Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to Italy as a keynote speaker for the G20 Interfaith Forum 2021 has sparked protests with Tamil community groups condemning the invitation and placing posters to protest his visit, whilst Sinhala groups also gathered to demonstrate.
The Sinhalese community has protested the visit after Sri Lanka’s Catholic church Archbishop, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, accused the Prime Minister of using the visit to the Vatican to mislead people over the probe into 2019 Easter Sunday attacks. “I condemn this trip [to the Vatican] because they are attempting a coverup and trying to mislead the Pope and the international community,” he said. Following the Archbishop's allegations, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry in a media statement denied that the Prime Minister was to meet the Pope.
In the city of Bologna, where the G20 Interfaith Dialogue has taken place for the last few days, Tamils placed up posters highlighting the heinous crimes of genocide that the Prime Minister stands accused of.
The poster asks
“With what courage and dignity is it possible to invite a war criminal genocide responsible for more than 140,000 dead to an event for peace and the promotion of Human Rights?”
The Union of Tamils in Italy, the Tamil Coordinating Committee, the Council of the Eelam Tamils in Italy and the Tamil Youth Organisation have all condemned the visit and requested that the Foundation of the Religious Science explain their position.
On those same streets, Sinhalese citizens protested the President’s visit due their concerns over the investigation into the Easter Sunday bombings.
Cardinal Ranjith claimed on Monday that a person known as “Sonic” had used one “Zaharan of Matale” to call a person in Indonesia and coerce ISIS to claim responsibility for the attack.
A protester at the rally claimed.
“We’re not making accusations against anyone. We have only ever asked for justice”.
Others were carrying posters of the attorney general and calling for his arrest.
These protests were however also met with counter-protests with Sinhala demonstrators also asserting that the government was being treated unfairly.
“This is not fair. It’s a black mark for the country. Problems in the country must be resolved within the country,” one protestor said.
Denying the misuse of state funds
The government has also faced sharp criticism, follow the publishing of a photo of the Prime Minister and his delegates sharing a meal at an Italian restaurant. The photo comes as Sri Lanka faces an intense food crisis and as Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) parliamentarian, Jagath Jumara, maintained that people may need to skip a meal.
In defending the photo, Cabinet Minister Dullas Alahaperuma claimed that government expenses were kept to a minimum with most overseas visits being conducted virtually. He further pointed to the President’s upcoming visit to the UN general assembly and noted that due to the criticism the country is facing at the UN Human Rights Council, a visit with a small delegation “will not be disadvantageous to the country”.
During the Prime Minister’s speech, he spoke on the pandemic and claimed a belief in “free movement of goods, services and people”. He further asserted that 'in order to survive the pandemic... international cooperation needs to be strengthened'.
However, it comes as Sri Lanka has imposed wide-reaching import restrictions on basic goods from chocolates to lipstick. It further comes as the country continues to struggle with a dire third wave. Responding to the pandemic, the government has claimed that it will only accept loans from institutions which do not infringe upon its soverignty.
He further spoke about extremism and terrorism claiming the need for “eternal vigilance against all forms of terrorist action, whoever be the offenders and whatever be their professed aims and purposes”. The statement comes as Sri Lanka faces intense criticism over its continued surveillance and intimidation of human rights activists, journalists, and Tamil victim communities.
Rajapaksa further argued that “harmony” would only be achieved by not dwelling on the past. Rajapaksa alongside his brother were at the helm of government during the final stages of the armed conflict. Census records state that at least 146,679 Tamil civilians were killed, the majority due to government forces. The final stages of the conflict were met with a litany of human rights abuses, with responsibility residing with the Rajapaksas'.