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.
Sri Lanka's interlocking economic and political crises remain acute. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group lays out what the EU and its member states can do to mitigate the risks of needed reforms.
Govt slashed spending amid economic strains and efforts to secure international bailout loan, while continuing initiative to address decades-old ethnic conflict.
Govt cut back spending amid deep recession. Amid falling govt revenues, President Wickremesinghe 10 Jan instructed all ministries to cut 5% of their allocated budgets for 2023, with priority given to salary and pension payments to public sector employees. State Minister of Defence Premitha Bandara Tennakoon 13 Jan made surprise announcement that army personnel would be reduced by one third over 2023, falling to 135,000 from 200,000. In positive step, India 16 Jan informed International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it will support debt restructuring process, marking progress toward finalising bailout loan. Chinese Vice Minister Chen Zhou 16 Jan indicated “some good news soon” regarding debt restructuring. Wickremesinghe 27 Jan prorogued parliament until 8 Feb, when new policy program is due to be announced.
Govt continued discussion of initiative to address ethnic conflict. Wickremesinghe 15 Jan reiterated govt’s “hope to fully implement the 13th Amendment of the constitution”; successive governments have failed to implement key provisions since amendment was made law in 1987. Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian M.A. Sumanthiran 16 Jan said, “Nobody takes it with any seriousness because it has been constantly promised.” Wickremesinghe also said govt was “discussing appointing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)”. Talks between govt and TNA, however, appeared stalled following former’s failure to meet deadlines for releasing Tamil prisoners held under Prevention of Terrorism Act and releasing private land held by military.
Local elections preparations resumed, Supreme Court ruled on 2019 bombings. Following govt attempts to delay local govt elections, Election Commission 21 Jan announced polls will be held on 9 March. In landmark ruling, Supreme Court 12 Jan ruled that former President Maithripala Sirisena and four other senior officials had violated fundamental rights of petitioners by failing to act on warnings received in advance of 2019 Easter bombings. In first by foreign govt, Canada 10 Jan imposed sanctions on former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa for “gross and systematic violations of human rights during armed conflict in Sri Lanka”.
[Sanctions for Sri Lankan officials] are a timely reminder that continued impunity will bring increasing costs to the government’s international reputation.
The ongoing crackdown on dissent in Sri Lanka by the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe is worse than any under Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration.
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...
China has gotten a lot more involved in the politics of Sri Lanka and in backing the government in a much more public way.
Sri Lanka would be in crisis even if you didn’t have a war in Ukraine, but it’s compounding everything.
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...
Originally published in The Hindustan Times.
Crowds of ordinary Sri Lankans stormed the presidential residence on 9 July, compelling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan lays out the background of these events and looks at what the immediate future may hold.
Sri Lanka is embroiled in nationwide protests amid deepening economic woes and increasing political volatility. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan analyses the implications of the crisis, which could have lasting political and economic effects.
Sri Lanka’s president has named a veteran anti-Muslim agitator to head a legal reform task force. Critics have called the move “incomprehensible”, but it is readily understood as a way to divert discontent among the government’s Sinhala Buddhist base toward an embattled minority.
The UN Human Rights Council will soon discuss Sri Lanka, where the new government has scotched truth and justice efforts related to the 1983-2009 civil war. The Council should demand accountability for past crimes but stress that Colombo’s present policies may spark further deadly conflict.
The politically-motivated Presidential Commission of Enquiry has been distorting politically-connected criminal suspects into victims, and investigators and legal reformers into criminals.
Twice postponed because of COVID-19, Sri Lanka's parliamentary election finally took place on 5 August. The SLPP's electoral victory should be understood not simply as a result of dissatisfaction with rival party UNP, but of the failure of its internationally-backed liberal reform agenda to gain lasting traction with Sri Lankan voters.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government appears headed for a constitutional crisis that could lastingly damage Sri Lanka’s political institutions and aggravate conflict risks. Firm and concerted action by the country’s international partners could help break the impasse, which comes amid rising authoritarianism and anti-Muslim propaganda.
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