Sri Lanka is freer today
What is the most significant change in Sri Lanka since the new president came to power in January 2015?
Under the previous regime, the space for dissent, for civil society was extremely limited to the point of being non-existent. Human rights for example were deemed irrelevant at best and subversive at worst. We had state capture by a family which licensed impunity for acts of corruption and other rights violations, legitimised through the populist rhetoric of majoritarianism. What the new government has achieved is a winning back of that space with its commitment to governance and institutional reform. Sri Lanka is freer today than it was. Yet, challenges remain and the reform challenge is huge and complex.
In what area is it most crucial for Sri Lanka to make progress?
Particularly important is restoring independent institutions and processes to secure governance with transparency and accountability. To accomplish this we need a constitution that speaks to the needs and aspirations of all our peoples and transitional justice which will lay the foundations for meaningful reconciliation. Then, there is the economy. The previous regime looted the country and compounded the problems of a bloated state bureaucracy.
After a civil war, reconciliation within society is always a challenge. Has Sri Lanka made progress in this regard?
Yes. Legislation has been passed to set up an Office on Missing Persons - disappearances being a gross human rights violation of major proportions. There are other mechanisms to follow on reparations, truth and non-recurrence and on accountability. A Task Force set up to ascertain public views on all of this will officially hand in its report to the President by the end of the month.
There is also a commitment to repeal and replace the draconian Prevention of Terror Act and land taken over by the security forces in the North and East is being returned. At the same, time the opposition campaign against this is being couched in terms of turning war heroes into war criminals. The government has to do much more to communicate to citizens the rationale for transitional justice and constitutional reform - bearing in mind that a new constitution will have to be put to the country in a referendum.