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Offline mayya

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Sri Lanka Is Losing the Peace
« on: November 07, 2013, 16:29:46 PM »
Sri Lanka Is Losing the Peace

Recent elections conceal Colombo's dangerous authoritarian drift.

By
JUDITH LARGE AND KARA L. BUEJudith Large
Nov. 6, 2013 12:17 p.m. ET

Sri Lanka will be in the spotlight later this month when leaders of Commonwealth countries gather there for their biennial summit. Colombo will be keen to show off the democratic and civil-society gains it says it has made since the bloody military defeat of violent separatists in 2009. Yet a clear-eyed view of their surroundings will show foreign leaders that their host country is in the process of losing the peace.

On the surface, Colombo is making good progress in returning war-torn parts of the country to normal. September saw provincial council elections in the Northern Province, a majority-Tamil area where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) made their last stand four years ago. The estimated voter turnout of 68% was high, and the Tamil National Alliance won 30 out of 38 seats on the council in this first election in 25 years. This is progress, despite widespread disillusionment among Tamil voters and reports of voter intimidation, in some cases by alleged associates of the ruling party.

That is far from the full story, however. The military retains a tight grip on the region and dominates its reconstruction through growing involvement in commercial and agricultural activities. Although millions of dollars have poured into the region, Tamils by and large feel the money is being spent on large-scale infrastructure projects that are not improving their daily lives.
Instead, the cash may be enabling the military to consolidate its grasp on the province, especially since the army also controls vast swathes of land thanks to its construction of a network of new bases. That process has sparked complaints and new grievance from Tamil civilians who believe they have not been adequately compensated for their displacement.
 

Sri Lankan ethnic Tamils woman lives after voting at a polling station during the northern provincial council election in Jaffna. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Enthusiasm about the recent elections also needs to be tempered by other actions the Buddhist Sinhalese-majority government has taken to undermine reconstruction and a permanent political settlement with the largely Hindu Tamils. The key issue here is devolution of power to the regions, which is supposed to give the country's Tamil minority, concentrated in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, greater scope for self-rule to ameliorate the legal and economic discrimination that sparked ethnic unrest in the first place.

Devolution was provided for in the 13th amendment to the national constitution, passed in 1987, which created the provincial councils. Yet only days after September's elections in the north, the Supreme Court effectively invalidated a central provision of that amendment by ruling that Colombo can continue to exercise control over the use of government lands, a power that was supposed to devolve to provincial councils. The ruling makes a big dent in the authority of the provincial council Northern Province Tamils just elected, and might justifiably raise questions in Tamil minds about whether they are enjoying meaningful democracy.

Tamils have plenty of reason to worry, given that their plight is part of a broader trend of "authoritarian drift" under President Mahinda Rajapakse. Earlier this year, Mr. Rajapakse impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, supposedly on grounds of misconduct.
Ms. Bandaranayake's real sin was likely that she ruled against controversial legislation brought in by the government. Her removal raised questions about judicial independence. In a legal opinion commissioned by the Commonwealth, Chief Justice P.N. Langa of South Africa concluded that the Chief Justice's impeachment was both unlawful and in direct violation of Commonwealth values and principles.

Recent months have also seen a rise in concerted attacks by militant Sinhalese Buddhists on Muslim religious sites and businesses. The government does little to discourage this. Further, the legacy of acute repression of press freedoms and the threat of disappearances continue. The country appears to be in the grip of a Buddhist majoritarianism.

Foreign leaders at this month's summit and beyond must highlight the recommendations of Sri Lanka's own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, for example the right to grieve and mourn all victims of the war, and the need for independent national institutions. They can also urge respect for human rights and the rule of law, and point to the need for an independent investigation into alleged violations of the human rights of thousands of civilians at the end of the war. Only through these steps can Colombo avoid sowing the seeds of more ethnic conflict in the future.
Having chosen Sri Lanka as the site of their major gathering, Commonwealth leaders should use their time there to press the government of Sri Lanka to respond to the needs of all Sri Lankan citizens.

Ms. Large is an academic and researcher based in the UK. Ms. Bue is a partner at Armitage International, L.C.


http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304448204579181073585695850
« Last Edit: November 07, 2013, 16:44:41 PM by mayya »