Asia in Review Archive (2019-2020)

Sri Lanka

Date of AiR edition

News summary

30 June 2020

US Report on Sri Lanka’s Maritime and Border Security

(cf) The 2019 Annual Report on Terrorism from the US Department State places Sri Lanka in a vulnerable stance. The report refers to the 2019 Easter Sunday event in the Batticaloa and Colombo area. Sri Lankan citizens had pledged allegiance to ISIS and killed approximately more than 260 people by detonated backpack suicide bombs in three churches and four hotels.

Sri Lanka aims to strengthen their border management systems at their Colombo International Airport by working with Japan and the United Nations. Furthermore, Sri Lanka has secured its maritime border by partnering with the United States to train Sri Lankan navy personnel and Coast Guards on security operations and maritime law enforcement. [Colombo Page]

 

30 June 2020

Sri Lanka launches probe on rebel leader turned politician

(lm) According to Human Rights Watch, Sri Lankan authorities have ordered an investigation into a former commander of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), after he publicly boasted of killing thousands of Sri Lankan soldiers as part of the LTTE’s capture of Elephant Pass in 2000. Addressing a political rally in the East, pro-government paramilitary leader Karuna Amman reportedly said that he had killed more soldiers during the country’s civil war than Sri Lankans had died from the coronavirus. [HRW] [Tamil Guardian]

30 June 2020

Sri Lanka: Curfew lifted along with safety measures in place

(cf) On Sunday, the Sri Lankan government lifted curfews after the severe lockdown since March 20 to battle the coronavirus. The ease of curfews was due to confirmation of control on the virus in the Indian Ocean island nation. However, Sri Lanka’s plans to open the international airport will be postponed to “meet the needs of some stranded Sri Lankan workers returning home”, and has extended visas for foreign citizens to 11 July. The Ministry of Health has additionally granted public health inspectors the right to take legal action against citizens who violate the election guidelines for health and safety. [Colombo Page 1] [Miami Herald] [Colombo Page 2]

30 June 2020

Sri Lanka: Concerns over final report review of Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact (MCC) Agreement

(cf) The Expert Committee of Sri Lanka recently submitted their final report of the MCC Agreement to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The agreement aims to reduce poverty by the United States granting a $480 million Compact within five years to the Government of Sri Lanka. The grant would be used to aid specific transport and land projects.

However, there are concerns over the final report. It stated that the MCC had signed 7.4 million USD in 2017, and 2.6 million USD in 2018. However, the US Embassy in Colombo clarified that no grant has been transferred to the Sri Lankan Government. Moreover, a former Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary states the government should not sign the agreement due to intrusive clauses, such as US personnel would be granted extensive immunities or special privileges, and Sri Lankan law would be substituted with international law. Dr Gunaruwan, chair of the committee, states this would violate the Sri Lankan Constitution.

The President Gotabaya Rajapaksa plans to review the matter and make the final report public for all citizens to view. [MCC Government] [Colombo Page 1] [Colombo Page 2]

23 June 2020

Sri Lanka: Torture locations revealed by ITJP and JDS 

(cm) As International Day in Support of Victims of Torture approaches, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) has collaborated with the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) to assemble a map of 219 torture locations in Sri Lanka. Many of the victims are Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims who have been tortured by police, army, paramilitaries and the navy in police stations, training institutes, cinemas, factories or the Faculty of Law of Colombo University. 

The map shows places of torture over the last 30 years. Tens of thousands of disappearances occurred during this period too. ITJP and JDS gathered evidence of 24 alleged perpetrators, one of them being current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Military officers had committed crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Tamil population. There has been limited investigation by Sri Lankan authorities into the allegations. [ITJP] [Tamil Guardian]

23 June 2020

Sri Lanka: Voting and counting to take place on different days

(cm) The Sri Lankan Election Commission announced that the parliamentary election, scheduled for 5 August, will have separate polling and counting days due to Covid-19. Customarily, both takes place on the same day. The election date itself, which had previously been moved from 25 April, has not been delayed further. [Devdiscourse]

16 June 2020

Sri Lanka II: Senior Army officer to institute legal action against Head of NGO

(cm/lm) The Director of the State Intelligence Services of Sri Lanka (SIS), Major General Suresh Tuan Sallay has sent a Letter of Demand to Ms. Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the Foundation of Human Rights of South Africa and the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), the Ministry of Defence reported in a statement on Monday. [Sri Lanka Guardian]

The said letter stated that Ms. Sooka, in her capacity as Executive Director of the ITJP had published an alleged defamatory press statement on the ITJP Sri Lanka’s website on 1 June. The letter further claims that the publication had damaged the intelligence officer’s prestige, and even had “resulted in parties with vested interests making attempts on the life of Major General Sallay”. [see the original statement here: ITJP]

In light of these allegations, Major General Sallay, in his letter states a claim for money damages worth 1 Billion Sri Lankan Rupees directly against the ITJP and MS. Sooka, and further emphasises he was prepared to seek further litigative remedies should neither Ms. Sooka nor the ITJP desist from issuing further defamatory remarks. [Ministry of Defence Sri Lanka]

16 June 2020

Sri Lanka I: Sri Lanka holds mock election to test coronavirus measures ahead of parliamentary vote

(cm/lm) A mock election was conducted on Sunday to test new health measures that will be implemented at polling booths and counting centres. Sri Lanka is due to hold its general election on Aug. 5, the chairman of the nation’s Election Commission said at a news briefing on Wednesday. The parliamentary vote had originally been scheduled for April 26, but was postponed twice due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. [Reuters] [Al Jazeera] [AiR No. 16, April/2020, 3]

The country is currently caught in a political vacuum, because it is past a three-month period allowed by law to operate without a sitting parliament to check the executive’s power. Last week, the Supreme Court rejected petitions by the opposition parties and civil activists seeking an annulment of Rajapaksa’s order dissolving the parliament in March. [AiR No. 23, June/2020, 2] [DW]

 

9 June 2020

Sri Lanka: President Rajapaksa creates security task force 

(cm) Sri Lankan President Rajapaksa has created a task force of 13 military chiefs with the responsibility to maintain national security, discipline and a lawful society. The task force shall deal with battling drug crimes, investigating prisons and taking legal action on antisocial activities within and outside Sri Lanka. Critics question if this brings back military rule. Some of the task force members have been accused of war crimes. [The Times]

