Ilankai Tamil Sangam

24th Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Losing Sri Lanka

Editorial by The Wall Street Journal, February 11, 2010

Mr. Rajapaksa promised the world that "the highest standards of rights will be upheld" on his watch in an op-ed in these pages less than a week ago. If he continues on present course he's risking his credibility. He also risks the peace for which Sri Lankans sacrificed so much.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's wide election victory last month handed him a unique opportunity to put his country on a peaceful, democratic and prosperous path after 26 years of civil war. He's already throwing it away.

Exhibit A is Monday's arrest of Sarath Fonseka, Mr. Rajapaksa's election opponent and the recently retired general who won the war against the terrorist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Mr. Fonseka has yet to be charged with anything, and in the fever swamp of Sri Lankan politics there's certainly good reason for skepticism about any accusations leveled at him. Even if charges of some sort are eventually proven, politics is the best explanation for why this is happening now.

The weeks since the January 26 election have seen a steady erosion of civil rights as Mr. Rajapaksa has tried to consolidate power. The crackdown on opposition press has been especially noticeable. One journalist has disappeared, another has been detained, a newspaper has been closed down, and several independent and opposition Web sites have been blocked, among other instances recorded by Reporters Without Borders.

Mr. Fonseka's arrest fits this pattern. Despite his electoral defeat he had become a focal point for the otherwise fractious opposition. That matters especially ahead of parliamentary elections due by April. And he had threatened recently to testify about human-rights abuses during the war against the Tigers, which at a minimum could prove embarrassing for Mr. Rajapaksa.

The crackdown is all the more shocking because one of the country's great feats was preserving its democracy through the decades-long war. Now Sri Lanka needs that democracy to hash out complex political questions left in the war's wake, not least how to address the legitimate grievances of moderate minority Tamils. Creating a fearful climate that stifles free debate will make it harder to resolve these issues peacefully.

Mr. Rajapaksa promised the world that "the highest standards of rights will be upheld" on his watch in an op-ed in these pages less than a week ago. If he continues on present course he's risking his credibility. He also risks the peace for which Sri Lankans sacrificed so much.