Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

Given the intensification of the war on the battlefield and the often conflicting statements issuing from the government and the LTTE, most Sri Lanka observers see little hope on the horizon for an early resolution to the conflict. However, there are a number of ways in which the U.S. can and should play a constructive role in long-term efforts to bring about a resolution.

Washington can effectively use its influence to increase pressure on Colombo regarding issues of governance and human rights. Human rights and democracy activists have enumerated several problems: a steady erosion of democratic norms and practices over the course of the war, increasing levels of violence in society, a lack of prosecutions for serious human rights abuses, crackdowns on freedom of expression, and fraudulent election practices. U.S. criticism of the draconian security measures during Pickering's recent visit surely had a role in the subsequent easing of censorship on foreign media and the lifting of a ban on public gatherings. The U.S. could also financially support local and international election monitoring in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

While recognizing some improvements in the human rights record of the Sri Lankan government, the U.S. must continue to raise the issues of impunity, torture, freedom of expression, and provision of food and medical care to the displaced Tamils. It can, for example, encourage the Sri Lankan government to host a visit from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson as well as the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression.

Unless consistent pressure is brought to bear on both the LTTE and the government, they are unlikely to make serious efforts to change. Although the parties cannot be forced to the negotiating table, points of leverage need to be considered. One point of leverage is aid, an option donor countries have been unwilling to use in the past but which bears another look, given that the Sri Lankan government is now channeling a much higher proportion of its resources into the war. At the same time, it would be helpful for the U.S. to find a way to open a channel of communication with the LTTE, as it has done with other guerrilla groups in the past. The willingness of many countries to concur with the Sri Lankan government's demonization of the LTTE will not lead to an environment conducive to negotiations, and Washington should avoid such a one-sided approach.

For the success of any negotiation, both the process and the degree of preparedness of the negotiators are important factors. …

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