Touring a Civil War: The Potential in Sri Lanka’s Future

As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, the civil war that ravaged this country for over three decades prevented the country from benefiting from its great potential for tourism.  This country offers a variety of experiences for travelers that would be very marketable to those living in developed countries such as its beaches, wildlife, scenic beauty, culture and festivals.

While the beaches may speak for themselves, Sri Lanka has a variety of wildlife parks that would be attractive to all different types of tourists such as the Udawalawe National park (famous for elephant watchin), the gorgeous Wasgamuwa National park, the larger Wilpattu National park which is home to a variety of leopards and many more.  In addition to wildlife, Sri Lanka’s geography is fitting for the growing market for sports tourism.  In Kitulgala a family could go white water rafting while in the Arugam bay young travelers might enjoy surfing or boating.  Of course there would be ample opportunities for trekking in the diverse wildlife areas all over this island.

The course of this blog post is not to sell a vacation to Sri Lanka, of course, but rather to demonstrate just how much Sri Lanka lost because of this conflict.  Since the end of the civil war, the situation has certainly improved.  Tourism has just about doubled and in 2011, two years after the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka made $1.4 billion from tourism.  The government has plans to increase this business even more in the coming years.  Their plans include increasing arrivals from 650,000 people to 2.5 million people in 2016 and quadruple tourist-based employment by this time.  This refocusing of the economy and of the operations of the government is certainly positive.  With such ugly and ugly and violent history it is hard, sometimes, to picture the potential beauty that this country has to offer citizens world-wide.  Whether or not these plans pan out depends on the enduring stability of this country and the ability of Tamils and Sinhalese to live peacefully with one another.


Politics of Equality: Tamils’ Struggle for Political Autonomy

The politics of a failed state often say a lot about how it is faring in terms of development and equality.  When looking at the state of Sri Lanka’s government, we see a mixed bag, so to speak, in terms of it’s functionality and rule of law.

 A bit of background about the government and politics of Sri Lanka: its government type is a republic with the chief of state as well as head of government being the president.  Currently that president, Mahinda Rajapaksa since November 2005, also appoints the cabinet.  Though a great deal of Sinhalese favor Rajapaksa as president, there were criticisms that Tamils were restrained from voting during his election and they would have actually favored the opposition leader.  His greatest success, according to some Sri Lankans, was his ability to finally defeat the LTTE in 2009 and very well may have led to his reelection in 2010; however, his inability to restore peace and stability have contributed to the bulk of the criticisms against this leader.   

 Certainly, the politics of Sri Lanka reflect the inequality that exists in the country in terms of the division between the Tamils and the Sinhalese.  Yet, there is evidence that Tamils have recently achieved marginal progress as far as equality in the political arena.  In September of 2013, excitement spread among Tamils when local elections produced a promising outcome.  The Tamil National Alliance won 30 out of the 36 seats in these provincial elections.  Moreover, compared to past elections, these ones went considerably smoother with few reports of irregularities. 

 This election is significant because it means the Tamils may be achieving higher levels of political autonomy.  Although it seems to be relegated to the northern parts, this could be a step in the right direction.  The next step, in terms of the politics of Sri Lanka, would be for the head of state to finally address the issues of human rights violations.            


Indian- Sri Lankan Relations: Further effects of state failure

A few weeks ago I discussed the relationship between India and Sri Lanka in terms of intervention in the conflict. Recent developments have caused me to examine this relationship on a deeper level.  Last week, tensions rose when Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh boycotted the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka.  This summit is meant to bring together the heads of government of the Commonwealth nations- 53 nations that were formerly under British Rule- to discuss issues facing their countries and policies that will help these problems.  India’s decision to boycott the summit caused a great deal of stir among these countries as well as other members of the international community.


