The International Crisis Group (ICG) last week urged the Commonwealth Secretary General to refer Sri Lanka to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

The next CMAG meeting is scheduled to be held in London in April 2013.

The Brussels-based Non Governmental Organization ICG released a 37 page report on Sri Lanka passing severe strictures on the SL government.

The report says that CMAG should insist the Sri Lankan government to take substantial steps to restore the independence of the judiciary. Were it to refuse, the Commonwealth should relocate its November 2013 heads of government meeting, currently scheduled to take place in Colombo, or at the very least participants should downgrade their representation. “Strong international action should begin with Sri Lanka’s immediate referral to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and a new resolution from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) calling for concrete, time-bound actions to restore the rule of law, investigate rights abuses and alleged war crimes by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and devolve power to Tamil and Muslim areas of the north and east,” the report noted. 

The report titled “Sri Lanka’s Authoritarian Turn: The Need for International Action” further said the government’s attacks on the judiciary and political dissent have accelerated Sri Lanka’s authoritarian behavior and threaten long-term stability and peace.

The government’s politically motivated impeachment of the chief justice reveals both its intolerance of dissent and the weakness of the political opposition. By incapacitating the last  institutional check on the executive, the government has crossed a threshold into  new and dangerous terrain, threatening prospects for the eventual peaceful transfer  of power through free and fair elections. 

“Sri Lanka is faced with two worsening and inter-connected governance crises. The dismantling of the independent judiciary and other democratic checks on the executive and military will inevitably feed the growing ethnic tension resulting from the absence of power sharing and the denial of minority rights. Both crises have deepened with the Rajapaksa government’s refusal to comply with the HRC’s March 2012 resolution on reconciliation and accountability, it noted.

While the government claims to have implemented many of the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) – a key demand of the HRC’s resolution – there has in  fact been no meaningful progress on the most critical issues: the government has conducted no credible investigations into allegations of war crimes, disappearances or other serious human rights violations;  rather than establish independent institutions for oversight and investigation, the government has in effect removed the last remnants of judicial independence  through the impeachment of the chief justice, the reported added.

It further noted:  “There has been no progress toward a lasting and fair constitutional settlement of  the ethnic conflict through devolution of power;  the military still controls virtually all aspects of life in the north, intimidating and sidelining the civilian administration;  more than 90,000 people remain displaced in the north and east, amid continued land seizures by the military, with no effective right of appeal and no fair process for handling land disputes;  government security forces have broken up peaceful Tamil protests in the north, detained students on questionable charges of working with the LTTE and actively harassed Tamil politicians.

“The government has responded with force to protest and dissent in the south, too, deploying troops to prevent the newly impeached chief justice and supporters from visiting the Supreme Court while pro-government groups attacked lawyers protesting the impeachment.

“Analysts and government critics have warned of Sri Lanka’s growing authoritarianism since the final years of the civil war, but developments over the last year have worsened the situation. The president’s willingness and ability to push through the impeachment – in the face of contrary court rulings, unprecedented opposition from  civil society and serious international concern – confirms his commanding political  position.

“The move completes the “constitutional coup” initiated in September 2010 by the eighteenth amendment, which removed presidential term limits and the independence of government oversight bodies. It has sent a clear message to domestic critics that their dissent is unwelcome.  

“The consolidation of power paves the way for moves that could further set back chances of sustainable peace. The president and his two most powerful brothers – Defence Secretary Gotabhaya and Economic Development Minister Basil – have signalled their intention to weaken or repeal the provinces’ already minimal powers.

“As the government makes explicit its hostility to meaningful power sharing between the centre and the Tamil-speaking north and east, Tamil identity and political power are being systematically undermined by the military-led political and economic transformation of the Northern province”.

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