 

9 June 2020

Sri Lanka: Supreme Court approves parliament dissolution

(ls/cm) The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has refused to annul the dissolution of the parliament. Civil groups and opposition party petitioners had filed the motion, arguing that the constitution mandates a parliamentary sitting within three months. President Rajapaksa on 2 March dissolved the parliament and called for snap elections on 25 April. However, the Election Commission postponed the elections to 20 June due to the coronavirus outbreak. Meanwhile, the Election Commission announced that the election will be postponed another time. [NY Times] [The Week]

 

2 June 2020

Sri Lanka: Human rights lawyer receives death threats on social media

(dql) Fearing for her life due to police inaction, a Sri Lankan supreme court lawyer defending victims in several cases of grave human rights violations allegedly committed by members of the security forces has lodged a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for the second time within a year against men who had repeatedly posted death threats against her on social media. [JDS]

 

19 May 2020

Sri Lanka: Muslims continued to be cremated against their will

(jk) Muslim activists and religious rights bodies continue to express concerns over the ban on burials in Sri Lanka which they see as part of anti-Muslim rhetoric amid the pandemic. Earlier this month, another Muslim woman has been cremated against her family’s will. In addition, two days after the cremation, test results emerged that showed she did not actually die from Covid-19. [Al Jazeera 1]

Sri Lanka initially amended its rules on burials and cremations earlier in April, making cremations of COVID-19 victims mandatory despite guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO) that deem burials safe. Human and religious rights groups, as well as local Muslim associations raised concerns this policy is purposely hurting minorities in the country. [Al Jazeera 2

 

19 May 2020

Sri Lanka: Supreme Court begins hearing petitions against government actions 

(jk) The Supreme Court has begun hearings into several petitions that have been filed challenging the timeline of the government’s dissolution of parliament and the new poll date set by the Election Commission. [Daily FT] It will look at potential constitutional impasses over the fact that  the new parliament must meet within three months of dissolution. The petitions also raise questions over parliamentary approval of public expenditures. [Asia in Review No. 18, May/2020, 1Asia in Review No. 16, April/2020, 3]

5 May 2020

Sri Lanka: Opposition calls for convening parliament over public budget  

(jk) Sri Lanka’s opposition is demanding to reconvene parliament instantly as the current budget has only been authorised by legislators until April 30. Beyond that date, they claim President Rajapaksa does not have the power to make use of public funds. They urge a parliamentary sitting is therefore necessary, in particular in the light of the current public health crisis. [The Week]

Rajapaksa’s office responded that they had no intention to reconvene parliament and will go ahead as planned with the election set for June 20. [Social News]

28 April 2020

Sri Lanka: Human Rights Commission insists on proportionality in police arrests over social media posts

(ls) The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has requested the police to comply with law when arresting people for making statements in social media. In particular, the HRCSL pointed out “that any action taken to limit freedom of expression and other such rights in a democracy, even during a period of emergency, must be within the framework of the law. In this instance the applicable law is the Constitution and also Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations. Those laws require that limitations on rights should comply with the tests of legality, proportionality (limitation must be proportionate to the threat) and non-discrimination.” [Colombo Page]

21 April 2020

Sri Lanka: Election Commission sets election date for June 20 

(jk) A gazette notice by the members of the National Election Commission was released this week, announcing the date of the upcoming parliamentary election to be June 20. [Devdiscourse]

With regards to the potential constitutional impasse due to provisions that the new Parliament must meet within three months of dissolution (which took place on March 2) [Asia in Review No. 14, April/2020, 1], the EC has asked the President to seek the highest court’s opinion. He however stated that it is the EC’s job to set a date and the Supreme Court does not need to get involved.

14 April 2020

Why Sri Lankan political reform efforts have failed so far

(ls) Two articles published by the East Asia Forum inquire why Sri Lanka has not been able to introduce meaningful political reforms but rather brought the Rajapaksa family back to power. The first piece argues that former president Maithripala Sirisena and his prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reform coalition was ultimately unable to make a coherent political offer, despite election promises of strengthening democracy and social justice principles and fighting corruption. Institutional resistance and the prevalence of informal networks have been firm barriers against actual change. [East Asia Forum 1]

Another article looks at how governments have dealt with the large-scale disappearances of Tamil civilians during the country’s civil war. The author argues that, without greater accountability and reform of the Sri Lankan security apparatus, Sri Lanka’s political future will involve more inhumane violence against its own citizens. [East Asia Forum 2]

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka commemorated last year’s Easter Sunday attacks on Christian churches by which 253 persons lost their lives and several hundred persons were injured. A generally hostile environment for minorities contributes generally to radicalization and violence in Sri Lanka and is directed against Muslims as well. Moreover, the weak response to the attacks by the former Sirisena/Wickremesinghe government led to calls for a strongman, prompting former defense secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to run in the presidential elections and eventually win in 2019. [Open Democracy]

7 April 2020

Sri Lanka: Solution needed for constitutional impasse over new poll date

(jk) As recently reported, the parliamentary election in Sri Lanka are now indefinitely postponed beyond the initially announced date of April 25. [Asia in Review No. 12, March/2020, 4] One particular problem this situation causes, is that the country’s constitution states that the new Parliament must meet within three months of dissolution, which took place on March 2. Pushing back the date into late May or June will not allow for this to happen. According to the head of the independent election commission,  “it is now up to the president to seek the Supreme Court’s view” on the matter. [Devdiscourse]

31 March 2020

Sri Lanka: President pardons army officer convicted of killing Tamil civilians

(ls) In a controversial move, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pardoned and released an army officer sentenced to death for killing Tamil civilians, including children, during the country’s ethnic war. In a widely reported verdict last year, the Supreme Court had unanimously rejected the officer’s appeal and upheld the death penalty. The case was widely cited as a rare instance of accountability. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who as an army officer served in the same regiment as the convict, and his brother Mahinda, now serving as prime minister, had lead the defeat of separatist Tamil rebels to end the country’s 37-year separatist war in 2009. [Al Jazeera]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Blanchett, called the pardon an “affront to victims” and another example of Sri Lanka’s failure to hold war criminals to account. Opposition lawmakers and human rights organizations also condemned the pardon. [Straits Times] [Human Rights Watch]

24 March 2020

Sri Lanka: Nominations close, polls postponed 

(jk) As widely expected in the last couple of weeks, Sri Lanka has now indefinitely postponed parliamentary elections that were scheduled for April 25 due to the spread of the coronavirus. Nominations for the parliamentary elections were closed just before the announcement by the election commission. [Groundviews]

17 March 2020

Sri Lankan Defense Ministry takes legal action against rumor spreaders

(hg) The Sri Lankan Defense Ministry takes action against those spreading rumors and posting false and misleading information on the corona outbreak to create panic. Two persons who have posted false and misleading information on their Facebook accounts have already been arrested and are awaiting a potential maximum punishment of five-year imprisonment under the No.24 of the Computer Crimes Act of 2007.

