Island Blues: The end of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war promised better than this

Colombo clearly thought it had done everything to ensure a good report card. Instead the UN lambasted Rajapaksa's government for large-scale abuses of democracy

Share

It is understandable that Gamini Peiris, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, in London yesterday, should have reacted so fiercely to the stinging remarks by the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay on her week-long visit to the island. Colombo clearly thought it had done everything to ensure a good report card. Instead Dr Pillay lambasted the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa for large-scale abuses of democracy.

The unjustified impeachment of the Chief Justice and the use of surveillance, intimidation, harassment and disappearance to stifle dissent: these are just some of the deeply worrying abuses she logged during her stay. The end of the brutal civil war brought the opportunity, she said, “to construct a new, vibrant, all-embracing state”, in which the minorities could play their parts on terms of equality with the majority Sinhalese. Instead, the country “is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction”.

Sri Lanka has long been adept at observing the forms of democracy while neglecting the principles on which it rests. Too often pluralism, transparency, equal opportunity and the right to dissent have been honoured more in the breach than the observance.

The country has a troubled history. It endured a brutal civil war lasting from 1983 to 2009. The attempt by the Tamil Tigers to cut the island in two – which would-be peacemakers, including Britain, often appeared to endorse – caused deep bitterness in Colombo. Many Sinhalese believe that the ghastly bloodshed of the final battle, in which an unknown number of civilians died, was the only way to break out of the nightmare of war. And the West’s insistence that alleged war crimes committed during the battle be investigated has deepened the government’s isolation. The acknowledgement by Dr Pillay, herself a Tamil, that the Tigers were “murderous” and a “ruthless organisation” did not go far enough to reverse that. 

But for a country with such vast potential, the urge to turn inwards is profoundly unhealthy. It could also be very bad for business. If foreign investors see the island’s politics as “increasingly authoritarian”, with important judicial appointments subject to the fiat of the elite, their confidence in its level playing field for business may be fatally weakened.

Sri Lanka still has a chance. In two months, the Commonwealth heads of government descend on Colombo for their annual summit. Canada has threatened to boycott the event because of the Sri Lankan government’s human rights record and the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has urged David Cameron not to attend for the same reason. This newspaper agrees. But the likelihood is that the meeting will go ahead as planned, in which case it will be a golden opportunity for Colombo to prove its critics wrong. Re-arranging the scenery will not be enough.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: the strange case of the errant royal pronoun

Guy Keleny
Flowers and candles are placed at the site where a refrigerated truck with decomposing bodies was found by an Austrian motorway  

EU migrant crisis: The 71 people found dead in a lorry should have reached sanctuary

Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future