In May 2009 the war in Sri Lanka ended with a military victory for the government over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). After nearly 30 years of violent conflict, the country is now embarking on a journey to peace.
The war is over, but the task of securing a long term peace is just beginning. Rebuilding the physical damage caused by the war – on homes, roads and infrastructure – is a key part of this. But healing divides between people, creating equitable economic opportunities and strengthening inclusive democratic principles and practice is equally important, in order to give Sri Lankans of all ethnicities and religions a chance to play a role in the future of their country. Reconciliation at the relational, political and structural level is key in ensuring this ‘positive peace’.
Our work strives to prevent a return to armed violence in Sri Lanka by supporting efforts for post-war reconciliation. Primarily, this focuses on strengthening state-citizen relationships that are democratic, equitable and inclusive. We work with partners to:
1. Bring together a cross-party group of young Sri Lankan parliamentarians and political representatives to discuss and develop their role as key stakeholders in ensuring a positive peace for all of Sri Lanka’s communities.
2. Bring together diaspora communities in the UK to strengthen relations between communities for an interdependent and positive peace. Here, we work with first and second generations, with faith leaders and business actors.
3. Engage cross-community second generation individuals in peacebuilding initiatives, both in Sri Lanka and within the diaspora in the UK.
4. Engage British Parliamentarians to ensure meaningful and peace-supporting actions and advocacy on Sri Lanka.
5. Research and advocate for conflict sensitive aid policies post-war by engaging multiple stakeholders.
6. Advocate the social, economic and political impact of climate change on communities in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, in partnership with the South Asia Network on Climate Change and Security (SANSaC).
International Alert has been working on peacebuilding in Sri Lanka since the 1990s and opened its country office in 2003.
Our office is based in the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo. We work with a network of partners across Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has experienced more than three decades of violent internal conflict. The early 1970s saw the mushrooming of rebellion, especially in the impoverished rural regions, initially with a short-lived Southern-based youth insurgency. The growing tensions between the ethnic communities over national recognition and access to development resources fuelled anethnic autonomy campaign in the north and east. Successive inter-ethnic civil clashes and an increasing emphasis on ethnicity in the country’s state structures in the late 1970s and 80s sparked a Tamil secessionist insurgency, led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
A second insurgency in the south, led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (1987-89), indicated the continuing deep socio-economic and regional cleavages in the country. The compulsions of large scale counter-insurgency over the years have seen the democratic system transformed by stringent controls and a confrontational civilian politics.
Several failed political negotiations with the LTTE and long periods of insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare have divided Sri Lankan society along ethnic lines. The last military campaign was launched against the LTTE in 2007 with full scale conventional warfare in the Tamil-dominated Northern region. The war escalated throughout 2008, resulting in military victory for the Sri Lankan security forces, the death of the LTTE leadership and surrender of insurgent forces by May 2009.
Since the end of the war, there has been a growth of investment and development in Sri Lanka, including the construction of new roads, new housing in war-affected areas and reconstruction of schools and hospitals. Nevertheless, there continue to be deep divisions within society and between communities and the root causes of the conflict still remain to be addressed.
We believe that dialogue, research, accompaniment and training are key methods in supporting the understanding and implementation of peacebuilding activities.
Working with young Sri Lankan parliamentarians and political representatives:
We have been working with a group of young, cross-party Sri Lankan parliamentarians since 2011. This strand of work has focused on building understanding amongst the group of the diverse nature of the diaspora, the range of opinions and concerns and the ways in which diaspora communities are able to engage with Sri Lanka. The group has visited the UK and met with a range of diaspora communities. They formulated a joint report on recommendations for diaspora engagement, which has been presented to their party leaders. We are also supporting the group in developing their capacity as champions of reconciliation, within and across their political parties as well as in their constituencies.
Engaging with the diaspora:
In the UK, we work with diaspora communities to provide open spaces for honest dialogues on post-war issues, with the aim of increasing understanding and strengthening inter-community relations for an interdependent and positive peace. We also support second generation peacebuilding initiatives, including the facilitation of dialogue workshops within the community in the UK and conflict-sensitive, peace-supporting professional partnerships between young professionals in the UK and their counterparts in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is now faced with the opportunity to build a long-lasting, inclusive and interdependent peace for this generation and many more to come. The end of the violence is only the beginning of this journey. Political and civil society have the opportunity to reflect on the root causes that spurred the violence and learn from those experiences to build a system that ensures grievances of all communities can be and will be addressed through transparent and inclusive structures.
During the period of war, relations between communities became fractured; communities have lost trust in one another, with stereotyping and living parallel lives becoming the norm. Generations have grown up only knowing war and have no experience of a time of peace.
Alert believes that facilitating structured dialogue and interactions within and between civil and political society and communities – both those living in Sri Lanka and in the UK - help build inter-community and inter-agency understanding. Dialogues also provide the opportunity to jointly build equitable, transparent and democratic structures and initiatives that can help people today and for generations to come.
Alert aims to support reconciliation efforts by strengthening fractured relations, supporting equitable development, promoting democratic principles and practice, and including the Sri Lankan diaspora as a key stakeholder in this process and outcome.