Moreover, the government ordered all foreigners who are violating quarantine procedures to report immediately to officials under the threat of punishment for violations according to the Quarantine Laws. [NewsIn Asia]

10 March 2020

Sri Lanka and India score highest on “inclusive internet index” for South Asia 

(jk) The Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) ‘Inclusive Internet Index’, commissioned by Facebook,  rates countries on the “internet’s availability, affordability, relevance and the readiness of people to use it.” In South Asia, India ranked highest (46th out of 100), followed by Sri Lanka (56th). Pakistan ranked the lowest (76th), Bangladesh at 70th place. Both India and Pakistan did particularly bad in the “availability” category, examining the quality and breadth of available infrastructure required for access and levels of internet usage in relation to the other three categories. [EIU]

3 March 2020

Sri Lanka: President Rajapaksa dissolves parliament and calls parliamentary elections

(tk/ls) On Monday, Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapaksa made use of his constitutional powers and dissolved parliament six months early with effect from midnight on March 2, 2020. The constitution gives this power from the completion of four and a half years of a five-year term. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected president last November, leads a minority government with his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister. He justifies this action saying that he couldn’t work freely because his powers have been reduced, as the opposition commands a majority in parliament. The election for the new parliament will be held on 25 April 2020, and the new parliament will be summoned to meet on 14 May 2020. [Al Jazeera] [Colombo Page]

It is widely expected that Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP, or People’s Front) party will win the polls comfortably. The opposition’s main goal may therefore be to prevent the SLPP from securing a two-thirds majority, which would allow for constitutional changes. [Straits Times]

25 February 2020

Sri Lanka: Sirisena (re-)joins Rajapaksa in alliance

(jk) Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party)  and former President Maithripala Sirisena of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party  (SLFP) have signed an agreement for an alliance in the upcoming parliamentary polls this year. With the move, Sirisena, who previously left the Mahinda Rajapaksa government before being elected to office in 2015, has re-joined the alliance with the current Prime Minister. [The Hindu]

25 February 2020

Sri Lanka: Withdrawal from UN rights resolution

(tk) On Wednesday, Sri Lankan government announced to withdraw from a 2015 resolution co-sponsored by the previous President and 11 other countries with the U.N. Human Rights Council. This resolution soughed to investigate alleged serious human rights violations committed during the country’s 26-year civil war by both government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels. During that war, current Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa played an important role as a top defense official, while his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was President. [The New York Times]

It is rumored that the move is a response to the U.S. imposing a travel ban on Sri Lanka’s army commander Silver amid alleged human rights violations. [Asia in Review No. 7, February/2020] [Jurist] Rights groups accused the army of killing at least 40,000 civilians in the final months of the war in 2009. [Al Jazeera]

18 February 2020

U.S. travel ban on Sri Lanka’s Army Chief

(tk) The U.S. government on Friday issued a travel ban on Sri Lanka’s army chief Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva over accusations of human rights violations including extrajudicial execution of unarmed rebels and systematic torture of people in government custody during the country’s civil war. [Al Jazeera]

After the war, Silva was promoted to major general and became Sri Lanka’s army commander last year amid international condemnation. According to the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, “the allegations of gross human rights violations against Shavendra Silver, documented by the United Nations and other organizations, are serious and credible.” Sri Lanka’s government, however, condemned the U.S. measure and said there were “no substantiated or proven allegations” against General Silva. On Sunday, it asked the U.S. to review its decision. [The Diplomat]

18 February 2020

Sri Lanka: Families of ‘disappeared’ threatened

(tk) According to Human Rights Watch, Sri Lankan security forces and intelligence agencies have intensified surveillance and threats against families of victims of enforced disappearance and activists supporting them since Gotabaya Rajapaksa became president in November 2019. Instead of fulfilling its commitments that the previous government had made with the UN Human Rights Council in order to promote “reconciliation, accountability and human rights”, it has repeatedly denied government involvement in serious human rights violations, including enforced disappearance in state custody between 2005 and 2015, when the current president was defense secretary and his brother, current Prime Minster Mahinda Rajapaksa, was president.

The previous government also started criminal investigations and legal proceedings concerning enforced disappearance. Under its relatively open environment, many relatives of the disappeared had chosen to speak out about their cases and started victim’s meetings. The current government, however, not only halted those criminal investigations and proceedings. [Human Rights Watch]

On Friday, February 14, hundreds of family members of enforced disappeared persons gathered in Colombo to commemorate their missing family members, and demand justice, truth and reparation. Amnesty International has demanded support for truth-seeking families by the government and immediate provision of information by the authorities, as well as independent criminal investigation in those disappearance cases. [Amnesty International]

11 February 2020

Sri Lanka: Police crackdown on demonstrators just days after freedom speech

(tk) Last week, armed police commandos were deployed against dismissed Dengue Eradication Campaign workers who were demonstrating outside the presidential secretariat. The demonstration was directed against the recent dismissal of 15,000 government employees from different sectors by the Rajapakse government, which claims that the previous administration “irregularly” hired them. 

