Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Meanwhile, Somewhere in South Asia

One of the world's longest continuing armed conflicts appears to be drawing to a close - at least in the semi-conventional sense in which it has been running since 1983.

The Sri Lankan civil war is an interesting case study which should serve to demonstrate why the realisation of social and cultural human rights - especially for minority groups - is so important. In that country over 25 years of war and tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths resulted when a sizeable ethnic minority was denied the right to its own language and culture. If only one of the main goals of the human rights movement - constructive state-minority relations - had been adequately achieved, matters would have been very different.

Human rights law has, in Europe, morphed into an unwieldy and self-contradictory beast. The circumstances for which it was created - a chaotic, shattered international landscape split along idelogical lines - no longer exist on that continent. After the near-completion of its original goal, the human rights movement in Europe has thrashed around for fresh meat and managed to find some small morsels here and there - police powers, sexual harrassment, freedom of speech. But the capacity it has to genuinely change the world for the better has been mostly forgotten within the bounds of the EU.

Sri Lanka and countries like it show how much relevance the movement still has outside of The West. The denial of certain human rights was not a mere factor in the bloodshed - it was more or less the sole cause. What has happened since 1983 shows, in a nutshell, why international human rights law is so important and why it must be energetically enforced.

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