Sri Lanka under fire for lack of Tamil reconciliation
After defeating the Tamil Tigers this spring, the country has delayed the return of more than 250,000 displaced Tamils, citing concerns about mines and potential terrorists.
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Human rights abuses
In late August, President Rajapaksa told Forbes magazine, "I want to be the leader who brings permanent peace and development to this country," as well as reconciliation with Tamil communities, he added.
But even as the government promises to bring reconciliation, in recent weeks a series of alarming reports have come out of Sri Lanka. Tamils, who constitute around 12 percent of the population of 20 million, have endured decades of institutionalized discrimination at the hands of the Sinhalese.
Only days before Mr. Rajapaksa's comment, British television aired a video that apparently showed soldiers killing unarmed, naked, and blindfolded Tamils – which would constitute a serious violation of international law – during the last and bloodiest phase of the war.
The footage was obtained by Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, an organization made up of several dozen expatriate Sri Lankan journalists, which said the film was taken by a Sri Lankan soldier in January using his mobile phone.
The government has said the footage is "doctored." But Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has said he hoped the UN would open an investigation into the video.
Less dramatic but equally important, the government is also failing to develop a long-promised political settlement for the Tamils.
That settlement – which is included in the country's Constitution and widely accepted as a vital condition for peace – involves giving Tamils some measure of regional devolution.
But Rajapaksa said recently he would delay that solution until after his reelection, which may happen next year.
It is not surprising that Rajapaksa feels no sense of urgency. An ardent Sinhalese nationalist, his popularity ratings have soared since the Tigers were vanquished. The government has said the economy is expected to grow by 5 percent this year – double what was previously expected, after the International Monetary Fund agreed to a $2.6 billion loan. And tourist numbers are beginning to pick up.
Nor is Rajapaksa is likely to be swayed by international pressure. Sri Lanka is expected to lose a valuable trade concession granted by the European Union after it failed to meet its terms, which include stipulations on human rights. But Sri Lanka has forged friendships with other parts of the world, including China, Libya, and Pakistan, thus reducing its economic dependence on Europe and the US.
In the end, says Mr. Perera, the only thing likely to change the government's behavior is democracy. As more elections are held in Tamil-heavy areas once ruled by the LTTE, the government, "will need to build up Tamil votes," he says. "At the moment the government does not see the price it will have to pay [for its treatment of the Tamils] but it will have to pay – and that, we hope, will make it change."