After thousands of dismissed workers have demonstrated outside the presidential secretariat in the past weeks, Rajapakse’s office stated that the protests were an “inconvenience to the general public”. Thereupon, the Police forced protestors into an established “Agitation Site” where all demonstrations should be held surrounded by armed police commandos. The events happened only two days after President Rajapakse’s “freedom” posturing during his Independence Day speech. [World Socialist Web Site]

4 February 2020

Sri Lanka: A country at risk of conflict in ICG’s Watch List 2020

(tk) Sri Lanka has been identified as a country at risk of conflict or escalation of violence in the International Crisis Group’s early-warning Watch List 2020 among nine other countries worldwide. The report says that the new government has initiated fundamental changes to policies on ethnic relations, the legacy of a 26-year civil war, and the rule of law. It has the intention to abandon many key legislative achievements and policy commitments of the preceding government, including promises on post-war reconciliation, accountability and inclusive governance made to the UN Human Rights Council and to the EU. This policy shift partly rooted in the ethno-nationalism of Sri Lanka’s majorities, which threatens to increase ethnic and religious tension and dangerously weaken checks on executive and state power. [International Crisis Group]

28 January 2020

Sri Lanka: Government plans to walks back on UN obligations made after civil war

(tk/jk) After the 30-year civil war, the previous Sri Lankan administration made commitments at the U.N. Human Rights Council in October 2015 which included the obligations to set up an office for missing persons and to establish legal mechanisms to investigate alleged war. “The Rajapaksa government now wants the Office of Missing Persons to shutter operations” and plans a new law “to grant immunity to Sri Lankan soldiers who had allegedly committed war crimes during the conflict.” [Nikkei Asian Review]

In response to the Sri Lankan president’s statement of last week declaring that more than 23.500 missing Tamils were dead, [Asia in Review No. 3, January/2020] the EU as one of its major trading partners came out with a statement making clear it would use its economic relations to motivate Sri Lanka to remain committed to its human rights obligations.  [EEAS]

21 January 2020

Sri Lankan president says that thousands of missing Tamils are dead

(ls) In a widely reported statement, new Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that more than 23,500 people who were missing for a decade since the end of the country’s protracted Tamil war are dead. Rajapaksa himself was defense secretary at the time when many of these disappearances took place. In his statement, he claimed that of the thousands of disappeared most of them had been conscripted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which was defeated in a major offensive that ended in May 2009. [Tamil Guardian]

A government-appointed commission established in August 2013 received 23,586 reports of people missing throughout the separatist war. International rights groups claim that at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages, but the government has disputed the figures. Under current law, families cannot access property deeds, bank accounts or inheritances left by missing relatives unless they can conclusively prove they are dead, which is often an impossible task. [Straits Times]

 

21 January 2020

Sri Lanka: Concerns about serious jeopardy of human rights

(tk) After Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election as president in November 2019, human rights organizations see fundamental human rights in Sri Lanka in serious jeopardy. Human Rights Watch states: “There is every reason to fear that any progress Sri Lanka has made in recent years in restoring basic rights and rebuilding democratic institutions will be overturned with a vengeance. The new president seems intent not only to wipe away the Rajapaksa’s past abuses but clear the path for future ones.” [Human Rights Watch

Also Amnesty International is concerned by multiple reports of harassment, intimidation and attacks on human rights organizations, media outlets and journalists by officials and law enforcement agencies in the last years. According to Amnesty International, such incidents create fear in organizations and individuals defending and promoting human rights and can have a negative impact on their work. However, Sri Lanka has the obligation to protect Human Rights Defenders under several international human rights treaties to which it is a state party. [MENAFN]

 

21 January 2020

India and Sri Lanka to intensify security cooperation

(ls) India and Sri Lanka are in negotiations to enhance their existing security cooperation. India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval met with recently elected Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discussed setting up a maritime research coordination center as well as intensifying military and coastguard cooperation. Sri Lanka has traditionally been allied to India, but China invested and loaned large amounts to the island nation during the decade-long (2005-2015) reign of Gotabaya’s elder brother, Mahinda. Sri Lanka’s foreign policy was tilted significantly towards China under Mahinda. In December, Gotabaya said that Sri Lanka would need more financial assistance from China if other countries, particular India and EU countries, do not invest. [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, Indian concerns over Chinese ties with Myanmar are growing. Through the construction of the Kyaukpyu port, China will be making its presence felt on India’s eastern flank. India is already wary of China’s presence at Gwadar in Pakistan (in the west) and Hambantota in Sri Lanka (in the south). Though India and Myanmar have conducted several joint military operations along their borders, with China moving in with economic and other incentives, there could be pressures on the India-Myanmar relationship, according to observers. Chinese President Xi Jinping just visited Myanmar over the weekend. [Livemint]

An often-overlooked organization in this region is the Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec). Its member states are Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. These countries have been negotiating on and off since 2004 for a free trade agreement (FTA) but differences between India and Thailand over market access remain a major problem. However, in 2017 India made a commitment to hold more regular and high-level meetings. While China is physically disconnected from the Bay of Bengal, Chinese investment has poured into Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, where Beijing has made its presence felt. A piece in the Bangkok Post discusses Bimstec’s challenges and chances. [Bangkok Post]

 

7 January 2020

Sri Lanka: Human Rights concerns under new Rajapaksa leadership  

(lf/jk) Human Rights Watch has called out Sri Lanka for withdrawing a proposed replacement law supposed to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The PTA was put in place in 1978 as a counter-terrorism law during the civil war against the Tamil Tigers. 

The move goes against pledges made towards the UN human rights commission and the EU and is not the only step taken by newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa threatening human rights protection in Sri Lanka. President Rajapaksa also placed several civil security instances such as the police under the Defence Ministry and is seen to increase the influence of the military.  [Human Rights Watch].

 

31 December 2019

China-constructed Port City Colombo off Sri Lanka’s coast – strategic competitors are looking closely 

(jk) A Chinese-built island off Colombo, which is intended to become a kind of special economic zone, has been completed and officially handed over to Sri Lanka earlier this month. [Dredging Today] Critical observers see the strategic location of the island as the main reason for the Chinese investment and are particularly worried about the economic zone requiring “a new legal regime and regulations that some observers are likening to the ‘one country, two systems’ formula China uses with Hong Kong”, which would also require a change to the country’s constitution. The US and its allies fear a dual-use or even a purely military facility to be eventually set up there by China. [Nikkei Asian Review

 

24 December 2019

Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa retracts from Hambantota port renegotiation remarks

(jk) Against expectations that the newly elected Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, will establish closer relations with China, the new government announced early in December that it wants to renegotiate the previous regime’s 99-year lease of the strategically located port of Hambantota to China. [Asia in Review, No. 49, December/2019, 1]

Now, things seem to revert to the more expected path with President Rajapaksa stating that his government will not renegotiate the existing agreement and the Chinese embassy immediately after releasing a statement saying that it appreciates the President’s clarification. [WION]

