Sri Lanka News & Current Events

Civil War Breaks Out


In 2006, repeated violations of the 2002 cease-fire on both sides turned into outright war. Since April 2006, about 1,000 soldiers and civilians have been killed, and 135,000, mostly Tamils, have been displaced. Efforts by Norway, which brokered the 2002 cease-fire, to bring both sides to the negotiating table were unsuccessful throughout the summer.

Fighting between the rebels and government troops continued into 2007. After a weeks of deadly battles, the military took control of rebel-held regions of eastern Sri Lanka in March, leaving tens of thousands more civilians displaced. In April, the Tamil Tigers launched their first air raid, using small airplanes to bomb an air force base near Colombo. An attack by the Sri Lankan air force in November killed the leader of the Tigers' political wing, S. P. Tamilselvan. Amid continued fighting, the government abrogated the cease-fire in January 2008.

Sri Lanka was rocked by a series of suicide bombs on the eve of and during the country's celebration of its 60th anniversary of independence in February. Nearly 40 people died in the attacks. April was a particularly bloody month in Sri Lanka. Indeed, highways minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle was killed in a bombing attributed to Tamil Tiger rebels. Later in the month, more than 40 soldiers and 100 Tamil Tiger rebels died in a battle in the Jaffna peninsula.


Tamil Tigers Routed by Government Troops


The conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers reached a pivotal point in the fall of 2008, when the military launched an airstrike on Tamil headquarters in early October in Kilinochi. In addition, ground troops were closing in on the rebels. In January 2009, the Sri Lankan government captured the northern town of Kilinochchi, which for ten years had been the administrative headquarters of the Tamil Tigers.

Under the direction of defense chief Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the president, the Sri Lankan army continued to pursue the Tigers relentlessly in early 2009. By April, the Tigers were cornered on a small stretch of coastline in the north-east of the country. Civilian Tamils streamed out of the area into refugee camps that struggled to provide food and medical attention, while the Tiger fighting force was down to as few as 1,000 members.

In early May 2009, a UN spokesperson called the situation on the beach a "bloodbath." International human rights organizations claimed that the Sri Lankan army killed at least 500 Tamil civilians in the early days of May 2009 alone. That brings the Tamil civilian death toll to at least 8,000 since the beginning of the year, according to the UN. According to its own count, the Sri Lankan army lost at least 3,800 soldiers over the course of the 18-month offensive.

On May 18, 2009 the conflict effectively ended when Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, was killed in fighting in which government troops took the last bit of rebel-held territory. Early elections were called in October and held in January 2010. President Rajapaksa won the election in a landslide, defeating former army chief Gen. Sarath Fonseka, 57.9% to 40.2%. Fonseka presided over the final battle that crushed the Tamil Tigers. He was arrested in March on charges of plotting to overthrow the government. Also in March, Rajapaksa dissolved Parliament, paving the way for elections.


President Rajapaksa's Government Tries to Rebuild


In April 2010's parliamentary elections, Rajapaksa's governing coalition won another landslide victory. In Sept., Parliament endorsed a proposal to rewrite Sri Lanka's constitution to allow Rajapaksa to run for a third term.

Nearly a year after his successful reelection bid in Jan. 2010, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was inaugurated in a coronation-like ceremony. Slightly marring his new administration was a UN-sponsored report concerning the final days of Sri Lanka's civil war. A panel advising the UN secretary-general found "credible evidence" that war crimes were committed by both sides in 2009, and that the Sri Lankan army killed tens of thousands of civilians.

After two years in jail, former Sri Lankan army chief Sarath Fonseka was released on May 21, 2012. The order to free the man whom the U.S. labeled a political prisoner was signed by President Rajapaksa in an apparent effort to improve Sri Lanka's human rights record.

In an effort to win an increase in pay and a decrease in government involvement in campus life, academics in Sri Lanka effected a two-month-long strike, which ended in August with the government's answer: closure of 13 of the island's 15 state-funded universities.


2012 Report Shows United Nations Mishandled Civil War


On November 14, 2012, a report was released on how the United Nations handled the last months of the 2009 civil war in Sri Lanka. The report, which was an internal review, found "a sustained and institutionalized reluctance" by U.N. staff in Sri Lanka "to stand up for the rights of the people they were mandated to assist." In summary, the report concluded that "many senior U.N. staff simply did not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility." The report was written by an investigative panel, led by a former U. N. official, Charles Petrie.

The report also blamed senior U.N. staff in New York City, saying that those officials failed to speak up about "broken commitments and violations of international law." The U.N. published one version of the report on November 14, 2012, but it was missing several sections. The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice posted the missing sections on their web site.


Chief Justice Dismissed


In December 2012, a parliamentary committee found Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake guilty of corruption. Bandaranayake was not allowed to cross examine witnesses, and she criticized the rapid pace of the proceedings. A court of appeals threw out the verdict and ordered parliament to take no further action against her. Nevertheless, parliament ignored the ruling and voted in January 2013 to impeach her. President Mahinda Rajapakse ratified parliament's decision and dismissed Bandaranayake. The Supreme Court ruled that the proceedings were illegal. In September 2012, the Supreme Court struck down part of a law that would have expanded the power of the economic development minister, the position held by Rajapaksab.