The doubling of Sri Lanka’s main stock market index in 2010 has led to some effusive news reports, most recently in The Guardian . Inevitably, these reports have been lauded in Sri Lanka’s state-owned press, alongside its own hype. But, as other recent analysis shows, these reports make two mistaken assumptions :  that the index’s rise is entirely due to fundamental improvement in the stocks, and  that the market is indicative of the wider economy’s progress. Firstly, the index has been driven up by Sri Lankan government buying , while foreigners are exiting . Secondly, the Colombo bourse is unrepresentative of the wider economy. This is what the Sri Lankan Sunday Times’ economic column warned last October about the mistaken presumption: “There is little doubt that the recent [stock] market performance is not directly related to either economic performance or market fundamentals. It has been guided by market sentiments, speculation and government intervention .” See also this discussion in October by LBO of over-valuation and government buying. In fact, international equity investors’ wariness of the Sri Lankan market is underlined by one detail: Foreigners have been net sellers in 2010 and 2009 – after having been net buyers since 2001 (See Reuters’ reports in Dec and Feb 2010). 2010 saw a net foreign outflow of US$240m (Rs 26.4bn), more than twice 2009’s outflow of US$103m (Rs 11.4bn).
When ratings agencies upgraded Sri Lanka’s debt rating – to still well below ‘investment-grade’- late last year they added a warning : the government needs to demonstrate a commitment to fiscal discipline and cutting its deficit to keep these ratings. However, despite solemn promises – including those in the November budget – of economic reforms, the Sinhala-nationalist government is unwilling to abandon the populist measures on which both its electoral support and its ethnicised vision of the economy rest.
Houses in Mullaitivu town destroyed in Sri Lankan military bombardment which killed 40,000 Tamil civilians in early 2009. Almost two years later, the government is blocking reconstruction and development. Photo GettyImages
The categories of war crimes for which Sri Lanka’s top civilian and military leadership are responsible expanded this week to include rape , forced prostitution and trafficking into sexual slavery , based on a Wikileaked US embassy cable of May 18, 2007. (See the full text of the cable here , and a summary of the sex-related crimes it outlines here .) Tamil paramilitaries ran prostitution rings for Sri Lankan troops in government-controlled parts of the Northeast, and child sex trafficking rings using their networks in India and Malaysia, and they did so with the knowledge and support of the Sri Lankan government , the US cable revealed. Article 7, para (g), of the Rome Statute lists “rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity" as crimes against humanity "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population." The US cable leak comes on the tenth anniversary of the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1325 , which specifically addresses the impact of conflict, particularly sexual violence, on women and girls. The below report looks at the international legal context of the sexual crimes described in the US cable, Colombo's response, and some of the past documentation of rape by the Sri Lanka's armed forces.
A secret US embassy cable Wikileaked Thursday outlines in detail how the US was well aware in 2007 of the extent of Sri Lanka’s active use of Tamil paramilitaries as an integral part of its war against the LTTE. Sri Lanka funded paramilitaries directly, then allowed them to extort funds, loot supplies for internally displaced Tamils, and run forced prostitution rings using girls and women from the refugee camps. However, Tamil voices who argued a t the time that the soaring killings, extortion and crime were linked directly to Sri Lanka's paramilitary-led war against the LTTE were largely ignored. For example, compare what one of our columnists wrote on the subject in January 2008, with the US cable of May 2007:
China’s increasing influence in Sri Lanka is seen by some Indian and western security analysts as a threat to India's national interests. Given the proximity and location of Sri Lanka, activities on the island by hostile states, they say, is detrimental to India’s national security. However it is missing the point to see China as the ‘problem’ here; it is Sri Lanka’s conduct that should worry India. If Sri Lanka was not to entertain powers hostile to India, then neither China, Pakistan nor any other state can pose a threat via the island.
It isn’t surprising that the only British politician who will be meeting Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse during his controversial visit to the UK this week is Defence Secretary Liam Fox . Amid a storm of outrage and calls this week by Amnesty International for Britain to pursue war crimes prosecutions against Sri Lankan leaders, the Defence Secretary is going to meet President Rajapakse “in a private capacity”. "This reflects Dr Fox's longstanding interest in Sri Lanka and his interest in, and commitment to peace and reconciliation there," a spokesman for Fox told The Guardian newspaper. A closer look at Dr. Fox's long-standing engagement with Sri Lanka suggests otherwise.
After 32 consecutive years of losses, Sri Lanka 's state-owned Fisheries Corporation announced this July it had made a profit . The explanation, inevitably, was ‘the end of the war’. But a close look suggests much more than that: a militarized and ethnicised monopoly in the making.
Whilst China’s massive development loans to Sri Lanka are often portrayed as rescuing the Rajapakse administration from international economic pressure over human rights abuses, the details tell a different story. While China’s loans are an immediate de-facto handout for Chinese companies (which Sri Lanka is obliged through conditionalities to hire and purchase from), future Colombo governments will be left with the debts - at interest rates higher than other developmental lenders ask for. In short, Colombo is borrowing from China but pumping the money into the Chinese – not Sri Lankan – economy.
The Sri Lankan state’s debt dependent and public sector heavy economic strategy is crowding out private investment, lowering domestic savings and foreclosing a sustainable economy in the long term, business and economic analysts warned this week. The Central Bank’s growth projection were this week revised downwards by ratings agencies RAM Ratings and Standard & Poor’s who also warned that Sri Lanka’s long term growth depended crucially on cutting government spending. Meanwhile, fear is silencing critics of the government’s economic policies, one business leader protested this week.