Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's new president Gotabaya Rajapaksa speaks after taking oath of office during his swearing-in ceremony at the Ruwanwelisaya temple in Anuradhapura on November 18, 2019. AFP/Lakruwan Wanniarachchi

What happened?

On 16 November, Gotabaya Rajapaksa – who served as defence secretary during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war – won a decisive victory in Sri Lanka’s presidential election.

Although Rajapaksa’s victory was not a surprise, the margin of his win exceeded expectations among many analysts. The candidate of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and brother of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya (who, like Mahinda, is widely known by his first name) captured 52.25 per cent of the vote. His main rival, Sajith Premadasa, candidate of the ruling United National Party (UNP), came in second with 42 per cent.…  Seguir leyendo »

South Asia Turn to Illiberal Democracy

The return of the Rajapaksa brothers to power in Sri Lanka drew delighted cheers from their Buddhist nationalist supporters this weekend. But it should bring a shudder of alarm from those concerned for the island’s future.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the nation’s wartime defence chief, emerged as a comfortable winner on Sunday after a presidential poll on Saturday marked by deep ethnic divisions – signaling a likely return to the autocratic style favored by his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served as president from 2005 to 2015.

More importantly, the result fits a broader and more alarming trend: the rise of illiberal democracy in South Asia as Sri Lanka joins India and Bangladesh in particular in backing nationalist strongman leaders with scant concern for the niceties of constitutional rule.…  Seguir leyendo »

A supporter of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), former secretary to the Ministry of Defence and presidential candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, holds election posters at the party's election office in Biyagama, in the outskirts of the capital Colombo. AFP/ISHARA S. KODIKARA

As Sri Lankans head to the polls to elect a new president on 16 November, Gotabaya Rajapaksa stands as the widely acknowledged front runner. As defence secretary during his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s decade-long presidency ending in 2015, he was a leading figure in a government that many minority Tamils and Muslims, as well as opposition politicians, blame for terrible political violence and repression. During that period, dozens of journalists were killed or forced into exile, prominent Tamil politicians were murdered, and thousands of Sri Lankans were forcibly disappeared; no one has since been held accountable for those crimes. Gotabaya is expected to name his brother prime minister, as Mahinda is constitutionally term-limited from seeking the presidency.…  Seguir leyendo »

On May 29, 1915, a large group of Buddhists celebrating the festival of Vesak made its way through the streets of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. When the noisy procession — with its elephants, drummers and singers — approached a mosque, some Muslims hooted and hollered.

In response, some procession members attacked Muslims and the mosque, triggering nine days of riots across the country. By the end of the violence, 25 Muslims lay dead and more than 4,000 Muslim shops, houses and mosques were damaged or destroyed. This was the first of at least nine anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka over the last century, the most recent of which occurred this week.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man praying at a mosque in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Friday.CreditCreditIshara S. Kodikara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Two days after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, I met my greengrocer at the Colpetty market, a symbol of the cosmopolitan city that I call home. I have known Ashraff virtually all my life. He did not have his usual half-smile on his face, and when I went up to him to say goodbye, I could see he was troubled.

Eventually, shaking his head in sorrow, with tears in his eyes, he told me that the day before, someone he had known for 35 years, a man from Sri Lanka’s Sinhala majority, had said he could no longer be his friend.…  Seguir leyendo »

What are the implications of the recent terrorist attacks for the country?

The political parties met last week at an all-party conference to try and forge a new security culture in the wake of these attacks. This brought together key players such as current President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wikremesinghe as well as formidable political figures like the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The intent at the moment seems to be to try to present a united front recognizing the scale of the crisis – and one hopes that the enormity of what happened will bring everyone together.

How likely is it that Sri Lankan society will come together to present a united front in response to the attacks?…  Seguir leyendo »

Police officers work at the scene at St. Sebastian Catholic Church, after bomb blasts ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Easter, in Negombo, Sri Lanka 22 April, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Sri Lankans from all ethnic and religious groups – Sinhalese and Tamil, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and Hindu – lived through terrible violence during the decades of war and terrorism that ended ten years ago. Still, no one was prepared for Easter Sunday’s atrocities, whose death toll – now over 300, with more than 500 injured – and degree of organisation make them Sri Lanka’s worst-ever terror attack. The damage to the country’s already torn social fabric is likely to be immense.

