Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa announced Feb. 19 that his government will withdraw from co-sponsorship of a 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for an investigation into war crimes committed on the island during the internal conflict with Tamil rebels. UNHRC Resolution 30/1 was actually a compromise measure, after the Sri Lanka government rejected calls for creation an international tribunal. Withdrawal from the resolution is seen a response to the US imposing a travel ban on Sri Lanka's army commander Shavendra Silva and his family over complicity in human rights violations during the conflict, which ended in 2009 after 26 years. (Jurist, NYT, Feb. 19)
As Sri Lanka marks the 10-year anniversary of the end of its long internal war this week, human rights groups are demanding accountability in the mass atrocities that marked the final stages of the conflict, in which many thousands were displaced or "disappeared." The International Committee of the Red Cross says 16,000 people are still missing. (The New Humanitarian, Amnesty International) Ominously, the commemoration comes amid a new wave of communal violence following last month's terror attacks that targeted Christians on Easter Sunday. In days of anti-Muslim riots that started May 12, mobs moved through towns in the northwest, ransacking mosques and attacking shops with petrol bombs. The riots came amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which has been repeatedly linked to such pogroms since its founding in 2012, is named as having instigated much of the violence. (Sri Lanka Campaign, Al Jazeera)
After claiming responsibility for the Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka that killed over 320 people, ISIS has released a photo and video of the supposed mastermind of the attack and other of the alleged suicide bombers. The video and the photo released through the terrorist network's Amaq News Agency purport to show the Sri Lankan militants pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his presence. (Colombo Page) Sri Lankan authorities had named a little-known militant group called National Thowheeth Jama'ath as behind the attacks—a name roughly translated as "group in the name of the oneness of God." Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe acknowledged that his security services had been tipped off that the group was planning attacks, admitting that the "information was there." (Al Jazeera, Gulf News, Time)
In addition to stationing troops on the disputed islands it claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is rapidly expanding its network of commercial ports across the Indian Ocean. This comes as China is sending warships into the Ocean with growing frequency, leading to fears that the commercial ports could presage military bases, The latest addition is the port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, acquired in a debt swap deal—the Colombo government was forgiven $1 billion in debt to Beijing in exchange for the Hambantota facility. The agreement explicitly bars China's military use of the port, but critics note that Sri Lanka remains heavily indebted to China, and could be pressured to allow it. The pact also comes as the People's Liberation Army is providing training to Sri Lanka's military. Beijing also donated a frigate to Sri Lanka's navy after the pact was announced. China is simultaenously loaning political support to the Sri Lanka government in its defiance of international pressure for a war crimes investigation over its internal conflict with Tamil rebels.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sept. 22 rejected a UN recommendation for international involvement in its investigation into alleged war crimes. The UN released a report earlier this month finding that war crimes may have been committed during the Sri Lankan civil war, encouraging creation of a hybrid special court to handle the matter. Wickremesinghe stated there was nothing to be gained by international involvement, rejecting the idea that the inquiry would be hybrid. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has vowed to bring war criminals to justice, with his government announcing plans to set up a truth commission, war reparations office and commission on missing people. Despite this, members of the Tamil minority have expressed distrust in a purely domestic inquiry.
Police declared a curfew in Sri Lanka's southern coastal town of Aluthgama June 16 after simmering tensions between Buddhist militants and local Muslims escalated into clashes. The riots reportedly began after Muslim youth were accused of manhandling a Buddhist monk. Police arrested three suspects in the incident, but the Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena held a rally and advanced on the Muslim-majority district of Dharga Town in a vehicle convoy. The convoy was pelted with stones, sparking a melee that led to three days of fighting in Aluthgama and neighboring Beruwala, in which eight were killed, over 100 wounded, and several Muslim-owned shops burned. "There is a real risk of violence spreading elsewhere unless the government acts immediately," David Griffiths, Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International, told IRIN. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay added: "I am very concerned this violence could spread to Muslim communities in other parts of the country." (IRIN, June 23; Nidahasa, June 16; Colombo Page, BBC News, June 15)
Sri Lanka's foreign minister Gamini Lakshman Peiris announced on April 7 that Sri Lanka would not cooperate with a UN investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the country's civil war. The UN Human Rights Council last month voted to launch an investigation into alleged violations committed by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009 towards the end of the civil war. However, speaking at a Foreign Correspondents Association forum, Peiris signaled Sri Lanka's intent not to cooperate due to concerns over legality, fairness, and conflict of interest. Peiris also expressed criticism of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay, who has previously been accused of being partial given her Tamil background.
Sri Lankan authorities on March 16 arrested human rights activists Ruki Fernando, advisor to the Human Rights Documentation Center, and Catholic priest Father Praveen of the Centre for Peace Building and Reconciliation for alleged violations of anti-terror laws. Reports indicate authorities arrested the activists for assisting the families of allegedly "disappeared" persons living in Northern Sri Lanka. In particular, the men reportedly sought to uncover information with respect to the March arrests of activist Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter. Several human rights groups, including the Law and Society Trust, have declared the arrests a violation of international law. Sri Lankan authorities reportedly intend to detain the men pending further investigation.