After Sri Lanka’s internal conflict, we supported the building of an inclusive, multi-ethnic state and pursuing accountability for violations committed during the war.
Between 1983 and 2009, the Sri Lankan government fought a brutal war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who sought to create an independent Tamil state in the north and east of the island. At least 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed and some one million displaced during the 26-year long conflict. The Government of Sri Lanka declared victory over the LTTE in May 2009.
While the end of the decades-long conflict in Sri Lanka was widely welcomed, there is serious concern about the conduct of both sides in the final stages of the war. The UN estimates that at least 7,000 people were killed from January to May 2009.
In 2011, a panel of experts advising UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on accountability in Sri Lanka reported that “a number of allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by both the LTTE and the Government of Sri Lanka are credible, some of which would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” This report is disputed by Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Since the conflict ended, non-governmental organisations continue to document human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, these include lack of humanitarian access to displaced communities, lack of consultation with communities in the resettlement process and threats to media freedoms.
Meaningful progress towards reconciliation among all of Sri Lanka’s ethnic communities has been slow. Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims remain polarised after decades of political violence and conflict, and fears and suspicions have become deeply ingrained in each community. Increasing authoritarianism has only exacerbated these divisions.
While welcoming the end of Sri Lanka’s destructive and prolonged internal conflict, The Elders remain deeply concerned about the lack of a broad, inclusive national reconciliation process.
If Sri Lanka is to build an inclusive and democratic state for all its ethnic and religious communities, and avoid the risk of future conflict, political leaders must reach out to all communities and serve all its people, including minorities.
Rebuilding confidence and trust also requires far-sighted political leadership and a commitment to hold all parties to the conflict – including state security forces – accountable for crimes and human rights violations. The government needs to demonstrate much greater commitment to human rights, accountability and the rule of law to ensure a peaceful and democratic future for Sri Lanka.