The three-decade long civil war in Sri Lanka between govt. forces and rebel groups ended in May 2009, leaving behind several casualties, dead bodies, traumas, destruction of public utilities and civilian properties, and innumerable human rights violations. The country is now confronted with the post-war peace building process to restore the normal life in affected areas. With its own limited resources and external aids, Sri Lanka has to transform from war to peace. Government’s strategies in battle field displayed its determination and competence in winning war, and it now needs to demonstrate the same efforts and enthusiasms to refurbish the peace.
In addition to Sri Lankan government’s response to regional and international initiatives for post war peace building process, this article will explore sectors, such as military security, infrastructure development, restoration of law and order, protection of human rights, and conductive elections.
Sri Lanka achieved independence from Britain in 1948, after almost 450 years of colonial rule by various western powers. Data says Sri Lanka’s main ethnic populations are the Sinhalese (82 percent), Tamil (9.4 percent), and Sri Lanka Moor (7.9 percent). After independence, the Sinhalese, who resented British favoritism toward Tamils during the colonial period, passed laws discriminating Tamils and other ethnic groups. As such Sinhala was made the official language and Buddhism the nation’s primary religion. As ethnic tension grew, young people turned to violence to express discontent at limited socio-economic opportunities. In 1976, the LTTE was formed under the leadership of Velupillai Prabhakaran, and it began to campaign for a Tamil homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lankan Islands, where most of the Tamils reside. In 1983, the LTTE ambushed an army convoy, killing thirteen soldiers in northern town of Jaffna, provoking Sinhala nationalists to unleash pogroms in Colombo and other Sinhala majority areas to trigger riots in which 2,500 Tamils died.
India deployed a peacekeeping force in 1987. The force left three years later amidst escalating violence. During the conflict, the LTTE emerged as an awful terrorist organization, initiated guerrilla warfare and suicide bombing campaign on central government targets. They recruited child soldiers and began to capture territory in northern and eastern side of the Jaffna. Another peace effort followed 1994 parliamentary victory of People’s Alliance, which saw the wave of support for a negotiated settlement. Negotiation collapsed after LTTE sank two navy gunboats in April 1995, triggering government military forces to recapture Jaffna peninsula. In 2002, Norway facilitated a cease-fire talk between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. But peace talks broke down the very next year. In 2003, the catastrophic tsunami, which caused thirty thousand deaths on the island, temporarily interrupted the downward spiral of government-LTTE relations.
In August 2005, the conflict was reignited by the assassination of Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar. February 2006 talks in Geneva failed to salvage battered ceasefire. For the next two years, both the government and rebels repeatedly violated the cease-fire agreement. In January 2008, the Sri Lankan government formally withdrew from the truce, pressuring Nordic monitors to pull out of the country. Fighting intensified during first months of the year, with continuing rights abuses from both sides. Thee included political assassinations, abductions, and targeted attacks on civilians. In May 2009, the government claimed that it had defeated the rebels and liberated the country. Since then no attacks or military capability attributed to the LTTE in Sri Lanka.
Post Conflict Peace building Initiative
Three different parties, which are involved with the post conflict peace building process in Sri Lanka, are: domestic, regional and international.
A. Domestic Initiative
The government’s post-conflict peace building activities can be divided under the following three main categories: Immediate Humanitarian Assistance, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation, and, Accountability and Reconciliation.
a. Immediate Humanitarian Assistance
Instantaneous aftermath of the conflict, the government of Sri Lanka had to carry out myriad tasks as immediate humanitarian assistance. The government was able to establish interim camps for all Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), including ex- LTTE cadres. All interim camps were provided with basic needs of the IDPs including food, shelter, medical facilities and other sanitation requirements.
Furthermore, the govt. sources and UNHCR reports stated that the government was able to provide education facilities to the children at camps. The government also provided livelihood opportunities and professional skill training to unemployed youth in the camps.
b. Reconstruction and Rehabilitation at the end of Conflict
In parallel to immediate humanitarian assistance the government launched a number of reconstruction and rehabilitation activities to restore the lives of conflict affected civilians with the support of limited actors from the international community. Among the activities, resettling IDPs in their original habitants, providing livelihood for the IDPs who are camped and resettled, providing education facilities to children including ex-child soldiers, establishing health facilities, roads and other infrastructures and related development activities takes priority in the post-conflict reconstruction agenda. Reintegration of ex-LTTE combatants into mainstream society are one of the main rehabilitation and reintegration tasks.
