Hot on the heels of the revelation that Sri Lankan soldiers murdered the 12-year-old son of Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran in cold blood and last week’s shooting of a journalist in Colombo, the International Crisis Group has released a report deploring what it calls Sri Lanka’s “authoritarian turn”. The ICG report calls for international action to halt the Sri Lankan government’s erosion of democracy and its recent “constitutional coup”.
The ICG report says that the Sri Lankan government has made no meaningful progress on accountability for war crimes that occurred during the conclusion of its war against the Tamil Tigers in 2009. “Instead,” it said, the Sri Lankan government “has accelerated the country’s authoritarian turn, with attacks on the judiciary and political dissent that threaten long-term stability and peace”.
The ICG report is particularly critical of the Sri Lankan government’s “politically motivated” impeachment of the country’s chief justice last month. It says the impeachment “reveals both its intolerance of dissent and power sharing and the weakness of the political opposition … By incapacitating the last institutional check on executive power, the government has crossed a threshold into new and dangerous terrain.”
According to the ICG, the impeachment “threatens prospects for the eventual peaceful transfer of power through free and fair elections”.
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Sri Lanka drifted towards authoritarianism just after the election of current President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2004. Critics of his rule say oppression of ethnic Sinhalese and ethnic Tamils has accelerated since the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in May 2009.
The ICG now says that the removal of the chief justice completes what it calls a “constitutional coup”, which began when presidential term limits were revoked in 2010.
“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,” the ICG said.
As a consequence, the ICG calls for “strong international action”, including the immediate referral of Sri Lanka to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and a new resolution from the UN’s Human Rights Committee calling for concrete, time-bound actions to restore the rule of law, investigate alleged war crimes and rights abuses, and devolve power to Tamil and Muslim areas of the north and east.
The ICG also asks India, the US, EU, UK, Canada, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Japan and South Africa to investigate, gather and share evidence regarding alleged war crimes and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. It calls on them to not accept the diplomatic credentials of Sri Lankan military officers against whom there are credible allegations of serious crimes and to apply targeted pressure on government leaders, including restrictions on personal travel, until the government complies with HRC resolutions.