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

Authorities struck preliminary deal to address worsening economic crisis amid food insecurity and continued crackdown on dissent, while UN rights body spotlighted govt’s poor record.

Amid dire economic conditions, govt struck initial deal with International Monetary Fund (IMF). In positive news, IMF 1 Sept announced long-awaited staff level agreement, enabling $2.9bn loan; dispersal of loan requires govt winning parliamentary approval for unpopular measures and securing debt relief from foreign govts and international bond holders, talks about which began 23 Sept. UN World Food Programme 12 Sept warned “food and nutrition security situation in Sri Lanka continues to deteriorate by the day’’, noting that based on surveys in June, 8.7m people (39.1% of population) did not have adequate diet, while one in every four households was reducing number of daily meals and 6.2m (28% of population) were estimated food insecure. Report flagged likelihood of further deterioration from Oct-Feb 2023, citing low crop yields.

Authorities continued crackdown on dissent and consolidated power. Police 10 Sept arrested prominent protest leader and authorities continued prosecutions of numerous others, including three student leaders detained last month under PTA. Authorities 24 Sept arrested 84 peaceful protesters, day after President Wickremesinghe invoked rarely-used Official Secrets Act to ban protests around key govt buildings covering large parts of capital Colombo; Bar Association and others denounced moved and immediately challenged it in court. Disgraced former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa 2 Sept returned to country after six weeks abroad. Wickremesinghe 8 Sept appointed 37 new ministers, mostly members of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and aligned parties.

Govt faced condemnation of rights record at UN Human Rights Council. In strongly worded report to Council on 6 Sept, UN High Commissioner criticised systematic impunity for human rights violations, failure to pursue effective transitional justice, militarisation of civilian administration, and ongoing surveillance, harassment and arbitrary arrests under draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), calling for moratorium on act’s use; for first time, report linked impunity and authoritarian governance with ongoing economic crisis. FM Ali Sabry 12 Sept rejected much of report and reiterated promise to replace PTA.

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In The News

4 Aug 2022
The ongoing crackdown on dissent in Sri Lanka by the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe is worse than any under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration. Al Jazeera

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
22 Jul 2022
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... Nikkei Asia

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
6 Jun 2022
China has gotten a lot more involved in the politics of Sri Lanka and in backing the government in a much more public way. The Sunday Morning Herald

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
17 Apr 2022
Sri Lanka would be in crisis even if you didn’t have a war in Ukraine, but it’s compounding everything. Washington Post

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
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 woul... 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... Sunday Observer

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka

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Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
Alan Keenan