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.
The Sri Lankan government has long evaded the UN Human Rights Council’s requests that it hold accountable perpetrators of atrocities committed during the country’s 26-year civil war and since. Absent changes responsive to its concerns, the Council should keep up the pressure.
President Wickremesinghe presented ambitious 2024 budget ahead of next year’s presidential polls, while Supreme Court ruled on former presidents’ economic mismanagement and anti-terrorism regulations.
Govt’s 2024 budget goals met with scepticism. Ahead of presidential elections set for late 2024, President Wickremesinghe 13 Nov presented to parliament 2024 budget. Extremely ambitious target of raising revenue by 47% was widely questioned given govt’s failure to make sufficient progress raising chronically low revenue, which fell about 15% below International Monetary Fund’s projections in 2023. Budget also boosts govt workers’ pay, increases state pensions and proposes new taxes and crackdown on tax avoidance.
Supreme Court issued landmark judgment on former presidents’ economic mismanagement. Supreme Court 14 Nov found former presidents Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and other top officials, responsible for economic mismanagement between 2019-2022, which violated public trust and Sri Lankans’ constitutional rights. Judgment brought no immediate legal repercussions, though opposition called for Rajapaksas to be barred from holding office in future. In another important ruling, Supreme Court 14 Nov ordered state to pay 1mn rupees ($3,000) to Muslim social media activist Ramzy Razeek, whose detention for five months on charges of breaching often-abused International Convention on Civil and Political Rights Act violated his fundamental rights.
Calls mounted for new 2019 Easter bombings investigation. In interview with ABC Australia, former Deputy Inspector General of Police and head of Criminal Investigation Dept Ravi Seneviratne 16 Nov for first time publicly accused intelligence agencies of actively interfering with police investigations into 2019 Easter bombings; Sri Lankan Catholic Church next day repeated calls for new, independent investigation. Separately, Supreme Court 13 Nov ruled as unconstitutional anti-terrorism regulations on “religious extremism” introduced in 2021 but never applied, designed to process hundreds of Muslims arrested following 2019 Easter suicide attacks.
Tamils held commemorations. Thousands of Tamils across north and east took part in annual ceremonies in week leading to “Great Heroes Day” on 27 Nov, commemorating those who died in struggle for independent state; police disrupted or blocked numerous local gatherings, with at least one organiser arrested under anti-terrorism law.
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].
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.
[Sanctions for Sri Lankan officials] are a timely reminder that continued impunity will bring increasing costs to the government’s international reputation.
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.
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.
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