January 25, 2018
A cursory look at Sri Lanka and the forces that shape her going into the 21st century.
A civil war in Sri Lanka, an island nation off the southern tip of India, raged intermittently between 1983 and 2009 – fuelled in part by tensions between the ethnic majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils.
Over 1,00,000 Sri Lankans were driven out of the country as part of the anti-Tamil pogrom in the early 1980s. These refugees continue to live in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu with their state of homelessness lost on most.
The violence that started in 1983 ended in May 2009 when the government forces seized the last area controlled by Tamil Tiger rebels. The fight against the government was led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant organization founded by V Prabhakaran that sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of Sri Lanka.
The island nation – Ceylon as it was called then – was ruled by the Portuguese, the Dutch and then finally by the British for nearly 150 years until 1948 when the country gained its independence.
In recent years, the country’s President Maithripala Sirisena ordering the reinstatement of ban on women buying alcohol or in places where it is served. The President’s order came days after the finance minister revoked the 38-year ban in this mostly conservative Buddhist nation.
Protecting former army chief
The President was in the news in 2017 for vowing to protect a former army chief accused of crimes committed in the final phase of the country’s civil war in 2009.
“I state very clearly that I will not allow anyone in the world to touch Jagath Jayasuriya or any other military chief or any war hero in this country,” the media reported the President as saying.
Sirisena’s statement came a week after rights groups filed criminal lawsuits in South America against Jayasuriya, who served as the country’s envoy to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru and Suriname.
The lawsuits allege that Jayasuriya oversaw military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people.
Human Rights Violations
More than 100,000 people are believed to have been killed in Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, including 40,000 to 70,000 in the final phase. At the height of the conflict, some 800,000 people were displaced.
In a joint resolution in 2015 at the UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka promised, among other things, a judicial mechanism to prosecute those accused of human rights abuses.
However, little progress has been made.
Sri Lanka made headlines in 2017 when it sold a 70 percent stake of its Hambantota port, which straddles the world’s busiest east-west shipping route, for US$1.12 billion to a Chinese company.
The China Merchants Ports Holdings will run the newly-constructed port over a 99-year period. The President said the deal will help Sri Lanka tide over mounting debts and add another important link in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.