Ethnic Conflicts & Terrorism in Sri Lanka
( Note on how to cite this journal: Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post, ISSN: 2628-6998, https://worldmediation.org/conflict-insight )
Abstract: This article is probing the Sri Lankan Ethnic conflicts and Tamil Diaspora, and the struggle of minority Tamils in Sri Lanka. The ethnic war did end in 2009, with
Tamil speaking people from India, habitually migrants from Tamil Nadu, voyaged in large numbers, to the island of Sri Lanka, look as if to have taken place between the 7th and 11th centuries. Great Britain ruled Sri Lanka, erstwhile Ceylon, from 1815 to 1948. The British accepted Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. The Sinhalese majority proximately began to make laws that discriminated against Tamils, particularly the Indian Tamils brought to Sri Lanka by the British. New Sri Lankan government dominated by Sinhalese made Sinhalese the official language, driving Tamils out of the government service. The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 effectively barred Indian Tamils from holding citizenship, making stateless people out of some 700,000. Frustration and anger over such measures fueled the bloody rioting, which was followed by ethnic civil war.
2.0 The Sri Lankan Civil War and Ethnic Divisions
The Sri Lankan civil society is an ethno-religious mosaic and within the ethnic groups, there are clear religious divisions as well. To a certain extent, ethnicity, religion, language, with regional basis, form a significant cause why the Tamil militancy, under The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), formed in 1975; and the group has vowed to carve out a separate Tamil State in Sri Lanka. Other prominent armed groups included the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO), the People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOT), the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), the Eelam Revolutionary Organization (EROS) and the Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front (ENDLF).
Post-Independence of Sri Lanka, 1948, the Tamils became the targets of frequent riots that flounced through Sri Lanka. Believing that these riots were prompted by the Sinhalese authorities, Tamils began calling for an independent state and for an organization to protect their rights, and the LTTE militancy emerged in this background, and it has a strong geographical facet, which extended to the demand of a separate independent state. Of the ethnic and religious groups, Tamil Hindus predominate in the Northern Province and maintain a significant presence in the Eastern Province. The Eastern Province is an ethnically mixed area where Tamils, Muslims and with Sinhalese. Indian Tamils are the descendants of laborers brought from Southern India by the British in the 19th century to work on tea and coffee estates are concentrated in parts of the Central, Sabaragamuwa and Uwa Provinces.
The LTTE had two wings, the political and the military, and they were controlled by a Central Governing Committee (CGM) headed by Mr. Vellupiali Prabhakaran who decides all aspects of organizational policy, supposedly in consultation with CGM leaders. The other wings of the LTTE were: 1) An elite guerrilla force known as the Charles Anthony Regiment; 2) The Black Tigers unit, which is responsible for conducting suicide attacks;3) The women’s military wing; 4)The naval wing, known as the Sea Tigers; 5) Arms procurement network;6) Research and development wing;7)Secretive Intelligence Group; 8)Leopard Brigade (also known as Chiruthaigal);9)Military Offences Group.
In 2013, the UN panel estimated additional deaths during the last phase of the war: “Around 40,000 died while other independent reports estimated the number of civilians’ dead to exceed 100,000. A zealously Tamil-nationalist Catholic bishop claims that, after the 26 years of fighting, 147,000 people, civilians and fighters, remain unaccounted for. For over 25 years, the war caused significant hardships for the population, environment and the economy of the country, with an initial estimated 80,000–100,000 people killed during its course.
Sri Lankan forces have been accused of killing about 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of the war, a charge successive governments have denied. Several mass graves containing skeletal remains have been found in the past two decades, but only a handful of those buried have ever been formally identified. Until recently, even remembering the war dead was considered subversive and annual memorial services by Tamils were trashed by government forces. The International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a recent report that the new government’s promised political reforms and accountability for wartime atrocities have failed to materialize.
3.0 Sri Lanka and Islamist terror –emerging conflicts
The end of the war did open a peaceful new chapter in which Sri Lanka’s economy and tourism boomed. But this peace was shattered April 21 when Islamist suicide bombers targeted three churches and three luxury hotels, killing 258 people, including 45 foreigners. The attackers were homegrown extremists, the Islamic State group also claimed credit, and riots since saw dozens of homes, businesses and mosques of Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority vandalized.
