Sri Lankan Government Faces Uphill Battle

Pressure on the Sri Lankan government continues to mount as they appear not to be pursuing any genuine plan of reconciliation.
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Pressure on the Sri Lankan government continues to mount as they appear not to be pursuing any genuine plan of reconciliation.

With neither President Mahinda Rajapaksa's regime nor the Tamil political parties being able to agree on any productive steps that can be taken to ensure reconciliation, the government is now facing a third U.S.-sponsored resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

As the country prepares to face this resolution, in what appears to be a losing battle, there seems to be little know-how on the part of the government in solving the issues before them. "Reconciliation" and "accountability" are words being brandished in the direction of the Sri Lankan government, yet neither is appearing on the regime's to-do list.

Accountability, which goes hand-in-hand with reconciliation, is foremost for the government following a 30-year civil war. To imagine that atrocities were not carried out by both sides during the conflict is naïve. When originally given the task of investigating the conduct of the military during the final stages of the war, the government appointed a military tribunal to do so. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, rejected the findings of these tribunals, describing them as lacking "independence and transparency." The government responded at Geneva by accusing Pillay of exceeding her mandate.

The government's apparent unwillingness to investigate the armed forces stems from their popularity, which resulted from the successful military campaign carried out against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam) in 2009.

Following the unearthing of two mass graves in the former war zones (80 bodies were discovered in Mannar in January, and nine others were discovered in Mullaitivu in February), the government has attempted to downplay their significance. The determined nature of the government to absolve the armed forces before any investigations are complete only serve to further distance themselves from any possible reconciliation.

In fact, last year's Provincial Council elections in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province saw an overwhelming majority vote in favor of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). There was a clear division not only on political lines but also ethnic lines. With support dwindling among the minorities for a regime that prides itself on the belief that it united a war-torn country, a strong support base among the Sinhala majority must be maintained. Any moves to prosecute members of the Sinhala-dominated armed forces would only serve to weaken the regime's popular standing.

Away from the accountability front, the government and the TNA have seen their attempted reconciliation talks hit a deadlock for the past two years. With neither side willing to soften their stance, a political settlement is slipping away. The government's two-thirds majority in Parliament had them at an advantage over the TNA during political discussions, yet this had not been exploited by the regime, which has instead let the discussions end prematurely.

As the international community's demands for fresh investigations gain momentum, the government has refused any foreign involvement, a stance that has now pushed the regime into a corner. Their noncompliance with the world powers has opened the door for the TNA to embark upon a campaign of winning over the support of the foreign community. The government's hostile foreign policy has left them on the back foot. As international support for the government continues to diminish, leaving Sri Lanka isolated on the world stage, popular support back home will also reduce.

With the support of the international community and the minorities back home abandoning the Rajapaksa regime, they have turned their attention to consolidating their position among the Sinhala majority. In the past couple of years, religious intolerance has been on the rise with the emergence of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist groups. While not having any direct links to the government, the groups have been able to stir up nationalist sentiment over the growing criticism by the rest of the world against the government. This has opened the door for the government to step in under the pretext of defending the people of Sri Lanka from foreign intervention.

Unfortunately for the government, at the same time, the groups continue to further distance the ruling coalition from the minorities in Sri Lanka and the international community. The regime's inability to suppress these groups and their acts of religious intolerance early in the peace has left them in a precarious situation. To continue to turn a blind eye to the nationalists will leave them reliant solely on the support of the Sinhalese. In turn, if the government were to clamp down on the groups, they would lose the support of the nationalists without any assurances that the minorities would support them.

The road ahead for the Sri Lankan government appears bleak. Genuine reconciliation efforts seem to be the only answer. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the government has pushed themselves beyond redemption.

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