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Sri Lanka: Fear after the coup

Tuesday 6 November 2018, by siawi3


Sri Lanka crisis: activists fear end of human rights investigations

Wednesday 31 October 2018,

by Michael SAFI

Alleged past persecution of dissidents could be swept under the carpet if Mahinda Rajapaksa is restored to power

Ayesha Thajudeen was one of the first people on the scene of her brother’s accident. Police said Wasim, a Sri Lankan national rugby player, had crashed his car and burned to death inside. Surveying the charred vehicle, around 4am that morning, Ayesha wasn’t so sure.

The car was sitting in a ditch; it wasn’t clear what it had struck with enough force to burst into flames. Wasim’s wallet was nowhere to be found – a stranger later discovered it about 5km away. Strangest of all: Wasim was sitting in the passenger seat, she says.

“It was obvious from the moment I was taken to the site,†Ayesha says. “It was not a death, but a murder.â€

The death of Wasim Thajudeen, 28, was one of several during the Mahinda Rajapaksa era in Sri Lanka to be reexamined by police after the strongman leader was defeated in 2015.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people rallied in Colombo against a decision by Sri Lanka’s president to dismiss the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and install Rajapaksa in his place.

Wickremesinghe has refused to go and both he and Rajapaksa are rallying numbers in parliament to confirm them as the legitimate prime minister when the assembly resumes, currently scheduled for 16 November.

Activists fear Rajapaksa’s return would mark the end of a series of investigations, including under a UN human rights resolution, into crimes allegedly committed during his rule, and strain a post-civil war reconciliation process that was already stalling.

“The prospect of a Rajapaksa government is not good for accountability, democracy or human rights protection,†said lawyer Bhavani Fonseka, over the shouts of protesters in Colombo Plaza on Tuesday.

She said many of the investigations into Rajapaksa’s rule that commenced after he left office had dragged anyway in the past year. “But even those moving slowly are likely to stop if Rajapaksa comes back to government.â€

Namal Rajapaksa, an MP and the former president’s son, said the family’s critics had nothing to fear. “We are telling all, my father is not in the habit of taking revenge,†he told the Guardian. “We will bring stability to the country, especially the economy and then go for elections.â€

The current president, Maithripala Sirisena, defected from Rajapaksa’s government in 2014 to become the consensus candidate of the opposition. He framed himself as the alternative to a government accused of corruption, disappearing dissidents into white vans and intimidating the media.

Sirisena’s victory the following year was welcomed as a new page for Sri Lankan human rights and for relations between the country’s Buddhist majority and Tamil population after a 27-year civil war.

His government relaxed the pressure on media and NGOs, promised to end abuses by security agencies and co-sponsored a UN resolution whose demands included international trials for soldiers accused of wartime atrocities. It also agreed to reopen the investigation into the death of Wasim Thajudeen.

Members of the new government claimed Thajudeen had been murdered by Rajapaksa’s security forces, possibly after falling out with members of the family. Rajapaksa has denied the claims and says they are politically motivated.

The new probe initially raised Ayesha’s hopes. But in the past year the investigation has become bogged down in bureaucratic and legal delays. She believes the case is being deliberately slowed. “I feel very sad,†she says. “I don’t think I’m going to see an end to this.â€

The progress of the Thajudeen investigation reflects a wider lack of government action on human rights issues. Lawyers such as JC Weliamuna blame the fact the same Rajapaksa-era military and civilian bureaucrats remained in place in the new government.

The government also faced resistance from within. He says ultranationalist forces within Sirisena’s administration have fought efforts to comply with the UN investigation. Similarly, “elitist forces†inside Wickremesinghe’s more business-friendly party have delayed financial reforms, he says.

“Every time there was a move for reform, it was challenged within the government, as well as outside,†he says. “People feel terribly let down.â€

In the northern and eastern areas still recovering from the war, there is bitter disappointment over the absence of progress in settling displaced people, ending the excesses of security forces or drawing down the military.

In July, Sri Lanka was slammed by a UN special rapporteur for failing to comply with its commitments under the UN resolution it promised to implement.

“There is a sense of apprehension here,†says Ravindra de Silva, head of the Association for Friendship and Love, a youth group based in the northern town of Vavuniya. “People are waiting to see what happens next, who will be in control and what kind of changes there will be.

“Nothing decisive has taken place when it comes to reconciliation and other related issues like the missing, so there was disappointment anyway. Now that has turned into a sense of betrayal and foreboding that the old ways might return.â€

Rajapaksa’s return could raise questions over key trials of family members and associates scheduled for the coming weeks: one against his brother, Gotabaya, who was a feared defence secretary during the previous government, and another of his former chief of staff.

Also potentially under question would be post-war reconciliation agencies such as a new office dedicated to tracing the up to 20,000 people who went missing during the war, and another established to decide on reparations.

A senior officer inside one post-war reconciliation agency told the Guardian he feared his work would be quietly strangled. “Political will matters,†he said. “Our funding is allocated within government budgets, so any downward trend in funding would have an impact.â€

Ayesha Thajudeen says she has all but given up hope of finding out who killed her brother. And if Rajapaksa returns to power? “We will never know,†she says.



Sri Lankan Protestors Denounce ’Coup’, Lend Support to Ousted PM Wickremesinghe

Wednesday 31 October 2018,

by Shihar ANEEZ

More than 10,000 protesting supporters of Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, brought parts of the capital, Colombo, to a standstill on Tuesday.

Colombo: More than 10,000 protesting supporters of Sri Lanka‘s ousted prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, brought parts of the capital, Colombo, to a standstill on Tuesday as political turmoil on the island entered its fifth day.

