‘Peace to the huts! War on the Palaces! Does Sri Lanka experience mob justice or a coup? – LEGAL EXPERT – Comment

Dr. Thamil Ananthavinayagan discusses the recent uprising in Sri Lanka and its potential to have a significant impact on social, racial and moral justice in the country.

What’s going on in Sri Lanka?

The dynasty has fallen. After protesters stormed the presidential palace and the private residences of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapakse and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the former announced his resignation while the latter Free follow the movement.

For some, anger flared as Sri Lanka’s economy rapidly collapsed in the face of crushing debt due to regional powers such as India, China and Japan, as well as Western-based international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Rajapaksa the regime’s extravagant tax exemptions and mounting debt ruined the government’s finances. As oil prices rose, foreign currency reserves were quickly depleted. Long queues have become commonplace outside shops selling cooking gas as the nation no longer has enough money to import the heavily rationed fuel. The headline inflation rate in the nation of 22 million people was 54.6% last month, and the Central Bank has issued a warning that it could rise to 70% in the coming months.

Popular justice or majority justice?

In this context, pressure mounted on the Third world elite, which ruled and shaped the last decades of Sri Lanka’s history. Anger over socio-economic collapse, long lines for fuel, skipping meals to make ends meet: what started as waves of frustration turned into a tsunami that swept through banks of the palaces of the elites. Scenes of people entering their leaders’ buildings have been seen around the world: sleeping on their beds, swimming in their pools, using their gym equipment and eating in their kitchens. These scenes recalled the Libyan people entering the palaces of Muammar Gaddafi or the Iraqi people entering the palaces of Saddam Hussein.

The protests were led mainly by the Sinhalese people, members of Sri Lanka’s ethnic majority. While they have been vocal about their demands for social justice in various capacities, they have remained silent on key issues of racial justice on the island. And this silence is not new; the vast majority of the Sinhalese people remained silent in the face of the postcolonial series of racial, religious and cultural discriminatory policies; the vast majority remained silent when Tamils ​​were attacked during the infamous Black July of 1983; they were silent when Muslims were attacked in the streets after the 2019 Easter bombings. Pogroms and attacks on Tamils ​​and Muslims were forms of the exercise of biopower. As is writing somewhere else, “because of the stateIn its role of preserving productive and necessary life for the social body, war becomes an organizing logic and an effect of truth in the arrangement of bodies within a population, stimulated by the theme of racism. The war was fought in a variety of fashions and modes; but ultimately it was meant to give identity and selfish providence to the Sinhalese people. It is this identity politics that has divided the peoples of the third world, a smokescreen for the Third World elites to entertain, obstruct and enrich themselves while ethnic feud contributed to the corruption of solidarity in the post-colonial era. The phenomenon of state capture has not only happened in Sri Lanka; other third world countries are carbon copies of the governance of Sri Lanka.

However, it was not until injustice struck at home, when food shortages and empty stomachs could not take it anymore, that the realization began: “they” also betrayed “us”. Will the current upheaval lead to a process of critical reflection and discussion? The future is murky, as the keys to the palaces are in the hands of the Sinhalese people. Although talks are continuing and there is general agreement to form a multi-party interim government, the formation and governance of it will be strongly influenced, on the one hand, by the Sinhalese monks who want to to influence and shape the future of Sri Lanka, and on the other hand, by the ambitions of the army. The manipulation of post-colonial architecture is real: divisions between communities along racial lines have led to wealth disparities: the richest 20% of Sri Lankan households receive more than half of the country’s total household income, while the bottom decile (the poorest 20%) receives only 5%, the proportion of household income for the poorest 10% amounting to only 1.6 percent.

What does the future hold?

Imminent IMF intervention will not solve the country’s woes. On the contrary, it will make the situation worse: the IMF, in the past, intervened with new loans to support participating international banks and financiers, placing the burden of repayment on the taxpayers of the damaged economies. Bad private loans have often been turned into public debt at the behest of the IMF. The IMF and World Bank have imposed Structural Adjustment Plans (SAPs) on around 90 developing countries, ranging from Guyana to Ghana, over the past 20 years. The objective of these SAPs was to eliminate protectionism and allow neoliberal intrusion. Like Brian Vincent Ikejiaku writing: “International economic liberalism is one of the main powerful tools of the international economic law agenda pursued by the West under the auspices of the international financial institutions, in order to continue to maintain the subjugation and control of Third World countries. (…) Thus, the growing importance of international organizations such as the G7, the IMF and the World Bank is indicative of the influence of liberal economic internationalism in the post-Cold War period. Therefore, the granting of aid and loans to the poorest communities, as a means of eliminating hunger and disease in the third world, became the main objective on which these institutions based their activities.

The fight by the Sri Lankan protesters must trigger a greater moment of indigenous solidarity: indigenous and foreign elites have sold out the country, using identity politics to intoxicate, manipulate and divide, while allowing them to keep the upper hand on the country. German scientist, writer and revolutionary Georg Büchner once proclaimed under the title “Peace to the huts! War on the Palaces! — explaining that peasants and workers must revolt against oppression and high taxes.

And, indeed, it is time to revolt against injustice in all its forms: social, racial and moral.

Dr Thamil Venthan Ananthavinayagan, LL.M. (Maastricht University), PhD (NUI Galway) has been a Lecturer in International Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Law at Griffith College Dublin since September 2017. course at the GCD, he worked as a researcher and research assistant with the Irish Center for Human Rights in Galway, Ireland. Her doctoral research focused on Sri Lanka’s engagement with the United Nations human rights mechanism.

Suggested quote: Thamil Ananthavinayagan, ‘Peace to the huts! War on the palaces! Does Sri Lanka know mob justice or a coup?, JURIST – Academic Commentary, July 12, 2022, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2022/07/peace-to-the-hut… -or -a-coup-detat/


This article was prepared for publication by Ingrid Burke-Friedman, JURIST Features & Commentary Editor. Please direct your questions or comments to [her] at [email protected]


The opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of JURIST’s editors, staff, donors, or the University of Pittsburgh.

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