What’s the Deal with Sri Lanka’s War Crimes Court?

Sri Lanka’s announcement of a special court to handle alleged wartime abuses should still be met with scepticism. Several weeks ago, Chandrika Kumaratunga announced that Sri Lanka would set up a special court to deal with alleged wartime abuses. Kumaratunga is the chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR); she served as President of Sri Lanka from 1994-2005. The news about a special court came as a surprise to many people. When the initial announcement was made, Kumaratunga stated that the court was expected to begin its work by late December or early January. Yet it remains unclear if that’s still the case.

What’s missing out there? People or Politics?

The new “Tamil Makkal Peravai” TMP platform must act prove that it will act in a way that avoids mirroring the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) political naivety to prove itself relevant to furthering Tamil aspirations, writes Colombo based Journalist Kusal Perera. Highlighting the TNA’s failure to mobilise its electorate into action and pressure the new Sirisena government during the early days of forcing reform, Mr Perera added that the formation of the TMP highlighted doubts regarding the "capability and wisdom of the TNA leadership that seems a failure in advancing the political aspirations of Tamil people for realistic answers." Full op-ed reproduced below.

Renewed US-Sri Lanka Relations: A Slobbering Love Affair

Commenting on the recent visit of the US Under Secretary of State for political affairs, Thomas Shannon’s visit to Sri Lanka, Talyor DIbbert stressed concern on the US State Department ‘s willingness to uphold pressure for accountability in Sri Lanka. Full opinion piece published in The Diplomat reproduced below. There was another high-level U.S. visit to Sri Lanka this week. State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon visited the island nation from December 14-16. The highlight of his trip seems to have been the formal announcement that the first “U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue” will be held in Washington this February. The dialogue will focus on four broad areas: governance, development cooperation, and people-to-people ties; both economic and security cooperation; and global and regional affairs.

‘Is Sri Lanka’s Fiscal House in Order?’ – IMF mission chief

Proposals put forward in Sri Lanka’s budget “raise questions” said the International Monetary Fund's mission chief for Sri Lanka, in an op-ed published this week. Todd Schneider outlined concerns in both Sri Lanka’s revenue and spending targets, saying “the direction of policies and the lack of a medium-term context”. Stating Sri Lanka’s targeted rise in public revenue “seems ambitious—perhaps overly ambitious”, Mr Schneider said “apart from being an unprecedented increase, the main underlying measures—for the most part—are likely to work toward lowering revenues”. Sri Lanka’s proposed spending raises “the concern is whether the overall targets can indeed be met”, he said. Noting that “spending for other goods and services almost doubles, and the reason for this has yet to be clarified,” Mr Schneider added “the risk is that capital spending could be slashed in the event of revenues falling short—which has been the case for the past several years”. “This underscores the need for realistic revenue estimates which would then provide greater certainty to the path of critical expenditures.”

Sri Lanka’s transitional justice: Genuine move or red herring?

Noting the absence of commitment to demilitarisation of the North-East JS Tissainayagam questioned the Sri Lankan government’s commitment to an all-inclusive transitional justice process that had the buy in of the victims. Writing in the Asian correspondent Mr Tissainayagam said, “Although the Government consulting victims on some aspects of transitional justice mechanisms appears democratic and inclusive, the way Colombo is setting about it gives little confidence that it is prepared to incorporate victims’ needs and wishes if they go contrary to its own target and objectives. Nor is the...

UN Confirmation of Sri Lanka Torture Camp Raises More Questions - PEARL

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UN WGEID) confirmed Wednesday what Tamils in Sri Lanka have known for many years: the Sri Lankan state runs secret detention camps in which it holds and tortures Tamil detainees. The UN WGEID’s announcement that it had discovered a “secret underground detention cum torture center” during its recent visit corroborates reports by Tamil victims and human rights groups that the Sri Lankan authorities are operating several secret camps to torture Tamils. Since the new government of Sri Lanka has emphasized its willingness to positively engage with the international community on accountability for violations of human rights law and humanitarian law, the international community must press the government to take immediate and decisive action on these secret detention and torture camps.

Samantha Power Must Recalibrate Washington’s Sri Lanka Rhetoric

Samantha Power, America’s Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), is in India and Sri Lanka from November 18 – 23. In India, she’s set to meet human rights activists, members of civil society and senior government officials. On November 20, she’ll give a speech about UN peacekeeping. While far less significant on the geopolitical front, Power’s visit to Sri Lanka could be a tricky balancing act. Regarding the Sri Lanka portion of her trip, the U.S. mission to the UN has stated the following: In Sri Lanka, Ambassador Power will highlight the United States’ commitment to strengthening the bilateral partnership, and she will underscore U.S. support for the country’s efforts toward reconciliation, accountability, and lasting peace in the aftermath of a devastating civil war. In Colombo, she will meet with senior government officials, community leaders, civil society groups, and youth.

Monitoring of Sri Lanka critical to discern government's commitment to healing war wounds - Taylor Dibbert

Continuous monitoring of Sri Lanka's transitional justice plan is vital in discerning how committed the new government is to the commitments made at the United Nations Human Rights Council , warns Taylor Dibbert in the Huffington Post. Raising concern at Colombo's downplaying of international involvement in a criminal prosecution mechanism, Mr Dibbert writes, "Since the resolution was passed at the Council, Colombo has been downplaying the notion of any meaningful international involvement for its domestic audience. While the exact level of international involvement remains unknown, it's vital to reiterate that, in the form of the recently passed resolution, Colombo agreed to something other than a purely domestic process." "Monitoring the implementation of Colombo's transitional justice plan, like the larger set of commitments made in the recently passed resolution, is very important. Yet in order to accurately track progress, understanding the content of the latest resolution is absolutely essential. For that is how we can begin to discern whether Sri Lanka's new government is really serious about healing the wounds of war." Full piece reproduced below.

Sri Lanka’s Unexpected Political Opening Won’t Last Forever

Writing in the Diplomat, Taylor Dibbert said it was time for Sri Lanka’s political leadership to explain the content of the UNHRC resolution clearly to all its citizens and explain the importance of reforms. Adding that Colombo “has been reluctant to take even small steps to reach out to the Tamil community,” Mr Dibbert questioned whether “worries over a Sinhala-Buddhist backlash would again be used to justify prevarication form those in power.” Full piece reproduced below. Sri Lanka’s new government, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, has now made a range of assurances via an extensive reform agenda and is now faced with the trickier task of implementation. Elections in January (when Sirisena defeated the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa in his quest to win an unprecedented third term) and August parliamentary polls, combined with the recently passed UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution on Sri Lanka, have presented the country with an unanticipated opening.

Enforced Disappearance – A Tamil Perspective

Speech delivered by Father Elil Rajendran at the BMICH, on October 27, 2015 Members of the families of those forcibly disappeared, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I would like to thank the organising committee for the invitation to deliver this speech on Enforced Disappearance from a Tamil perspective. I will start with the story of a Tamil mother - Chandra. Her life changed forever just before midnight on 11th of September 2008. Armed men broke into the house where her 24 year old son Jasinthan was sleeping and took him away in white van. There is only one road leading to the area where she lives and there is no way armed men could have taken away her son without the security forces knowing. But for the last 7 years Chandra’s life has been spent searching for her son. This may sound futile after so many years but she has good reason to believe that his son is still alive. Three years ago she saw a video of him in hospital with his front teeth smashed . In January this year she recognised him among several men in a photograph showing detainees at Welikada Jail. And yet she still cannot locate him. She lives in limbo and says if he had died it would have been easier to accept than this.