8 August, 2022


Winning Sri Lanka’s Peace: To Return To International Respectability, Colombo Needs To Deepen Its Democracy

By Sadanand Dhume

Sadanand Dhume

On the face of it, Sri Lanka has much to celebrate this week as it marks the third anniversary of its military victory over the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). After that scarring 26-year civil war, which was among the bloodiest in modern Asia, ended, the economy is the hottest in its neighborhood: Last year GDP grew by 8.3%, the fastest expansion since independence in 1948. Tourist arrivals were up about 30% from a year earlier. In President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka boasts a leader whose regional peers can only envy his popularity with the masses and robust parliamentary majority.

And yet, on his visit to Washington this week Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris will likely encounter more brickbats than bouquets. International censure is rising against Mr. Rajapaksa’s alleged violations of human rights. His government has also failed to bring about national reconciliation since the war by postponing provincial elections that could allow the Tamil-majority north to express its political choices.

In March, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva voted 24-15 on a U.S.-led resolution to press Sri Lanka to investigate the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the closing stages of the war. Over the past year, two powerful documentaries by Britain’s Channel 4 have battered the country’s reputation by claiming to show abuses by the Sri Lankan military. Perhaps sensing blood in the water after the UNHRC vote, human rights groups show no sign of losing interest in the country.

Most ominously for Sri Lanka, India—arguably the country’s most important diplomatic ally in its long struggle against the LTTE—can no longer be counted on for unquestionable backing. Facing pressure from Tamil political parties at home, Delhi voted with Washington and against Colombo in Geneva.

For many Sri Lankans, particularly in the dominant Sinhalese community, this outpouring of international opprobrium raises hackles. As they see it, their country faces attacks by assorted do-gooders simply for ending the menace of the Tamil Tigers. Had Sri Lanka taken the advice of well-meaning diplomats and activists during the war, the argument goes, it may well have been readying today for its fourth decade of conflict rather than its fourth year of peace. Human rights violations or not, most Sri Lankans—minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese alike—aren’t exactly mourning the thuggish LTTE, best known for pioneering the use of suicide bombers.

So the Sri Lankan government and its supporters tend to react to criticism with displays of outrage rather than introspection. After the UNHRC vote, ministers in Colombo railed against the U.S. and India, and angry demonstrators took to the streets. The media, the least free and consequently most jingoistic in the region, helped bolster the national narrative of injured pride.

Sri Lanka faces a stark choice. It can continue its shrill inward turn and increasingly place its faith in authoritarian friends like China and Iran. Or it can mend its ties with the West, India and everyone else by keeping its promise to devolve power to the Tamil-majority north, punish the most egregious human rights violations of the war and end its clampdown on freedom of the press.

Those who believe Sri Lanka can just ride out this wave of negative foreign opinion are wrong. A powerful web of human rights groups in Washington, London and beyond have established a virtual monopoly on conversations about the country. With a population of only 21 million, Sri Lanka, unlike say China, has neither the economic heft nor the strategic significance to match its adversaries. To add to these woes, a well-organized Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, largely made up of exiles who fled violence and systematic discrimination, will not forget excesses committed during the war any time soon.

Memory of the LTTE will fade. As that happens, chances are the horror of the Sri Lankan army’s actions becomes more widely known, and word of what the International Crisis Group calls “a de facto military occupation” of the Tamil-speaking north will trickle out faster. Public opinion in India’s Tamil Nadu state, home to 60 million Tamils, will continue to harden against the Rajapaksa regime. Broader Indian opinion may shift decisively as well, and perhaps create a gulf between the two neighbors that can’t be bridged. Colombo may find itself isolated.

This will also hit Sri Lanka’s economy. The outsized importance of tourism and textile exports to Sri Lanka means it can scarcely afford to ignore public opinion in the West. Two years ago, the European Union withdrew preferential access to its markets over this issue, a direct blow to an apparel industry that provides tens of thousands of jobs.

To be sure, national reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and with it an end to international censure, won’t happen overnight. But by addressing fears of permanent militarization of the north, scheduling provincial elections, addressing at least the most egregious human rights abuses from the war and restoring the independence of the country’s once feisty press, Sri Lanka can make a start. If it fails to do so, Mr. Rajapaksa may go down in history as the Sri Lankan leader who won a famous war but squandered the peace that followed.

Courtesy The Wall Street Journal


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Latest comments

  • 0

    Good article. However this statement of his is incorrect.
    Human rights violations or not, most Sri Lankans—minority Tamils and majority Sinhalese alike—aren’t exactly mourning the thuggish LTTE, best known for pioneering the use of suicide bombers.-Unquote.

    It would be impossible for the author or for that matter anyone in Washington, to fathom the support and love for the LTTE, while they all believe their own theories and justifications. Hardly anyone knows that his wife is a very senior official at the State Dept. for many years.

    I am not mentioning her name, but those in public office and preaching for transparency should practice what they preach.

    In Sri Lanka, no Tamil can even hold a black flag and mourn the death of any LTTE “freedom fighter”. There is no freedom. Period. For that matter Tamils cannot even mourn the 100,000 Tamil civilian deaths. According to the Rajapakases not a single civilian died. That is why they claim that there are no dead bodies nor bones. What a set of liars.

