Colombo, Human Rights, Peace and Conflict

The West’s bogus concern for human rights

President Obama, in a statement made on the 13th of May, has requested the government of Sri Lanka to “stop the indiscriminate shelling that has taken hundreds of innocent lives, including in several hospitals.” But with regard to the U.S. air strikes that regularly kill hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which includes women and children (according to the International Red Cross), President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, ruled out ending air and drone strikes on the grounds that “we can’t fight with one hand tied behind our back.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration in April chastised Pakistan for its attempt to appease and negotiate peace with the Taliban. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, had this to say about Pakistan’s strategy to avoid war: “I think that the Pakistani government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists.” Pakistan finally caved in to the pressure and launched a massive offensive against the Taliban that has created a humanitarian catastrophe of monumental proportions, displacing 1.3 million people in the Swat Valley. Satisfied with the new offensive, Hillary Clinton said, “I’m actually quite impressed by the actions the Pakistani government is now taking.” State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood echoed this sentiment when he told reporters that the Pakistani offensive is a “very, very positive” development but must be sustained. So positive, in fact, that the U.S. is considering a major boost in assistance to Pakistan-$1.5 billion a year (while U.K. Foreign Minister David Milliband is blocking the SL government’s request for aid from the IMF).

Let’s add a little more history to this. The U.S. and its loyal ally, the U.K., has waged a war in Iraq, begun on the pretext of a clear and present danger from purported weapons of mass destruction, which we now know never existed. That costly expedition has cost Iraq a civilian death toll in excess of 650,000 (according to a reputed study published by British medical journal the Lancet), and has displaced in excess of 4 million civilians.

So this begs the question: why is it that when the West slaughters and displaces innocent civilians in some foreign country, it is an unfortunate sidebar to the more important war on terror, but when we Sri Lankans slaughter and displace our own people, it is somehow transformed into a violation of human rights? How could this be? Are we not equal opportunity slaughterers of civilians?

We are, as everyone knows, fighting the most deadly terrorist organization in the world, and at the same time trying to resolve the largest hostage crisis in world history. So one would assume that the world would cut us a little slack as we bowl the final over in a 30-year-old match. After all, we have only killed an estimated 6500 civilians this year, which is a mere drop of blood in the gushing artery that is Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan. And we’re doing this not in someone else’s backyard; we’re doing it in our own country, to our own people. So how dare their Western pot hoot at our Sri Lankan kettle? We may of course add a few thousand more to our death toll in the closing days of this war (you can follow the score with DBS Jeyaraj, who has been a pretty unbiased umpire), but clearly we’ve killed far fewer than they have. So we’ve got the moral high ground. Don’t we? Or could it be that we are all morally decrepit?

Maybe, the only difference between the West and us is that they’ve got more expensive soap to wash the blood off their hands.