According to the Government’s information sources, more than 95% of the IDPs were resettled in their homelands. Furthermore, while addressing the 17th session of the UNHRC, the govt. mentioned that its “priority has been the resettlement of the approximately 290,000 IDPs, while ensuring that they are provided adequate shelter, food, security and livelihood support.” The government led demining programs, reduced High Security Zones (HSZ) and implemented new livelihood activities for newly resettled civilians.
c. Accountability and Reconciliation:
The Sri Lankan government displays snail-pace in restoring accountability and reconciliation between communities. Despite progressive efforts in rehabilitation, rebuilding and development sectors, bringing social justice and being accountable to victims of the conflict have to be strengthened.
However, in addressing the root causes of the conflict, the govt. has been initiating several other activities in the past two years. At the Human Rights Council, a comprehensive program for socioeconomic development was outlined. The govt. has commenced discussion with the Tamil political parties to explore constitutional, legal and democratic reform. The Sri Lankan govt. has established the Lesson Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), to assess the root causes of the conflict.
Reestablishment of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) has given an opportunity to the conflict affected civilians to file complaints of human rights violations during the conflict and aftermath. However, credibility of these commissions is not clear due to hindrances in implementation. Moreover, it seems that the government’s investigation of human rights violations is in slower compared to its development activities.
B. Regional Initiatives
The response and initiative of regional actors have taken place in two ways: neighbor countries and regional organizations.
The response of regional actors in Sri Lankan conflict and in post-conflict peace building is noteworthy. The approach of regional actors is to accommodate, contribute and defend the govt.’s existing peace building activities.
China has been engaging in Sri Lankan peace building since 2006. The Chinese involvement in Sri Lanka is in three ways:
1) Military assistance to the govt. to carry out its mission against the LTTE
2) To provide massive humanitarian assistance by means of temporary shelters, hygiene utilities and so on
3) Defending Sri Lanka at the UNSC against human rights allegations from western members.
India pushes the govt. of Sri Lanka to take stable political actions to establish sustainable peace among all ethnic groups, while challenging the western sources of human rights allegations. In addition, India is set to build 50,000 permanent shelters for displaced families and continues to restructure the agricultural economy in the north. (See details at: Boss, A. G. and Harmell, “Improving Post-Conflict Coordination between Prosecutors”, UN Panels of Experts and Truth Commissions, Journal of Peace building and Development, Vol- 5, No- 2, 2000).
Pakistan helped Sri Lanka at the UN forums with solidarity. During the conflict, Pakistan increased and continued its military supplies to the Sri Lanka without any resistance from India. Pakistan openly alleged the expert’s panel report for being imaginary rather than actual violations of human rights.
C. International Initiatives
International initiatives have been taken by three main actors: UN, NGOs and developed countries.
While international institutions are the largest donors, private foundations contribute a great deal through project-based financing. In addition, regional organizations often help to both fund and implement peace building strategies. Moreover, NGOs often carry out small-scale projects to strengthen the peace initiatives at the grassroots level. The business and academic community and grassroots organizations work together to further peace-building efforts.
Japan, as a top donor country, played a vital political role in internal and international spheres including facilitating talks and conferences for peace building and raising aid. With the support of other European countries, Norway facilitated brokering peace talks and establishing the Sri Lanka Monitoring Missions (SLMM). The western donors dwindled in Sri Lanka after the Twin-Tower attack, because their foreign policy concentration shifted. Noteworthy, the U.S. State Department placed the LTTE on its terror list in 1997.
Initiative Sectors of the Post Conflict Peace building
There are different arenas which can be identified as the Sri Lankan govt.’s concerned sectors for post conflict peace building process:
The Initiative Sectors are: Military security, Normalization of Societies, Restoration of Law and Order, Protection of Human Rights, and Conductive Elections.
Rights Based Approach for Post War Peace Building in Sri Lanka
In rights based approach needs and problems of every group and individual are taken into consideration in developing policy. Needs and problems are measured through the standards of international norms of human rights. Intervening actions are undertaken, wherever an individual’s human right is violated.
