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.
Govt unlocked International Monetary Fund (IMF) support and introduced, then withdrew, controversial bills aimed at boosting executive powers; ethno-religious tensions simmered in northeast.
IMF and govt agreed next steps in economic reform program. Following three-week delay, govt and IMF 19 Oct reached new agreement to complete first six-month review of four-year Extended Funds Facility bailout program, paving path to further $330mn financial support pending approval of IMF’s Executive Board; deal came after China 11 Oct announced one of its two main creditors had reached tentative deal to restructure $4.2bn worth of debt (over half of what govt owes Beijing).
Govt pursued bills expanding executive power. Govt 3 Oct presented – but later in month quietly withdrew – new draft of Anti-Terrorism Act to parliament, which immediately drew domestic and international criticism for over-broad definition of terrorism and dangerously expansive powers afforded to executive and security agencies. Ten UN Special mandate holders 18 Oct argued that bill “does not go far enough to remedy the defects of […] draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act”. Govt 3 Oct also introduced Online Safety Act to parliament that generated strong criticism for its intent to create “Online Safety Commission”, appointed by and answering to president, with sweeping powers to determine that a statement is “false” and remove online content; more than 40 petitions were registered at Supreme Court challenging bill.
Ethno-religious tensions persisted in eastern province. Monk-provocateur Ampitiye Sumanaratna 15 Oct led small procession of Sinhalese to install Buddhist statue on disputed land in Batticaloa district, at site of long-running dispute over land used by Tamil dairy farmers now taken over by Sinhalese farmers. Police, on orders of president, 19 Oct removed Buddhist statue. Sumanaratna 25 Oct was filmed threatening to kill Tamils.
In other important developments. Wickremesinghe 21 Oct announced intention to hold presidential election in 2024, followed by parliamentary elections due by mid-2025; 16 Oct appointed controversial commission to advise on changes to electoral law. Wickremesinghe 3 Oct angrily rejected possibility of international commission to investigate 2019 Easter bombings after UK’s Channel 4 in Sept broadcast allegations that military intelligence facilitated attack and obstructed investigations.
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.
Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.