Sri Lanka’s Post-Conflict Reconstruction

Years after the bloody end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, it still faces challenges of rehabilitation, reconciliation and reintegration. Despite a successful reconstruction program, the seeds of alienation among the minority Tamils creates a constant atmosphere of tension in the Northern regions. After the re-election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019, the country is on a path to recovery. “For 70 odd years successive leaders have promised one single thing: devolution, devolution, devolution. But ultimately nothing happened. This time, it’s going to be development, not devolution”, Rajapaksa’s message to the Tamils.
Post conflict reconciliation and reconstruction is a long term and ongoing process requiring effective reintegration of former combatants and provision of socio-economic benefits to the people to prevent re-radicalization of former combatants. It occurs in the hearts and minds of those who suffer the horrors of war. It requires rebuilding in traditional as well as nontraditional security terms. Community engagement is essential to ensure smooth transition into the society and long lasting and sustainable peace. It is the planning and implementation of reconstruction that takes place at different levels in a war-shattered country. With the age of globalization and advancement the rebuilding is no longer limited to only physical assets rather it involved a more holistic approach to rebuilding a war-torn country. The three major post-conflict ideas include: the physical/ socio economic and political – rebuilding infrastructure and essential government functions, secondly the capacity building and institutional strengthening – improving the efficiency and effectiveness of existing institutions and thirdly, structural – reforming the political, economic, social and security sectors.
Sri Lanka faced one of the most violent civil wars in history and yet managed to succeed in rehabilitating members of LTTE, one of the world’s most dangerous insurgent groups. One of the main reasons for the success of this rehabilitation program is the political will and confidence to make a crippled nation stand back on its feet. The government has achieved much success with the reconstruction and development of the socio-economic sectors of the war affected areas.
After the war ended, the state detained approximately 285,000 Tamil civilians in settlement camps. Alongside further militarization, Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed a Presidential task force for resettlement, development and security in the heavily damaged Northern Province where most of the battle took place. He also appointed a ‘Lessons learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ (LLRC) for inquiry into the final stages of the war and to make recommendations for healing and peacebuilding. The government spent 2.25 billion USD for the development of Northern Province under the ‘Uthuru Wasanthaya’ program. Immediate humanitarian assistance was provided to the IDPs including the ex-combatants of LTTE. The reconstruction of ex-LTTE combatants into the society was one of the basic agenda of Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation and reintegration program. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) was reestablished to provide the conflict affected civilians an opportunity to raise their voices and demands during the aftermath. China has been actively engaged in the peace building process since 2006. They provided military assistance to the Sri Lankan government for carrying out humanitarian missions against the LTTE. China also defended Sri Lanka in the United Nations Security Council on the human rights violation allegations against the government of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has obtained substantial support from the international community for its peace building process. It has a significant diaspora tradition with most of the Tamils living in Canada, India and Australia. They pledged extreme support and aid for the rebuilding and reintegration of the dispersed Tamils. In addition to this, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) along with Japan raised the bulk of project funding for the peace process. Sri Lanka’s literacy rate in 1971 was 78%. Current literacy rate is 92% with males having 92.5% and females 87.9% with an average life expectancy of 76.3 years which is a clear indicator of how the government succeeded in rebuilding the nation.

Sri Lanka’s ‘6+1 Model’ Rehabilitation Program

Following Sri Lanka’s crippling civil war, the challenge faced by the government was the rehabilitation process of the former LTTE combatants. Reportedly there were approximately 11,664 ex-combatants out of which 82% were child soldiers. The Sri Lankan government under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa established an extensive program for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-military combatants of LTTE for long term peace. This “6 + 1 Model” rehabilitation program was primarily focused in six major areas including (1) Educational (2) Vocational (3) Psych-social and creative therapies (4) Social, cultural and family rehabilitation (5) Religious and spiritual (6) Recreational Rehabilitation and (+) Community engagement. The Sri Lankans solely believe not in prison punishments or death penalties rather in the transformation and rehabilitation of individuals from a radical mindset to a progressive one by providing means for living a better lifestyle. Approximately 9,136,370 USD was spent between 2009 and 2012 by the Sri Lankan government for the rehabilitation of former LTTE combatants.
The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation (BCGR) was established after the defeat of LTTE in 2009. It aimed at reintegrating the former LTTE members in the community and reconnected them to all aspects of individual and communal life. Its main purpose was to give these former terrorists a new meaning to their lives and break away from the hate-filled ideology of ethnic differences. In addition to loan schemes, “Way-Forward on rehabilitation, Reinsertion, and Reintegration” (W-RRR) was established by Sri Lanka’s Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation for the psycho-social and socio-economic rehabilitation of the affected individuals. “Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration program” (DDG) was formulated in 2009 with efforts made by the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies like the International organization for Migration and HALO foundation.
Despite governments’ extreme control and measures, abductions, arrests, human rights violations and sexual violence are reported from the country’s former conflict zones. For maintaining peace these areas remain heavily militarized. There is heavy presence of the military not merely on checkpoints blotting the region but the military also runs businesses and controls civil society activities. This results in limited freedom of expression among people in the North and Eastern regions. While land rights and access to justice are central elements in the country’s efforts at reconciliation, Tamil culture and freedom of expression have been marginalized, particularly after decades of repressive policies by the Sri Lankan government that saw religious practices prohibited and heritage destroyed. These problems persist to this day, with continuing militarization, displacement and Sinhalization in minority areas, reflected in the construction of Buddhist shrines and victory monuments that affirm Sinhalese control.

Hasnain Bin Sajjad Raja
Hasnain Bin Sajjad Raja
Hasnain Bin Sajjad Raja is a final year student of BS International Relations at National Defense University, Islamabad. His recent works include Plight of Divided Families of Jammu and Kashmir in the International Journal of Kashmir Studies and National Security Law of Hong Kong: Indicator of Chinese Colonialism in Strategic Foresight for Asia (STRAFASIA).