Our analysis – shared by many activists, academics and decision-makers both inside and outside of Sri Lanka – is that impunity for human rights abuses is the root cause of multiple cycles of mass violence on the island. We believe that to prevent future violence and achieve lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, individuals must be held accountable for the crimes they have committed.
While Sri Lanka’s war has ended, its bitter ethnic conflict has not gone away. Indeed, there are troubling signs that it is alive and well as a result of the government’s post-war policies. The continued militarisation and repression of the Tamil community – on top of the failure to address war-time abuses – have helped fuel underlying grievances. Meanwhile, the state’s support for extreme forms of Sinhala Buddhist nationalism have resulted in a persistent sense of fear and insecurity among Sri Lanka’s minorities. In recent years Muslims, in addition to Tamils, have increasingly borne the brunt of the island’s exclusionary politics.
To prevent these dynamics from spilling into further violence, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace, it is therefore essential that Sri Lanka begins to address its past – including by establishing the truth about the final stages of the war, holding perpetrators to account, and creating space for meaningful reconciliation.
But what happens in Sri Lanka has implications far beyond its borders. Since the end of the war, the government of Sri Lanka has been busy promoting its “model” for dealing with conflict among various countries around the world – a model which advocates the overwhelming use of military force to defeat opponents without regard for human rights. It is this attitude which led to untold human suffering as the government of Sri Lanka sought to bring its 26-year civil war to an end in early 2009.
A lot of countries around the world have been – and are – watching what happens in Sri Lanka very closely. If the government of Sri Lanka succeeds in evading responsibility for its war record, then many will be encouraged to follow their example; crushing anyone who stands in their way with an even greater ruthlessness than before. There are already disturbing signs that dictators, authoritarians and warlords around the world have learnt all the wrong lessons from the Sri Lankan experience. Meanwhile the UN and the international community appear not to have taken the steps needed to address their own failings during the final stages of the war. We believe it doesn’t have to be this way.