The rights based approach of peace building centers on changes at the individual level. If individuals are not able to undergo a process of healing, there will be broader social, political, and economic impacts. For effective reconstruction and peace building, rights based approach has proven to be sustainable.
Surveys conducted by multilateral organizations, such as UNDP, highlight that at-large Sri Lanka’s peace building approach failed to comply with rights based standards. The violation of human rights is more severe in border areas.
Criticism by Global Actors and Media
Despite various initiatives, there continues to be intractable conflicts in different parts of Sri Lanka. Constant social, political and cultural turmoil in the society severely impacts its political economy, socio-ethnic cohesion between the Tamils and the Sri Lankan government.
Global actors reviewing the govt.’s humanitarian mission and peace-building alleged grave violations of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Western based human rights groups, well known media like BBC, Al Jazeera and Channel 4, academics, think thanks and major countries constantly criticized and called on the UN to control autocratic behavior of the govt. In March 2013, UN Human Rights Council passed a highly critical resolution urging Sri Lanka to conduct an independent investigation into alleged war crimes during the Tamil Tiger insurgency.
Furthermore, the latest human rights report by the US State Department has highlighted that the govt. and its agents continued to be responsible for serious human rights violation. The security forces committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Apart from the UN and the US criticisms, the international rights groups as like International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch have been criticizing the govt. on alleged human rights since 2006. (See details at Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, April 8, 2011)
Challenges in the Peace Building Process
Different key challenges have been identified by different policy experts, peace building missions, international and domestic donor agencies, and political party agents in Sri Lanka. They are listed below:
- Non availability of appropriate democratic mechanisms is leaving a large part of peace building policies unimplemented.
- High level of inefficiency, corruptions and lack of competent staff are causing adverse effects on reconciliation and reconstruction process in post war conflict.
- Lack of state willingness and insufficient cooperation between political parties, NGOs and donor agencies are obstructing the peace building process.
- Aid agencies are, sometimes, found partial in providing humanitarian assistance, adhering to government’s direction to reconciliation and reconstruction, for instance, giving more preference to the members of former rebel groups. That again creates the air of tension among different groups.
- Creation of an artificially soaring economy in the war affected area -including high rent for luxurious buildings, restaurants and brothels- are causing bad impact on the poorest.
- Most of the money is spent on administrative and technical aspects rather than on the recipients of the aid.
- Chamil Prasad, a policy analyst for Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, writes that local government inefficiency and ineffectiveness impacts post conflict rehabilitation because that could have an impact on rural and community level development.
- Dependency syndrome has been witnessed among aid recipients. It has a negative impact on socioeconomic and political developments.
- In some cases, humanitarian political assistance is splaying the way to reinforce capabilities of the rebel groups and ultimately undermines the goals of humanitarian agencies. This aspect of aid helps the sporadic conflicts to prolong.
- There are some misunderstandings between govt.’s peace building process and international media perception. International media often alleges the govt. for violating human rights, settling larger number of Sinhalese in Tamil areas and discriminately treating former rebel groups.
- Unnecessary and unaccepted mediation of parties of conflicts causes severe damage to the continuation efforts of international and local authorities to provide relief, reconstruction and development efforts.
- Aid agencies in war affected areas, to some extent, are failing to offer solutions. Problems confronted by different groups and individuals are indeed distinct. Nonetheless, aid agencies can indiscriminately provide common type of aid to all, in order to avoid favoritism.
To achieve positive peace, post-conflict peace building in Sri Lanka is exploring new dimension of contemporary peace building. The success is yet to be determined. Many post conflict peace building activities aim to address the existing problems. Government of Sri Lanka has to overcome multiple challenges, both in internally and internationally. A solid foundation of peace and stability is vital to Sri Lanka’s future. Until Sri Lanka solves structural factors of instability, which may have caused the war, the country may not establish a solid foundation for durable peace.
The armed conflict between the government and LTTE is a part of a broader problem. The problem is not simply ethnic, religious or territorial. It is also constitutional, not only in the sense that devolution has been discussed for a long time, but also in the sense that the national standard of citizenship in Sri Lanka is at stake. A political settlement must be pursued. But, it shouldn’t just be the politics of technical maneuvering. Sri Lanka has a historic chance to reconfigure the political foundation of the entire country.