History of the Conflict

1. What are the origins of the recent conflict?

Like the conflicts in Somalia, Rwanda, Ireland and Bosnia ethno-religious identities are at the heart of Sri Lanka's problems. Since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948, tensions between the different groups have grown under a corrupt political system propped up by elitism, political dynasties and extreme ethno-religious ideology.

2. I often hear the Tamil Tigers are responsible for this situation.  What’s your view?

The LTTE ruthlessly eliminated Tamil opponents in its goal of becoming the sole voice of Tamils.  The LTTE was also widely criticised for its forced use of child soldiers and the UN panel of experts reports strongly criticised the LTTE for mutiple human rights' abuses.

Both sides share responsibility for creating the current situation but it is the Goverment of Sri Lanka that continues to abuse human rights to this day. Moreover, by refusing to allow any investigation into the past the Government of Sri Lanka protects the LTTE from the accountability they would otherwise, and should, face. Some of the worst LTTE violators of human rights, like Col Karuna, are now Sri Lankan Government ministers.

3. How about the Muslims? What's their role in this conflict?

The smallest minority in the conflict, the Muslims voice has been pushed aside by the Sinhalese and the Tamils. A great injustice was done toward Muslims during the 1980’s when they were forced out of their homelands by the LTTE.

5. How did the situation in Sri Lanka get so bad?

Between 1948 and 1972 the government  passed laws discriminating against the minorities: Tamils (18%) and Muslims (6%).

The first injustice took place in 1949 when 1 million Tea plantation workers ("Hill" Tamils shipped in from India to work under slave labour conditions) were stripped of their citizenship and right to vote. Next came the 1956 language act which made Sinhala the official state language (before the British left Sinhala, Tamil and English were used). 

By 1972 extreme Sinhala nationalism had a major grip on political decision-makers and Buddhism was made the state religion - further alienating the Tamils (mainly Hindus and Christians) and the Muslims. The 1970’s were a time of unrest for all ethnic communities in Sri Lanka but particularly the youth who turned to violence to protest about their limited socio-economic opportunities. Sinhala youth in the south of the country (who supported a Nationalist/Marxist party known as “JVP”) were crushed when they organised violent protests against the state. In the north and east, Tamil youths, frustrated by the lack of success of the Tamil political leaders, formed militia groups.

Between 1983-2009 a civil war raged between the LTTE and Government of Sri Lanka. There were periods of ceasefire and peace talks but none yielded results and year by year, the country became more desensitised to repression and violence of all forms and by all players.