Sri Lanka: Transitioning from a humanitarian crisis to a human rights crisis
Sri Lanka is recovering from a devastating 26-year civil war, which ended in May 2009 with the military defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the government of Sri Lanka. The rapid reconstruction of major roads, power lines and public buildings by the government is an impressive achievement. The return of 300,000 people displaced at the end of the war was also swift, but in a number of cases the government of Sri Lanka did not adhere to internationally accepted standards for voluntary, safe and dignified return. Furthermore, an estimated 100,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) remain in camps, host communities and transit centers and about 136,000 Sri Lankan refugees remain in exile, with the majority in India. Sri Lanka’s postwar transition from relief to development has been artificially stunted in that there was little recognition of the underlying grievances of the Tamil minority. Furthermore, the victory has allowed the government to consolidate power across the country and intimidate political opposition at all levels. The maintenance of public administration and services in LTTE-controlled areas during the war should have fostered a more efficient transition from relief to development, but the military’s influence in local administration and centralized decision-making process have limited recovery efforts. For the conflict-affected populations in the north and east, the sociopolitical conflict continues and a host of unaddressed traumas manifest in grow-ing social issues among Tamil communities. Sri Lanka’s future as a stable and democratic nation remains overshadowed, not by a renewed Tamil insurgency but by the increasingly authoritative practices of the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.