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.
Coalition govt faced major economic and human rights challenges during month. Associated Press 8 Nov reported over 50 recent cases of Tamil men abducted and tortured by military, some subject to sexual violence, on suspicion of involvement with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE); most serious such allegation since 2015 change of govt. UN human rights chief said his office would investigate; senior foreign ministry official said incidents would be investigated and prosecuted. At 28th session of Universal Periodic Review at UN Human Rights Council in Geneva 15 Nov, Sri Lankan delegation renewed commitment to human rights including resolution to set up mechanisms to investigate wartime atrocities; accepted 177 of 230 recommendations but refused to repeal Prevention of Terrorism Act. Parliament 4-5 Nov debated draft of new constitution; parties divided on critical issues including power sharing. Suresh Premachandran of Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, coalition member of Tamil National Alliance (TNA), 12 Nov left to form new political front with two other northern Tamil political groups; move follows increasing frustration in north over TNA’s engagement with govt. Fuel crisis early Nov prompted further criticism of govt on economic front. Finance minister 9 November presented new budget including chapter on reconciliation committing funds to conflict affected areas and for new Office of Mission Persons. Authorities 17 Nov deployed security forces and imposed curfew after Buddhist-Muslim violence in Gintota, southern Galle district; at least six injured, over 60 properties damaged, nineteen people arrested. PM Wickremasinge 20 Nov voluntarily appeared before Presidential Commission investigating irregularities in treasury bond sales at Central Bank.
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.
2017 has seen a worrisome return of violence and hate speech in Sri Lanka.
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