The Sentinel Project for Genocide Prevention/January 2014
1.0 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The risk of mass atrocities in Sri Lanka reached a critical threshold from January through May 2009, when the government of Sri Lanka intensified efforts to militarily eliminate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1983. As hostilities escalated in the conflict zone, cinilians trapped between the LTTE and Sri Lanka government’s armed forces became victims of mass atrocity crimes.
In April 2009, leading human rights advocates called on the UN Security Council to take immediate action to prevent human rights violations in Sri Lanka. They urged the Security Council to uphold the ” responsibility to protect”100,000 civilians at risk of mass atrocities in northern Sri Lanka.Almost five years later, the risk of mass atrocities in Sri Lanka remains high. This report addresses some of the underlying sources of the risk of mass atrocities that
represent a threat to human security in Sri Lanka.
Under President Rajapaksha’s mandate, the operational freedom of state security agencies has been reinforced with an ever–‐greater concentration of power.
Consequently, the military has been tasked with the reconstruction of devastated Tamil areas in the north, the heavy militarization of which remains one of the main obstacles to the region’s recovery since the Sri Lankan military has assumed an economic role in not only overseeing but also approving development projects. The military’s freedom of action represents a potent example of socioeconomic deprivation of a specific group based on the treatment of Tamils as second–‐class citizens by the Sri Lankan government.
The high increment of the 2013 military budget has fueled concerns that have been raised by both ethnic Tamils and international human rights groups about the increasing presence of the military in the north. Moreover, military presence hinders the resolution of tensions between Tamils and the Sri Lankan government, especially in its increasing reliance on violence to quell political dissidence.
Additionally, the defeat of the LTTE in 2009 has done little to address the concerns and fears of the Tamils as they relate to Sinhalese domination. Instead of forming more inclusive relationships with the minority, the Sinhalese government has used this transitional period to reassert Sinhalese power. The subsequent ”Sinhalaisation” of the North risks renewing tensions between Tamils and Sinhalese Government as it fails to address the old grievances that precipitated the civil war. In the Sri Lankan case, the continued appeal to Sinhalese nationalism by President Rajapaksa has done little to improve ethnic relations between the Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic groups.
The Rajapaksa government continues to undermine any power sharing efforts that have been proposed by Tamil moderates who are seeking a peaceful resolution to their grievances. Although the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has emerged as a formidable voice for Tamils in Sri Lanka, the federal government consistently refuses to concede any significant power to them, even resorting to violent attacks on TNA supporters perpetrated by police in order to silence them. Additionally, police and military forces, as well as Sinhalese militias, continue to resort violence, including intimidation, disappearances, arbitrary arrests, torture, and even murder to restrain any opposition to the government.
The increasing consolidation of power by the president and his family has further eroded the remaining semblance of democracy in Sri Lanka by gradually eliminating any persons or systems of accountability. The government has refused to investigate war crimes and other atrocities committed by its military forces during the last phase of the civil war.
Violence remains a real risk for journalists, which is only heightened by the impunity that perpetrators enjoy. Moreover, the Sri Lankan government continues to rely on restrictive legislation enacted during the civil war in order to suppress the freedom of expression in peacetime.
Within Sri Lanka, numerous commissions of inquiry have failed to investigate these findings during the last decade. Additionally, genuine investigations or fact–‐finding missions have yet to be established, and there is no sign of improvement regarding national efforts. Both the Sri Lanka government’s military strategy to fight the LTTE in northern Sri Lanka as well as LTTTE’s counter strategy constituted violations of international law and standards and often amounted to criminal conduct.
Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity manifests as the under-enforcement of International Human Rights law. The operational freedom given to the military and police poses a risk of mass atrocities since it presents the opportunity for both the established regime and its challengers to either fortify or transform the existing order by eliminating threats and consolidating power.
The displacement of 470,000 people from the northern provinces during the civil war has also increased resentment by ethnic Tamils against the Sri Lankan government and military. This resentment could manifest into increased anti–‐government protests, which will undoubtedly lead to violent clashes between the two ethnic groups and subsequently extreme measures to subdue further challenges to government authority.