The politics of punishing war crimes in Sri Lanka

Ram Manikkalingam in Open Democracy:

ScreenHunter_1676 Feb. 09 17.23Last week the national anthem was sung in Tamil for the first time at the official celebration of Sri Lanka’s independence day. Six years ago the government’s own regional director for education in the Tamil north, Markandu Sivalingam, was assassinated by “unidentified” gunmen for disagreeing with then President Rajapaksa’s directive to ban the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at official functions. The United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid, who is currently visiting Sri Lanka, should welcome the transformation this signals in Sri Lanka’s politics in just over a year since President Sirisena’s election.

No doubt, the High Commissioner will also express the UN view – set out in a Human Rights Council resolution last September – that President Sirisena must set up a court to try war crimes committed during the bloody civil war that ended in 2009. The President is on record in favour of holding violators of humanitarian and human rights law to account. But he is also committed to reaching a deal that would give the Tamil community in the north and east of Sri Lanka power to manage economic, land and cultural issues. Some argue both objectives can be realized in tandem, but the political realities in post-conflict Sri Lanka suggest otherwise.

Demands for accountability for war crimes and autonomy are made by Tamil leaders but still resisted by much of the Sinhala establishment—these remain deeply polarising issues. To achieve both requires sensitivity to the politics.

More here,