Sri Lanka’s president on Tuesday ruled out giving Tamils greater political autonomy, appearing to back away from his long-stalled promise to empower the ethnic minority as part of the country’s reconciliation process following a bloody quarter-century civil war.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa made his about-face despite growing international pressure to compromise with the minority and to investigate allegations of war crimes.
Sri Lanka is expected to face questions from the UN Human Rights Council in March on its progress in implementing its own war commission report, which also recommends investigating alleged human rights violations and giving autonomy to Tamils.
The United States has said it will sponsor a resolution at the council for a second straight year on the implementation of the war commission report.
The pressure comes nearly four years after the government, dominated by the ethnic Sinhalese majority, defeated the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, who had been demanding an independent Tamil nation after decades of perceived discrimination. According to a United Nations’ estimate, 80,000 to 100,000 people were killed during the war, which ended in 2009, but other reports suggest it could be much higher.
“When the people live together in unity there are no racial or religious differences,” Rajapaksa said in his independence day speech.
“Therefore, it is not practical for this country to have different administrations based on ethnicity. The solution is to live together in this country with equal rights for all communities,” he said.
Rajapaksa has long promised the United Nations and other countries that he would offer power sharing as an alternative to the insurgent’s fight for secession.
Rajapaksa in his speech called on the international community not to believe in propaganda and to visit Sri Lanka to see the country’s human rights record.
He said the UN charter does not allow the world body to intervene in the domestic affairs of its member states.
Meanwhile, the main ethnic Tamil political party said in a statement that the UN Human Rights Council must take “stern action” against the Sri Lankan government, saying it has not been sincere in investigating abuses and sharing power.
Talks between the government and Tamil National Alliance have stalled for more than a year, and the party says the government is militarizing the north and settling majority ethnic Sinhalese.