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Sri Lanka

The Rajapaksa family’s return to government has put an end to tentative efforts to address the legacy of civil war and brought in more centralised, militarised government, anchored in Sinhala majoritarianism. As Sri Lanka’s longstanding ethno-religious tensions continue to linger, the presence of hardline Sinhala nationalists in power rules out any accommodation of Tamil political claims. Once-fringe ideas of militant Buddhist groups regarding violence and hate speech against Muslims are increasingly being adopted as government policy. Building on Crisis Group’s work to address the humanitarian and human rights crises of the civil war’s last phase, we aim to strengthen communal relations among Tamils, Muslims and Buddhists, while advocating for governance reforms that are essential to lasting peace.

CrisisWatch Sri Lanka

Unchanged Situation

UN human rights office (OHCHR) issued highly critical report about country’s trajectory and called on international support to avert future abuses. OHCHR 27 Jan issued report – pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 40/1 – criticising country’s failure “to address past violations” and “risk of human rights violations being repeated”: said govt “proactively obstructing investigations and trials” and called for “enhanced monitoring and strong preventive action” by international community; govt 27 Jan rejected report as “speculative, presumptive and unsubstantiated”, and beyond mandate given by Human Rights Council. Earlier in month, Tamil political parties, civil society groups and religious leaders 15 Jan jointly called for UN to establish international accountability mechanism and rejected domestic accountability process. President Gotabaya 21 Jan appointed Commission of Inquiry to review work of past commissions established to investigate human rights violations. Indian FM Subrahmanyam Jaishankar 6 Jan met with Gotabaya in capital Colombo; Jaishankar said it is in country’s “own interest” that Tamil aspirations for “equality, justice, peace and dignity” are met, urged govt to maintain devolution of power enshrined in 13th constitutional amendment, which some of Gotabaya’s close allies seek to abolish. Gotabaya 13 Jan announced deal with India and Japan to jointly develop container terminal in Colombo port; PM Mahinda Rajapaksa 31 Jan promised major change to deal following protests against Indian involvement by nationalist monks and trade unions. Jaffna University authorities, on orders from central govt, 8 Jan demolished memorial to Tamil civilians killed during civil war, sparking student protests along with domestic and international backlash; university’s vice chancellor 10 Jan promised to reconstruct monument, reportedly after India’s ambassador to Sri Lanka raised concern with PM. Amid growing criticism from opposition over govt’s policies, Gotabaya 9 Jan called on opponents to engage in “civilised politics without misleading the public” and appeared to threaten to kill prominent opposition MP Harin Fernando who had earlier criticised him; Fernando next day requested police protection. Health minister 7 Jan told parliament that govt would continue to cremate all COVID-19 victims in contravention of Islamic burial practices and contrary to World Health Organization guidelines.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

25 Apr 2019
The president has tried to weaken [Sri Lanka's Prime Minister] in many ways, including taking the police under his control. So it's entirely possible that the police wouldn't share information with ministers not aligned with the president. AFP

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
24 Jun 2018
It is particularly damaging that the reasons the U.S. Government gave for leaving the Human Rights Council – for being hypocritical and biased, echo so closely criticisms that the previous Sri Lankan Government and many Lankan politicians in opposition and in the current Government have made about the Council’s engagement with and resolutions on Sri Lanka. The U.S. withdrawal will have lasting damage and will strengthen governments and politicians across the globe who prefer to be left to their own devices, even when this involves violating the fundamental rights of their own citizens. Sunday Observer

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
8 Mar 2018
There is good reason to believe [the Sinhala Buddhists attacks in Sri Lanka] are partly designed to provoke a Muslim response, which would then justify more violence against Muslims. Al Jazeera

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
6 Mar 2018
Many Sinhalese and Buddhists have [the sense] that Sri Lanka [is a] Sinhala and Buddhist island, and [that] other communities are here on the sufferance of the majority. The Guardian

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
18 Feb 2018
The [Sri Lankan] government will need to figure out how to come together. They need to go back to the drawing board and return to their fundamental principles and start to deliver. CNN

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
15 Feb 2018
[Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa] has a strong core constituency and a good set of issues, whereas the government has to pull together a range of minority constituents. The Economist

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka

Latest Updates

Op-Ed / Asia

Sri Lanka: Landslide win for the Rajapaksa puts democracy and pluralism at risk

Twice postponed because of COVID-19, Sri Lanka's parliamentary election finally took place on 5 August. The SLPP's electoral victory should be understood not simply as a result of dissatisfaction with rival party UNP, but of the failure of its internationally-backed liberal reform agenda to gain lasting traction with Sri Lankan voters.

Originally published in LSE South Asia Centre

Q&A / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election Brings Back a Polarising Wartime Figure

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decisive victory in Sri Lanka’s presidential election reflects voters’ concerns over security, poor economic prospects and ineffective governance – but also indicates the country’s dangerous ethnic polarisation. Many worry that Rajapaksa, a Sinhalese nationalist, will energise anti-Muslim campaigning and further alienate the Tamil community.

Commentary / Asia

Sri Lanka Election Sparks Fear of Return to Violent Past

Sri Lanka’s powerful Rajapaksa family appears to be making a political comeback, and presidential front runner Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a troubled, violent history with Tamils and Muslims. These groups and others worry Gotobaya’s election will leave them more vulnerable, and threatens fragile democratic progress after decades of war.

Report / Asia

After Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings: Reducing Risks of Future Violence

The devastating ISIS-inspired attacks last Easter targeting Sri Lanka’s Christians have triggered a dangerous backlash against the country’s Muslims. Colombo urgently needs to correct the intelligence failures that led to the Easter attacks and curb discriminatory practices and policies that further harm innocent Muslim communities.

Our Journeys / Asia

Picturing Sri Lanka’s Undead War

Ten years after the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Crisis Group’s Sri Lanka Project Director Alan Keenan and Photographer Julie David de Lossy travelled 1,500km through ex-combat zones. They found a population finding ways to cope with their traumatic experiences and an extraordinary array of monuments to the war. 

Our People

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka