What’s Next in Sri Lanka? Finding Reconciliation and Justice After a Long Term Conflict

On paper, the nearly 30 year old civil war in Sri Lanka between the government forces and the rebel group Tamil Tigers, officially ended in 2009. Those on the ground say otherwise. Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council High Commissioner began an inquiry into the mass killings that took place at the tail of the war. The government of Sri Lanka has but uncooperative at all levels in this investigation and has been very vocal on the matter. But the question remains: Will there ever be justice for those who died?

The Tamil Tigers are a minority population living primarily on the north side of the island who sought to create an independent state for themselves. This struggle eventually snowballed into an all- out war against the government in 1983. The state effectively lost control of the northern and eastern sections of the island. In the 2000s, the government regained these “lost” provinces and declared victory. It is this last chapter in the war that has captured the attention of the UN, human rights activists and the world. For it during this time that an estimated 40,000 Tamil Sri Lankans were killed by the government security forces. It is under this pretext that the UNHRC investigation has begun.

The creation of such a body did not come easily. Although called for and later cheered on by human rights activists, the government hasn’t been particularly receptive to hosting them. The country’s representative in Geneva has said that the investigation wouldn’t be supported and that it, “Will infringe upon the sovereignty of Sri Lanka”. The scope of the will extend from 21 February 2002 through 15 November 2011, the last years of the war. This too, has come under fire because the current aggressions stemming from the state aren’t under review. In addition, the five person team has 10 months and $1.4 million to gather information. Issues such as witness protection has also been brought into question. Purportedly half of the designated funds could be used simply to conceal the individuals who choose to speak up, even those outside of the country. Another black mark on the investigative team is the named leader, Sandra Beidas, is best known for recent departure from South Sudan. There she is accused of falsifying reports on the conduct of its military forces. Her reports, and the events in the recently independent nation, may not have been completely unfounded.  

The Sri Lankan government hasn’t rested since the war has ended. Internally, contact has been made illegal with overseas Tamil populations and groups, which have grown since the civil war initially began. Additionally around 60 people were arrested while on the hunt for a “Gopi”, a strawman character which has allowed the government to continually act with impunity. Other than refusing to acknowledge the UN investigation, the Sri Lankan government has said that the Parliament would have the final say on whether the team would be allowed in the country. Also, the country advocates for a speedy reconciliation.

The road to having an investigation into the atrocities of war has proven to be anything but easy. The reality is that it’s unlikely that this case will move to the International Criminal Court because Russia and China were among those who originally opposed the vote. Communication channels are essentially cut and no guarantees are made for those who choose to come forward. Is this justice? More importantly, what precedent does this set for any possible future atrocities?

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One thought on “What’s Next in Sri Lanka? Finding Reconciliation and Justice After a Long Term Conflict”

  1. Unfortunately, justice might be hard to achieve because like you mentioned, it is unlikely that this case will move to the international criminal court. This is because of the opposing affect China and Russia has, but also because of the timing. Although the Sri Lankan government hasn’t rested since the end of the war, UN investigators have already lost it’s timing. The populations have grown in the Tamil group over the years and it will take more people, time, and money to continue more research. And unfortunately, it is a case that is overdue for UN investigators to continue the research in a productive manner. The UN staff could work behind the scene, but they still need witnesses, funds, and researchers willing to aid in brining justice for this to happen. Although this is not justice served, the efforts made behind the scenes can be admired. Through this case, it is important to realize that the timing is so important in solving to bring justice. It is just simply too late if there are so many changes in demographics like we see in the case with Sri Lanka.

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