In the wake of mass protests that forced President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to resign in July 2022, Sri Lanka’s interlocking economic and governance crises remain acute. Austerity measures, introduced in part to win financial support from the International Monetary Fund and foreign creditors, have brought additional economic hardship for many Sri Lankans already struggling with collapsing living standards. Forthcoming economic reforms could provoke renewed protests. President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reliance on Rajapaksa allies for his parliamentary majority will likely constrain fulfilment of promises to increase financial accountability, strengthen rule of law institutions, reduce impunity and corruption, ensure the rights of Tamils and Muslims, and address the legacy of the 1983-2009 civil war. Building on Crisis Group’s work during and after the war, we advocate for international humanitarian assistance, as well as inclusive governance reforms to strengthen democratic institutions and support a lasting, equitable peace.
Sri Lanka's interlocking economic and political crises remain acute. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group lays out what the EU and its member states can do to mitigate the risks of needed reforms.
Tentative signs emerged of economic improvement, UN Human Rights Council reviewed govt’s accountability progress, and tensions surfaced in Tamil-majority Northern Province.
Economic and humanitarian suffering eased slightly. Figures late month showed inflation in June fell to 12% from 25.2% in April. With rupee’s value rising, Central Bank 1 June cut interest rates by 2.5%. UN and World Food Programme assessed that number of citizens who were “moderately acute food insecure” fell from 6.2m to 3.9m. Following brief visit, International Monetary Fund deputy managing director 2 June announced “economic recovery remains challenging” notwithstanding “tentative signs of improvement”. World Bank 28 June approved $700mn in budgetary and welfare support. Main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) 29 June announced it would vote against the govt's proposals for domestic debt restructuring, made public same day.
Human Rights Council continued accountability oversight as govt pledged further progress. In oral update to 53rd session of UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) on 21 June, Deputy High Commissioner Nada Al-Nashif called on authorities to “directly acknowledge past violations and undertake credible investigations and prosecutions, alongside other accountability measures”, with “the international community play[ing] a complementary role”. Ahead of meeting, President Wickremesinghe 8 June reviewed “progress of initiatives” on govt’s “Reconciliation Action Plan”. Justice Minister 18 June signalled Truth and Reconciliation Commission draft will be circulated in July. Eight prominent international human rights and rule of law NGOs 16 June strongly criticised “ongoing violations of fair trial rights” of lawyer and human rights defender Hejaaz Hizbullah, who was arrested in 2020 under Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Inter-communal tensions rose in Tamil-majority Northern Province. Tensions rose to dangerous levels over disputed area in Northern Province where Buddhist stupa – known as Kurundi Vihara – has recently been built with military assistance and against court orders, reportedly blocking access to long-standing Hindu pilgrimage site. Prominent Buddhist nationalist organisations 21 June gathered “in defence of” Kurundi Vihara. Police 7 June arrested Tamil legislator and Tamil National People’s Front Leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam at his Colombo residence on charges of “obstructing police duties” following altercation on 2 June with plainclothes police in Jaffna, in Northern Province.
[Sanctions for Sri Lankan officials] are a timely reminder that continued impunity will bring increasing costs to the government’s international reputation.
Originally published in The Hindustan Times.
Crowds of ordinary Sri Lankans stormed the presidential residence on 9 July, compelling President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan lays out the background of these events and looks at what the immediate future may hold.
Sri Lanka is embroiled in nationwide protests amid deepening economic woes and increasing political volatility. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Alan Keenan analyses the implications of the crisis, which could have lasting political and economic effects.
Sri Lanka’s president has named a veteran anti-Muslim agitator to head a legal reform task force. Critics have called the move “incomprehensible”, but it is readily understood as a way to divert discontent among the government’s Sinhala Buddhist base toward an embattled minority.
The UN Human Rights Council will soon discuss Sri Lanka, where the new government has scotched truth and justice efforts related to the 1983-2009 civil war. The Council should demand accountability for past crimes but stress that Colombo’s present policies may spark further deadly conflict.
The politically-motivated Presidential Commission of Enquiry has been distorting politically-connected criminal suspects into victims, and investigators and legal reformers into criminals.
Twice postponed because of COVID-19, Sri Lanka's parliamentary election finally took place on 5 August. The SLPP's electoral victory should be understood not simply as a result of dissatisfaction with rival party UNP, but of the failure of its internationally-backed liberal reform agenda to gain lasting traction with Sri Lankan voters.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government appears headed for a constitutional crisis that could lastingly damage Sri Lanka’s political institutions and aggravate conflict risks. Firm and concerted action by the country’s international partners could help break the impasse, which comes amid rising authoritarianism and anti-Muslim propaganda.
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