icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Youtube
Reconstruire le Nord du Sri Lanka sous le joug militaire (II)
Reconstruire le Nord du Sri Lanka sous le joug militaire (II)
Sri Lanka Election Sparks Fear of Return to Violent Past
Sri Lanka Election Sparks Fear of Return to Violent Past
Report 220 / Asia

Reconstruire le Nord du Sri Lanka sous le joug militaire (II)

Le contrôle exercé par l’armée sri-lankaise sur la vie économique et politique dans la Province du Nord aggrave l’aliénation et la colère ressenties par la population tamoule du Nord et mence la paix et la stabilité à long terme.

Synthèse

L’armée sri-lankaise domine le processus de reconstruction de la Province du Nord, nuisant aux efforts humanitaires internationaux et attisant les tensions avec la majorité ethnique tamoule. Depuis la fin de la guerre en 2009, des centaines de millions de dollars ont été versés, mais les populations locales, laissées dans le plus grand dénuement, n’ont connu qu’une amélioration très relative de leurs conditions de vie. L’armée, au lieu de s’effacer au profit d’un développement équitable et responsable, intervient dans la vie économique, contrôle des terres, et semble établir une présence occupante permanente. Ces politiques, qui s’ajoutent à ce que les Tamouls perçoivent comme une tentative d’imposition de la culture cinghalaise et bouddhiste à travers le Sri Lanka, ainsi que l’incapacité à résoudre les problèmes sociaux caractéristiques d’une société post-conflit, risquent de raviver la violence des décennies passées. Un gouvernement responsable, les besoins des populations de retour dans leurs villages, et l’essor d’un rôle politique pour la minorité tamoule doivent être au cœur des politiques d’aide des bailleurs de fonds, au risque de favoriser la résurgence de l’extrémisme ethnique.

Le poids de la militarisation de la Province, censée empêcher un réveil du militantisme, aggrave en réalité la colère et l’aliénation ressenties par les Tamouls du Nord, réduisant les chances d’instaurer une paix durable. La mise en place d’imposantes bases militaires nécessite l’accaparement de vastes étendues de terres privées et publiques, entrainant à nouveau le déplacement de dizaines de milliers d’habitants. L’ingérence croissante de l’armée dans les activités agricoles et commerciales place un nouvel obstacle sur le chemin de la relance économique pour les fermiers et les commerces du Nord. Lorsqu’elle est critiquée au cours de rassemblements populaires, l’armée ne fait preuve d’aucune retenue pour s’attaquer aux manifestants. Par ailleurs, des accusations plausibles dénoncent son implication dans des disparitions forcées et autres punitions extrajudiciaires.

Le gouvernement considère les nouvelles routes, la croissance économique rapide et les projets d’infrastructures comme autant de signes d’un « printemps post-conflit » au Nord. Pourtant, la majorité des 430 000 individus qui sont revenus dans leurs villages n’en a que peu profité ces deux dernières années. Les habitants de la région de Vanni, le territoire continental de la Province, ont retrouvé des terres dévastées par les derniers combats : quasiment toutes les maisons et tous les bâtiments ont été détruits et les effets personnels des habitants ont presque tous été endommagés, pillés ou ont disparu. La plupart des personnes de retour vivent toujours dans des abris de fortune inadaptés à leurs besoins et peinent à se nourrir, dans un contexte où les emplois, les opportunités et les économies personnelles manquent cruellement. Peu d’écoles et de centres médicaux ont été reconstruits. Les femmes du Nord se trouvent dans une situation particulièrement difficile : à la tête de familles dont beaucoup ne bénéficient ni d’un refuge permanent ni d’un revenu régulier, elles sont extrêmement vulnérables face à la domination d’une armée masculine et cinghalaise.

La violence à l’encontre des femmes et la « cinghalisation » de la Province du Nord à travers des transformations culturelles et démographiques font l’objet des deux dernières publications de Crisis Group sur le Sri Lanka, dont la plus récente est le tome I du présent rapport. Celui-ci étudie l’hégémonie de l’armée au sein du processus de reconstruction d’une région presque entièrement détruite par des décennies de guerre civile. Il examine comment les impératifs militaires influencent, voire déterminent, la réponse du gouvernement et de la communauté internationale au désarroi de la population locale. La priorité accordée à la construction d’infrastructures matérielles aux dépens de l’édification d’une société ouverte et du rétablissement de la confiance en son sein confère un avantage – financier et autre – à l’armée et aux élites politiques, au détriment de la majorité de la population de la Province.

