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
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recognised as one of the fastes...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager - Refrigeration

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Finance Manager - Central London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Business Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the endless and beginningless election campaign goes up and down

John Rentoul
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

What the advertising world can learn from Zoella's gang

Danny Rogers
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor