Mukesh Chandra Baral
March was a muddled month for Sri Lanka. In the capital, Colombo, a Sinhalese Buddhist mob was filmed hooting and clapping around a destroyed clothing warehouse owned by a Tamil Muslim. The mob pelted stones on a vehicle while policemen stood by. After a week, in Kilinochchi, reportedly a mob damaged the party office of Tamil National Alliance and smashed vehicles belonging to the party. The party accused the police of not taking any initiative to quell the attacks.
The lawlessness in the country trails the three-decade long civil war that ended in May 2009. Thousands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) fighters, along with their leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, were killed. The death toll is estimated to be eighty to one hundred thousands. The civilian casualty is believed to be around forty thousands. The civilian death has been the most contentious issue since the beginning of the war.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, at the 22nd session of United Nations Human Rights Commission, which ended on 22 March 2013, world powers were pressing Sri Lanka for accountability. They wanted an investigation of horror and the atrocities allegedly carried by the government forces against Tamils during the Civil War. The session concluded with a US-sponsored resolution on human rights seeking an adequate progress in investigating killings and disappearances, mainly the brutal months at the end of the Civil War. The government spent most of March denying the past atrocities and legitimizing the ongoing mobocracy.
The call for accountability is not new for Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakshya. The UN resolution in 2012 had asked him to investigate and prosecute the violators. He had also agreed to implement the findings of Report of the Secretary- General’s Panel, which had found the allegations against the Sri Lankan Army and the government credible. But, ‘accountability’ does not look like a priority for President Rajapaksa.
His response towards any report on human rights violation by his administration has been ‘denial’. ‘Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) focusing on restorative justice, did just that. The Commission formed by the government started the investigation but quickly cleared the military from the allegation of deliberate attack on the civilians. Other human rights group pointed out that the investigation was flawed but the LLRC took no further steps.
The United Nations is not the only one asking Sri Lankan Government for meaningful action. EU has long joined United Nations for accountability. United States, India, Canada, and Britain are some other powers on board. While speaking during the UN resolution, the Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated US’s demand for accountability. The resolution was backed by India, one of Sri Lanka’s close neighbors, exerting further pressure on Sri Lanka. Indian government seems very concerned. It has historical reasons to be reluctant. But, it is constantly pushing Sri Lankan government for accountability.
The Commonwealth Summit scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in November 2013 has become another headache for Sri Lanka. David Miliband, a powerful MP from the British Labor Party, is lobbying publicly to shift the venue of 23rd Commonwealth Summit. Canada is one of the toughest Sri Lankan critics among the Commonwealth nations. It has been demanding independent investigation of the atrocities since 2011.
There are other organizations like International Monetary Fund which have demanded accountability on part of the Rajapakshya administration. Sri Lanka needs to show results along the line of accountability, unless it wants to stick with countries like China for all support. No doubt, the issue has turned into an agony for Sri Lanka
Dictator in the making
The Daily Mirror, one of the prominent newspapers of Sri Lanka, in March printed pictures of an inauguration of a memorial museum by the president. The museum restored a bus and depicted monks killed by LTTE. The pictures published were disturbing and provoking. Above all, the pictures were approving the Civil-War narration of the Sinhalese majority, the victor. One could only imagine the mass impact of the museum in the long run. The war is over, but the conflict, it seems, still exists. Three decades of war has solidified an enemy image that needs to be addressed. But instead, the president himself is inaugurating the sites of one-sided narrations. That is not only intensifying the injuries but also creating further divisions between Sinhalese and Tamils.
But, president does not seem concerned about it. Probably, he is paying back for the landslide victory of 2010. Thanks to the election, his party holds clear majority in the parliament. His close relatives who constantly conform his moves are in power. His older brother Chamal Rajapaksa is the Speaker in the parliament. His younger brother Basil Rajapaksa is the Minster for Economic Development. Another brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is the defense secretary. His niece Nirupama Rajapaksa is the Minister for Water Supply. He has already a 24-year-old son in the parliament. No wonder, he is blamed for promoting nepotism in the country.
Analyzing the power distribution and the chain of events, it can be argued that he is seeking more power. This January, Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayke was impeached and forcefully removed from office. The Supreme Court later ruled the Parliamentary Select Committee’s presiding unconstitutional. But the president did not appear to be concerned about the ruling. He appointed his legal advisor Mohan Peiris as the new Chief Justice, in the midst of the Bar Association protest. The Parliament has long removed the presidential term limits. All these developments suggest that he is going for the third term. But, does he have a plan to remain in power even after? In other words, is there a dictator in the making? Well, the developments suggest, the probability is high.