The Government of Sri Lanka’s showpiece seminar “Defeating Terrorism, the Sri Lanka Experience” ended this weekend. Yet far from being the validation of the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL)’s tactics that the government had hoped, the event demonstrated how unacceptable the wider world finds the methods employed in Sri Lanka.
The GoSL had invited over 50 states at an event designed by the GoSL to showcase “the Sri Lankan approach” to fighting insurgency. Yet far from employing the unique strategy advertised on its website, the GoSL resorted to brutal scorched-earth tactics and a complete disregard for civilian life. Their opponents, the LTTE, also committed widespread human rights abuses.In the two years since the war ended the GoSL has made little progress towards reconciliation and Sri Lanka remains a police state where dissidents are disappeared, human rights ignored and the rule of law suspended.
Following a strong campaign by several international Human Rights Groups the USA, Japan, Australia, UK, France and Switzerland all pulled out of attending the conference.
On Wednesday the 25th of May the Sri Lanka Campaign for peace and justice then organised a massive telephone lobby of the countries that had not yet pulled out of the conference. The Canadian Ministry of Defence was inundated with calls as Sri Lanka Campaign supporters blocked switchboards in to register their dismay at the idea of other states ostensibly learning from Sri Lanka’s war conduct, and to urge them not to legitimise the regime. 47 other defence ministries around the world were also targeted.
At 9pm that evening (Canadian time) Canada pulled out of the conference. In the end only mid level committee members from the remaining nations attended amidst reports that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had pulled out of the event due to its reduced stature, and soldiers had been brought in to fill the empty seats. The Army Chief of Senegal was the only senior military figure in attendance.
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