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Conflict, violence, and institutions in Sri Lanka

Prof Gillian Wylie and Prof Jude Lal Fernando talk about conflict, violence, and institutions in Sri Lanka.
In the first video about sustainable development goal 16, I made a few general points about why violence poses a threat to sustainable development. These included the human, economic, social, and environmental costs of war and conflict. I also suggested that violence might be prompted by exploitative forms of development. In this video, we want to explore these ideas in more detail to a case study. To do so, I’m talking to my colleague Dr. Jude Lal Fernando, who is an expert on the situation in Sri Lanka, a country that experienced almost 30 years of armed conflict. Hello, Jude. Hi, Could you say a little bit about yourself and introduce yourself to the audience watching the Mooc, please? Yeah.
Thank you, Gillian I’m Jude Lal Fernando teaching on the programme of Interculteral Theology and Interreligious Studies in the Irish School of Ecumenics Trinity College Dublin. And I have been living in Ireland for nearly 14 years. And I was born and raised up in Sri Lanka. Jude, could you give a little bit of background to the conflict in Sri Lanka? Yes. The Sri Lankan state claimed the entire land belongs to the state, whereas the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam claimed that the north and east belongs to the Tamils, and it’s the homeland of the Tamils. So these are the two main what you call polarising demands of the two sides.
In fact, the Tamil demand emerged through a historical process of discrimination that the Tamils experienced on the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan state. And in this a high intensity conflict, which began in the late ’70s and early ’80s, at least 60,000 people were killed. And over 1.5 million people were displaced. And at least 1.2 land mines were mined, mainly by the state, and which really, really destroyed the entire infrastructure of the Tamil region, mainly farm lands, beaches, and even banks and reservoirs that were there, rivers. So one could see there was no development in this region at all. So you tell us that the conflict was primarily between two ethnic groups, the Tamils and the Sinhalese– Yes.
–and caused by the nature of the state, and particularly the predominance of the Sinhala group over the Tamils. That’s right. You mentioned there that the model of development that was followed in the state over the years of the conflict was part of the cause of the conflict. Could you tell us a little bit more about how a model of development can become a cause of conflict using Sri Lanka as a case? Yes. Development as such is not a neutral discourse. It’s always politicised. Now, we have the state-driven development model, which could be socialist or which could be capitalist in a conventional sense.
On the other hand, many people in the development discourse don’t talk about the way in which the state is structured, and how it has an impact on the way in which development is organised. For example, in the case of Sri Lanka, most of the development schemes were undertaken by the singular majority government, which in a way privileged the Sinhala society. Now, this does not mean that there is no poverty amongst the Sinhalese. There’s quite a lot of poverty amongst the Sinhalese. But what happens is when the development programmes are being adopted in terms of building infrastructure, building agricultural sector, or different industries, these are being mostly organised in order to deliver the election promises to the Sinhala constituency.
And this has had a massive impact on the levels of development amongst the Tamil community, in terms of industries, in terms of agricultural sectors in terms of irrigation, even in terms of education, hospitals, and basic welfare facilitates. So that is going to trigger a conflict. Another thing we looked at in the first video was the question not just of how development might actually cause conflict, but also the consequences of conflict for development. So we looked at the ways in which conflict can lead to human destruction, but also environmental, and economic, and social destruction. And what would you say was the impact of the conflict on sustainable development in Sri Lanka?
Let me say, as I said earlier, the model of development, which is intrinsically interwoven with the model of state caused the conflict. Let’s take one example about this particularly tropically grown tree called palmyra tree, which belongs to the coconut family tree. And at least there have been over two million palmyra trees that were destroyed due to heavy artillery shelling, aerial bombardment in the Tamil areas. So what one can see is that the people, who were totally excluded from the development model used to live from the benefits that they got from this very rich tree. And when at least two million trees of India have been destroyed, you could see the entire livelihood has been destroyed.
And people were reduced to simply a level of below the poverty level, and been displaced. What happened in 2002 was quite interesting. There was a balance of power between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan state. As a result, there was a peace process. And during this peace process, the whole structure of the state changed because the Tamil Tigers were also running a state of their own. And of course, the international community in a way imposed a condition on the basis that development aid will be given to the country, provided that both parties agree to a political settlement. And that would have been the moment where these very rigid exclusionary state structure could be changed.
And development could be achieved by demilitarising the state, as for less demilitarising the development discourse. But unfortunately, due to the negative impact imposed on the peace agreement– sorry– the ceasefire agreement by the external factors, the peace protest didn’t go for that. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Gillian Thank you.

In this video, Jude and Gillian talk about the impact of conflict on sustainable development in Sri Lanka.

Jude explains how, although the conflict officially ended in 2009, there are still major challenges to achieving peace.

  • Thinking about your own country, does past conflict have an affect on achieving sustainable development goals today?
  • Have political institutions had an impact on this? Why? Why not?
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