India’s foreign minister, Salman Khurshid claims that the boycott had to do with domestic politics but was mainly a statement regarding the human rights violations that occurred in Sri Lanka.  As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the historical ties between these two countries has to do with the fact that the Tamils originated from India.  In some ways, India continues to feel a strong connection to the members of this ethnic group and therefore, there were claims during the civil war that India was sending aid to the Tamil Tigers, much to the resentment of the Sinhalese. Currently, 62 million people live in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a large majority of whom pressured the Indian government to make a stand against the human rights violations occurring against Tamils.


Sri Lanka, however, continues to negate these claims and asserts that there were no human rights violations committed, nor are there currently.  The president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, defends the country and says “We are open. We have nothing to hide”.  This seems unlikely, however, when considering the amount of censorship that occurs in the government.  Evidently, the leaders of this country are unwilling to own up to the targeting of Tamils and human rights violations, even in the fact of international pressure. This says a lot about the government and the scope of its state weakness. Next week I will further investigate the current political situation of Sri Lanka and how it effects state failure.


Sri Lanka’s State Failure in Pop Culture

This week’s post will deviate a bit from my traditional blog entries (but still related to state failure in Sri Lanka of course).  When scrolling through my Itunes playlist this week, I noticed an artist that caught my attention.  M.I.A. is a female rapper who I have listened to since I was in high school and who has grown in popularity since that time.  A provocative performer, M.I.A. has been known to say and do outrageous things that often catch the attention of the media, such as giving the middle finger to cameras during a live NFL half-time show.

M.I.A. is also a Tamil from Sri Lanka.  I remember reading an interview with her in a magazine years ago talking about the Sri Lankan war; however, at that time I knew little about conflict so it was hard for me to fully grasp the situation.  Historically, M.I.A. has attempted to use her celebrity as a platform from which to raise awareness about the civil war and particularly the persecution of Tamils by the Sinhalese majority and the government.  Furthermore much of her music has a militaristic tone which she claims to be influence from her experience with the Sri Lankan Civil War.  The following news clip from Al Jazeera is particularly interesting in terms of the response she has received because of her outspoken nature:

M.I.A has been widely criticized for some of her views and her vocal nature in terms of this conflict; however, it is clear that she is one of the few Tamil civilians who has had the opportunity to communicate to the rest of the world the experiences of Tamils and Sri Lankan civilians.  Moreover, in the Al Jazeera clip, she mentions that certain groups have accused her of being sympathetic to the Tamil Tigers.  This underscores a trend I have noticed in my research. Often, those who fight for the rights of Tamils or Tamil civilians are seen as being linked to the LTTE terrorist organization when in reality, only a small percentage of Tamils are currently connected to this group.

I commend what M.I.A has attempted to do for her people.  Evidently, the Sri Lankan war and ethnic conflict is not understood by many countries and this should not be the case.  Perhaps it is this lack of knowledge and interest in Sri Lanka has contributed to the long lasting effects of state failure.


State Failure and the Economy: Sri Lanka’s Instability

The Sri Lankan conflict produced various consequences that have contributed to a failed state.  In addition to the fragmentation of the country and human rights abuses that continue today, one of the consequences is the economic degradation of this country.

One direct effect of the civil war was the loss of employment by many Sri Lankans.  Much of the fighting and violence during the civil war took place in the northern and eastern provinces where Tamils typically resided and often performed agricultural work.  Many of these individuals were therefore displaced and put out of work.  Furthermore, Tamils owned many businesses that were destroyed during the war.  This, as well as the growing number of soldiers needed during the war led to high unemployment which continued after the war.

Another aspect of the economy that faltered during the war was foreign investment.  One of the major problems with a failed state is that other countries are reluctant to invest in said country if it is unstable.  For a small country such as Sri Lanka, foreign investment is crucial to its development; however during the war foreign direct investment fell from 70% to 20% and has only increased marginally since then.  This decline has greatly limited the abilities of the Sri Lankan government to expand and recover from the war.

Moreover, prior to the war Sri Lanka was becoming a hot spot for tourism with scenic beaches and forests. Evidently, ethnic conflict and violence was a big deterrent for anyone who may have been interested in touring this area.  This prevented a lot of potential capital from entering Sri Lanka and stunted its GDP growth.  Even today, the instability that lingers certainly has prevented tourism from growing to its full potential.

