Why many in the Tamil diaspora are worried about turmoil in Sri Lanka
By Barfi Culture Team
31st October 2018

Last week the Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced him with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The move caught many people by surprise and has alarmed many Tamils living abroad.

The Canadian MP Gary Anandasangaree (Scarborough-Rouge Park), summed up a commonly-held view in Parliament this week.

"The Rajapaksa family is accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide," he told MPs.

"This recent development underscores the need for structural change on the island. The government continues to play politics with the lives of Tamils and other minorities. Successive governments have failed to secure a political solution based on the Tamil rights to self-determination; to end impunity and abide by the rule of law."

Tamil activists say they are deeply worried about the return of Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya, who they accuse of overseeing the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils in 2009.

Some say they are switching to secure messaging apps and sharing emergency contact details.

"Mahinda Rajapaksa was feared by political opponents, his critics and the Tamil-speaking people on the island during his ten-year reign between 2005-2015," wrote Mario Arulthas, advocacy director at PEARL (People for Equality And Relief in Lanka), at Al-Jazeera English.

"Under his rule, activists, journalists and politicians with opposing views were harassed, intimidated, abducted and even murdered. Now that he is back, activists fear they will once again become open targets for their country's government," he added.

Now the Canadian government has issued this warning:

"Canada calls on President Maithripala Sirisena to immediately reconvene Parliament and rescind the decision to prorogue. The people of Sri Lanka deserve transparency and accountability. The Parliament of Sri Lanka—whose representatives have been duly elected by the people of Sri Lanka—must be afforded their constitutional responsibility to determine Sri Lanka’s prime minister."

"We also call upon the government to ensure the safety and security of journalists, activists and human rights defenders, who play a vital role in defending democracy," the statement added.

UK MPs also raise alarm

At a debate in Parliament this week, several MPs also reflected the concerns of their Tamil constituents. Here is a summary, via the Tamil Guardian.

Former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP: "In the light of recent worrying developments in Sri Lanka, will the Foreign Secretary urge the Government there to make good on their promises to deliver justice for the Tamil people and accountability for war crimes committed against them?"

Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh: "Does the Foreign Secretary understand the complete terror and horror of my Tamil constituents at the idea that Mahinda Rajapaksa may be coming back? There can be no justice in Sri Lanka; these people will not find out where their disappeared relatives went nine years ago."

Labour MP Wes Streeting: "The use of sexual violence was an ugly characteristic of the Sri Lankan civil war under the stewardship of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and now the very same man is back in office, illegitimately, as the Prime Minister of that country. Will the Minister now, and the Foreign Secretary shortly during topical questions, condemn unreservedly the turn of events in Sri Lanka and make sure we never see a return to those dark days of appalling human rights abuses under the Rajapaksas?"

Government minister Mark Field MP: "We very much hope that President Sirisena will back down and will adhere to the constitution, which of course means bringing back Parliament at the earliest opportunity. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, when he alludes at least to this, that we are actively co-ordinating our response within the international community. We believe that a concerted international response will have the most effect."

On Twitter the music artist MIA also weighed in

The FCO has also updated its travel advice for Sri Lanka, urging visitors to "exercise vigilance and avoid all demonstrations or large political gatherings".

Yesterday, Al-Jazeera English published this short film on the turmoil.

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