Les restrictions imposées par le gouvernement à l’aide humanitaire et aux projets de première reconstruction, souvent exécutées par les responsables militaires locaux, ont empêché la fourniture de nombreux services aux populations, dont un soutien psychosocial régulier aux familles traumatisées par la mort et la disparition de leurs proches. L’influence de l’armée sur les politiques de développement du Nord – à travers le Groupe de travail sur la réinstallation, la reconstruction et la sécurité dans la Province du Nord (Presidential Task Force on Resettlement, Reconstruction and Security in the Northern Province, PTF) et au niveau des districts – a marginalisé l’administration civile majoritairement tamoule, favorisant une reconstruction « ethnique » par ailleurs peu efficace. L’importance des projets de grande envergure au sein des efforts de reconstruction détourne les ressources et l’énergie nécessaires à la satisfaction des besoins urgents. Les donateurs et les agences humanitaires et de développement n’ont pas condamné assez fermement ces politiques, alors qu’elles entravent le retour et la « guérison » des populations affectées par le conflit.

Le rétablissement d’une gouvernance civile et démocratique au Nord et la fin de l’emprise militaire sur le processus de développement doivent constituer les priorités des acteurs internationaux engagés dans la reconstruction du Sri Lanka. Les bailleurs de fonds, notamment les agences multilatérales, la Chine, l’Inde et le Japon, doivent s’assurer que leurs programmes répondent aux besoins des 430 000 personnes de retour dans le respect des principes de transparence et de responsabilité. Ils doivent réclamer la levée des restrictions gouvernementales handicapant la livraison et le suivi de l’aide. Les agences des Nations unies et les organisations non gouvernementales (ONG) doivent, avec le soutien de leurs donateurs, s’opposer fermement aux contrôles étroits sur leurs opérations, défendre avec vigueur les principes humanitaires, et faire pression en faveur du rétablissement de l’autorité civile au Nord. Au-delà des formalités ordinaires de suivi des projets, la communauté internationale ne doit pas tolérer que la reconstruction finance la culture de la corruption et l’érosion de la démocratie, qui ont empiré malgré la fin de la guerre.

Colombo/Bruxelles, 16 mars 2012

A supporter of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), former secretary to the Ministry of Defence and presidential candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, holds election posters at the party's election office in Biyagama, in the outskirts of the capital Colombo. AFP/ISHARA S. KODIKARA
Commentary / Asia

Sri Lanka Election Sparks Fear of Return to Violent Past

Sri Lanka’s powerful Rajapaksa family appears to be making a political comeback, and presidential front runner Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a troubled, violent history with Tamils and Muslims. These groups and others worry Gotobaya’s election will leave them more vulnerable, and threatens fragile democratic progress after decades of war.

As Sri Lankans head to the polls to elect a new president on 16 November, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands as the widely acknowledged front runner. As defence secretary during his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decade-long presidency ending in 2015, he was a leading figure in a government that many minority Tamils and Muslims, as well as opposition politicians, blame for terrible political violence and repression. During that period, dozens of journalists were killed or forced into exile, prominent Tamil politicians were murdered, and thousands of Sri Lankans were forcibly disappeared; no one has since been held accountable for those crimes. Gotabaya is expected to name his brother prime minister, as Mahinda is constitutionally term-limited from seeking the presidency. The last Rajapaksa administration became increasingly authoritarian over its tenure, and the family’s political reprise would likely to bring more of the same.

Gotabaya’s main challenger is Sajith Premadasa, the standard bearer for the United National Party (UNP), headed by current prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Premadasa is currently Cabinet Minister for Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs. Although Premadasa is more popular with average voters than the aloof prime minister, private polling, the largely pro-Rajapaksa media, and past voting patterns all suggest that Premadasa is the underdog. Although widely seen as having run a strong campaign so far, Premadasa is also competing against smaller party candidates who could take a significant block of the anti-Rajapaksa vote.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is campaigning on promises of security and order.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa is campaigning on promises of security and order that appeal to many ethnic majority Sinhalese, especially in the wake of ISIS-inspired bombings last Easter that left more than 250 dead and at least 500 wounded. He announced his candidacy within days of those attacks, seizing the opportunity to position himself as the nation’s protector. Promising to eliminate all forms of terrorism, he has argued (with little evidence) that the government’s arrest of key intelligence operatives based on allegations of abductions and murders weakened security and paved the way for the Easter attacks.

Gotabaya has emphasised his central role as defence secretary in the 2009 military victory over the Tamil Tigers, a militant separatist organisation that fought for a Tamil homeland in the country’s north east for more than 30 years. Promising voters technocratic, military-style governance, led by professionals rather than politicians, Gotabaya also draws on middle class voters’ appreciation of the redevelopment projects he spearheaded as head of the Urban Development Agency and the general impression that he “gets things done”, albeit ruthlessly at times. Gotabaya has pledged that his government will instil “discipline”, and argued forcefully that love of country is more important than individual rights and that security is paramount.

The prospect of a new Rajapaksa presidency has heightened ethnic tensions and raised fears among minorities and democratic activists.

