At the Bambalapitiya junction, a larger-than-life silhouette of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is illuminated with hundreds of tiny blue, red and white fairy lights. It’s a strange depiction because his hair and facial features are covered in tiny blue lights. Behind the giant light spectacle is an entire façade of presidential portraits and signatures. Last week, a large screen television was mounted upon the façade. It plays propaganda videos about the last days of the war in 2009 and President Rajapaksa kneeling to kiss the ground upon his triumphant return home from an overseas trip on 18 May 2009.
Yet as long as the threat of intervention hangs over Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa can tug at his countrymen’s nationalist heart strings, rally ultra-nationalists and galvanise support for a government seemingly under attack from foreign interests. His government can deploy an “us-and-them” framework and brand broader anti-government views as anti-nationalist.
This, coupled with the glacial pace of international justice and an almost pathological ability by mainstream Sri Lanka to overlook violent abuses of power, means Rajapaksa’s political opponents will gain little traction for a campaign based on alleged war crimes.
Rajapaksa, like so many before him, enjoys an impunity no international bellowing is likely to overcome.
Analysts say radical Buddhism is just one sign of human rights being sidelined in Sri Lanka. With the nation reveling in postwar relief, lawmakers loyal to President Mahinda Rajapaksa passed a constitutional amendment in 2010 extending his term limits and revoking guarantees of independent police, judiciary and electoral commissions.
“We’re seeing a pattern of really severe human rights violations right across the board,” Amnesty International director Steve Crawshaw said. “The government can’t stand any forms of protest or criticism, and yet it appears to actively turn away from violence and lawlessness against other ethnic minorities and religions.”