17 December 2019

Sri Lanka arrests Swiss embassy employee

(lf/ls) Diplomatic relationships between Switzerland and Sri Lanka have tensed after Sri Lankan officials have arrested an employee of the Swiss embassy for allegedly making false claims. The employee and the Swiss embassy had previously accused Sri Lankan police of kidnapping the employee and forcing her to disclose information about asylum seekers to Switzerland. This comes after a high ranking police officer, who investigated former president and now Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and who had left for Switzerland in fear of his safety. [AlJazeera] [BBC]

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) said that in this high-profile case Sri Lanka’s reputation as a country that upholds the rule of law is at stake. It criticized the 30-hour interrogation to which the employee was subjected over three days despite being in poor health, and the public statements by senior Sri Lankan officials questioning her account before the investigations had been completed. [Colombo Gazette]

10 December 2019

Sri Lanka suspends Parliament ahead of early elections

(jk) President Rajapaksa, after announcing a snap election to be held in March next year which he hopes will give him a majority in parliament, [Asia in Review, No. 48, November/2019, 4] has now suspended parliament and said the new session will commence in early January. Reportedly, “the official announcement of calling a fresh session of the legislature will give the minority government of Mr Rajapaksa more control over parliamentary oversight committees.” [The Straits Times]

10 December 2019

Sri Lanka: Military officer appointed as new intelligence chief

(jk) Sri Lanka’s State Intelligence Service (SIS), which has been heavily criticized after failing to prevent the Easter Bombings this year has a new chief. For the first time, a military officer – Brigadier Suresh Sallay, the former director of the Military Intelligence – has been appointed.

The previous SIS leader was dismissed after he was asked to take responsibility for failing to pass on information that could have prevented the Easter Bombings that killed over 250 people. He refused to step down and appealed to the Supreme Court over his “unfair dismissal”. [India Today]

3 December 2019

New Sri Lankan government wants Hambantota port back from China, commits to India

(ls) Despite expectations that the newly elected Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother, newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, will establish closer relations with China, the new government announced that it wants to undo the previous regime’s 99-year lease of the southern port of Hambantota to a Chinese venture in return for $1.1 billion. That arrangement was made after it had turned out that it would be difficult to pay back the loans taken from China to build the project. Now, an economic adviser to the new government, citing national interests, said that it would be best if “we pay back the loan in due course in the way that we had originally agreed.” Whether China concurs with this remains to be seen. [Business Standard]

Meanwhile, on the first foreign visit by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to New Delhi, India extended two additional lines of credit worth $450 million for infrastructure and counter-terrorism. After a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gotabaya stated, “whilst with India the cooperation is multifaceted with priority given to security-related matters, with other counties the initiatives for cooperation are by and large, economic and commercial.” He also said that he would not allow any third force to come in between cooperation with India. Modi replied that “Sri Lanka is not only India’s closest neighbor but most trusted friend.” [The Wire] [Eurasia Review]

India and Sri Lanka traditionally have close cultural and historical links. Still, New Delhi had watched with concern the growing ties between Colombo and Beijing, particularly when Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power between 2005 and 2015. Observers consider that China will remain important for Sri Lanka in terms of aid and economic cooperation, whereas ties with India will continue to be marked by unavoidable ups and downs. [Straits Times]

26 November 2019

Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa family widening its influence

(jk) After Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential election win just over a week ago in Sri Lanka [Asia in Review No. 47, November/2019, 3], he has wasted no time to announce two major decisions.

First, he appointed his brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minster following the resignation of former PM Ranil Wickremesinghe. Mahinda will now serve at the head of the new cabinet in addition to his portfolio as Finance Minister. To top it off, he is only one of two Rajapaksa family members in the cabinet with another brother of the two Rajapaksas holding further two portfolios – agriculture and irrigation, as well as trade.

Secondly, President Rajapaksa announced a snap election to be held in March 2020 which he hopes will give him a majority in parliament if he can build on the momentum and success of the recent presidential polls. [Straits Times 1, Straits Times 2]

Additionally, as stated in the constitution, no court proceeding can take place against a ruling President. As a consequence, a court dropped corruption charges against Gotabaya last week for which he was indicted at the end of last year. [Wion]

 

19 November 2019

Sri Lanka: Rajapaksa wins presidential election

(ls) In Sri Lanka’s presidential election on Saturday, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, won 52.3 per cent of the votes, while ruling alliance candidate Sajith Premadasa had 42 per cent at the final count. Gotabaya, who ran for the nationalist Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party, secured his victory mainly by capturing votes in Sinhala-Buddhist southern provinces, while Premadasa had large majorities in the Tamil-dominated north. [South China Morning Post]

The Rajapaksas thus return to power on the strategically located South Asian island after an interlude of nearly five years. Gotabaya was a key figure during the nearly 10-year presidency of Mahinda, whose two terms were marked by his authoritarian grip. Observers consider that a Gotabaya presidency is likely to become a Rajapaksa family affair and will bring Mahinda, who could not contest the 2019 election due to Sri Lanka’s presidential term limits, back into the limelight. [Nikkei Asian Review]

It is expected that the Sri Lankan government will again tilt towards China, given the Rajapaksa’s past preferences as well as Gotabaya’s strained relationship with the United States, which has often raised his role as defence secretary during the war against the LTTE in 2009 amidst allegations of human rights violations. Sri Lanka’s debt situation will also likely mean a greater role for China, which is the island’s biggest investor and creditor. [The Hindu]

Some analysts predict Gotabaya’s election may escalate ethnic tensions, while others hope he can deliver on his promises on security as Sri Lanka still recovers from the Easter Sunday bombings by Islamic State militants earlier this year, which killed more than 250 people. [Daily FT]

Displaying the ethnic tensions, gunmen fired on buses carrying Muslim voters who were travelling to a neighboring district where they were registered to vote in the north-west of the country. The incident came as police and troops were locked in a standoff in the Tamil-dominated northern peninsula of Jaffna where residents complained about military roadblocks ahead of voting. [Straits Times]

 

12 November 2019

Sri Lanka likely to have new PM after presidential elections

(jk) With presidential elections fast approaching, it now looks very likely that the country will also have a new PM after the elections coming Saturday. Both leading candidates for the presidency, the opposition candidate Gotabhaya Rajapakse and PM Wickremesinghe’s own party’s candidate Sajith Premadasa have now publicly stated that they would appoint a new PM in case they win the election. Wickremesinghe is the leader of the United National Party, Sajith Premadasa’s party, but his leadership is heavily contested. [Asia Times]

