Sri Lanka, 7 Years Later

I have a piece up at the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog on Remembrance Day in Sri Lanka. Here’s an excerpt:

The United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians died in the final assault on the LTTE, and victims’ groups say the fates of more than 100,000 people remain unknown. To those in the south, these crimes may seem distant and forgettable. For families still searching for information about their missing loved ones, though, they’re a glaring fact of everyday life. And if Sri Lanka’s foot-dragging on transitional justice underscores the challenges of pursuing accountability in deeply divided societies, its continuing repression of remembrance suggests something very different: That, in truth, nothing has changed — and the problem isn’t the absence of transitional justice, it’s the absence of transition.

Head on over to the Monkey Cage to read the rest. Or if you feel like reading is for chumps, you can listen to me talk about post-war Sri Lanka on Austrian radio here.


WTF Friday, 3/11/2016

This week’s WTFs come in three flavors: WTF Islamophobia, WTF Eagles, and WTF Cambodia. Check it out:

In a victory for crabby 6 year olds everywhere, “she was LOOKING AT ME” has finally been recognized as a legitimate cause for retaliation. Specifically, two women were kicked off of a JetBlue flight for having their eyes open while also being Muslim. Ugh.

An Egyptian student who posted on Facebook that he “wouldn’t mind serving a life sentence” for killing Donald Trump has had his visa revoked and will have to leave the US by July 5. Most of my Facebook feed should be breathing a sigh of relief that they have American citizenship and can’t be deported.

The rise of Trump is not the only harbinger of doom for America: 13 dead bald eagles were found in Maryland. Authorities suspect that they did not die of natural causes.

Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, two men who filmed themselves torturing and killing an endangered eagle have been arrested.

In Cambodia, three of the five refugees resettled pursuant to a lucrative, much-criticized deal with Australia have left the country, apparently preferring to risk persecution back in Iran and Burma.

And finally, Cambodia’s apparent-Prime-Minister-for-life, Hun Sen, decided to celebrate International Women’s Day on Tuesday by advocating the creation of a men’s rights association.

On the bright side, at least we live in a world where this happened:

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WTF Friday, 1/22/2016

We have a lot to get through today, guys.

In addition to all their other great inventions/discoveries, North Korea announced that it has developed hangover-free alcohol. I’ll say this for them, they’ve got their research priorities right.

Tanzanian president John Magufuli believes, for some reason, that a nation-wide ban on miniskirts will be an effective means of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.  (Update: The Tanzanian government has said that although “H.E. President Magufuli and his government are strong proponents of decent dressing”, reports of a mini-skirt ban were false. H/T: Felix Reimer.)

El Salvador’s government has asked its female citizens to please refrain from reproducing for the next two years to avoid birth defects caused by the Zika virus. (Note that there is no implication that El Salvador’s men might have a role to play in achieving a national pregnancy rate of zero.)

Oh, and apparently Sri Lanka has decided that a good use of police resources, and reasonable thing for a democracy to do, is to embark upon a nation-wide “crackdown on suspected lesbians“. Ugh.

And finally, if you missed this yesterday: discriminatory rules on blood and bone marrow donations from gay men are making it harder to save lives, for absolutely no good reason.

Panel Discussion on Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka

Are you in the Bay Area and interested in hearing about recent developments in Sri Lanka?

If so, good news!

I’ll be speaking on a panel at Stanford next Thursday (10/29) along with Bhavani Fonseka and Beth Van Schaack. We’ll be discussing the prospects for transitional justice, and I have it on good authority there’ll be chocolate chip cookies…

Sri Lanka panel 10.29

The Forever Victims?

NIM (1)If you’re in the market for some upsetting reading, look no further: I have a new report out, coauthored with Nimmi Gowrinathan, on the human rights situation of Tamil women in northern Sri Lanka.

It documents the effects that 6 years of militarization have had on women’s lives and shows that, perversely, efforts to protect women from sexual violence have undermined their political and economic agency, making them even more vulnerable to victimization.

Readers of this blog will probably be most interested in the fact that the livelihoods approach endorsed by the international community seems to be exacerbating the problem by reinforcing regressive gender roles. It turns out that women who fought on the front lines of combat find it a bit galling to be handed a sewing machine and told to make something pretty. And by sidelining women into traditionally “feminine” activities, these programs not only disempower them, they deprive the Tamil community of their contributions to rebuilding and shaping a way forward.

Check it out: “The Forever Victims? Tamil Women in Post-War Sri Lanka

WTF Friday, 7/3/2015

Hey, remember that time Sri Lanka shocked the world by booting Mahinda Rajapaksa out of office just as he was fixing to settle into the presidency for life? (I was there, it was pretty major.)

