Since the bloody end of the civil war in 2009, tourism in Sri Lanka has boomed. In 2014 alone, a reported 1.5 million people visited the island, generating an estimated $2.5 billion in revenue. And with a government target to attract 2.5 million visitors to Sri Lanka by 2016, it is a sector which looks set to remain a staple part of the country’s post-war development.
Yet behind the sunny outlook, there remain grave concerns about the human rights impact of Sri Lanka’s holiday industry. As a new report by Swiss NGO the Society for Threatened Peoples highlights, many of Sri Lanka’s recent tourism development projects have had dire consequences for the local populations they claim to support. Worse still, their findings show that it is frequently those accused of serious human rights violations – including individuals from the military and government implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity – that have frequently benefited the most from them. The new details included in the report, ‘Dark Clouds Over the Sunshine Paradise’, gives added weight to our own Ethical Tourism Campaign and places renewed emphasis on the responsibility of tourists and holiday providers to avoid fueling abuse in Sri Lanka through their spending.
The main findings of the report relate to the new tourism developments in Kuchchaveli, Passikudah and Kalpitiya, in the North and East of Sri Lanka – areas gravely affected by the civil war. The research shows that despite commitments by the Sri Lankan government, these projects have frequently failed to meet even the most basic development standards. Among the 1,200 families in the area claimed to have been adversely affected, there are widespread reports of land theft, intimidation by security forces, livelihood loss, clampdowns on free-speech and environmental damage. In one example in Kalpitiya, local fishermen described the loss of access to fishing areas resulting from the development of a kitesurfing training center. Elsewhere, the proposed development of 17 luxury hotels was held responsible for the destruction of many acres of mangroves where women and children catch the prawns and shrimp upon which their income depends.
The report also highlights the ongoing grip of the military on the tourism industry, with widespread evidence of the security services developing, for profit, land that has been stolen or acquired ostensibly ‘for public purpose’. With the continued growth of the military budget since the end of the war in 2009, the research highlights the alarming diversion of these funds for commercial enterprises. Not only do such ventures further deprive local populations of the benefits of tourism, but they also ensure the continuation of abuses linked to the high presence of military personnel – including harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence.
As we point out as part of our Ethical Tourism Campaign, while tourism has the potential to provide many benefits to ordinary Sri Lankans, the very disturbing human rights situation means that no decision to visit Sri Lanka should be taken lightly. Many of those responsible for some of the worst human rights violations in Sri Lanka are now deeply embedded in the tourism industry and poised to benefit from your spending. We believe it is the duty of the ethical traveler to ensure they are not supported. If you would like to find out more about who to avoid on your visit to Sri Lanka – and for some further tips on how to make your visit to Sri Lanka more ethical – please click here.
And to read the full report, ‘Dark Clouds Over the Sunshine Paradise’ please click here.