Early presidential elections in Sri Lanka — between the incumbent (increasingly dictatorial) president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his former Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena — have unexpectedly become a nail-biter race.
Some of the Western coverage has focused on the frivolous and bizarre. (For example, the New York Times’s “As Vote Nears, Astrologer for Sri Lanka’s President Faces Ultimate Test of His Skills”.) Some has focused on the president’s troubling alliance with extremist Buddhist/Sinhalese nationalism.
But most importantly, there are reflections on President Rajapaksa’s appalling war crimes during his decisive but extremely violent conclusion to Sri Lanka’s decades-long civil war:
By the first few months of 2009, with the [Tamil] Tigers in hopeless retreat, the government declared a series of what they called “no fire zones”, into which they encouraged as many as 400,000 Tamil civilians to gather “for their own safety”.
Government forces then relentlessly shelled these zones and, as a later UN report concluded, systematically denied them food and humanitarian supplies. The UN estimates that there were “as many as 40,000 civilian deaths in a matter of weeks, most as a result of government shelling. There was also a World Bank estimate that 100,000 civilians were missing after the war.
It takes a special kind of monster to urge civilians into safe zones and then direct military to shell those zones.