Sri Lanka was plunged into crisis on Friday when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and swore in ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa to replace him, breaking up a fragile coalition governing the country.

Sirisena also suspended parliament, to the fury of Wickremesinghe’s supporters, who say the president is trying to prevent lawmakers from keeping him in power.

On Tuesday, thousands of protesters gathered near Wickremesinghe’s residence to hear the ousted prime minister speak, holding signs demanding that Sirisena preserve democracy.

“He has broken his promise and taken the executive powers into his hands,†Wickremesinghe told the crowd, referring to Sirisena.

“He has sidelined parliamentary power.â€

The crowd, which police estimated at more than 10,000, blocked several roads in the city-centre neighbourhood that includes embassies, high-end stores and hotels, according to a Reuters witness.

“This is a coup. It has all the characteristics of a coup,†one of the protesters, Deepanjalie Abeywardene, told Reuters, while holding a sign which read “reconvene the parliament†.

“This is a third-grade act by Sirisena. We voted him as the president to ensure democracy,†said P. Ariyadasa, a 62-year-old farmer from Mesawachchiya, 230 km from Colombo.

Legal wrangle

Sirisena maintains his sacking of Wickremesinghe without the approval of parliament was constitutional.
Sri Lanka’s ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe arrives at a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 27, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

The government’s new spokesman, Mahinda Samarasinghe, told a news conference that Sirisena had met foreign diplomats on Monday and told them the constitution allowed for the removal of Wickremesinghe.

Sirisena named a new cabinet on Monday with Rajapaksa in charge of finance.

Rajapaksa’s crushing of a 26-year insurgency by ethnic Tamil separatists in 2009 won him support among the island nation’s Sinhalese majority, and he has a strong following.

Some of Wickremesinghe’s ousted ministers have refused to accept his sacking.

On Sunday, former oil minister Arjuna Ranatunga attempted to enter his office, leading to violence that left two dead.

The speaker of parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, has also refused to recognise Rajapaksa as the new prime minister, warning of “bloodshed†if the standoff moves to the streets.

The power struggle in Sri Lanka comes at a critical time for its economy, with credit rating agencies warning that turmoil could raise financing costs and lower foreign capital inflows as it attempts to refinance sizable government debts.

Sri Lanka is also a key state in a battle for influence in South Asia between traditional ally India and China. The Chinese government has been one of the few to congratulate the pro-Beijing Rajapaksa on becoming prime minister.



Sri Lanka: Rally for a collective political power for people from below

Friday 2 November 2018,

Movement for Empowering People from Below

Lenus Jayatilake, Chinthaka Rajapakse, Geethika Dharmasinghe

President has removed Ranil Wickramasinghe and appointed former President Mahinda Rajapakse as the new Prime Minister. Executive Presidents abusing their powers in violation of democratic norms is not new to our political history and this unacceptable act follows in that line. It has also created a crisis in the elite political sphere which can be resolved by either party commanding the confidence of the Parliament. However, the President’s decision to prorogue the Parliament has created a situation of anarchy and uncertainty and has opened up the space for MPs to trade in their loyalties. Due to the President’s arbitrary actions, the cost of the political battle of the elite is now being paid with common people’s lives. Therefore we demand that the President should convene the parliament and end the crisis without taking anymore lives of our people.

However, it should also be noted that this power tussle is taking place in the context of Yahapalana government failing to deliver on the promises it made. Yahapalana Government executed a highly unpopular economic policy under the directions of the international monetary institutions and a major portion of the government’s activity was reserved for a battle between the President and the Prime Minister. The Yahapalana government covered for the crimes of the previous regime and failed to give any meaning to the idea of justice. The run of the Yahapalana government has come to an end bringing the autocratic and repressive Rajapakse regime, which has no alternative economic vision, back into power although they were ousted by majority votes in the 2015 elections.

In the middle of all these changes we should note that there were many people’ struggles in the last three years on a number of issues. Privatization of education, enforced disappearances, manpower labour, privatization and sale of national assets, micro credit and indebtedness, EPF robbery and labour law reforms, privatization of water, cuts on the fertilizer subsidiary, government’s lackluster intervention in getting a fair price for farmers’ crops, Fisheries’ community struggles, A fair wage for estate workers, land grabs in North and constitutional reform are some among the many issues that people struggled on. However, the Yahapalana government which treated all these struggles with indifference are reminded to today of democracy when their power is challenged.

This power grab by the former President Mahinda Rajapakse shows that the political elite are no longer capable of adding any meaning to democracy and their concerns are entirely limited to power tussles in the elite sphere. Regardless, people’s aspirations for democratic rule of people are not defined by the treacheries of the political, economic and social elite. There we state that against the politics of the elite we stand for a united movement of people’s struggle from below. We stress that with the possibility of racist and authoritarian Rajapakse regime coming into power the rights of our brothers and sisters from minority communities are in a serious threat and therefore we commit to form a united front of people’s struggles to protect their rights and spaces for dissent. The political elite have put all of us in a deep economic and political crisis, endangering the democratic process of the country. Therefore, we state that this crisis compels all progressive, democratic forces to join in a united struggle for an alternative vision of politics completely independent of the two mainstream parties UNP, SLFP, AND SLPP based on the people’s power from lower strata of the society. We invite all to join in a united movement based on equality, democracy, justice, solidarity and freedom.

Movement for Empowering People from below is a movement aiming to build a political force of people from lower strata consisting of workers, peasants, plantation workers, fisher folks, and the oppressed nationalities of the North and East.