill innocent Tamil civilians. India’s congress party under Sonia Gandhi did nothing to stop the Tamil ethnic cleansing. Some Indian politicians are also in trouble that allowed Sri Lankan Government to kill Tamils without any mercy for women, and children.

    An indpendent human rights investigation is paramount to apply the International Law.

  • Shiva

    Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished, forensically examines four specific cases and investigates who was responsible.
    The cases are:
    the deliberate heavy shelling of civilians and a hospital in the ‘No Fire Zone’;
    the strategic denial of food and medicine to hundreds and thousands of trapped civilians
    defying the legal obligation to allow humanitarian aid into a war zone;
    the killing of civilians during the ‘rescue mission’ and the systematic execution of naked and bound LTTE prisoners
    featuring new chilling video footage of a 12-year-old boy who had been brutally executed.

    After all of the above, the IC is wasting its time talking to the alleged war criminals. It is shame for the Sinhalese to have this regime in power as well!

  • MaryWilbur

    The civil war in Sri Lanka is no one’s business but the Sri Lankans. Everyone else, especially some elitist institution like the International Criminal Court should butt out. If I recall correctly, a Tamil suicide bomber assassinated Rajiv Gandi, who had he lived would have likely become Prime Minister.

  • Corlyss

    “A recent documentary, aired on Britain’s Channel 4 and titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” details the very brutal ending of that war, and suggests some Sri Lankan officials might be guilty of war crimes.”

    If the UN had its way, wars would always end in a political stalemate because no side would be allowed to prosecute existential war at the level required to prevail. If the UN had it’s way, the war would still be going on. At least now, it’s over.

  • Kris

    “Next week, the UN Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva to vote on a resolution that calls for an independent investigation into the last months of the Sri Lankan civil war.”

    Two notes:

    1. This resolution was moved by the US. (I’d love to hear our host provide an explanation for that.)

    2. It seems that there is no need to investigate what led to those last few months, ie Tamil terrorism. (No, the preceding cannot be interpreted as a statement on the Tamil cause in itself.)

  • http://www.theatreofthedamned.com Tom Richards

    #5 – Lord Stark, I think you may be about to find it’s not always that simple. Shortly, so to speak.

  • Jan

    wigwag has not the faintest clue what he is talking about. How about watching the killingfields first ?

    Lyle Smith – so Abraham Lincoln ordered the post-capture rape and murder of southern newscasters ? and the cold blooded execution of the 12 year old children of southern generals?
    Happy to hear your view of american history – do make sure to write a book setting the record straight on the similarities between Lincoln and Rajapaksa and let us know when its published.

    And here is the link to the channel 4 documentaries – for those of you who prefer to know what you are talking about:
    Killingfields part 1 and 2.
    http://www.channel4.com/programmes/sri-lankas-killing-fields/4od

  • Jan

    Mary Wilbur – Rajiv Gabdhi WAS Prime Minister already – as opposed to some one who would ‘have likely become Prime Minister’
    Why are so many readers of this website so ignorant – yet feel qualified/compelled to comment on world affairs (of which they seem to know nothing) ?

  • Vivek

    since the voting had already over this is bit late to comment but still I am happy that India supported the resolution. Although they did still they are not brave enough to have strong words.

    India is always biased not bilateral or neutral. Was creating Bangladesh by fighting with Pakistan correct? if so why did India sent troops to Srilanka and didn’t support creation of Tamil state? why didn’t India took part during Afghan conflict? Bloody politics. (Same with USA),

    Ever since RajivGandhi was killed it become family vengeance of Congress party. 90% of the time after Independence congress only ruled the country what they have done? making more enemies than friends. Now don’t say I am biased towards this party. I know the history and cheap politics.

    Anyway if India and China goes like this (ego clash and cheap politics) it will do only harm and no good for humanity. They are indirectly promoting the killing. I don’t know why India is afraid of intervention of international body in Kashmir issue (as if they have something to hide).

    India needs a brave government which can speak truth loudly. Please don’t worry about China(unnecessary) , do your own business and let them do what ever they think is right. Don’t loose your moral my mother land.