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.
Sri Lanka's interlocking economic and political crises remain acute. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group lays out what the EU and its member states can do to mitigate the risks of needed reforms.
Govt maintained harsh response to dissent, expressed willingness to address Tamil demands and introduced new budget amid ongoing economic strains.
Govt continued hard line on protests and rejected early elections. Police 18 Nov used water cannons and tear gas to disperse large crowd of students attempting to deliver petition to UN, protesting detention of two student leaders under Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA); court previous day extended leaders’ detention, which Amnesty International 18 Nov denounced as “targeted persecution” that has “chilling effect on civil society”. President Wickremesinghe 23 Nov rejected widespread calls for early elections, telling parliament he would “impose emergency law and deploy the military” if protesters try to “topple the government”.
Govt made some overtures to civil society groups and Tamil politicians. Govt during month held ministerial meetings and consultations with civil society groups on revised draft of proposed “anti-corruption act” aimed at including provisions of UN Convention against Corruption and other international norms. Wickremesinghe 10 Nov invited Tamil leaders for discussion, pledging to address their decades-long demands ahead of 75th independence day on 4 Feb 2023; Tamil politicians expressed scepticism at initiative but did not reject it. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe 20 Nov confirmed govt was drafting new counter-terrorism law to replace PTA.
Amid ongoing economic hardship, govt introduced budget. Wickremesinghe 14 Nov presented 2023 budget to parliament – approved by wide margins in initial votes – aimed at reducing fiscal deficit in line with preliminary deal struck with International Monetary Fund in Sept; budget primarily relies on tax hikes, while maintaining high spending on police and military. Govt statistics released 21 Nov showed inflation slowing slightly to 70.6% in Oct, following record 73.7% in Sept. Meanwhile, debt restructuring talks appear to have made little headway, imperilling govt’s ambition to finalise restructuring by year’s end; govt postponed another round of talks with creditors scheduled for 17 Nov reportedly to allow officials time to prepare. UK Parliament 9 Nov adopted resolution expressing concern over “reports of increased militarisation and human rights violations” and urged govt to reduce high defence spending.
The ongoing crackdown on dissent in Sri Lanka by the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe is worse than any under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.
Sri Lanka still matters a lot to China, but other things also matter. In particular, they seem to not want to set a precedent in Sri Lanka of offering debt relief that ot...
China has gotten a lot more involved in the politics of Sri Lanka and in backing the government in a much more public way.
Sri Lanka would be in crisis even if you didn’t have a war in Ukraine, but it’s compounding everything.
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 woul...
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...
Originally published in The Hindustan Times.
Crowds of ordinary Sri Lankans stormed the presidential residence on 9 July, compelling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan lays out the background of these events and looks at what the immediate future may hold.
Sri Lanka is embroiled in nationwide protests amid deepening economic woes and increasing political volatility. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan analyses the implications of the crisis, which could have lasting political and economic effects.
Sri Lanka’s president has named a veteran anti-Muslim agitator to head a legal reform task force. Critics have called the move “incomprehensible”, but it is readily understood as a way to divert discontent among the government’s Sinhala Buddhist base toward an embattled minority.
The UN Human Rights Council will soon discuss Sri Lanka, where the new government has scotched truth and justice efforts related to the 1983-2009 civil war. The Council should demand accountability for past crimes but stress that Colombo’s present policies may spark further deadly conflict.
The politically-motivated Presidential Commission of Enquiry has been distorting politically-connected criminal suspects into victims, and investigators and legal reformers into criminals.
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.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government appears headed for a constitutional crisis that could lastingly damage Sri Lanka’s political institutions and aggravate conflict risks. Firm and concerted action by the country’s international partners could help break the impasse, which comes amid rising authoritarianism and anti-Muslim propaganda.
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