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Tamils Want More Devolved Power in Sri Lanka’s North

Man walking in North Sri Lanka.

Ahead of Sri Lanka’s planned provincial election in a former war zone, the country’s main ethnic minority Tamil party is pushing to have as much power devolved from Colombo as possible.

The island nation has grappled for decades with the question of the devolution of power to its nine provinces, particularly the Northern and Eastern provinces, considered by Tamils to be their homeland.

In the early 1980s Tamil frustrations at what they perceived to be discriminatory tactics employed by the state led to the growth of a militant movement and a 26-year civil war that lasted until May 2009, when government forces defeated the separatist Liberations Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“The issue really is the extent of executive powers the [presidentially appointed provincial] governor will be sharing with the [provincial] board of ministers,” Abraham Sumanthiran, an MP from the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), said recently. TNA is the largest national party representing minority Tamils from the north. » More

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Accountability Process in Sri Lanka Disputed

Sign here and smile for the camera, please. Photo: vikalpasl/flickr

The report of the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka, published on 31 March 2011, reveals “a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka.” The panel findings indicate that serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Some of these violations, if proven, “would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The UN also got its share of criticism, for failing to take action that might have protected civilians during the final stages of the war.

Unsurprisingly, the Sri Lankan Government denounced the report as “fundamentally flawed”. The Ministry of External Affairs alleged that, among other deficiencies, the report was based on biased material and presented without verification. Although it was originally a joint commitment by the UN Secretary-General and the President of Sri Lanka, the government objected to the publication of the report and claimed that it could damage reconciliation efforts between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority in the country. The government is now seeking international and local support as part of an effort to counter the UN panel report and the implementation of its recommendations.

On the other hand, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – the main political party representing the ethnic minority – welcomed the panel’s recommendations and expressed hopes that they will be implemented. » More

ISN Weekly Theme: Sri Lanka Beyond the War

Flag lowering ceremony in Colombo, Sri Lanka, photo: Skandhakumar Nimalaprakasan/flickr

After decades of violence and political polarization, Sri Lanka is taking tentative steps toward peace and reconciliation. A broader discourse and policies that take the socio-economic needs of all ethnic groups into account is vital for conflict resolution.

This Special Report includes the following content:

  • An Analysis by Nobert Ropers, director of the Berghof Foundation for Peace Support in Berlin, on the dangers inherent in an uneven victory by the Sri Lankan government over the Tamil Tigers.
  • A Podcast with Asoka Bandarage of Georgetown University examining the need for a more inclusive approach to peacebuilding, less focused on the narrow ethnic dualism of the conflict.
  • Security Watch articles on the war and its aftermath, including the refugee crisis.
  • Publications housed in our Digital Library, including an International Crisis Group report on the Tamil Diaspora after the LTTE and an Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies paper on India’s role in post-conflict Sri Lanka.
  • Links to external resources, including The Virtual Library of Sri Lanka.
  • Our IR Directory with relevant organizations, including the Centre for Policy Alternatives based in Colombo.