The UN Reopens Old Wounds

un- Sri LankaIn the 1980’s, the soundbite set liked to say that “one man’s terrorist was another man’s freedom fighter.” At the time, rebel groups on the left and right were being used to play out a proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The inference, of course, is that the groups were morally equivalent as to tactics even if they differed in their objectives.

Various conflicts, political and otherwise, have emerged in the decades since the Berlin Wall finally came down. The debate about what constitutes a terrorist is being revived, especially in the context of establishing “legitimacy.” It’s not just North Korean-sponsored hackers who are stepping up their efforts to destabilize the global status quo; non-governmental actors like terrorists groups are just as busy.

At the same time, old conflicts are being revisited with perhaps an eye to changing the eventual outcome. Nowhere may this be clearer than in Sri Lanka, where the United National and other global bodies are bringing new attention to a 30-year conflict that was finally resolved more than five years ago.

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights, is bringing renewed focus to the war once waged by pro-independence Tamil rebels in the country’s southern region. As legal commentator Horace Cooper recently wrote on The American Spectator website, Zeid “lashed out at Sri Lankan officials in Colombo for their temerity to question irregularities in the Council’s ongoing investigation into that country. The probe is the result of the government’s decisive victory in 2009 over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, which waged a bloody terrorist war for nearly three decades.”

The U.N. is looking into the possibility that human rights abuses were committed during the war. According to recent reports, the former rebels are taking advantage of the inquiry to create an excuse to establish (or perhaps re-establish) the legitimacy of their movement in the eyes of the world despite the brutality in which they engaged. Not surprisingly several important international bodies besides the U.N. seem ready to help them take up the challenge.

In National Review Online, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Iain Murray pointed out the new dangers to sovereignty such inquiries create in places “wars of liberation” once raged. “A great example has occurred recently in the EU in relation to the terrorist organization the LTTE, more popularly known as the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan group that invented suicide bombing as we know it,” he wrote.

“Back in 2006, the European Union declared the LTTE a terrorist organization in an attempt to dry up funding for the group, following the lead of the U.S., the U.K., and India. This helped the Sri Lankan government to a military defeat of the LTTE in 2009. Sri Lanka has begun to move on from the 30-year long war and has returned to peace, with rebuilding occurring in previously war-torn areas. However, the Indian government believes that pro-LTTE forces are trying to regroup and fundraise clandestinely for a renewed campaign,” Murray opined.

There are things happening on the ground that buttress Murray’s conclusion. As Cooper explained, Sri Lankan officials arrested what was described as “a low-level Tamil Tiger cadre” this November who was in possession of “a list of 400 names and a sheaf of blank testimony forms that bore only the signatures of villagers in Sri Lanka.”

His intention, Cooper charged, was to use the forms to craft “fraudulent testimonies” to be given to U.N. investigators that would help the rebels establish an aura of credibility regarding any future claims they might have it in mind to make.

There is no simple answer here. Whenever these issues are revisited they must be taken up with great care on a country by country, conflict by conflict basis. Both sides in any of these struggles may have defensible arguments, as indeed both may have committed abuses – though the use by some of these so-called liberation groups of the tactic of targeting with the intent to kill innocent civilians through random bombings would tend to negate on humanitarian grounds any otherwise legitimate complaints they might have.

What is clear is that international headline grabbers like Zeid who spend their time declaiming abuses in obscure, settled conflicts in remote parts of the world – or for that matter attacking the United States as a human rights abuser over issues springing from the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri – don’t deserve Ato be taken seriously no matter how important a position they occupy. As important as it is to establish the truth of what happened, impartially and honestly, closed wounds should not be reopened where progress is being made by headline-grabbing bureaucrats seeking to justify their existence. (US News)

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