 

5 November 2019

Sri Lanka: Analyses before the upcoming presidential election

(ls) In the lead-up to Sri Lanka’s presidential election on 16 November, Marwaan Macan-Markar analyzes Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s election strategy and his family’s persistent influence in Sri Lankan politics. He argues that the Rajapaksas are set to fight this election on the populist staples of security, ethnicity and religion, and that the vote could profoundly shape the direction of Sri Lanka’s politics, as the clan was working to establish a political dynasty, threatening to unwind more than four years of democratic progress. [Nikkei Asian Review]

From a constitutional law perspective, Asanga Welikala predicts that the winning political bloc will summon up all political muscle, possibly with little respect for the formal procedures set down in the Constitution. He argues that, while the Constitution now embodies an institutional model of executive power-sharing, the winner-takes-all political culture may not yet be ready to embrace the implications of that framework. [Sunday Observer]

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s governing party presidential candidate, Sajith Premadasa, who is the main opponent of Rajapaksa, has also pledged to refocus the country’s security policy and introduce tough laws to tackle religious extremism, illegal drugs and corruption. He also aims to introduce new legislation to provide severe penalties for hate speech and misinformation. [Al Jazeera]

 

29 October 2019

Sri Lanka: Dark future for Sri Lanka’s Democracy?

(jk) The presidential election next month may well return a member of the Rajapaksa family to the presidency. Some observers fear that should this happen, Sri Lanka’s democracy may not survive. It is feared that Gotabaya may repeat some of the patterns of his brother’s reign, which critical observers characterize by nepotism, human rights abuses, and a foreign policy oriented towards the People’s Republic of China not always strictly in the national interest. [Australian Strategic Policy Institute]

The orientation towards the PRC is something that the presidential candidate would “restore”, according to one of his advisors. [Reuters]

 

22 October 2019

Money-laundering and terrorism financing: Pakistan remains under investigation as Sri Lanka is white-listed

(ls) Pakistan remains on the grey list of countries that have not yet fully complied with recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) vis-à-vis anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). The FATF is an intergovernmental organization that develop policies to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. It monitors through “peer reviews” of member countries. Placement on the grey list is a warning for a country that it may be put on a “blacklist” in case of its failure to take effective measures. Currently, only Iran and North Korea are in this lowest category. [Dawn] [Economic Times 1]

Sri Lanka, however, has been removed from the grey list. According to the FATF, the country made significant progress in addressing the strategic AML/CFT deficiencies identified earlier. It will therefore be relieved from the FATF’s close monitoring procedures. [Economic Times]

8 October 2019

Sri Lanka: Sirisena not running for re-election as Rajapaksa’s qualification is affirmed

(ls) Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has decided not to run in the country’s presidential election next month (16 November). He was not listed on the candidate list. Last year, Sirisena dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former political rival. The Supreme Court, however, ruled against Sirisena’s action and reinstated Wickremesinghe. Sirisena also faced criticism over the government’s handling of an intelligence report warning of the Easter Day bombings that killed 250 people. [Al Jazeera]

Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan Appeal Court dismissed a legal challenge to presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s qualification to run in the election. The court ruled that Rajapaksa holds Sri Lankan citizenship and no additional U.S. citizenship. Sri Lanka does not allow dual citizens or non-citizens to contest national elections. Rajapaksa is widely seen as the election frontrunner because of his popularity among majority Sinhala Buddhists for his role in ending a 26-year civil war in 2009. [Reuters]

1 October 2019

Sri Lanka: Presidential polls to be held on November 16

(jk) The Election Commission has announced that the presidential polls will be held on Sunday 16 November with nominations expected by October 7. Currently, possible candidates include the incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena (who has however not said he would run again) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, as well as Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa, also from the ruling United National Front.

As reported previously [Asia in Review No. 33, August/2019, 2], the main opposition candidate is likely to be Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who himself is not qualified to run for President but may have an eye on becoming PM. [Washington Post]

Before the route to nomination for Gotabaya Rajapaksa is free however, he faces a court test over his nationality by a three-judge panel that was set up earlier this week. Activists who petitioned the court to look into the matter claim that he did not properly obtain dual Sri Lankan citizenship in 2005, when he was a United States citizen after he renounced his native citizenship of Sri Lanka a few years earlier. Since the “double-citizenship” process was flawed, as was his regaining of Sri Lankan citizenship, his citizenship is null and void which would make him not eligible for the presidency. [Reuters] The Court of Appeal has decided to hear the petition later this week.

24 September 2019

Sri Lanka: New investigation into Easter bombings

(ls) After allegations that current probes are not independent, a fresh inquiry into the Easter suicide bombings that hit Sri Lanka and killed at least 258 people was ordered by President Maithripala Sirisena. While the newly launched inquiry is being carried out by a cross-section of Members of Parliament, many opposition members are boycotting it. They say the commission is being used by political parties to deflect any responsibility for failing to stop the attacks. In the aftermath of the attacks, the government blamed a local militant group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) while the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group also claimed responsibility. [Straits Times]

24 September 2019

Sri Lanka: Presidential candidate Rajapaksa vows to forge closer ties with China

(ls) Sri Lankan presidential nominee Gotabaya Rajapaksa would restore relations with China, the country’s top lender, if he wins the November 16 election. Opposition politician Rajapaksa, who is the brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, is widely seen as the frontrunner in November’s election due to his popularity among Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Buddhist majority for his role in ending a 26-year civil war in 2009. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ruling United National Party (UNP) will name its candidate this week. Ties between Colombo and Beijing soured when current president Sirisena, upon his election in 2015, suspended all Chinese investment projects, citing allegations of corruption, overpricing and violation of government procedures. [Reuters] [Xinhua]

17 September 2019

Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port links up with Ranong Port in Thailand

(jk) The Hambantota International Port of Sri Lanka has signed an agreement for port-to-port cooperation with the Ranong Port in Thailand, in order to build synergies under the framework of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). [MenaFN]

17 September 2019

Sri Lanka: Constitutional Court does not drop corruption charges against Gotabaya Rajapaksa 

