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Sri Lankan Presidential Task Forces are “grounded in Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist ethos” and signal deepening militarisation – PEARL

People for Equality and Relief in Sri Lanka (PEARL) have strongly condemned the formation of the two presidential task forces in Sri Lanka this week, stating that it is a “serious escalation (by the president) to militarise the activities of the state in the name of national security and as a response to the pandemic”, in a statement released today.  

PEARL highlighted the task forces “appear exclusively Sinhala and include suspected war criminals” while emphasising this move further reinforces Sri Lanka’s ethnocracy with the backing of the president “accused of mass atrocities”.

Heading towards autocratic governance

PEARL’s Executive Director Tasha Manoranjan, denounce the move and stressed the implications it will have, particularly on the North-East;

“Rajapaksa’s new presidential task forces will exacerbate the existing militarization and state-sponsored colonization of the Tamil-dominated North-East, breeding further tension and instability in the region.

His appointment of war criminals to lead the task forces reiterates his absolute disregard for international calls for accountability for the mass atrocities committed against Tamils in 2009.”

“Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society”

Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced the creation of the: “Presidential Task Force to build a Secure Country, Disciplined, Virtuous and Lawful Society”, in a gazette yesterday.

PEARL pointed out it was “made up entirely of military and police officials, including those credibly accused of committing war crimes according to the UN and the United States.”

PEARL also insisted that the goals of the task were deliberately ambiguous in the gazette and cited that the quotes “curb illegal activities of social groups” and “take legal action against persons responsible for...anti-social activities” affords the task force a “wide remit”. This increases fears that such task force is given the power to restrict the operation and actions of human rights organisations, Tamil civil society groups, and political actors.

Furthermore, this task force allows increased “targeting and surveillance of Tamils in the diaspora.”

“Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province”

This task force, comprised completely of Sinhala appointees features the head of the Derana media network.

Recognising the “state-sponsored Sinhala colonization in the east led by the military, government officials, and the Department of Archaeology,” is important to see the threat that this task force poses.

The abundance of Buddhist temples being constructed in this Tamil and Muslim majority province is the first step of this “colonisation” and this task force, with the likes of several Buddhist extremists such as Buddhist monk Panamure Thilakawansha Thero at the helm will “identify and safeguard Sinhala-Buddhist 'historical sites', at the expense of Tamil or Muslim sites.”

Thero is “notorious for his Sinhalisation efforts in and around Pulmoaddai, Trincomalee.”

Read more from PEARL here: Sinhalization of pulmoaddai

Duty as an international community

PEARL concluded that Sri Lanka’s neglect to “address the racism that permeates Sri Lanka’s majority will have worsening repercussions, particularly for the Tamil and Muslim populations.”

Furthermore the upcoming elections will most likely extend Rajapaksa’s authoritarian reign and as such there is an obligation for the international community to “take decisive action and cease supporting the increasingly militarized Sri Lankan state” as reform efforts within Sri Lanka diminish.

Read the full statement here.

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