Sri Lanka’s promised reforms, repeal of PTA delayed: Int. Crisis Group

May 25, 2016 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s reform agenda has slowed and the Tamil minority is beginning to doubt the government’s ability to fulfill pledges made, the International Crisis Group said in its latest report.

Sri Lanka ended a war with Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009 and promised to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), devolve power, and return civilian lives to normalcy, but the PTA is still on its books.

“To rebuild confidence among Tamil communities in the north and east, the government must quickly release detainees and military-occupied land, begin credible inquiries into the fate of the disappeared, investigate and end abuses and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” the report said.

The delayed reforms suggests institutional bottlenecks and push back from politically active stakeholders, the group suggested.

“Institutional factors hamper progress: too few staff and too little expertise, particularly on reconciliation and transitional justice issues, multiple power centres and unwieldy, often overlapping ministries, and the different priorities and governance styles of president and prime minister.”

“Seven years after the end of the civil war in May 2009, issues of reconciliation and accountability remain largely unaddressed. The government appears to be backtracking on transitional justice plans, particularly the role of foreign judges and experts.”

President Maithripala Sirisena’s government elected last year promised a new constitution, a complex package of post-war reconciliation and justice mechanisms agreed with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and major policy changes to jump-start the economy.

“Mechanisms promised to the UNHRC feed Sinhala nationalist suspicions, while attempts to reassure Sinhalese and the military encourage doubts among Tamils about government willingness to pursue justice for wartime atrocities or back constitutional changes that satisfy legitimate Tamil aspirations for meaningful autonomy.”

Reforms are slowed by need to work through bureaucrats and politicians implicated in past abuses, some of whom were given cabinet posts to help the government achieve the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to approve a new constitution, the report added.