(jk) Sri Lanka’s constitutional court rejected an appeal last week by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to dismiss corruption charges against him. Rajapaksa, brother of the former President, is by many seen as the most likely frontrunner in the upcoming presidential elections.  Should he be found guilty of the charges however it is possible that he might not be allowed to run. [Colombo Page]

Date of AiR edition

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16 July 2019

China-gifted frigate arrives in Sri Lanka

(jk) China has gifted a frigate to the Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) which will be in charge of diverse operations of the SLN, such as offshore patrol, environment monitoring or anti-piracy combat. It is considered to be the SLN’s most advanced ship. In addition to the vessel, the PLA Navy has conducted training for over 100 Sri Lankan naval officers in China. [SLGuardian]

16 July 2019

Sri Lanka: Political and religious aftershocks of the Easter attacks

(ls/jk) The Sri Lankan government defeated a no-confidence motion brought by an opposition party over what it called “criminal negligence” in failing to prevent Easter Day bomb attacks on hotels and churches that killed more than 250 people. The defeat of the motion is likely to strengthen Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has been at odds with President Maithripala Sirisena since Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis last year. Their political differences widened following the attacks. [Reuters]

The head of the Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has invited his followers and members of the group to meet and discuss matters such as who they will be backing in presidential elections scheduled for December this year. [Straits Times]

During the rally, he said his group should “aim to take democratic control of parliament to protect the community” and create a Sinhala government themselves. Buddhist hardliners led by BBS have fuelled increasing hostility against Muslims in Sri Lanka, especially since the Easter Bombings, saying they are influenced by the most conservative and radical Muslims of the Middle East. [Adaderana]

9 July 2019

Following Easter bombing, Sri Lanka wants to curb Saudi Arabian influence

(ls) After the Easter Sunday terror attacks in Sri Lanka, the government announced that the Department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs will start to monitor previously unchecked money flows to Sri Lankan mosques from donors including prominent Saudi families. Since the attacks, a Wahhabi scholar was arrested, and the government may take over a Saudi-funded school.

However, until now, ongoing investigations have not shown that any Saudi money flowed to the plotters of the attacks. Long before the Easter attacks, minority Sri Lankan Muslim felt under unjustified suspicion and critics attribute the recent government moves against Saudi influence to some degree to a rising Islamophobia. [Reuters] 

9 July 2019

Sri Lanka: Supreme Court suspends executions

(ls) After Sri Lanka’s president Sirisena has signed four death sentences last month effectively ending a 43-year moratorium, the executions have been suspended by the Supreme Court granting interim relief. Sirisena claims the new policy is in part inspired by the Philippines’ bloody drug war. [Reuters]

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe stated, however, that a majority of MPs were against resuming executions. The president defended his decision in a telephone conversation with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by claiming the need to “save the country from drugs”. He also accused the European Union critical of the policy change of interfering in internal affairs. [Straits Times]

In recent years, thousands of committees were formed in schools and villages to create awareness about drugs. These committees were vocal in demanding the government to hang hardcore drug dealers. But Sirisena is also likely to eye his reelection: Prior to the Easter Day terror attacks, his approval ratings were strong. He was expected to get votes from both liberal and conservative sections of the country. The attacks marred this image. [DW]

2 July 2019

Sri Lanka’s special board of inquiry finds ‘major lapses’ led to a failure to stop Easter bombings

(jk) A special board of inquiry, set up by President Sirisena, has recommended to launch an investigation into the former Defence Secretary over “major lapses” in failing to prevent the Easter bombings that killed over 250 people. Sirisena himself was heavily criticised for failing to act on intelligence warning against the bombing prior to its occurrence, but he claims to have not been alerted to such warnings. He vowed to take action against officials who failed to share it and set up the special board of inquiry as a consequence. [Al Jazeera]

2 July 2019

Sri Lankan President signs death warrants for four drug convicts to end moratorium on death penalty

(jk) Sri Lanka, after just six months ago voting in favour of a global moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the UN General Assembly, still intends to abandon long-standing moratorium on the death penalty. President Sirisena in February announced the country would carry out the executions, saying he had been inspired by President Rodrigo Duterte, but the country has not gone ahead yet, partly due to difficulties in filling the required job vacancy of a hangman, which has yet to be completed [SCMP]. The story has come to the fore again with international human rights organisations and foreign governments concerned that recent preparations indicate executions will be resumed soon. [Channel News Asia, UK Foreign Office, New Europe] In addition to external pressures, there are a number of administrative hurdles to pass internally, such as deliberating petitions that have been filed against the move to resume executions. [SCMP II]

11 June 2019

“Neighborhood First”: Indian PM Modi visits Maldives and Sri Lanka

(ls) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his first overseas trip since being elected to a second term by travelling to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, reflecting the importance India attaches to its ‘Neighborhood First” policy.

In the Maldives, Modi and Maldives’ President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih signed six Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) in the fields of hydrography, health, passenger and cargo services by sea, customs capacity building, training of civil servants and the sharing of white shipping information between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force. In March, the countries had signed a USD 800 million Line of Credit Agreement for assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development. [Business Today]

Modi also inaugurated a coastal radar system and military training center in the Maldives. The two leaders pledged to combat piracy, terrorism, organized crime and trafficking through “coordinated patrolling and aerial surveillance, exchange of information, and capacity building.” [Al Arabiya]

Solih reaffirmed his government’s “India first policy” and pledged full support toward deepening “the multifaceted, mutually beneficial partnership between India and the Maldives”. Solih’s stand was a marked shift from his predecessor Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who developed close ties with Beijing. [South China Morning Post]

In Sri Lanka, Modi started his short visit by paying respect at one of the sites of the Easter Sunday attack. He said that he was confident Sri Lanka will rise again and cowardly acts of terror cannot defeat their spirit. [India Today] During his Maldives visit, Modi had already called for a global conference to tackle the threat of terrorism in the region and around the world. “The international community has actively arranged for global convention and many

conferences on the threat of climate change. Why not on the issue of terrorism?” he said. [Reuters]

11 June 2019

Sri Lanka to introduce anti-fake news legislation

(ls) Following a rise in online disinformation after the Easter suicide attacks, Sri Lanka’s government will introduce five-year jail terms for those caught spreading fake news and hate speech on social media. The cabinet of ministers approved a respective proposal. However, the text of the respective provision has not yet been released. following the attacks on three churches and three hotels on April 21, a nine-day ban on platforms including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and WhatsApp had been introduced. Sri Lanka also shut down Internet access in March last year to prevent further violence during anti-Muslim riots. [Straits Times]

