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The Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa has been facing criticism from both inside and outside. From suppression of dissent and freedom of expression to alleged war crimes committed by government troops in the north toward the end of the civil war in 2009, which wiped out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the government is finding that it has to answer a lot of charges. The trouble is that if its answers aren’t convincing, the international community is likely to get restless, and ask more uncomfortable questions and demand action, which, at some point of time, the government will be forced to respond to.
The screening of a documentary on Friday in Geneva, purporting to show alleged war crimes by Sri Lankan army in its fight against the LTTE, is the latest to rile the government. The documentary “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” is the third by British journalist and director Callum Macrae about the final stages of the nearly 30-year civil war. The Sri Lankan envoy protested against its screening at a UN building.
It is not only the war that is under spotlight. The post-war actions too have invited criticism. It is said that instead of devolving power, the Colombo government has centralised it. The president is more powerful than ever, the kind of unrestricted power that an elected leader rarely revels in. Recently, the government got rid itself of a chief justice who had upheld provincial rights, despite mass protests from the lawyers community. The army is said to be still dominating the north, instead of demilitarising it. And instead of accepting criticism and dissent, it has suppressed both.
So far, the government has vociferously denied the charges against it. It has accused the UN human rights chief Navi Pillay of being biased against it and asserted that Western countries have fallen prey to lies spread by former members of the Tamil Tiger movement.
Colombo is to host a summit of former British Commonwealth countries this year and several non-governmental rights organisations, including a Geneva-based “rule of law” group, the International Commission of Jurists, are already campaigning for the 54-nation Commonwealth to cancel the high-profile gathering.
In the coming weeks, pressure will mount on the Rajapaksa government to act on the charges leveled against it. It is true that television documentaries do not constitute proof, but they raise questions that need answering. Just denying the charges and making counter allegations against the UN bodies and rights groups will not help. The government must act credibly to dispel the doubts of foreign organizations, launch independent probes and punish those guilty, if anyone is found guilty.•