Political Instability & Genocide in the Asia Pacific

Risks and forecasts

Sri Lanka is something of an anomaly as the only institutionally democratic state to have committed genocide.

by Charles R. Butcher, Benjamin E. Goldsmith, Dimitri Semenovich, Arcot Sowmya, Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Sydney, & University of New South Wales, August 2012


..Although the risk of genocide appears to be appreciably lower than it was 20 to 30 years ago, Myanmar, Sri-Lanka, and Afghanistan still appear in our top 15 states at risk of genocide…With the exception of Sri Lanka in 2009 (by our coding) there has not been
a single case of (recorded) ongoing genocide in Asia since 1992…

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is something of an anomaly as the only institutionally democratic state to have committed genocide.52 Indeed, in our study, Sri Lanka is a ‘repeat offender’ having targeted left-wing political opposition (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna or JVP) in 1989-1990 and Tamil separatists during the siege of Jaffna in 2009.53 These past genocides place Sri Lanka at a high risk of using large-scale mass murder in response to future instability. Sri Lanka is also one of the most militarised countries on the planet with 174,000 active military personnel in a country with a population of just 21 million, about 83 soldiers per 10,000 population. In addition, the executive in Sri Lanka, under
the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa, is steadily releasing itself from the constraints imposed by accountability mechanisms in the parliament and judiciary. In April 2010 a constitutional amendment was passed that abolished presidential term limits and the Constitutional Council – an independent body overseeing the civil service, police, human rights, corruption and state finances. The powers of the Constitutional Council passed over to the ‘Parliamentary Council’ to be appointed by the President. The president now also has the power to appoint Supreme Court justices and the attorney general.54 As such, the measure of executive constraints fell from 5 in 2009
to 4 in 2010. This is a worrying trend given Sri Lanka’s high proportion of people under arms. Sri Lanka’s Tamil population continue to face state-led discrimination. In 2012, Human Rights Watch noted that Tamils were subjected to torture and forced to participate in pro-government rallies. The fate of suspected LTTE supporters in the East and North of Sri-Lanka remains uncertain and the Sri Lankan government has failed to establish an independent investigation of war crimes committed in the final stages on the conflict during 2009.55


52 Sri Lanka had a rating of “6” on the widely used Polity scale in 2009. Six or 7 are commonly used minimum threshold for a categorization as “democratic” (http://www.systemicpeace.org/polity/SriLanka2010.pdf).

54 Neil DeVotta (2011) Sri Lanka: From Turmoil to Dynasty. Journal of Democracy 22(2): Pg 138.In addition to these institutional changes the Mahinda Rajapaksa has installed family members in keygovernment positions. It is estimated that Rajapaksa and two of his brothers (Gotabaya and Basil) exercisedirect control over 94 government departments and 70% of the national budget.


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