IMF approves Sri Lanka loan despite unchanged human rights situation
Online Opinion – IMF approves Sri Lanka loan despite unchanged human rights situation
The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), on July 24, approved a US$2.6 billion loan to Sri Lanka despite the fact that the Sri Lankan government has done little to ease continuing human rights concerns in the two months since the end of the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam Elam (LTTE).
Human Rights Watch had urged that the IMF insist that the government of President Rajapaksa address significant post-conflict human rights abuses as part of the loan approval process. Human Rights Watch said that more than 280,000 people, almost all of them Tamils, continue to be held in detention camps; the government restricts access by humanitarian organisations, the media and independent monitors to those camps; and suspected LTTE fighters are being held incommunicado in breach of international law.
“To approve a loan … while they have hundreds of thousands penned up in these camps is a reward for bad behaviour”, said Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch.
But several countries, including the United States and Britain, abstained when the fund’s board voted Friday to approve the loan, reflecting growing unease among many Western nations about alleged human rights abuses during and after Sri Lanka’s prosecution of the war against the Tamil Tiger insurgency.
That war ended in May, with the government’s stunning defeat of the Tigers on a narrow strip of beach in northern Sri Lanka. The entire senior command of the separatist group was killed, along with an untold number of Tamil civilians who had been used as human shields by the Tigers.
Since the end of the fighting, about 280,000 ethnic Tamils have been held in sprawling military-run camps in northern Sri Lanka.
Residents are not free to leave the camps, a measure government officials say is necessary to root out insurgents hiding among the population.
As the months wear on, the camps have posed an increasing problem for the Western countries that are paying for most of the food, shelter and medicine for the displaced.
Human rights organizations and diplomats say that serious questions linger about the manner in which the government prosecuted the war.
The United Nations has estimated that 7,000 civilians died near the end of the war, when hundreds of thousands of people were herded into a small area by the Tigers, who made their last stand among civilians. No reliable count has been made of the dead in the bloody last weeks of the fighting.
Sri Lanka has managed to avoid any international accounting of the civilian casualties, maneuvering votes in the Human Rights Council in Geneva, an intergovernmental body established by the United Nations, to stop calls for an independent investigation. Sri Lankan government officials have said that they are conducting their own inquiry, and that the war ultimately saved lives by halting a seemingly endless conflict.
The government has also pledged to get 80 percent of those displaced by the war back in their homes by the end of the year.
Human rights organizations had pressed the International Monetary Fund to hold back the loan, which Sri Lanka needs to stabilize its economy, until the government demonstrated a sincere commitment to respecting human rights.
“It is a simple matter of the government thumbing its nose at the international community and then coming to the international community for relief,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
Usually such loans are not controversial and are decided on the basis of the economic criteria set out by the monetary fund’s staff, with the board vote being mostly a formality.
But some Western countries were agitating to hold back the loan until Sri Lanka met certain benchmarks, like allowing Tamils displaced by the fighting to return to their homes.