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Threat of international sanctions required to protect at risk ethnic groups in Sri Lanka - ICG

In a damning situational update on Sri Lanka, the International Crisis Group has recommended military and economic sanctions to mitigate against tangible risks faced by Rajapaksa dissenters and ethnic communities in Sri Lanka.

Stressing the importance of concerted and decisive action, the International Crisis Group statement called for the international community to make clear that military cooperation, economic development funding and trade concessions would be “reconsidered” or “immediately suspended” in response to Rajapaksa’s rise to power.

The statement, released on Tuesday, also called for a renewed and updated UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka due its failure to adhere to commitments of providing accountability and justice for mass atrocities and war crimes.

Highlighting intensifying risks to journalists and Tamil activists due to the current militarisaiton of Tamil North-East, the statement said a Rajapaksa government,

“is likely to maintain or strengthen the heavy presence and activities of the military in Tamil-majority areas in the north and east. Tamil activists and journalists, who already face intense police and military surveillance, as well as threats of violence, will be at risk of increased harassment or worse. So, too, will critics of the Rajapaksa family and dissenters throughout the country.”

The International Crisis Group went on to highlight that the ongoing political alienation of Tamils, would only worsen, leading to greater instability as security services would likely supress dissent.

“Tamils are already frustrated at the failure of the current government to deliver on its most important promises. These include drafting a new constitution with greater devolution of power to the provinces, establishing a hybrid court to prosecute war crimes, demilitarising and reforming the security sector, repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act and releasing Tamils detained under its harsh provisions. A strong Sinhala nationalist, Rajapaksa will only accelerate the spread of political alienation among Tamils and bolster those in the security services who favour tough measures to suppress dissent.”

The think tank highlighted that steps taken towards justice for anti-muslim violence earlier this year had already been reversed just days after Rajapaksa’s unconstitutional seizing of power.

“Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who suffered four days of violent attacks on mosques, businesses and homes by militant Buddhist nationalists in March, could also be at greater risk under a resurgent Rajapaksa administration. A key suspect in the anti-Muslim violence was released on bail from prison on 29 October, following a concerted campaign by Sinhala nationalists with connections to the military and to Gotabaya Rajapaksa.”

Stressing the importance of concerted and decisive international action the crisis group statement, called for the international community to make clear that military cooperation, economic development funding and trade concessions would be “reconsidered”, or “immediately suspended”

Calling for international engagement and action on the developing situation, the Iternational Crisis Group asked governments,

“to make clear that they will reduce or end training programs and other forms of cooperation with Sri Lanka’s military and police if those bodies actively back Rajapaksa’s power grab.”

Adding,

“Foreign governments and organisations also should reconsider any economic support linked to democratic governance. The EU should make clear that preferential trade benefits, only restored to Sri Lanka in 2017 thanks to its improved compliance with human rights treaties, could be lost again should Rajapaksa retain the premiership on the basis of an unconstitutional change of power. The U.S. should immediately suspend the process for final approval of $450 million in economic development funding from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a program designed in part to reward good governance. Governments should also begin to consider applying targeted sanctions against Sirisena, Rajapaksa, their families and their close associates should Sri Lanka’s constitutional coup proceed.”

Noting Sri Lanka’s failure to credibly implement its UN commitments to accountability for mass atrocities and war crimes, the statement called on the council members to extend the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka with a new resolution in March.

The statement read,

“Many governments on the Council are already unhappy with the limited progress Sri Lanka has made in implementing the reforms stipulated in the Council’s 2015 resolution on reconciliation and accountability. This is particularly true with regard to Sri Lanka’s failure to investigate credible allegations of war crimes and grave human rights abuses that took place during Rajapaksa’s presidency, including by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers, whose separatist military campaign was defeated in May 2009.”

“Council member states should commit to working toward a new resolution that will maintain its oversight role and continued reporting by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which will otherwise expire in March 2019.”

Full statement can be found here: