‘A mechanism to monitor Sri Lanka`s human rights is needed’

Alan Keenan is the Sri Lanka director of the International Crisis Group (ICG) whose recent report outlines a consolidation of power in Colombo, calling for an international response to an apparently authoritarian turn. Speaking with Sameer Arshad, Keenan discussed a growing lack of accountability, pressure on the judiciary and minority groups — and the steps he thinks the international community must take:

According to the ICG, how is Sri Lanka`s consolidation of power impacting the process of post-war reconciliation?

There is no process of reconciliation or accountability — the government has made no attempt to remedy the long-standing poli-tical marginalisation of Tamils. It has made it clear it has no intention to devolve meaningful power to Tamil and Muslim areas in the north and east. It has refused to acknowledge the terrible suffering of Tamils and the loss of civilian lives in the last stages of the war, focussing only on the sacrifices of government troops.

Also, it has refused to conduct any independent investigations into alleged war crimes by government and LTTE forces or other violations of human rights suffered by members of all of Sri Lanka`s communities. The further concentration of power in the Rajapaksa family and the executive, achieved through the impeachment of the chief justice, will make reconciliation and accountability even harder.

What does such a situation mean for minority rights?

The rights of Tamils and Muslims are under grave threat. Tamils have long suffered from a denial of their collective right to self-rule within a united Sri Lanka as well as from a regular denial of many of their indivi-dual civil and political rights. These problems have continued and, in some ways, grown worse since the end of the war.

Unfortunately, Muslims, generally treated better by the government, have now come under sustained attack by extremist Sinhala Buddhist groups. Unless the government takes decisive action, there is a real danger of communal violence against Muslims.

What prevented Sri Lanka from complying with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) March 2012 resolution on reconciliation and accountability?

The lack of political will. Our report demonstrates that the Sri Lankan government has repeatedly refused to live up to its promises to the UN secretary-general, the UNHRC, the Indian prime minister and ministers of external affairs, the US secretary of state, Tamil political leaders — even their own Sinhala political constituency.

What international res-ponse does the ICG now seek?

All governments and multilateral organisations with ties to Sri Lanka must review their relations and use whatever leverage they have to communicate to it the urgent need for tangible reforms. The UNHCR should also vote to establish an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes by both sides. Ultimately, what`s needed is a sustained mechanism for monitoring the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. All those who care about rights, protections and sustainable peace in Sri Lanka are hoping the Indian government will support this.

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