The return to power of controversial former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka's prime minister is unconstitutional and destabilising. International actors should make future security and economic cooperation contingent on parliament reconvening immediately to select a prime minister through legal channels.
Month dominated by political manoeuvring ahead of Nov presidential elections, while UN Human Rights Council passed resolution giving Sri Lanka two additional years to fulfil its commitments on reconciliation and accountability. Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa continued campaign to be nominated as presidential candidate for Sri Lanka People’s Front, amid uncertainty over degree of support from his brother, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, possible bid for a second term by President Sirisena as nominee of Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and increased lobbying by leftist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna for constitutional amendment abolishing executive presidency. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet 8 March called on Human Rights Council to maintain Sri Lanka on its agenda, noting slow progress in govt’s commitments to transitional justice and addressing impunity, and arguing that “lack of accountability for past actions likely contributed” to anti-Muslim violence in March 2018 and to late 2018 constitutional crisis. Human Rights Council 21 March passed new resolution to “roll over” Sri Lanka’s commitments on reconciliation and accountability, giving it two more years to fulfil pledges it made in 2015. Even as Sri Lanka co-sponsored resolution, FM Tilak Marapana 20 March challenged aspects of High Commissioner’s report to council and rejected key aspects of 2015 resolution, including foreign judges in special court to investigate and try alleged war crimes. Reflecting deep divisions in govt following failed 2018 constitutional coup, Sirisena 27 March rejected resolution as “betrayal” of military and Sri Lankan people, claimed he was not informed and did not approve of its contents.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 [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.
[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.
2017 has seen a worrisome return of violence and hate speech in Sri Lanka.
The lethal Easter bombings in Sri Lanka have stunned a country still recovering from decades of internal war. Political and religious leaders alike should reject the rhetoric of collective blame and reaffirm the island’s strained but living tradition of intercommunal amity.
Crisis Group’s first update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on Burundi’s dangerous referendum, militant Buddhists and anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka, the impact of the Venezuelan crisis on the region, and the situation in Yemen. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
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
As the United Nations Human Rights Council meets in Geneva this month, it’s time to assess how far Sri Lanka has come since last year’s passage of a landmark resolution to promote reconciliation, accountability and human rights.