Amid the shock, grief and anger, there is also bewilderment. For many, the attacks seem to have come from nowhere.…  Seguir leyendo »

Police officers survey graves prepared for the victims of the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka. (Atul Loke/Getty Images)

Bombs ripped through three churches and four hotels in a series of attacks in Sri Lanka on Sunday morning. The casualty count currently stands at more than 300 dead and more than 500 injured. What do we know about the attacks, and their impact?

For many Sri Lankans, the bombings brought back the trauma of the country’s 26-year-long civil war between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), commonly known as the Tamil Tigers. For some, it was the ever-present fear of suicide attacks; for others, the terror of checkpoints and an unfettered security state.

On Monday, the Sri Lankan government blamed National Thowheed Jamaath (NTJ), a homegrown Muslim extremist group.…  Seguir leyendo »

Avant même que l’Etat islamique ne revendique les attaques qui ont ensanglanté le Sri Lanka dimanche, faisant au moins 310 morts et environ 500 blessés, le ministre de la Défense, Ruwan Wijewardene, avait déclaré que la vague d’attentats était le fait d’un seul groupe et que les coupables avaient été identifiés : des extrémistes religieux. Selon ce haut responsable, des kamikazes seraient responsables de la majorité des attentats de la matinée. Le gouvernement a imposé un couvre-feu avec effet immédiat. Il a également fermé les médias sociaux et les services de messagerie afin d’éviter la diffusion de rumeurs qui sont souvent, au Sri Lanka, à l’origine d’émeutes.…  Seguir leyendo »

Islam contra islam

Despierto esta mañana de Pascua conmocionado por la noticia de los salvajes atentados en Sri Lanka. No es casualidad que se busque transformar la celebración cristiana de la Resurrección en un día de muerte. Cuando escribo estas líneas se sigue concretando la autoría, pero dos cosas parecen claras: que los ataques tienen un sesgo anticristiano, y que sus responsables buscan no sólo sembrar terror sino también, y sobre todo, odio. Porque un estado de terror es siempre pasajero, pero el odio permanece como la polución, en ocasiones visible, imperceptible otras veces, y contaminando casi todo.

Los españoles, que hemos sufrido no sólo el terrorismo que se autodescribe -falsamente- como islámico, sino sobre todo décadas de terror por parte de ETA, sentimos una particular empatía ante este tipo de hechos.…  Seguir leyendo »

Au-delà du drame humain vécu par la population sri-lankaise [au moins 310 morts et 500 blessés le 21 avril], les attentats de Pâques soulèvent des questions complexes. Car nul ne s’attendait à ce que ce pays soit visé par des attentats d’une telle ampleur. L’île a certes un passé de violence intercommunautaire, qui a laissé des traces profondes : il y a précisément dix ans, l’armée sri-lankaise écrasait la rébellion séparatiste menée par les Tigres de libération de l’Eelam tamoul, mettant fin à près de trente ans de guerre civile. Cet épilogue brutal a donné à la population un sentiment illusoire de sécurité, mais il n’avait pas mis fin à la violence latente résultant notamment de l’exacerbation des émotions identitaires.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Sri Lankan government briefly blocked Facebook in March 2018, saying posts appeared to have incited anti-Muslim violence. Credit Ishara S. Kodikara/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This is the ugly conundrum of the digital age: When you traffic in outrage, you get death.

So when the Sri Lankan government temporarily shut down access to American social media services like Facebook and Google’s YouTube after the bombings there on Easter morning, my first thought was “good.”

Good, because it could save lives. Good, because the companies that run these platforms seem incapable of controlling the powerful global tools they have built. Good, because the toxic digital waste of misinformation that floods these platforms has overwhelmed what was once so very good about them. And indeed, by Sunday morning so many false reports about the carnage were already circulating online that the Sri Lankan government worried more violence would follow.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Tragic Familiarity of the Sri Lanka Bombings

The series of suicide attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, which has left nearly 300 dead and hundreds injured, is more than just a national or religious tragedy. For members of the Sri Lankan diaspora, including Catholics like me, who have family connections to the very places and parishes that were attacked, the country’s tribulations are no longer terrible, local and hard to explain to people unfamiliar with its unsettled history. Now they are terrible, local — and familiar.

