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.
Meaningful international participation in an accountability process in Sri Lanka is vital for genuine reconciliation, writes senior legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists Nikhil Narayan. “The call by domestic and international human rights activists and observers for an accountability process that involves, as a minimum prerequisite, the meaningful participation of a majority of foreign judges and other personnel is very simply a matter of restoring public trust in the rule of law in the country, through a credible, impartial, independent, victim-centric transitional justice process that effectively addresses victims’ right to truth, justice, remedy and reparation, and on whose foundation the country can move forward with genuine reconciliation.” See full opinion peace below:
In spite of the country’s recent democratic gains, problems continue to plague Sri Lanka’s Tamil-dominated Northern Province. It’s been over a year since Maithripala Sirisena assumed the presidency, although much about daily life in Sri Lanka’s war-torn Northern Province remains the same. “There’s a reduced number of troops on the road,” says Shalin Uthayarasa, a journalist. “We’re experiencing a temporary respite in repression.” Uthayarasa goes on to mention that his two previous points apply to ordinary people, but aren’t relevant for journalists or human rights activists, who continue to face threats (or worse) from state security personnel. “I’m sure they [the Sri Lanka Army] haven’t reduced troop numbers,” he tells me.
Survivors of torture in Sri Lanka feel they will not receive impartial justice unless international judges and lawyers are involved, writes the founder of Survivors Speak Out (SSO). “The message is clear: a strong, credible justice process for Sri Lanka requires independent international participation. It is up to the international community to be vigilant in ensuring that Sri Lanka fulfills the commitments it made to the UN Human Rights Council by allowing this to take place,” said Kolbassia Haussou. See full opinion below.
The government has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bail out facility to resolve the current balance of payments crisis. A loan facility is urgently needed owing to the critical state of the balance of payments. This crisis in the external finances has been brought about by the mismanagement of the economy over several years. Previous requests In similar situations in the past, governments resorted to a rescue package from the IMF. In 1977 the government obtained a Structural Adjustment Facility (SAF) to undertake trade liberalisation and economic reforms. In July 2009 the IMF approved a 20-month Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) of approximately US$ 2.6 billion, as a Balance of Payments (BOP) support. Macroeconomic weaknesses Once again the severe difficulties in external finances have made the government request the IMF for a loan facility to resolve the critical balance of payments situation. This situation arose owing to fundamental macroeconomic weaknesses: high fiscal deficits, large foreign debt, and widening of the trade and balance of payments deficits. Recent capital outflows that accentuated the balance of payments problem were due to these weaknesses as well as international factors.
Deep rooted reform in Sri Lanka is not on the government’s agenda writes Frances Harrison, in a piece for Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka. The author of Still Counting the Dead and former BBC correspondent noted that for Sri Lanka, “it’s getting impossible to paper over embarrassing public differences between the country’s President and its Prime Minister on the issue of war crimes”. “The most immediate crisis is over interviews the President gave to the BBC and Al Jazeera in which he rolled back on the country’s commitments in Geneva regarding international involvement in a special court yet to be set up,” she said. “Tamil victims don’t have faith in a process that’s purely domestic - it’s not a question of ability and professionalism - but one of trust, given many of the alleged war criminals are still in positions of power.” “Worse still, the President now says there were no war crimes, perhaps just a few human rights violations by the odd rotten apple in the military,” she added. “No matter that a UN investigation has been very clear the violations were systematic and widespread and could result in convictions for war crimes and crimes against humanity when tested in a court. “But perhaps not in the court currently envisaged for Sri Lanka.”
Sinhala politicians are hell bent on denying Tamils federal power sharing, so that they can control Tamils through a Sinhala majority parliament writes JS Tissainayagam in the Asian correspondent. Questioning the Sinhala leadership’s willingness to meet the minimum Tamil demands, the journalist formerly in exile, noted the new unity government’s rejection of a federalist set-up, stating, “ The government has argued the process to draw up the new constitution would be inclusive and transparent where the views of all the 225 members of parliament would be consulted. But by rejecting even before the process has begun a key demand of the Tamils – federalism – it has made a mockery of the whole process.” Noting further concern regarding the fact that any new constitution that did meet Tamils demands would have to receive a 2/3 majority in parliament to be passed, he said, “To reinforce it, his partners in the national unity government, the UPFA insisted that the new constitution to be drawn up would have to be put before the people at a referendum. While on the one hand it is very democratic to do so (neither the first nor second republican constitutions were formally approved by the people) there is very little doubt that the Sinhala majority will reject any federal arrangement with the Tamils and Muslims.” Mr Tissainayagam concluded continued pressure on the Tamil political leadership was required to ensure it did not back down from its election promises in the face of a mounting threat from the Sinhala majority. See full opinion below.
While the world hails “the new Sri Lanka” for committing to deliver accountability for the past, the same torturers and rapists are in place doing what they’ve always done writes author of Still Counting the Dead and former BBC correspondent Frances Harrison. Full article reproduced below. “These are not things you can tell your wife,” said the Tamil man from Sri Lanka, “you do not talk about these things in my culture”. He’s so ashamed about what the soldiers did to him - and there were many of them - that this is the first time he’s told anyone, even his immigration lawyer. Sinhalese soldiers in camouflage uniform forced him at gunpoint to undress and then one by one raped him. It happened again and again. He knows which camp but he also knows it’s dangerous to say. He left his family behind in Sri Lanka and the security forces are watching them closely. “This evil needs to be stopped,” he says.
Reviewing a year of Sirisena’s presidency, Taylor Dibbert raised concerns on the urgent need for security sector reform, witness protection, and accountability for wartime abuses which could include war crimes. Full opinion reproduced below. In January 2015, Maithripala Sirisena, unexpectedly thwarted Mahinda Rajapaksa's quest for an unprecedented third presidential term. According to his campaign pledges, Sirisena hoped to address various issues including constitutional reform, anti-corruption and improved governance. The broad coalition that supported his campaign could at least agree on one thing: that Rajapaksa needed to go. Years from now, how will the election of Sirisena be remembered? And what about healing those wounds of war and finding a lasting political solution to an ethnic conflict that has burned for seven decades?
Writing on the recent successful conviction of the two men for the abduction and rape of a 17 year old Tamil girl, Rita, human rights activist Ruki Fernando said the conviction was a “rare success” driven by the “courage and determination of survivors and their families have brought justice in several other cases.” Full opinion reproduced below.