Sri Lanka’s army Wednesday announced plans to share with other countries its success in crushing ethnic Tamil Tiger rebels and ending the island’s 37-year-old separatist war.
Army chief Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya said they were inviting heads of military and defence establishments in 54 countries to a three-day forum starting in Colombo from May 31.
“After the war ended many countries have requested us to share some of our strategies with them,” Jayasuriya told reporters in Colombo. “They want us to share our experience and expertise with them.”
For the record, the Sri Lankan military did launch a remarkably successful counter-insurgency which appears to have crushed, once and for all, the brutal Tamil Tigers. The thing is, the strategy was predicated upon committing massive war crimes. E.g:
Starting in late January, the government and security forces encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move into ever smaller government-declared No Fire Zones (NFZs) and then subjected them to repeated and increasingly intense artillery and mortar barrages and other fire. This continued through May despite the government and security forces knowing the size and location of the civilian population and scale of civilian casualties.
There are two potential lessons that governments which struggle with insurgency can take from the Sri Lanka example. The first is that the ends justify the means; slaughtering 10,000 non-combatants is worth it if you can crush a rebellion. Given the fact that the Sri Lankan military is celebrating the manner in which it defeated the Tamil Tigers that is presumably the lesson that they have drawn.
On the other hand, if there was some sort of credible criminal investigation into these war crimes–and if that investigation ended up with the arrest and trial of the accused–other regimes might think twice before they use the counter-insurgency-by-mass atrocity tactic.
So far, though, there is no credible international or local judicial process to look into allegations of crimes against humanity. One credible mechanism would be the International Criminal Court. But since Sri Lanka is not a member, it would take an act of the Security Council to grant the ICC the jurisdiction to investigate. That does not seem likely any time soon.
For now impunity is ruling the day. So much so, that Sri Lanka is apparently seeking to export its brand of counter-insurgency to other countries.
This is the biggest challenge to international justice in the world today. Will the Sri Lankan method of dealing with rebellion and insurgency catch on elsewhere? Or will the long arm of international justice give pause to would-be war criminals?
This is pretty much the defining question of international justice these days. So far, the good guys seem to be losing.