The United States’ “failure to push Sri Lanka to implement key institutional reforms not only betrayed the victims of past abuses, but it will also create new ones”, writes Kate Cronin-Furman in a piece for Foreign Policy this week.
“US officials who designed and implemented foreign policy on Sri Lanka over the last four years, based on a misguided acceptance of Rajapaksa’s ouster as a full-fledged democratic transition,” she says, adding that there was a “rush to accept limited progress as true change”.
Yet, there was no evidence that the Sirisena administration was committed to the goal of reconciliation.
“Immediately following the adoption of the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution, both Sirisena and his now-estranged prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, told their domestic audience that they would never investigate or prosecute the country’s ‘war heroes’,” she writes.
In this rush to accept Sri Lanka’s progress Cronin-Furman notes that the excessive enthusiasm with which Sri Lanka’s so-called transition was “not just premature; it actively undermined human rights”.
“This miscalculation is not an isolated policy but a recurring error in U.S. human rights diplomacy. Time and time again, we see a rush to accept limited progress as true change. Even as the United States eagerly lauded the substitution of a slightly less overtly racist and corrupt regime in Sri Lanka for a brutal kleptocracy, it was making a similar mistake in Myanmar. Today, Myanmar’s once-celebrated transition to democracy has piled up a body count of tens of thousands of Rohingya, with 750,000 more forced into Bangladesh.”
“But no amount of time and space can substitute for political will. And the United States (and other members of the international community that followed a similar approach) ignored clear evidence that the Sirisena administration was not acting in good faith.`
Yet rather than tie benefits such as military assistance and Millennium Challenge Compact eligibility to concrete performance on human rights commitments, the United States continued to reward empty promises. The lack of pushback on its hypocrisy gave the Sirisena administration the impression that international scrutiny of Sri Lanka’s rights record was a thing of the past. Consequently, it saw no reason to move forward with politically inconvenient measures such as demilitarization.”
“The failure to push Sri Lanka to implement key institutional reforms not only betrayed the victims of past abuses, but it will also create new ones. The security forces have not been vetted, none of those responsible for atrocities have been jailed, and surveillance and intelligence networks have not been dismantled. The instruments and agents of repression are all still there, just waiting for their former masters to take them up again.”
Read the full piece here.