The prospect of a new Rajapaksa presidency has heightened ethnic tensions and raised fears among minorities and democratic activists. They worry electing Gotabaya, a strong Sinhala nationalist, would deepen already serious divides among the country’s ethnic communities and threaten its recent modest democratic gains. Sri Lanka’s Muslims are among those most fearful of a Gotabaya presidency. They worry about his support for militant Buddhist groups that attacked Muslims with impunity in 2013 and 2014, when Gotabaya was in charge of the police and army. Evidence that politicians from the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party (SLPP) were involved in anti-Muslim violence in March 2018 and May 2019 has strengthened these fears, as has the backing of prominent nationalist monks promoting anti-Muslim attitudes for Gotabaya’s candidacy.

Posters of presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa next to rubble from burned-out Muslim-owned shops in Minuwangoda, Sri Lanka. CRISISGROUP/Alan Keenan

Gotabaya has always denied any links with militant Buddhists, and along with others in the SLPP has courted Muslim voters. Although some Muslim businessmen back Gotabaya hoping for business-friendly governance, most Muslims are expected to maintain their traditional support for the UNP. Many worry, however, that this will make their community vulnerable to retribution if Gotabaya wins. In a widely circulated video, Gotabaya’s personal lawyer and a prominent Muslim member of the SLPP articulated the bind in which many Muslims find themselves: telling his Muslim audience that Gotabaya is certain to win, he then asked them how they were likely to fare if Muslims were not seen to have supported him. When one audience member chuckles nervously and says they would get a “massive thrashing”, the lawyer laughs along, agrees and says Muslims would be wise to support Gotabaya to avoid increased harassment and even violent retribution. Smaller pro-Rajapaksa Tamil parties in the multi-ethnic north and east have appealed to Tamils to vote for Gotabaya in order to protect themselves against the perceived threat of Muslim extremism and economic power.

Almost certainly, reconciliation and accountability for atrocities and human rights violations will be losers should Gotabaya win.

Almost certainly, reconciliation and accountability for atrocities and human rights violations will be losers should Gotabaya win. Under the Rajapaksas’ watch, thousands of Tamils disappeared in the final years of war – including hundreds who surrendered to the army on the last day of fighting in May 2009 and were never seen again. When asked at a 15 October press conference about their fate and how he would respond to the continued appeals of their families for the truth about what happened to them, Gotabaya denied anyone was unaccounted for after surrendering. When pressed, Gotabaya asserted there was no point in looking to the past and said he was running to be “the president of the future Sri Lanka”. At the same press conference, Gotabaya announced he would not recognise or honour commitments on post-war accountability and reconciliation the current government made to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015.

For Tamils especially, but also Sinhalese and Muslim victims, being asked to forget is both painful and impossible. The current government’s failure to investigate or press the army to provide answers about the disappeared has kept families’ wounds fresh. The Office of Missing Persons, established in 2018 to fulfil a government’s pledge to the UN, is still struggling to become effective. The police and army, whose assistance is necessary to establish the truth, will likely continue to resist the Office’s work under any scenario. Many expect Gotabaya will formally dismantle the Office of Missing Persons should he be elected.

The last five years represent a lost opportunity to help Sri Lanka recover from the war that ended a decade ago. The broad, multi-ethnic and multiparty coalition that came to power in presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015 promised to strengthen the rule of law and tackle the culture of impunity engendered by the nation’s long history of political violence. They restored a degree of independence to the police and judiciary, and journalists as well as civil society activists have made the most of their increased freedom. Chances for more lasting reforms, however, and for prosecutions of the many high-profile cases of corruption, murder and disappearances during the Rajapaksa period, were frittered away in partisan battles between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The government’s failure to make decisive changes has left Sri Lanka’s citizens – and its still-fragile institutions – at risk.

A Premadasa win is no guarantee of turning the page on Sri Lanka’s violent past.

A Premadasa win is no guarantee of turning the page on Sri Lanka’s violent past. His election manifesto contains some positive proposals – including the creation of an independent prosecutor – but his career has not suggested a deep commitment to accountability or reconciliation. His popularity derives from his single-minded focus on the many housing developments his ministry has built and the sense that he cares about average and poor Sri Lankans. During the campaign, he has attempted to match Gotabaya with vows to “eradicate terrorism” and impose the death penalty on drug dealers. Despite this posture and widespread disappointment with the UNP-led government among minority voters and democratic activists, many of them see a Premadasa victory as essential to keeping open Sri Lanka’s fragile space for dissent and pluralism. With the backing of the main Tamil and Muslim parties, Premadasa has also challenged Gotabaya on the crimes and abuses committed during the Rajapaksa years, warning voters of the risks a new Rajapaksa government would carry.

Whether Gotabaya or Premadasa wins this next election, building the independent institutions needed to end impunity will be essential to ensuring lasting peace in Sri Lanka. For external supporters of human rights and democratic freedoms in Sri Lanka, their main leverage will be found in Sri Lanka’s need for help from the International Monetary Fund and other multilateral and bilateral agencies with its struggling economy and dangerously high foreign debt. Vulnerable human rights defenders and opposition politicians will also need political support from outside the country as they continue their quest for truth and justice for past atrocities.

This article first appeared in The Interpreter, published by the Lowy Institute