On May 18, Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris will meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, DC. The two should have plenty to talk about. The Sri Lankan government’s action plan for the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) will be at the top of the list.
In late April, there were reports that Mr. Peiris would be bringing a “secret” action plan to Washington. It is not clear why such a document would need to keep strictly confidential, unless Peiris will be presenting a largely incomplete first draft.
There are many reasons to be concerned. The government has made almost no progress on the recommendations of the LLRC since the commission’s final report was released publicly this past December. Furthermore, the Sri Lankan government has not even touched the LLRC’s interim recommendations, which were released in September 2010.
The government’s National Human Rights Action Plan does not inspire much confidence either. It is a documented full of false, misleading and missing information. In that action plan, many of the government’s benchmarks for success are dubious. There are no impartial monitoring mechanisms. In addition, many of the implementing agencies, like Ministry of Defense for the section on the prevention of torture, do not even make sense.
It would not be surprising if similar methods and tools of obfuscation were used for the LLRC action plan.
The fact the government has not even had the LLRC’s final report translated into Sinhala or Tamil is also disconcerting.
More than six weeks after the resolution on Sri Lanka was passed in Geneva, it does not look like the regime is taking the resolution very seriously. The Sri Lankan government can correctly argue that there are just too many recommendations to be able to implement them all quickly. However, the regime should at least select a few to implement, if for no other reason than to buy additional time and have Western governments believe the overtures are somewhat sincere.
Demilitarization and (at least) talk of a political solution should be at the top of the government’s implementation list, but there are many other recommendations that deserve immediate attention. Just yesterday, the government announced that it would release some information on detainees. Such a move is timed to coincide with Peiris’ upcoming visit.
Since nobody knows what the consequences of noncompliance with the Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution would be, President Rajapaksa is still trying to balance domestic political support with appeasing the international community.
When it comes to Sri Lanka, international pressure works. The lifting of the Emergency Regulations last year (though only resulting legislative sleight of hand) and the creation of the LLRC are two prominent examples of this.
This is a relatively insecure regime that does care deeply about legitimacy beyond its borders.
As recent events at a mosque in Dambulla have shown, Sri Lanka is not a place where the protection of minority rights is paramount. Rather, in Sri Lanka, many people, including religious leaders, are willing to accept enormous levels of intolerance.
G. L. Peiris could present a thoughtful and thorough action plan to Secretary Clinton this week, but surely the Obama administration is not that optimistic.
Secretary Clinton should take the opportunity to send a clear message to the Rajapaksa regime: There will be a price for further delay; diplomatic isolation can and will have consequences.
In the coming months, the regime may still be wondering how much further a reelected Obama administration would be willing to go, or whether largely ignoring the HRC resolution is worth the risk. Regardless, Sri Lankan foreign policy is in a state of profound disarray.
No matter what happens in Washington, Peiris’ visit cannot and will not be deemed a resounding success for the regime. That being said, it is time for President Rajapaksa, Peiris and others to face reality. The government was embarrassed in Geneva. More policy incoherence, uncoordinated diplomacy and bureaucratic infighting should be avoided.
*This article first appeared in International Policy Digest.
Gibson Bateman is an international consultant based in New York City. He earned a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He has been published in Foreign Policy Journal, Foreign Policy in Focus and elsewhere.