National Thowheeth Jama’ath is a local militant Islamist group with suspected foreign ties, known for attacks against Buddhists in 2018. Subsequently, major terrorist act was reported during Easter Sunday on 21 April 2019, when suicide bombers of the group attacked three Catholic churches in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa and three luxury hotels in Colombo. More than 258 people were killed, including at least 45 foreigners, and over 500 more were injured. On 27 April 2019, Sri Lankan security forces and militants from National Thowheeth Jama’ath clashed after the security forces raided a safe house of the militants. Sixteen people, including six children, died during the raid, and two more were injured, as three cornered suicide bombers blew themselves up.
The bombings appear to have been aimed at an international audience, with the targets chosen for their links to liberalism and western ideals. The victims were Sri Lankan Christians and international and local elites staying in high-end hotels. The country’s Christian community is small, it crosses Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic divides, and generally is not particularly influential, so it does not make sense to target this community from the perspective of local politics.
Muslims in Sri Lanka are a regularly targeted minority population, and while they might hold legitimate grievances against the state and the Sinhalese majority, together with the fact, that, Sri Lanka happened to be the stage for a play that could have been performed in so many other places across the globe. The important thing was that the world was watching.
4.0 Sri Lanka and Transitional Justice Process
In September 2015, the Government endorsed the Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, and made an unprecedented commitment to transparency and accountability via a transitional justice process. It promised State-endorsed avenues to pursuing truth, justice, reparations and institutional reform, particularly in connection to the conflict. Immediately after the signing of the resolution it appeared that the transitional government was making concrete strides towards effectively dealing with the crimes committed by previous regimes and armed groups.
Three and a half years later, Sri Lanka’s political situation is remains unstable, and any commitment to transitional justice within Government seems to have waned. The political coup at the end of 2018 highlighted the serious cracks within the coalition government, the immense corruption within party politics, the vulnerability of some State institutions to the whims of the President, and the fragility of the entire transition.
In relation to transitional justice, the few who supported it from within the Government have increasingly disengaged from it, as resistance to credible accountability grows stronger. Efforts to fulfill the commitments under Resolution 30/1 have been rushed, centered on the Human Rights Council sessions.
The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and their role in post-war reconstruction along with committed peace messengers, who can work for non-sectarian policy resolutions, correspondingly working towards a common language as official language, like English; and by accepting the demand for greater autonomy to Tamil dominated provinces can transmute the feelings of inequality and oppression among Tamils. It is the obligation and commitment of the democratic governments to develop a system of plurality, and to re-enforce a sense of national identity within several ethnic groups and people in Sri Lanka is the way ahead for peace.
1. Visuamadu, Thousands of victims of Sri Lanka’s Civil War remain unaccounted for, ECONOMIST.COM, (Oct 28, 2019, 10.15 AM) https://www.economist.com/asia/2017/03/16/thousands-of-victims-of-sri-lankas-civil-war-remain-unaccounted-for).
2. Arence France-Prsse, Srilanka Marks 10 Year since Civil War’s End, VOANES.COM ( Oct 10, 2019, 08.25 AM), https://www.voanews.com/south-central-asia/sri-lanka-marks-10-years-civil-wars-end.
3. Alena Drischova, Srilanka’s Ester Sunday attacks were meant for International audience, but have local consequences, THE CONVERSATION ( Oct 14, 2019, 11.21 AM) http://theconversation.com/sri-lankas-easter-sunday-attacks-were-meant-for-international-audience-but-have-local-consequences-117704
4. Esther Hoole, Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka: – 2019 & Beyond, Colombo Telegraph (April 02, 2019).
6. Jeremy Kahn, Tamil Autonomy is the road to peace in Srilanka, NEWWSWEEK.COM, (Oct 12, 2019, 10.45 A.M) https://www.newsweek.com/tamil-autonomy-road-peace-sri-lanka-79849.