Sri Lanka

In the wake of mass protests that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign in July 2022, Sri Lanka’s interlocking economic and governance crises remain acute. Austerity measures, introduced in part to win financial support from the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors, have brought additional economic hardship for many Sri Lankans already struggling with collapsing living standards. Forthcoming economic reforms could provoke renewed protests. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reliance on Rajapaksa allies for his parliamentary majority will likely constrain fulfilment of promises to increase financial accountability, strengthen rule of law institutions, reduce impunity and corruption, ensure the rights of Tamils and Muslims, and address the legacy of the 1983-2009 civil war. Building on Crisis Group’s work during and after the war, we advocate for international humanitarian assistance, as well as inclusive governance reforms to strengthen democratic institutions and support a lasting, equitable peace.

CrisisWatch Sri Lanka

Unchanged Situation

As elections lingered on horizon, govt’s authoritarian legislation faced opposition and communal tensions persisted in Northern Province; govt secured next portion of International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

Political jockeying intensified as elections appeared increasingly likely. With presidential elections required by mid-Oct, and parliamentary elections possible before or soon after, negotiations for possible electoral alliances intensified. President Wickremesinghe held discussions with leaders of current ruling party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), even as quiet efforts continued to reconcile Wickremesinghe and former allies in opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). Frontrunner, leftist National People’s Party (NPP), held series of rallies countrywide.

Govt’s anti-democratic laws met opposition at home and abroad. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk 1 March expressed concern over new or proposed laws to severely restrict rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression. UN Human Rights Council “Core Group” 4 March warned of Online Safety Act’s potential “chilling effect on freedom of expression” and cautioned govt on proposed “Commission on Truth, Unity and Reconciliation”, calling for “inclusive participatory process to build trust in advance of any legislation”. Civil society organisations 14 March met with Wickremesinghe to explain opposition to draft Non-Governmental Organisations Act, which permits authorities to monitor, collect information and restrict activities. 

Communal tensions persisted in north. After “Core Group” 4 March noted “with concern reports of increased tensions around land seizures” in North and East, police 8 March arrested eight Tamil Hindus at worship site in Northern Province’s Vavuniya district despite court order permitting prayer ceremony; police 19 March released them amid reports of mistreatment in detention. Govt 4 March announced bill aimed at “formally managing the discovery and preservation of the nation’s antiquities and archaeological heritage”, likely through granting even stronger powers to Archaeology Department, which has seized land used by Tamils and Muslims in north and east. 

Govt secured next part of IMF loan. IMF 21 March announced new staff level agreement with govt, paving way for disbursement of third instalment of $300mn loan; govt figures 16 March showed economy grew by 4.5% in last quarter of 2023, despite overall negative economic growth of -2.4% in 2023.

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In The News

13 Sep 2023
Commissions of inquiry and ad hoc committees have been used for decades as a way of obscuring the truth and avoiding accountability [in Sri Lanka]. Nikkei Asia

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
10 Sep 2023
For more than ten years, the [UN Human Rights] Council has pushed Colombo to hold accountable perpetrators of atrocities during the [Sri Lankan] civil war. Colombo Gazette

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
10 Jan 2023
[Sanctions for Sri Lankan officials] are a timely reminder that continued impunity will bring increasing costs to the government’s international reputation. Al Jazeera

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka

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Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
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