Today in Political Phenomena I Don’t Really Get…

A couple of days ago my “Death, Destruction, and Unflattering Pants” google alert turned up the news that Sri Lanka has been holding “government-backed protests” against the draft UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for accountability for war crimes committed in the suppression of the Tamil insurgency.

My first thought was “wha…?” followed quickly by “‘government backed protests…’ what are those, exactly?” And then I learned that in addition to the thousands-strong turn out for the protests, Sri Lanka’s Banks Association has released a statement opposing the resolution.

This was all a bit confusing for me, because my understanding of the UN Human Rights Council’s process for consideration of draft resolutions suggests that it is not exactly responsive to protests (popular or bank-based) within violator states. So I put on my incipient-political-scientist hat (it’s green, thanks for asking) and thought, “Well, the Sri Lankan government must know that this isn’t likely to influence the policy of international actors, so they must have some other goal in mind.”

The most plausible explanation is that the protests are aimed at domestic, not international, audiences, but I don’t know enough about Sri Lankan politics to take this analysis any further. So, someone with more country expertise, help a girl out?

I see from the AP article reporting the protests that rising fuel prices have led to civil unrest and clashes between civilians and security forces. Is this an effort to diffuse that tension and convince the public to “rally ’round the flag” against an external threat? I also see that domestic opposition figures have criticized the government for failing to stand up to the US and the UN. The objections to international interference have all been framed in terms of sovereignty incursions. Given that Sri Lanka is a post-colonial state, is this an important enough issue to the electorate that the government feels it needs to bolster its sovereignty credentials through a public display?

Anyone know what gives?

U.S. Decides Protecting Human Rights Too Much Trouble After All

Last week the United States announced that it would no longer be participating in sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Council unless “absolutely necessary.”

The U.S.’s relationship with the Council has been rocky from the start; it was one of three countries that voted against the U.N. General Assembly resolution establishing the Council. Since the Council’s creation, the U.S. has declined to seek a seat, due to a difference of opinion with the rest of the member states on the efficacy of bitching about Israel as a means of improving the global human rights situation. Instead, the U.S. delegation has held observer status, exercising its speaking rights sporadically and complaining about the Council’s political bias and ineffectiveness frequently.

One of the issues the U.S. has spoken on regularly is the ongoing crisis in Burma, so everyone was a little surprised when it maintained a conspicuous silence, probably punctuated by occasional pointed sniffs, during on debate on the topic last Friday. The U.S. quietly informed its allies that it was planning to “disengage” from the Council but then refused to confirm its policy change to reporters.

Nobody quite knew how to deal with this sort of passive aggressive behavior from an administration whose foreign policy usually has all the subtlety of an angry bull elephant piloting an armored tank while fighting off a swarm of killer bees. Fortunately, Human Rights Watch managed to pull itself together and fire off a snippy press release.

The press release pointed out that, given the Bush administration’s militantly negligent attitude to human rights in its prosecution of the “War on Terror,” perhaps it might consider hopping on down from its high horse. And that, whatever the motivation behind the move, “ceding the field to those who want to shield abusers from scrutiny” was hardly likely to help matters. Touché.