Even before they returned to power in Sri Lanka last year, the Rajapaksas never sought to cloak their brash espousal of Sinhala Buddhist chauvinism. As defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa ran a ruthless offensive that massacred tens of thousands of Tamils, which his brother Mahinda oversaw as president, with what he called “a sense of quiet joy”. Now, more than six months have passed with the Rajapaksa siblings back in power and occupying the island’s highest offices. And whilst global attention has been focussed on controlling the coronavirus pandemic, the regime has used the crisis to unleash Sinhala supremacy with an even greater ferocity.
Today marks yet another year when Tamils across the island, and around the world, light candles, lay flowers and bow their heads to commemorate the massacres at Mullivaikkal. Eleven long years have now passed since the atrocities that marked the zenith of Sri Lanka’s genocide. Yet with no justice, no accountability and no political solution, the wounds of 2009 remain fresh.
Sri Lanka has taken on a dangerous coronavirus containment strategy. Faced with a public health crisis, the state has driven through authoritarian measures and deployed a military accused of systemic rights abuses. The response so far has been deeply troubling. Thousands have been forcibly sent to military-run quarantine centres, whilst an arbitrary curfew has seen thousands more arrested and livelihoods threatened – particularly in the war-torn North-East. The free hand given to the armed forces has already seen gross abuses of power. This is not how a pandemic should be handled.
The Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels last year were an unprecedented act of violence. Hundreds were killed on one of the holiest days of the Christian calendar, in a horrific series of blasts. On an island that has been mired by ethnic strife for so many decades, the attacks mapped on to existing fissures and were a devastating reminder of how deep-rooted they remain. The year since the blasts has seen the island move no closer towards reconciliation. Instead, Sri Lanka has predictably fallen into old patterns, reverting further towards authoritarianism and securitisation. A war criminal now sits as head of state. And the island remains fertile ground for more violence.
As states around the world tried to contain a global pandemic last week, the Sri Lankan government made time once more to highlight its disdain for human rights. Sri Lanka's president pardoned Sunil Ratnayake, the only soldier convicted for the brutal Mirusivil massacre, where eight Tamil civilians had their throats slashed and bodies dumped in a mass grave. He is one of only a handful of soldiers that have ever been convicted throughout Sri Lanka’s torturous history of mass atrocities. And now, despite overwhelming opposition by Tamils, human rights activists, the UN and diplomats, an...
Several weeks into Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency, journalists on the island are coming under increasing threat. Whilst the island has always been a dangerous place for the press, and for Tamil journalists in particular, over the last month there has been a worrying rise in intimidation, harassment and even physical assaults of media workers, alongside political activists and human rights defenders.
In the wake of Sri Lanka’s presidential elections this weekend, fear has gripped the North-East. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the man who engineered the massacres of tens of thousands of Tamils a decade ago, is back in power. This time, he occupies the highest office in the land. The result, though unsurprising, is terrifying.
As Sri Lanka gears up for a presidential election in just a few weeks time, Tamils on the island find themselves faced with a familiar decision. Almost five years after an election that was hailed as the dawn of a new era for Sri Lanka, the island has instead seen pledges of reforms broken and the failure to address key issues towards accountability, justice and a lasting peace. With leading candidates choosing to boast their Sinhala nationalist credentials, for Tamils in particular, the future seems bleak.
Ten years since the end of the armed conflict, Sri Lanka remains divided. Far from the promise of stability and unity, the fractures that have plagued the country since independence, continue to define the relationships within the island. Sri Lanka has failed to become what the international community expected it would, when the war ended ten years ago - a stable, peaceful, pluralist state founded on liberal, democratic principles. To the Tamils this is unsurprising. The failure to ‘fix’ Sri Lanka begins with the failure to acknowledge the toxic Sinhala Buddhist ethnocracy in its core.
For almost a decade, Tamil victims have looked to the UN Human Rights Council in their pursuit of justice. However, after years of resolutions followed by an extension, alongside lack of any progress on accountability, events at Geneva this week brought another deep disappointment.