Posts Tagged ‘sri lanka’
A weekly summary of key events in Asia and beyond
- In a historic move, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah granted Saudi women the right to vote and stand for office in municipal elections in 2015. However, they were not allowed to vote in elections held last week, which saw very low turnouts. On Thursday, the king also overturned a sentence of 10 lashes handed down to an activist who defied a female driving ban, which was viewed by some as an effort to push back against hardliners.
- US born cleric and Al-Qaeda’s most well-known propagandist, Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed by an air strike on his convoy in Yemen by US counter-terrorism forces. US officials allege that Al-Awlaki inspired individuals who participated in several recent foiled terrorism plots in the United States. The killing comes as Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently returned to Yemen from neighboring Saudi Arabia.
- At a Senate Arms Services Committee hearing and again in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, now retired US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen strongly criticized and accused the Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, of collaborating with the Haqqani network which Washington blames for a recent attack on the US embassy in Kabul. The Pakistani government rejected Mr. Mullen’s accusations. Read this article by The Asianist on how to conceptualize US-Pakistan relations.
- Sri Lanka released nearly 1,800 former rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after two years in captivity since the end of the country’s bloody civil war. Colombo has come under heavy pressure from human rights groups to either charge the detainees and free them, as well as to allow for an independent investigation into human rights violations by the government and rebels. The UN estimates that at least 7,000 people were killed in the last five months of fighting alone. For a broader take on reconciliation in Sri Lanka, see this piece by The Asianist.
- Germany’s parliament passed a much-needed measure to expand a Euro bailout fund for heavily indebted European countries, which Chancellor Angela Merkel has said is critical to ensure Europe’s economic stability. Yet analysts believe even if an expanded fund is approved by countries in the coming weeks, will not be enough to curb the continent’s deepening crisis. For a more big-picture take, see the article The Asianist comments on here.
- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced last weekend that they would effectively swap places next year, paving the way for Mr. Putin’s return for a third term after presidential elections in March. Mr. Medvedev said Mr. Putin enjoys broad popularity and that they share the same goals. But critics say the planned swap undermines democracy.
- At least 59 people died and thousands were left stranded after Typhoons Nesat and Nalgae triggered heavy flooding in the northern Philippines.
- In a routine response, China scaled back military ties with the United States over Washington’s decision to upgrade Taiwan’s fleet of F-16 fighter jets. China views Taiwan as part of its territory and has opposed US arms sales to Taiwan. The United States is obligated under the Taiwan Relations Act to supply Taiwan with weapons for its self defense, which some view as more necessary than ever in light of Beijing’s military buildup. For The Asianist’s take on the subject, see here.
- In what could be a blow to human rights, South African officials may deny the Dalai Lama a visa to enter the country to celebrate the 80th birthday of his friend and fellow Nobel Peace Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, due to pressure from China.
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Yesterday, in a stinging rebuke to the Sri Lankan government, voters in northern and eastern parts of the country defied intimidation to hand an alliance of parties closely linked to the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) insurgency majorities in an overwhelming number of local elections.
The results reveal that seething discontent remains among Tamils about the glacial pace of political reconciliation and deep divisions still haunt Sri Lanka two years after the government declared victory over the LTTE and ended one of the world’s bloodiest and longest-running civil wars.
Some members of the Sri Lankan government, still running victory laps from 2009, were quick to declare the results a “great victory”, with one minister touting that “people had used ballots instead of bullets”.
Such a view, however, is alarmingly short-sighted and incredibly blinkered. Yes, Colombo has always been quick to point out (and few would disagree) that a country at peace is better than one riven by war.
But whether Tamil opinion is conveyed through the ballot box or through the barrel of the gun, it embodies the same message: the government, dominated by the Sinhalese majority, must acknowledge and address the legitimate grievances of the Tamil minority if it is to win the support of the people and achieve true reconciliation for Sri Lanka. That means not just more economic development, but greater political representation as well.
Yet there are few signs that the voice of the people is being heard by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. According to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, despite the end of the war, minorities and political opponents continue to be either suppressed or excluded from decision-making, draconian emergency and anti-terrorism laws are still exercised, and creeping authoritarianism and heightened militarism appear to be subsuming the country. Aid to Tamil areas has been slow to arrive, development is often conducted without adequate consultation, and the pace of reintegration of former LTTE cadres has been much too slow.
Sadly, even as it is saddled with these myriad problems, the government appears to be devoting most of its political will to resisting true reconciliation than allowing it to occur. It has spent more energy fervently rejecting the establishment of an international inquiry into atrocities committed during the last stages of the war and quibbling over casualty figures when it is clear that tens of thousands of people died in the final weeks of the conflict (which included brutal army atrocities against civilians) and the nationally established Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is virtually powerless.
The Sri Lankan government may think that it can fool the international community through foot-dragging and finagle the Tamil population with false promises of reform in the near term. But at the end of the day, so long as the Tamils at home (and the diaspora abroad) continue to see a better future in a separate state than as part of a Sri Lanka that balances majority rule with minority rights, the wounds of war will not heal, and the deep distrust of government will persist.
Indeed, if the status quo continues unabated, it is not too difficult to imagine a scenario where Tamils conclude that justice may once again be better fulfilled through the barrel of a gun than at the ballot box. That, Mr. Rajapaksa and his triumphalist government may recall, was how the LTTE rose to power in the first place.