Members of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Chief “should press the (Sri Lankan) government to follow through on its commitment to meaningful forms of international participation on the proposed special court for war crimes,” said the International Crisis Group's Sri Lanka Senior Analyst Alan Keenan. In a piece entitled “Impunity and Justice: Why the UN Human Rights Council Must Stay Engaged in Sri Lanka” Mr Keenan stated that despite committing to a UN resolution last year, “Sri Lanka today is not yet the success story that many in the international community claim it to be”. “Progress on implementing the Council resolution has been slow and often grudging, and there are growing doubts about the government’s political will and ability to see the complex process through,” he added. “For Sri Lanka to stay on the path toward recovery, it needs sustained international support and engagement.” Since the UN resolution was passed in September, Sri Lankan leaders have repeatedly backtracked from commitments made, in particular the inclusion of foreign judges in an accountability mechanism for mass atrocities. Mr Keenan noted that “under domestic pressure, the president and prime minister backed away from promises to the UN and announced there will be no foreign judges”. “Given the decades-long failures of government commissions and judicial processes, international participation is essential to the credibility and effectiveness of the special court,” he continued.
Human rights issues in the Tamil North-East have not yet been settled and the Sri Lankan government is yet to prosecute members of the armed forces responsible for war crimes, said P Ramasamy, the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang. In a piece entitled “ End of war in Sri Lanka, but Tamils still suffering ,” the deputy chief minister rebutted the argument that a piece dividend has arrived for the Tamils, stating that “One can hardly talk about the dividends of peace, when major human rights issues concerning the Tamils in the north and east have not been settled yet”. “The call by international human rights agencies for the Sri Lanka Government to undertake reconciliation measures by accounting for the hundreds of thousands of Tamils who have gone missing, the more than one hundred thousand, mostly innocent women, children and the elderly who were killed during the height of the civil war as well as the rapes and torture inflicted on Tamil women, have not been addressed,” he added. Mr Ramasamy went on to state, “The new government of Maithripala Sirisena has failed to punish those responsible for war crimes. Unfortunately, despite calls by international human rights agencies including the United Nations, countries like India and the United States have shown no interest in addressing the human rights violations in Sri Lanka.” "The war might have ended, but the civilian Tamil population, particularly in the north and east, are being robbed of their properties and land by the Sri Lankan armed forces."
The failure to acknowledge crimes committed in Sri Lanka “is a continuing injury” to victims, writes human rights lawyer Kate Cronin-Furman in the Washington Post. Stating that “Sri Lanka has yet to face its past,” she said “to those in the south, these crimes may seem distant and forgettable”. “For families still searching for information about their missing loved ones, though, they’re a glaring fact of everyday life,” she added. “And if Sri Lanka’s foot-dragging on transitional justice underscores the challenges of pursuing accountability in deeply divided societies, its continuing...
Sri Lankan police have recently uncovered ammunition, a suicide vest, and explosives in Chavakachcheri, a town in the country’s north. It’s widely (and realistically) believed that this is an old arms cache. Let’s keep in mind that from 1983-2009 a brutal civil war raged in this South Asian island nation. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were fighting for a separate Tamil state in the country’s Northern and Eastern Provinces. In May 2009, the Sri Lankan government – under the leadership of former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa – militarily crushed the LTTE. However, Sinhala nationalism and the idea (however remote) of the LTTE regrouping within the country can still be used for domestic political gain, especially by Rajapaksa. After all, in the eyes of many Sinhala people, Sri Lanka’s overwhelming ethnic majority, Rajapaksa remains a war hero who defeated a ruthless separatist organization. Though Rajapaksa unexpectedly lost the country’s January 2015 presidential election, he is currently a member of parliament. Given the wide-ranging corruption allegations against him and his family, he has no incentive to leave public life. In that context, it’s unsurprising that the former president has chosen to weigh in regarding the recent arms discovery. According to Rajapaksa, the weapons that the police found weren’t old, the implication being that the country should be concerned about a return to Tamil militancy in the Tamil-dominated north.
Processes in Sri Lanka towards accountability and justice must keep victims at the centre, said Dharsha Jegatheeswaran in an article for the University of Toronto Faculty of Law’s Rights Review Magazine . Commenting on the erosion of victims’ confidence since UN Resolution 30/1, alongside the government’s reneging on its commitments thereunder, Ms Jegatheeswaran said, “Initial cautious hopes of Tamil victims and war-affected communities have turned to distrust and skepticism of the government’s intentions as a result of this mixed messaging. This distrust has been further deepened by the government’s failure to undertake any meaningful confidence-building measures and address ongoing human rights violations, including: demilitarizing the North-East; repealing the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and releasing all political prisoners arrested thereunder; returning all illegally acquired lands; and ending a culture of impunity/condonation for sexual violence and torture.”
Could Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s former defense secretary (and brother of previous president Mahinda Rajapaksa), bring the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) together? Evidently a member of the country’s joint opposition has suggested that Rajapaksa be appointed to parliament, the implication being that this move would help to unify a political party that has remained divided since Maithripala Sirisena assumed the presidency in January 2015.
In Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena had promised progress regarding Tamil political prisoners, although we’ve seen little of that. Unfortunately, the president’s dithering project has continued — with no end in sight. More broadly, the Sri Lankan government has made big commitments regarding transitional justice and those changes, if they ever happen, will come incrementally. However, we haven’t seen much in the way of incremental change since Colombo co-sponsored a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka in October 2015.
The United Nations assistant secretary general for field support, who quit his job earlier this month, said that the organisation “is failing” and “needs a leader genuinely committed to reform”. Anthony Banbury detailed “ colossal mismanagement ” in the world body, including bureaucracy that he described as “blur of Orwellian admonitions and Carrollian logic that govern the place”. “If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result,” he said. “The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.” The result of this was “ minimal accountability ,” he continued. Citing the example of a “manifestly incompetent” chief-of-staff of a large peacekeeping mission, Mr Banbury said “many have tried to get rid of him, but short of a serious crime, it is virtually impossible to fire someone in the United Nations ”.
Getting adequate foreign direct investment (FDI) of the right types has eluded the country for many decades. While former communist countries like Vietnam have attracted sizeable amounts of FDI, Sri Lanka continues to get an inadequate flow of FDI. The statistics of the amount of FDI received are flawed as they contain other capital inflows. Even the exaggerated figures are low and inadequate. The country has reached a turning point when the attraction of much higher amounts of FDI is vital to sustain the growth momentum. Obtaining much higher amounts of the right types of FDI will determine the pace of economic growth in the next decade. Much higher FDI is essential as the country’s investment resources are limited and technological capacities have to be augmented to capture export markets.
During the U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue, Washington should elevate Sri Lanka’s transitional justice debate. The unexpected election of Maithripala Sirisena in Sri Lanka’s January 2015 polls has resulted in the Barack Obama administration’s fervent desire to turn the page on what became a strained, bitter bilateral relationship under the reign of the previous president. Mahinda Rajapaksa had been in power for nearly a decade and oversaw the decisive military defeat of the separatist Tamil Tigers – ending a civil war which lasted from 1983-2009. Rajapaksa’s proclivity for corruption, nepotism, and heightened authoritarianism ultimately led to his unexpected ouster. Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, is currently in Washington, D.C. This high-level visit is due to evolving U.S.-Sri Lanka ties and the commencement of the first ever U.S.-Sri Lanka Partnership Dialogue. An array of issues such as economic and security cooperation, governance, and regional affairs will be discussed on February 26. It remains to be seen whether transitional justice will receive significant attention, either publicly or privately.