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Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan politics are increasingly volatile. The government is reluctant to address the legacy of civil war and authoritarian rule. Inter-ethnic relations remain fragile, with Sinhala majoritarianism resisting any accommodation of Tamil political claims and militant Buddhist groups’ campaign of violence and hate speech against Muslims posing a considerable threat to the country’s stability. 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

As campaigning began for 16 Nov presidential elections, parliamentary committee 23 Oct released report on investigation into April ISIS-inspired bombings that criticised govt and security services. Report placed “greatest responsibility” for failure to stop attack on State Intelligence Service chief and criticising other top security officials, president and PM for “fail[ing] in their duties”; called for investigations into “whether those with vested interests did not act on intelligence so as to create chaos and instil fear” ahead of presidential election. Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, candidate for Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna and widely assumed to be front-runner, 15 Oct rejected claims that hundreds of Tamils disappeared after surrendering during civil war in May 2009 while he was defence secretary, and announced his govt would not honour commitments on reconciliation and accountability made by current govt at UN Human Rights Council; earlier, Gotabaya declared he would acquit and release all “war heroes” held on “baseless” charges during 9 Oct campaign rally. Amid concerns over increased political repression under a Gotabaya govt, several prominent NGOs and activist groups working on minority and human rights issues reported increased police surveillance and harassment. Sajith Premadasa, candidate for ruling United National Party, took increasingly nationalist position, called for death penalty for terrorists, 10 Oct vowed to appoint controversial former army commander Sarath Fonseka as defence minister and 27 Oct promised to protect army commander Shavendra Silva with his life. U.S. State Department officials told Congress 22 Oct that “serious and credible” allegations of war crimes by unit under Silva’s command in 2009 meant his Aug appointment “will significantly curtail bilateral cooperation”.

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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

Project Director, 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

Project Director, 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

Project Director, 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

Project Director, 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

Project Director, 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

Project Director, Sri Lanka

Latest Updates

Briefing / Asia

Sri Lanka: Stepping Back from a Constitutional Crisis

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. 

Watch List 2018 – First Update

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.

Report / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Conflict-Affected Women: Dealing with the Legacy of War

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.

Also available in සිංහල, தமிழ்
Report / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere

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.

Op-Ed / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere

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

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Alan Keenan

Project Director, Sri Lanka
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