According to a report released this week by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), the Government “has crossed a threshold into new and dangerous terrain, threatening prospects for the eventual peaceful transfer of power through free and fair elections.”
The International Crisis Group in its report is calling on the world to act to force an investigation into those matters and the restoration of the rule of law in the country.
The ICG report states that Government attacks on the judiciary and political dissent have accelerated Sri Lanka’s authoritarian turn and threaten long-term stability and peace. The government’s politically motivated impeachment of the chief justice reveals both its intolerance of dissent and the weakness of the political opposition. By incapacitating the last institutional check on the executive, the government has crossed a threshold into new and dangerous terrain, threatening prospects for the eventual peaceful transfer of power through free and fair elections.
Sri Lanka is faced with two worsening and inter-connected governance crises. The dismantling of the independent judiciary and other democratic checks on the executive and military will inevitably feed the growing ethnic tension resulting from the absence of power sharing and the denial of minority rights. Both crises have deepened with the government’s refusal to comply with the HRC’s March 2012 resolution on reconciliation and accountability. While the government claims to have implemented many of the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) – a key demand of the HRC’s resolution – there has in fact been no meaningful progress on the most critical issues Sri Lankans of all ethnicities who have struggled to preserve their democracy deserve stronger international support. The Human Rights Commission’s 2012 resolution was an important first step, but more is needed, the report continues.
“This should begin with a stronger HRC resolution in March 2013, which must demand concrete reforms to end impunity and restore the rule of law; mandate the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor violations and investigate the many credible allegations of war crimes committed in the final months of the war by both sides; and, where possible, identify individuals most responsible.”
The ICG published a list of specific demands on the government including implementing core recommendations of the truth commission, strengthening the rule of law, greater accountability, devolution of power and national reconciliation, through a process that includes opposition political parties and independent civil society representatives of all ethnic communities, meaningful reconciliation and others.
Strong international action should begin with Sri Lanka’s immediate referral to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and a new resolution from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) calling for concrete, time-bound actions to restore the rule of law, investigate rights abuses and alleged war crimes by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and devolve power to Tamil and Muslim areas of the north and east. The Commonwealth secretary general should formally refer Sri Lanka to the CMAG, which should insist that the government take substantial steps to restore the independence of the judiciary. Were it to refuse, the Commonwealth should relocate its November 2013 heads of government meeting, currently scheduled to take place in Colombo, or at the very least participants should downgrade their representation.
All governments and multilateral institutions with active ties to Sri Lanka must rethink their approach and review their programs in light of Colombo’s deepening and dangerous authoritarian drift. This includes military-to-military relations and bilateral and multilateral development assistance, including from the UN, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and International Monetary Fund.
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