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Prospects for justice and peace in Sri Lanka discussed at panel in Washington

A panel in Washington DC last week discussed the possibilities and risks in achieving justice and peace in Sri Lanka.

Speakers on the panel on May 11, organised by PEARL, were Kara Bue of Armitage International, Lisa Curtis from The Heritage Foundation, Alan Keenan of the International Crisis Group and Suthaharan Nadarajah from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. The event was moderated by PEARL's Senior Analyst Gowri Koneswaran.

See the full video of the event:

A variety of views came to fore during the discussions.

Alan Keenan said governments need to keep in mind the safety of human rights activists who now have the pace to speak up, pointing out that people who were active on political issues during the ceasefire were later gunned down.

"All the governments in the world who are praising the current opening, which is there and need to be seized need to keep in mind the fragility of it and need to keep their commitments of the long-term, both to prevent a backsliding but also, if that happens, do what they can to defend those who are speaking up now," he said.
Mr Keenan said it was defensible for governments, including the US, to engage with the SL military, but only if at least one of the driving principles was the "transformation of the military in ways in which it can accept accountability of a necessary process of its own cleansing", and in a process in which it is downsized and the civilian leadership has clear controls.

Lisa Curtis urged the US government to do more on offering assistance for Sri Lanka to implement an accountability and justice process.

"We can debate whether or not there is the political will or commitment to that but the only way to know that is if the US engages on the issues and puts forward its suggestions and if the government baulks then we will know the political will is not there," she said in response to concerns raised about the government's intention.

Kara Bue spoke of her experiences touring the North-East earlier this year. In the North-East the view seemed to be that "everything had changed yet nothing had changed", she said, and stressed the urgency for the government to implement measures to build confidence amongst the people.

"This is a fragile government and there is only so much time to make meaningful changes," she said.

Ms Bue stressed the importance of keeping people on side while focussing on concrete and evident changes.

Sutha Nadarajah said the US government needs to constantly calibrate its engagement with Sri Lanka as developments occur and not hesitate if it needs to take a tougher stance.

"Problem is whether the US recognises when things are not working and calibrates its engagement to that extent. I would call for a constantly nuanced, constantly re-evaluated engagement where there is no concern about pulling back and taking a tougher stance."

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