(Washington, DC; April 20, 2016) A new report by People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) provides details of ongoing militarization and harassment amongst the Tamil population of the North-East of Sri Lanka, over one year after the change in presidency and seven months after the election of the United National Party-led national government.
Despite positive statements and overtures towards reconciliation by President Maithripala Sirisena’s government, prospects for a sustainable peace on the island are diminishing. The report explores why Sri Lanka’s elusive peace remains out of reach, detailing ongoing human rights violations, the militarization of the North-East, and obfuscation from the government on key issues such as accountability.
Continuing human rights violations in the North-East include violence and harassment by members of the security forces, occupation of traditional Tamil lands acquired illegally, torture and sexual violence of Tamils, absence of answers for families of the “disappeared,” and the continued detention of Tamil political prisoners without charge. The military remains heavily involved in civilian activities, such as running shops, farms, hotels and even pre-schools.
“Sri Lanka’s continuing lack of progress on key issues such as accountability and demilitarization throws into question the government’s sincerity and political will to implement the pledges it has made,” PEARL’s Advocacy Director Mario Arulthas said. “The government could have taken strong, concrete measures to build confidence amongst Tamils over the last 15 months, but instead has continued policies in place under the Rajapaksa regime. This is not conducive for accountability and for an end to decades of state-impunity for crimes, both of which are integral to a lasting peace on the island.”
For Sri Lanka to experience lasting reconciliation between all communities on the island, the grievances of the Tamil people must be addressed. This requires justice for the mass atrocities committed throughout the armed conflict, and significant changes to the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist nature of the state. Sustainable peace and reconciliation will require the government to act meaningfully, expeditiously, and in good faith when addressing Tamils’ legitimate misgivings and distrust, while also educating the Sinhala polity on the need for credible accountability and an inclusive, pluralistic society.
Sri Lanka must implement a comprehensive transitional justice program in line with international best practices, which includes criminal prosecutions, reparations, institutional reform and truth commissions. But before justice and a political solution can take root, the Government must immediately take steps to de-militarize and stop all ongoing human rights violations against Tamil communities in the North-East.