Although the President’s efforts were applauded for the outreach, it seems that the peace overtures were motivated by political and economic reasons
The all-party consensus could imply that political parties have suffered the consequences for not supporting the cause and realise that it was high time to resolve the ethnic issue.Scholars such as Jehan Perera expressed optimism that the longstanding ethnic issue may finally be resolved by Independence Day unlike in retrospect. He argued that Wickremesinghe has the capability to bring different groups to the negotiating table and managed to reach the staff-level agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and also pass the 2023 Budget and 21st Amendment in Parliament. The all-party consensus could imply that political parties have suffered the consequences for not supporting the cause and realise that it was high time to resolve the ethnic issue. Several possible reasons prompted Wickremesinghe to push for ethnic reconciliation at this given time including how these reforms are tied to economic assistance, pressure from foreign governments, the European Union (EU), and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and an acceptance that the ethnic conflict also contributed to the country’s worst economic crisis.
The fact that India had a stake in the inception of the 13th Amendment and there are strong cultural and people-to-people linkages between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils, allows it to continuously Sri Lanka resolve this issue.Second, there has been longstanding pressure from foreign governments and regional blocs particularly the United States (US), India, and the EU, to improve its human rights record, including the devolution of powers and accountability for past crimes. The fact that India had a stake in the inception of the 13th Amendment and there are strong cultural and people-to-people linkages between Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils, allows it to continuously Sri Lanka resolve this issue. The US has also given much importance to issues of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Colombo. Washington led international efforts against Sri Lanka on ethnic reconciliation and post-war accountability through the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) before exiting from the international bloc in 2018 under Donald Trump. Its rejoining once again puts pressure on Colombo. The EU resolutions repeatedly stressing that Colombo needs to fulfil its human rights commitments indicate that the latter’s human rights situation is intertwined with trade concessions. The EU temporarily revoked the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade benefits from Colombo in 2010 after determining that the latter did not implement three of the UN human rights conventions to be eligible for the scheme. Although Sri Lanka rejoined the GSP+ programme in 2017, it has faced immense scrutiny to honour good governance, the rule of law, and sustainable development. The lack of progress on human rights and ethnic reconciliation jeopardises Sri Lanka’s chances of receiving foreign assistance at a time when it is experiencing its worst economic crisis. New Delhi has emerged as the biggest bilateral donor to Colombo during this current crisis, granting nearly US$3.8 billion in the first half of 2022. Similarly, the losses from a possible withdrawal of the GSP+ scheme will be immense with the apparel, tobacco, seafood, and rubber sectors being the worst hit. Sri Lankan commodities entering the EU market will become costlier and reduce demand. Sri Lankan exports into the EU were US$3.31 in 2022. Although there have been discussions around lesser reliance on the EU market and diversifying exports, the current focus should be seeking financial assistance to stabilise the economy.
The EU temporarily revoked the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) trade benefits from Colombo in 2010 after determining that the latter did not implement three of the UN human rights conventions to be eligible for the scheme.Third, the pressure from human rights organisations, foreign governments, and international agencies demonstrates the lobbying by the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.<1> These groups have pushed for stronger resolutions at international forums such as the UNHRC about issues of wartime accountability, reconciliation, human rights violations and continued militarisation in the Northwest provinces. The Tamil diaspora has also preserved their narratives of struggle, nationhood, and activism and played a significant role in engaging international actors to continue mounting pressure on Colombo. The networks of diasporic groups have become strong players in international politics whose interests are aligned with those of many foreign actors. Wickremesinghe met a group of the Sri Lankan diaspora during his visit to the UK recognising the pivotal role they play both politically and economically at home.
Wickremesinghe’s peace overtures in late 2022 demonstrate that he is cognisant that ethnic reconciliation needs to be addressed to resolve the economic crisis.Writer D.B.S. Jeyaraj argues that the ethnic conflict has also played a role in Colombo’s economic downfall. Nationalist politics that persisted after the civil war undermined prospects for inter-ethnic solidarity, reconciliation, transitional justice, and development efforts. Nationalist politics has proliferated into the economy, institutions, society and culture. Wickremesinghe’s peace overtures in late 2022 demonstrate that he is cognisant that ethnic reconciliation needs to be addressed to resolve the economic crisis. However, greater devolution of powers, reconciliation, and transitional justice has been viewed as a campaign that would undermine the sovereignty and the unitary state not only by Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists but many from the majority Sinhalese community. The constant international pressure for Sri Lanka to adopt transitional justice and reconciliation measures has made these interventions appear top-down and prescriptive and formed narratives that they are anti-Sinhalese, anti-military, and pro-minority.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Roshni Kapur is an independent researcher based in Singapore specialising in geopolitics conflict resolution identity politics and energy transition in South Asia. She previously worked ...Read More +