Human Rights Half Measures: Avoiding Accountability in Postwar Sri Lanka

by Kate Cronin-Furman, Cambridge University Press’ World Politics journal, Vol. 72, Issue 1, November 11, 2019


Why do repressive states create human rights institutions that cost them money and political capital but fail to silence international criticism? The academic literature assumes that states engaging in disingenuous human rights behavior are hoping to persuade (or deceive) liberal Western states and international advocates. But if human rights promoters in the West are the target audience for the creation of these half measures institutions, the strategy appears puzzlingly miscalculated. It reveals that the repressive state is sensitive to international opinion, and often results in increased pressure. The author argues that states engaging in human rights half measures are playing to a different, previously overlooked audience: swing states that can act as veto points on multilateral efforts to enforce human rights. The article illustrates these dynamics with a case study of Sri Lanka’s response to international pressure for postwar justice. The author shows that although the creation of a series of weak investigative commissions was prompted by pressure from Western governments and ngos, it was not an attempt to satisfy or hoodwink these actors. Instead, it was part of a coalition-blocking strategy to convince fellow developing states on the UN Human Rights Council to oppose the creation of an international inquiry and to give them the political cover to do so.

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