International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Sri Lanka Resists International Intervention. When does State Sovereignty Become Irrelevant?

Sri Lanka seems to be one of the less frequently discussed topics in international justice, despite a civil war that raged for 26 years, ending in 2009 with the government forces aided by the Indians defeating the Tamil Tigers. In January, a new government swept into power, and now it is attempting to delay, or even completely undermine the United Nations’ inquiry into war crimes committed during the civil war; the inquiry is set to be released in March as of now. The inquiry is supposed to be the catalyst of a debate at the next meeting of Human Rights Council, which will be held in March. The Council, after the meeting, can then contemplate measures to hold perpetrators accountable; the Council can actually defer to the ICC as well.

The Sri Lankan government’s position is that it can punish those accountable using its own system and commissions. A commission had already been established during the war to look into human rights abuses, including missing persons. However, this commission never made any of its proceedings or reports publicly available, despite organizing hearings. Furthermore, no prosecutions were carried out by the commission.

This begs the question: when does state sovereignty become irrelevant in terms of international justice? The Sri Lankan government has seemed rather reluctant in the past to carry out any kind of reconciliation. Should the international community intervene or give Sri Lanka another chance to carry out justice on its own?

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2 responses to “Sri Lanka Resists International Intervention. When does State Sovereignty Become Irrelevant?

  1. claregeyer February 7, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    State sovereignty is one of the most debated topics in the international community. A government’s authority comes from its absolute power within its nation’s boundaries, and sovereignty is a pillar of the United Nations. That being said, it is crucial that the international community has a mechanism for intervention when states fail to protect their populations from crimes of atrocity. The mechanism that is currently considered by the UN to serve this purpose is Responsibility to Protect, an international norm that strives to support the principles of human rights during times of conflict within a nation.

    The goal of Responsibility to Protect is to prevent mass atrocities. It focuses on principles of international security and relations already in place, like early warning mechanisms, to give the United Nations Security Council the ability to employ military intervention in a sovereign nation.

    In the context of the conflict in Sri Lanka, the international community has been working since 2009 to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the country’s civil war. In June of last year, the UN Human Rights Council appointed three experts to advise the official international investigation into the atrocities committed in response to the lack of progress from the Sri Lankan government in addressing human rights abuses.

    I think that the preliminary action undertaken by the international community serves as a hopeful commentary on potential future movements to address the atrocities committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. It is crucial that states throughout the international system understand that while the principle of state sovereignty is a building block in international peace and security, there are limits to a government’s power when they fail to protect their citizens. In these instances, it is up to other nations, especially those within the Security Council, to hold them accountable for their actions and to their citizens.

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