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: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
William Hague, addresses delegates at the Conservative party conference for the last time in his political career in Birmingham  

It’s only natural for politicians like William Hague to end up as journalists

Simon Kelner
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent