Deepening militarisation and the lack of accountable governance in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province are preventing a return to normal life and threaten future violence. Scene of the most bitter fighting in the civil war, the Tamil-majority north remains under de facto military occupation, with all important policies set by Sinhala officials in Colombo. The slow but undeniable movement of Sinhala settlers into the fringes of the north and other forms of government-supported “Sinhalisation” are reigniting a sense of grievance and weakening chances for a real settlement with Tamil and other minority parties to devolve power. The international community, especially those governments and aid agencies supporting the reconstruction of the area, should demand a fundamental change of course and should structure their assistance so as to encourage the demilitarisation and democratisation of the former war zone and full respect for minority rights.
With the massive number of troops in the north have come various forms of Sinhalisation. The almost entirely Tamil-speaking north is now dotted with Sinhala sign-boards, streets newly renamed in Sinhala, monuments to Sinhala war heroes, and even a war museum and battlefields that are open only to Sinhalese. Sinhala fishermen and businessmen are regularly given advantages not accorded to Tamils. The slow but steady movement of Sinhala settlers along the southern edges of the province, often with military and central government support and sometimes onto land previously farmed or occupied by Tamils, is particularly worrying. These developments are consistent with a strategy – known to be supported by important officials and advisers to the president – to change “the facts on the ground”, as has already happened in the east, and make it impossible to claim the north as a Tamil-majority area deserving of self-governance.
Sri Lanka’s military is dominating the reconstruction of the Northern Province, weakening international humanitarian efforts and worsening tensions with the ethnic Tamil majority. Since the war ended in 2009, hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into the province, but the local populations, mostly left destitute by the conflict, have seen only slight improvements in their lives. Instead of giving way to a process of inclusive, accountable development, the military is increasing its economic role, controlling land and seemingly establishing itself as a permanent, occupying presence. Combined with what many Tamils see as an effort to impose Sinhala and Buddhist culture across the whole of Sri Lanka and a failure to address many social aspects of rebuilding a society after conflict, these policies risk reviving the violence of past decades. Donors should put government accountability, the needs of returnees and the expansion of a democratic political role for the Tamil minority at the heart of their aid policies or risk contributing to a revival of ethnic extremism.
The first study published by The Social Architects (TSA), seeks to set out the systematic, increasing and widespread process of Sinhalisation that is taking place in historically Tamil areas in the North, East and Hill Country in post-war Sri Lanka. While focusing on the process of Sinhalisation that is currently being implemented, this monograph seeks to situate it within the broader historical process of Sinhalisation that has been carried out by different governments spanning a number of decades.
The report argues that even though Sinhalisation is not a new phenomenon, the sweeping changes which continue to occur in historically Tamil areas inhibit the country’s ability to heal after nearly three decades of civil war. Although the current government’s rhetoric gives importance to building bridges between communities by ensuring those affected are able to fully and freely exercise their rights, in reality, its actions are evidence of the Sri Lankan State’s lack of respect for the rights of all its citizens, particularly the Tamil people.
Saving Sampur – sinhalisation.com – 15th September 2011
This 2011 report covers the ethnic cleansing of Tamils from Sampur (Trincomalee), and highlights the complicity of the Indian government, particularly in its mission to build a power plant in this contested land. The Sinhalisation process in Trincomalee is also highlighted. Currently in 2014, over 16,000 Tamils from Sampur remain displaced, languishing in refugee camps elsewhere.