Much of the world knows the outlines of Sri Lanka’s historic troubles — a three-decade civil war, fought along ethnic lines and punctuated by hundreds of suicide bombings carried out by the Tamil Tiger terrorist organization.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mahinda Rajapaksa, prime minister of Sri Lanka, addressing the legislature on Thursday.CreditCreditM A Pushpa Kumara/EPA, via Shutterstock

Over the past few weeks, Sri Lanka has faced a moral and political crisis that threatens to undermine hope for democracy. On Oct. 26, Maithripala Sirisena, the president of Sri Lanka, appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa, the polarizing former president who ran Sri Lanka from 2005 to 2014, to replace the incumbent prime minister, Ranil Wickremasinghe.

At the heart of the crisis is Mr. Sirisena’s seeking to strengthen his political future through an alliance with Mr. Rajapaksa, who is making a bid for power.

The prospect of Mr. Rajapaksa’s return to power has revived fears of authoritarian rule and repression of the country’s long-embattled minorities.…  Seguir leyendo »

The gutted remains of a Muslim business torched in Kandy on Wednesday EPA

In the city of Kandy, located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, recent attacks against Muslims by Sinhala Buddhist militants have raised fears of increased communal violence. Social media images have shown the scale of damage to Muslim neighbourhoods, with arson attacks and vandalism of Muslim-owned stores and mosques. In response the government declared a 10-day state of emergency for the first time since the end of the civil war era.

What is clear is that the recent violence is not random or isolated. Just before these current attacks, there had been an earlier attack on a mosque and Muslim businesses in the southeastern town of Ampara.…  Seguir leyendo »

Buddhist Militancy Rises Again in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency for ten days to rein in the spread of communal violence, a government spokesperson said on Tuesday, a day after Buddhists and Muslims clashed in the Indian Ocean islands central district of Kandy. What are the reasons behind this latest communal violence in the country?

There are many factors behind the recent upsurge of violence against Sri Lankan Muslims. The events of the last ten days have not been local “clashes” between Buddhists and Muslims, but organised and targeted attacks by national-level militant groups who are well known and have made their intentions clear through traditional and social media.…  Seguir leyendo »

Japan and India are coordinating a plan to develop a port at Trincomalee, on Sri Lanka’s eastern coast. (Jonathan Hillman)

In December, a Chinese state-owned enterprise took over a port here in this small fishing town on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. The port was never intended to be Chinese-owned and operated, but it was Chinese-financed and built, creating a debt that Sri Lanka could not repay. As Sri Lanka celebrates 70 years of independence from British imperial rule, some fear the nation now faces a new form of colonialism.

The episode has turned tiny Hambantota into something of a global lighthouse. Sitting in the Indian Ocean, it serves as a warning about the hazards of China’s global infrastructure push, which could make small economies dependent even while helping them develop.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last week, the Associated Press published an explosive report documenting more than 50 Tamil men’s allegations that Sri Lanka’s security forces sexually assaulted and tortured them. Their accounts of gang rape, sexual humiliation, and penetration with barbed wire are supported by medical records and psychiatric evaluations. The details are stomach-turning. The news broke at an inconvenient time for Sri Lanka, which is up for its Universal Periodic Review at the U.N. Human Rights Council this week. The government delegation’s assurances of a “zero tolerance policy” on torture sat awkwardly alongside reports of abuses so shocking that one career human rights investigator described them as “the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.”

But it’s not just the brutality of the assaults that stands out; it’s their routine nature.…  Seguir leyendo »

Early Tuesday morning, news broke that Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil had fled the country. Colombo later announced that his departure was planned, and it was simply the end of his ambassadorial term, but the timing raised eyebrows. The previous day, human rights groups had filed a criminal complaint accusing Ambassador Jagath Jayasuriya of command responsibility for war crimes.

Jayasuriya, who is also Sri Lanka’s ambassador to five other Latin American countries, is a former army general. From 2007 to 2009, he oversaw the last phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The United Nations estimates that more than 40,000 Tamil civilians died in the final months of the conflict.…  Seguir leyendo »

In January 2015, the shock electoral defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa by his former ally, Maithripala Sirisena, rescued Sri Lanka from a slide into increasingly harsh nationalist authoritarianism. The victory of a broad coalition representing Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims gave hope that the country could begin to address its longstanding political challenges: remedying the 60-year failure to grant Tamils a fair share of power in the Sinhala majority island and restoring for all the rule of law, damaged by decades of politicization, bitter ethnic bias, and impunity for grave abuses committed during the civil war with the Tamil Tigers.

The momentum of the early months soon slowed, as deep political dysfunctions reasserted themselves in the face of reforms meant to shake up entrenched political practices and policies.…  Seguir leyendo »