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Sri Lanka: Negotiating International Engagement

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The main donors to Sri Lanka met in late June to discuss the ongoing conflict in the country. The international community must make more sustained and effective influence to remedy the flagrant violations of human rights on the island.

Even though the Sri Lankan President has refused to allow United Nations’ monitors into the country, he seems to understand that he must assuage the fears of major donor countries. In June, President Rajapakse addressed an ILO conference and had a meeting with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. The Co-Chairs, representatives from major donor countries to Sri Lanka, also met in Oslo, 25 -26 June.

Suspending Funding?

The Co-Chairs, in their first meeting since November of last year, met to discuss the situation with a particular aim to “cease violence and return to the negotiating table.”1

The donors, which include the EU, Japan, US and Norway, do not have a united stance on the conflict. The US has suspended some aid money in light of the rampant human rights abuses, whereas Japan—the single largest donor—is being accused of a more neutral stance that does not include revoking funds. Other countries that are not part of the Co-Chairs, including Britain, Norway and Germany, have withheld aid.

The government has adamantly refused to allow UN monitors to enter the country, saying that such actions would threaten the sovereignty of the state. Representatives have publicly not blinked an eye after aid money was suspended. Rajapakse most often uses terrorism rhetoric to justify his military strategy.

Gotabhaya continues to blab

Earlier this month, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, in an interview with the BBC and Reuters once again neglected to guard his statements, going on record accusing the western world of bullying Sri Lanka and being hypocrites. He appeared unconcerned about measures to punish the government for their inaction on human rights abuses: “We have all the SAARC countries, the Asian countries. Britain or Western countries, EU countries, they can do whatever. We don't depend on them.”2

International trade minister, G.L.Peiris, seemed to be more concerned about suspension of aid, perhaps because of the backlash caused by the Defence Secretary after his comments slandering US policy. He claimed that cutting off aid would be “a tragic error” that would “create conditions in which extremism and terrorism would thrive.”3

More international engagement is necessary

The Sri Lankan Democracy Forum, an activist network, released a statement calling on the Co-Chairs to take serious and effective action to remedy the violence and human rights violations in the country. They proposed that the donors support a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council, publicly support a UN monitoring mission and provide support for a political solution. Further, they suggested the formation of a “contact group” that would include countries beyond those represented in the Co-Chairs, such as India and Britain, which have long term engagements with the island. In this way, this contact group “should set up processes of political engagement with Sri Lanka with the explicit aim of ensuring a political solution to the conflict.”4