In an unusually direct attack on the system of governance in Sri Lanka, the US State Department’s report on human rights in the island nation for the year 2012 explicitly states that the Lankan government is dominated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s family.
“The government is dominated by the President’s family; two of the President’s brothers hold key executive branch posts as Defence Secretary and Minister of Economic Development, while a third brother is the Speaker of Parliament. A large number of other relatives, including the President’s son, also serve in important political or diplomatic positions,” the report released by Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday says. “The president exercised authority under the 18th amendment to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police and human rights,” it notes.
In a damning indictment of the election system, it says: “Independent observers generally characterised the Presidential, Parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Elections were fraught with violations of the election law by all major parties and were influenced by the governing coalition’s use of state resources.”
On human rights, it says: “The major human rights problems were attacks on and harassment of civil society activists, persons viewed as LTTE sympathisers, and journalists by persons allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances as well as a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly involving police torture and attacks on media and the judiciary.”
“Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; and arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities.” “The government prosecuted a very small number of officials implicated in human rights abuses but had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.” The report accuses the government of making “coordinated moves” to “undermine” the independence of the judiciary. Journalists who were critical of the government were “harassed” and “self-censorship was widespread,” it observes.