11 June 2019

Sri Lanka: Stand-off between parliament and president over bombing investigation

(ls) Sri Lanka’s president Maithripala Sirisena said he would not cooperate with a parliamentary investigation into security lapses before the Easter suicide bombings and would not allow defence or police officials to testify before a select committee. In response, the speaker of the parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, said that any public servant summoned by the committee was obliged to give evidence.  The committee began its publicly televised sittings since late last month. Evidence that has surfaced so far suggests that Sirisena failed to act on advance warning of the attacks. On Saturday, Sirisena’s office fired his national intelligence chief who testified that the attacks against three churches and three luxury hotels could have been avoided. [Bangkok Post]

4 June 2019

Sri Lanka: Muslim ministers resigned to protest the vulnerable state of Muslim minority against mob violence

(jk/jyk) The resignation of Sri Lanka’s Muslim government officials—nine ministers and two provincial governors—came amid the nation-wide persecution of Muslim community following the Easter suicide bombings. The bombing has given rise to anti-Muslim sentiment in Sinhala neighbours, where the mobs attacked and looted the Muslim community [Aljazeera 1], and the hard-line Buddhist monks demanded the Muslim provincial governors and minister to resign. One cabinet member who resigned said Muslims had cooperated with security forces to arrest suspects, but the community faced collective victimisation. The resigned Muslim leaders said they will remain in the back of the parliament for a month and accept police investigation to prove their non-involvement in any Muslim terrorist activities. [Aljazeera 2]

In the meantime, Sri Lanka’s suspended police chief has petitioned the Supreme Court, accusing President Sirisena of failing to prevent the attacks. Sirisena has suspended the police chief after he refused to take responsibility. He also says he met him and other top official less than two weeks before the attack and no one had raised the possibility of imminent attacks.[Straits Times]

28 May 2019

Sri Lanka: Nearly 100 alleged extremists detained

(jk) Amidst words by Sri Lankan President Sirisena to foreign diplomats that the current situation in Sri Lanka was “99%” secure”, the military deployed around 3.000 personnel for an operation that saw the detention of nearly 100 alleged extremists related to the Easter bombings earlier this year. On Wednesday, Sirisena has extended the state of emergency that was put in place after the bombings by a further 30 days. [All India Radio; Channel News Asia]

19 March 2019

Sri Lanka: Opposition leader Rajapaksa warns government not to “betray” Sri Lanka at the UN

(jk) Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s latest report on Sri Lanka begs the question whether Sri Lanka remains a sovereign nation and he criticized the government’s intention to co-sponsor another resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). According to Rajapaksa, the government has announced that they will again co-sponsor a resolution re-affirming previous resolutions which “committed the government to among other things, setting up a hybrid war crimes court with the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators and to removing by administrative means, individuals in the armed forces suspected of human rights violations even if there is insufficient evidence to charge them in courts.” [Adaderana] He would like to see Sri Lanka stop co-sponsoring resolutions against itself as it did in 2015, as well as rejecting allegations made in previous UNHRC reports. Last week President Sirisena already questioned pledges his country had made to investigate war-time atrocities, saying he did not want to “re-open old wounds”. [AiR 2/3] The 40th session of the UNHRC is currently underway in Geneva and a report on Sri Lanka will be submitted later this week.

11 March 2019

Sri Lanka: No intention to investigate war crimes

(ls) Sri Lanka’s president Maithripala Sirisena put into doubt pledges his country had made to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate war-time atrocities, saying he did not want to “re-open old wounds”. He said he will formally ask the United Nations rights body to reconsider a 2015 resolution which called for credible investigations into alleged atrocities. A previous deadline ended without any progress in bringing war criminals to justice. Although the UNHRC can pass resolutions, it has no mandate to implement resolutions or impose sanctions. [Channel News Asia]

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe presented to cabinet a memorandum to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to what was established in post-apartheid South Africa. There was, however, no mention of any probe into alleged war crimes. Sri Lankan government troops were accused of killing at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians in the final months of the island’s 37-year guerrilla war that ended in May 2009. [Asia Times]

In a separate development, the United Kingdom Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, overturned a lower court’s finding that an asylum seeker from Sri Lanka organized his own torture to strengthen his claim to stay in Britain. It is expected to make it harder for authorities to say that accounts of torture are not credible where there is strong medical evidence to the contrary. [The Guardian]

4 March 2019

Sri Lanka: International Monetary Fund revives and extends Sri Lanka bailout

(jk) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has agreed to re-activate a three-year loan worth US$1.5bn, as well as extending it by one year to mid-2020. An installment of the fund had not been released back in October 2018 due to the political and constitutional crisis that unfolded then and the bail-out was put on hold. Sri Lanka faces tough financial challenges, owing several creditors at an economically difficult time. [Financial Times / Channel News Asia] Its move to give away a strategically important harbour to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on a 99-year lease made headlines last year and became a poster-child for the PRC’s “debt-trap diplomacy”.

4 December 2019

Sri Lanka’s constitutional crisis is further intensifying

(jk) As AiR readers know, Sri Lanka remains stuck in a political and constitutional crisis with no breakthrough in sight after the Sri Lankan President appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to replace the sitting prime minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.

Now, after losing but refusing to accept not one but two no-confidence votes, the court of appeal has said it will not allow Rajapaksa to act as PM for this would cause “unpreparable damage” to the country. [Al Jazeera] 

A judge issued an interim order against Mr Rajapaksa and his cabinet, which will be in place until the final verdict is delivered. Rajapaksa has said he will appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

The decision will likely also continue to impact the economic situation which has worsened since the crisis started and has seen the currency exchange rates dropping. The court order also stopped the presentation of an interim budget for the first few months of 2019 which may now impact the payment of salaries and pensions as well as foreign debt repayments. [ABC]. Whilst politics are staying still, the judiciary is working overtime as Sri Lanka’s highest-ranking military officer was finally put in custody last week after weeks evading arrest for allegedly protecting the chief suspect in the murder of 11 people during the civil war. [SCMP]

The embattled government has previously – in a desperate attempt to become more popular – slashed a tax on sugary drinks, reversing older anti-diabetes policies.[Channel News]

Currently, the government of Rajapaksa is only recognised by China and Burundi.