    So it is ridiculous to pontificate that LTTE is not being mourned by anyone. Watch the 3rd year anniversary of the REMEMBRANCE DAY, activities not only in Tamil Nadu, but all over the world capitals. Which Liberation Struggle martyrs are remembered and celebrated after 3 years worldwide? There are 66 million Tamils in Tamil Nadu alone.

    Author should not be mistaken that the # of LTTE flags are not openly flown and hoisted in public. That is because we do not want the Tamil struggled to be mislabeled conveniently as a Tamil terrorist struggle and dismissed. It is India, Pakistan, China, West and USA that supplied all the legal and illegal weapons, intelligence, chemical/banned weapons, phosphorous and cluster bombs to destroy the LTTE. It was by such methodology that GOSL were able to win the 30 year war. But it is now coming to haunt the GOSL as well as all the suppliers of banned weapons. “War Criminals” will be always hunted down. It is only a handful of officers who gave the orders and instructions.

    Soon General Fonseka would be free. He has to now speak the truth and what he knows and when he knew. Fonseka had 3 years to think about and reflect on all the war crimes and crimes against humanity that the MOD and GOSL committed on the Tamils. He would be a changed man like “Paul” in the bible.

  • 0

    ….just like the ‘universal Hero’s Journey’ (common to all cultures of the planet) tells us the Hero in SL has been awakened but is at the stage of Hesitancy to move on to the next stage….
    …yet another Aryan Nation has been challenged or provoked to violence or conflict… lets watch to see what happens next …..
    You and the Western Weapons Manufacturers know very well that when they provoke Aryan people that you can expect a never ending conflict to keep obtaining orders to keep the US & other western economies from getting into recessions…
    Too bad we have lost most of our Brains in the brain drain to have any Democracy back home…
    You guys should try to enable the average voter to directly appoint our Supreme Court Judges and the Auditor General along with the rest of the general or presidential elections… then we could perhaps have some kind of Democracy….

  • 0

    As Donald Ghanakone, if he is the real person living in California, he should talk about how his present naturalized country had treated people of colour both inside the whole country as well as in California. He should find out when was it that Californian constitution removed discrimination of people of colour from the constitution. Califronia earlier had neighbourhoods out of bound for other people. DID SRI LANKA HAD THOSE THINGS EVER ?

    Further, People speak that one of the killed, by the muslims who hijacked the planes, American – Pilots were of Iranian origin. NOT EVEN the FREE MEDIA in the USA EVER reported that. That is how US-Media Protected USA.

    What does he think, would US ever allow a Prayer for those Dead Muslim -killers of 9/11 to be conducted on US soil ?

    But, Donald ghanakone wants Sri Lanka to allow celebrating Suicide Bombers and Black tigers on Sri Lankan soil.

    What a wonderful freedom they are talking about.

    I am disgusted and enraged with Sri Lankan News thinking how destructive they are to Sri Lanka.

  • 0

    California or America is not the issues.
    America has a black president. I do not need to defend or attack American policies and practices of 200 years, in this forum. There is freedom of speech here. No “White Vans” or “Grease Devils”. or Government sponsored race riots, concentration camps and deaths of 100,000 civilians.

    Whatever happened to the bones of those civilians?
    Has the State Terrorist returned bones of one person they brutally murdered?

    War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity are the main issues and Sri Lanka has to face it. Even Saddam Hussein, Milosavic, and Ali Basheer of Sudan tried your defense. That does not work.

    I agree that America was not perfect, nor is perfect. That does not give the licence for the Sinhalese racist-chauvinist to rape, torture and murder, as well as loot, riot, burn and steal. Period. If you have complaints about America, please complain to the US embassy or State Dept, or the White House directly. There is a process with them and they too respect the freedom of speech. The USG won’t send the White Van.

  • 0

    ….The US has Black Cars that do it neatly… so that it’s well covered up…. the Human Rights record of the US is so bad that it’s hilarious to watch all the UNHCR drama….
    The US repression of the Native American Indians in their own reservations are appalling …..
    First the Natives are relocated from areas that the Senator and the Mining Company decides to Strip Mine for numerous minerals in the reservations….. then after the mining is complete another “licensed” Forbes top ten Company is permitted to dump ‘Industrial Effluents’ in the mine pit and another company covers it up along with the CIA & NSA Black Car guys…..
    These are HR Violations even on their own Immigrant population ….. as the water gets contaminated under ground with arsenic, lead, mercury and 57 other ‘harmless’ chemicals …….
    Later the Natives are relocated back to the area where the top-soil is mixed up to cultivate or hunt …. then they are sold adulterated American Bourbon Whiskey with more than 60% spirit (Ethyl / Methyl) Alcohol in it…. they are sold cheap subsidized American White Wheat flour, Sugar & Vegetable Oil to enable them to make dough balls and fry them to eat and get FAT, LAZY, PLUMP AND slowly die …..
    All these are elegantly covered up by the Secret Service loyal to the Senators and the Companies…. some of these incidents don’t reach their own President ….. that’s how well the Black Cars operate …
    Any Immigrant Attorney or Environmentalist or Native American who utters anything about any of the above ….. the US-Media protects the US by informing the CIA / NSA in order to get favours done for themselves ….
    Welcome to the US …..

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