The impact of the conflict
The long-running conflict between the predominantly Sinhalese Sri Lankan Government and the separatist Liberation Tigers for Tamil Eelam (LTTE, known as Tamil Tigers) ended in May 2009.
The conflict devastated large parts of the northern countryside, and caused an estimated 40,000 deaths. About 300,000 people were displaced after fleeing their homes. Many people did not know where family members were. Homes, schools and community buildings in the north were destroyed, landmines littered the countryside, and the economy was shattered.
Sri Lanka faced the huge challenge of assisting people to return home safely and helping them rebuild their lives, reconstruct the economy and reconcile differences between and within ethnic communities.
After the conflict ended, people could not return home until land mines were removed. The land mines had been planted around villages and on farming land. By the end of June 2013 it was estimated that 471 square kilometres had been cleared, with 89 square kilometres still to be cleared. Sri Lanka's aim is to be free of landmines by 2020.
Another early need was to provide documentation of land ownership so that people could begin to rebuild their homes and fences, plant crops, and make claims for housing assistance or compensation for land acquired by the government.
Because people had fled their homes, they had lost key documents and could not afford to replace them. Local government services were limited, so the United Nations refugee agency provided computers, photocopiers, scanners and fax machines to allow officials to process land claims and issue fresh documentation.
Resettlement and reunions
People living in displaced person camps received $200 worth of supplies when they returned to their villages. After the largest camp was closed in September 2012, funds were no longer available to support returnees, although for many people it was still unsafe to return to their villages.
Reunifying families who had been separated in the turmoil of the conflict is taking time. UNICEF has established a database, set up a hotline and placed posters in villages to assist children to be reunited with their families.
Many returnees found their homes bombed out or riddled with bullet holes. They had to camp under plastic tarpaulins until they could afford to rebuild. Caritas and Habitat for Humanity have assisted families with loans, designs and technical advice to rebuild. Families contributed their labour to build simple two-room houses measuring 28 square metres. The houses have a toilet, tube well with hand pump and a 500-litre water tank, and can be extended later when finances are available.
The rebuilding and reconstruction of roads, railways, schools and hospitals have contributed to strong economic growth, but benefits have not been enjoyed by all. In the north there are high levels of unemployment (27% in 2012) and poverty (around 30% of the population lives on less than US$2 a day). Many Tamils, unable to return home to work, have built roads under cash-for-work programs, developing skills while earning much-needed money.
Many non-government organisations, such as Caritas, Oxfam and World Vision, are helping Sri Lankans to start businesses to earn an income. In one rural area the construction of an ice-making plant has helped 3700 fishing families to store and sell their catch. A similar facility has helped 450 dairy farming families to store, process and sell their goods.
The security situation in the north and east has greatly improved, but security forces still have a strong presence to maintain peace. The government has made efforts to address issues arising from the conflict, including commissioning the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report, launching the National Action Plan to implement the recommendations of the LLRC, and launching a National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (2011–16).
There has been limited progress addressing the human rights abuses from the conflict, and abductions and detentions continue. The Sri Lankan Government has resisted international pressure to investigate crimes, fearing it will stop people moving on; however, victims feel justice has not been done. In March 2014 a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution called for an international investigation of the concerns of victims.
With ethnic differences still being reconciled and the shadow of the past conflict still affecting people's lives, building a unified and just society will take time. The international community continues to work with Sri Lanka to build a stable, prosperous country with lasting peace.
Caritas, Nirangini's story