Tamil-speaking women in Sri Lanka’s north and east pushed for accountability and truth during the country’s civil war but have been marginalised during the transitional justice process. The government and international actors must include their voices and address their injustices and difficult economic situation to ensure lasting peace.
Parliamentary committee on constitutional reform 21 Sept presented parliament delayed interim report with blueprint for new constitution: deals with nature of state, unit of devolution, electoral reform and religion; unclear if and when constitutional assembly will debate report. Coalition govt 20 Sept passed Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) Bill postponing provincial polls planned for 2018, despite opposition protests. Supreme Court ruled that sections of proposed 20th amendment were unconstitutional and would require a referendum. Under bill, polls to be conducted under new hybrid system combining first-past-the-post and proportional representation. At 36th session of UN Human Rights Council, high commissioner for human rights Zeid al Ra’ad Hussein 11 Sept urged Colombo to accelerate “essential confidence building measures” such as replacing Prevention of Terrorism Act and reducing militarisation in north. President 12 Sept operationalised Office of Missing Persons (OMP), breaking deadlock in transitional justice related reforms, but maintained hard-line position on trying military officials amid renewed allegations against retired army commander General Jagath Jayasuriya for war crimes in north during final stages of civil war. Jayasuriya’s predecessor General Sarath Fonseka said he would be ready to testify against him; President Sirisena said he would not allow any “war hero” to be tried by “foreign group”. Addressing UN General Assembly 20 Sept, Sirisena asked international community to recognise and support Sri Lanka’s “slow” but “steady” reform on democratisation and human rights. Govt failed for second time 21 Sept to bring to parliament scheduled legislation to criminalise enforced disappearances, amid campaign by opposition that it could be used against military.
Fragile hopes for lasting peace and cooperation across party and ethnic lines are imperilled. To avoid leaders of the corrupt and violent former regime taking back control of the country, President Sirisena’s two-year-old “unity government” should put aside short-term calculations and return to reform.
Seven years after its civil war ended, Sri Lanka’s democratic space has reopened but strains are building from a powerful opposition, institutional overlaps and a weakened economy. To make reforms a real success, the prime minister and president should cooperate with openness and redouble efforts to tackle legacies of war like impunity, Tamil detainees and military-occupied land.
Sri Lanka’s 17 August parliamentary elections will test the country’s fragile democratic opening. With the hardline Sinhala nationalism of ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa challenging the “good governance” agenda of the United National Party and President Sirisena, the outcome will affect chances for reconciliation and lasting resolution of the country’s long-running conflicts.
Sri Lanka’s upcoming presidential election promises more competition than was initially anticipated. But with that comes a great risk of violence. Long-term stability and post-war reconciliation can only be achieved through a peaceful election resulting in a government committed to serving the interests of all Sri Lankans.
Despite recent moves meant to show progress towards post-war reconciliation and respect for human rights, Sri Lanka’s government has not altered the authoritarian direction of its policies, and the rights and security of all communities remain under threat.
There are lots of little initiatives under way [in Sri Lanka.] But they don't add up to a coherent or effective response to the desperate situation so many women are facing in the north and east.
There is work to be done by both Sinhala and Tamil activists [in Sri Lanka], in persuading Sinhalese voters to support the new constitution and make the case for a shared interest in ending impunity.
China sold a lot of weapons and lent a lot of money to Sri Lanka and remained a useful ally even in the Human Rights Council, all through the end of the war.
There was always a doubt about the commitment of the [Sri Lankan] president and prime minister. As time goes on, those doubts have grown.
With the UN’s help, Sri Lanka could yet build a state that respects the rule of law and protects the rights of all its citizens.
The bloom is off two years of hope that the rule of law can be restored for all and that a 60-year failure to grant Tamils a fair share of power, in the Sinhala majority island, can be rectified.
Originally published in The Diplomat Magazine
Originally published in Inside Story