Justice for most of Lanka civil war victims remains elusive: US lawmaker

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WASHINGTON, June 21 (PTI): A US lawmaker has said that the justice for most of the victims of the brutal civil war in Sri Lanka remains elusive and accused President Maithripala Sirisena of doing little to mend ties between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils.

Although many observers hoped that the reformist government of President Sirisena would increase access to justice, focus on human rights, emphasise transparency and accountability, and improve the rule of law, his administration has been criticized for having an inadequate response, Congressman Chris Smith said.

“To this day, justice for many of the victims remains elusive,” Republican Smith said in remarks to hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations, which he chaired, titled “Human Rights Concerns in Sri Lanka”

Despite having run on a platform of ethnic reconciliation, Sirisena has done little to mend the ties between the groups, and the political polarisation has increased among both ethnic groups, Smith said.

Nearly 100,00 people were killed in the 25-year Sri Lankan civil war and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The civil war was a brutal ethnic conflict between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils; both sides the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and the rebel “Tamil Tigers” have been credibly accused of unimaginable war crimes, he said.

According to UN figures, up to 40,000 civilians were killed by security forces during Rajapaksa’s regime that brought an end to the three-decade long civil war with the defeat of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.

“A concerning development in Sri Lanka is the resurgence of Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism,” Smith said.

In his testimony, Michael Jerryson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the Youngstown State University said that this particularly virulent strand of nationalism preaches exclusion of other ethnic and religious minorities, with Buddhist fundamentalists in groups such as the BBS saying “This is not a multi-religious country. This is a Sinhalese country.”

Smith said that in local elections in February of this year, a newly formed Buddhist nationalist party gained 45 per cent of the vote, beating the government coalition combined. Furthermore, in March of this year, Sinhalese mobs engaged in an anti-Muslim programme after a local dispute, forcing the President to declare a state of emergency.

Noting that Sri Lanka’s stability is of critical importance to the United States national interests, Smith said strategically located in the sea-lanes linking the Persian Gulf to East Asia, this island-nation has seen a spike in recent activity by the Chinese.

“China’s strategy globally is one of indebting countries and binding them in servitude so it can extract resources, so it is safe to say that Beijing’s initiatives will not emphasise ethnic reconciliation and/or human rights. This presents the United States with an opportunity to stand up for justice and the rule of law and to oppose China’s malign influence,” Smith said.

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