The new president, Maithripala Sirisena, was celebrated for his bravery in defecting from the regime, and for his principles in his campaign against the abuses of Rajapaksa rule. After the election, investigations of Rajapaksa and his family were announced on allegations of massive corruption, extrajudicial killings of journalists, and attempts to stage an election-night coup.

But six months later, things have gotten weird.

Sirisena’s coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) said today that Rajapaksa will run on their ticket in next month’s parliamentary polls. Rumor has it he may even be the pick for prime minister.

If that sounds like an unbelievably speedy rehabilitation of someone whose ousting was met with global cries of “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead”, remember that the January election was close. Rajapaksa remains very popular with the majority Sinhalese community and their representatives in Parliament. And, in the absence of clear evidence that he tried to overturn the election results, the fact that he gracefully exited office allowed him to preserve the option of a comeback.

At the moment, it’s not clear whether Sirisena actually signed off on Rajapaksa’s return. Over the last couple of days, he’d sounded adamantly opposed to the idea. If he changed his mind, it would indicate a major split in the (always tenuous) big tent movement that brought him to power. If he didn’t, he may have lost control of elements of the UPFA.

And either way, looks like the lead up to the August 17 election is going to be another bumpy ride for Sri Lanka.

WTF Friday, 6/12/2015

Somehow it’s Friday again. And:

A Sri Lankan MP has called for legal action against the country’s Foreign Minister for his unacceptably friendliness to gays. FM Samaraweera betrayed his country by voting against a resolution that called for the withdrawal of marriage benefits to UN employees in same-sex relationships. In previous fits of pique against the UN, the MP in question, Wimal Weerawansa, has attempted a hunger strike and threatened to stop using Gmail.

A large population of Ukrainian prisoners is stuck in the war zone “in legal limbo“. With no one to judge their cases, thousands of inmates remain in prisons in the east, facing water and electricity shut-downs as well as artillery attacks. The kicker? The court system has no centralized database, so no one actually knows how many people are affected. (h/t goes to Lev, thanks Lev!)

Barbie’s finally getting a pair of flats.

Come Hear Me Talk About Sri Lanka

PSA: I’ll be participating in a screening and discussion of “No Fire Zone“, a documentary about the Sri Lankan Civil War, along with the director, Callum Macrae. It’s next Monday (2/2), 12:30-2pm in room 1512 at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. I have it on good authority there will be snacks.

Check out the trailer below, and if you want to come, more details and RSVP info are up on the Pulitzer Center’s website.

WTF Friday, 1/16/2015: Sri Lankan Election Edition

Last week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was unexpectedly unseated in an election in which nearly 82% of eligible Sri Lankans turned out to vote. I was there, and wrote about how exciting it was for the The Washington Post’s political science blog, Monkey Cage.

I left a few highlights out, though, so to supplement that post, I give you my top 5 WTF moments of the Sri Lankan presidential election:

1. In the last week of the campaign, Rajapaksa made a visit to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, where he asked Tamils to vote for the “known devil” (himself, the commander-in-chief who presided over mass bloodshed in the region at the end of the civil war) over the “unknown angel” (Sirisena). Shades of Charles Taylor’s “he killed my ma, he killed my pa, I’ll vote for him“, anyone?

2. Campaigning ended on Monday, January 5 at 11:59pm and all campaign posters were supposed to come down at that time. They didn’t. A day or two later, someone got around to blacking out Rajapaksa’s face on billboards around town. This is what it looked like:

campaign poster

3. In the final hours of the campaign, state-aligned media paired coverage of the terror attacks in Paris with graphic footage of LTTE bombings, reminding voters that Rajapaksa had been responsible for the defeat of the insurgency.

4. On election day, Rajapaksa went to cast his vote accompanied by a doppelganger of his rival Maithripala Sirisena (now the president). The look-alike was one of several “joke candidates” fielded by both sides in an attempt to confuse voters. You can see him here.

5. In the days following Rajapaksa’s ouster, a number of things have emerged, not just coup attempt rumors and allegations of corruption, but secret helicopters (actually a persistent campaign issue symbolizing Rajapaksa extravagance) and illicit elephants.

Electoral Politics at Its Best

Former commander of the Sri Lankan Army Sarath Fonseka is on the campaign trail in Uva province, and he’s brought some unconventional props with him. Fonseka, who was badly wounded in a 2006 suicide bombing in Colombo, is traveling with the shrapnel-pierced Peugeot 406 he was riding in at the time, and a cardboard cutout of the woman who attacked him.

If this is successful in winning seats for his Democratic Party in the Uva provincial polls, I can’t wait to see what candidates decide to lug around in next year’s presidential election.

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via The Republic Square, photo from the BBC Sinhala’s Facebook page.