Although the economy has stabilized somewhat since it is evident that state failure can have a variety of consequences on a country.  In Sri Lanka’s case, the conflict was almost all based on ethnic tensions unlike in other state failures where collapse had to do with economic factors.  Regardless, we see how the civil war can have detrimental effects on all aspects of a society.


India’s Intervention: Is it enough?

Amidst the violence and atrocities committed against civilians, one might wonder: where is the international community? Indeed, it would seem the government of Sri Lanka is unable to institute a stable rule of law or prevent the conflict from escalating so it would seem that intervention is necessary. One country that has become heavily involved in Sri Lankan affairs is its neighbor, India.

India has been intrinsically linked to Sri Lanka as a result of various historical ties.  For one, many of the Tamils originated from India and were brought to Sri Lanka by the British.  Later, during the civil war, thousands of Tamils fled to India to escape the violence that was destroying their villages.  For this reason, India had very little choice but to intervene.  But to what extent?

In the 2000’s, India’s peacekeeping forces attempted to initiate peace talks.  Initially, India intervened in 1987 during the beginning of the civil war.  This attempt, however, ended disastrously as these forces ended up having to fight the LTTE rather than maintaining peace.  For the next decade, India distanced itself from its southern neighbor to avoid escalation of the conflict. Then, in the 2000s, India aided the Sri Lankan government with supplies and helicopters that ultimately helped the Sinhalese government subdue the LTTE.

In many ways, India’s actions were motivated by self-interest and their desire to reach a stable conclusion to the conflict so that it would not spill into the borders of India.  However, it should be noted that India’s congress has also pushed Sri Lankan officials to treat Tamils more fairly and integrate them more fully into the society.  Nevertheless, human rights abuses reportedly continue within Sri Lanka indicating that perhaps India has not done all that is within its power to ensure stability for all Sri Lankans.  Furthermore, Sri Lankan officials have been unresponsive to the UN Human Rights Council who has admonished the government for its treatment of Tamil civilian.  It is likely that if India were to push Sri Lanka on this subject that it would put more pressure on the Sinhalese government to protect Tamils.  However, India has opted for a much more passive role, claiming Sri Lanka needs “time and space” to work out this dispute.

The real question now is: how many more civilians must face abuses and violence during this “time and space”?


Meeting between India’s Prime minister and the Sri Lankan president.


Sexual Violence and Rule of Law

As mentioned in my previous post, the citizens of Sri Lanka have faced numerous attacks on their welfare and human rights by members of the Sinhalese majority military as well as the Tamil Tigers. One of the ways in which these groups have waged warfare on one another is through sexual violence and rape.


Recently, reports have risen that claim the military continues to use rape and torture against civilians who they believe to be connected or sympathetic to the LTTE, the perpetrators being army, police and pro-government paramilitary groups.  These groups use sexual violence as a way to not only terrorize Tamils but to extract information and confessions from them regarding their family members or anyone else they may believe to be connected to the LTTE. Much like abuses that occurred in Latin America under brutal dictatorships in the 80’s and 90’s, the sexual violence and torture occurs when residents of Sri Lanka are abducted from their homes and taken to detention centers.  Often, even after an individual confesses, the detainee will not be released until a relative pays a bribe to the officers.  Furthermore, one can imagine that the confessions that are tortured out of these civilians may in no way reflect whether or not that person is actually guilty of being a part of the LTTE. 


This issue shows that rule of law does not exist in Sri Lanka.  Evidently, the officers and officials who should be in charge of keeping the population safe have instilled and perpetuated an environment of fear and violence.  Victims of this abuse rarely come forward, however, as a result of the weak institutions and lack of responsibility taken by the government.  In areas where there are largely Tamil populations, the government has restricted organizations from providing survivors with medical or psychological counseling.  This further demonstrates the lack of security that exists within Sri Lanka and how the divide has become such as damaging force to all those living in Tamil areas.