CPA “gravely concerned” over ethnic relations on Independence Day

ECONOMYNEXT – The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Sri Lanka is expressing its grave concern with the state of ethnoreligious relations and threats to democratic institutions in Sri Lanka on the eve of Sri Lanka’s 73rd Independence Day.

The CPA says there is a “climate where the space for dissent is fast shrinking due to new levels of surveillance, incitement, and the targeting of minorities.”

In a statement released today Feb 2, CPA notes the spate of arrests and detentions of writers, lawyers and media personnel including Hejaaz Hizbullah, Ramzy Razeek & Ahnaf Jazeem to name a few such cases, where due process guarantees are undermined and questions as to the real motivation for such arrests have been raised.

“CPA is also deeply concerned with the arbitrary decision to impose forced cremations for Covid-19 deaths, a cruel policy decision void of any scientific basis that directly impacts and marginalises the Muslim community in Sri Lanka.”

“Compounding these worrying developments is the rising influence of Sinhala Buddhist ethnonationalism in state policy. This is evident in the influential role played by several leading Buddhist clergy as well as systematic efforts to change the ethnic demography in the North and East of the country that could lead to long term implications for electoral politics, coexistence and reconciliation.”

CPA pointed out that Independence Day provides a valuable opportunity to understand the key failings of successive governments that ruled the country after independence.

It said in particular failings in relation to building a peaceful and stable country with shared prosperity for all its citizens are shared.

“Over the past year, not only has the government displayed no efforts to improve ethnic relations in Sri Lanka, but government policies have actively exacerbated ethnic tensions and marginalised communities. The government’s failure in this regard is driven by its mistaken belief that it represents only those who voted for it and the inability to recognise the very political conflicts that underpinned the armed conflict in Sri Lanka,” it added.

CPA further notes the targeting of those who were instrumental in investigations, prosecutions and other initiatives to address accountability and transparency over the past years. A recent development in this regard is the report of the Presidential Commission on political victimisation that raises serious concerns on the integrity of ongoing and past judicial processes. Whilst the government is moving swiftly to implement the recommendations of this Presidential Commission on political victimisation, very little has been done to implement even limited recommendations of previous commissions on past abuses and violence. It is also deeply worrying that a new Presidential Commission was appointed in January to investigate, inquire into and implement the recommendations of previous Commissions “in line with the present Government policy”. This will only add to the already long list of such Commissions with little to no prospect of genuine action.

This is the first Independence Day held amidst a pandemic and a time to look beyond the pomp and pageantry to review the disturbing ground realities. CPA notes that the above challenges are worsened by an economic crisis that has highlighted the structural inequalities and hardships faced by many Sri Lankans. These economic and social challenges require urgent attention. To date, there is no comprehensive plan to address structural issues with the official rhetoric more focused on setting up task forces, giving prominence to former and serving military officials and ad-hoc assistance schemes.

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Thus, despite the celebrations this week, the situation in Sri Lanka is of serious concern. Historic mistakes are being repeated with the misguided belief that the outcome would be different on this occasion. As usual, much noise will be made revolving around the UN Human Rights Council process but the rhetoric is likely to be designed to distract and deflect. CPA urges caution with promises that are likely to be made and the need to focus on the real dangers at play in the country. The trends noted here must not be ignored. And it is time for all to robustly and peacefully challenge any threats to Sri Lanka’s fragile democracy.

Full statement can be accessed here
(Colombo, February 2, 2021)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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