26 September, 2023


A Study Into The Challenges & Failures Of Postwar Reconstruction In Sri Lanka

By Asela B Rekawa –

Asela B Rekawa

Systematic discrimination based on ethnicity equipped with a lack of political representation paved the way for an armed separatist movement in Sri Lanka in the 1970s which bore a 26 year long civil war and went on to be one of the longest running ethnic conflicts in the recent years. The United Nations estimates approximately 40,000 lives lost during this period of devastation. The post-war reconstruction process was said to have begun promptly, yet nine years after the conclusion of the monstrous Sri Lankan civil war, the progress in the fronts of reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction have been of mixed reviews. This paper will examine and outline the successes and failure of post-conflict reconstruction in Sri Lanka with special focus on security sector reform, socio-economic foundation, political framework, reconciliation and transitional justice.

Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration

Much of the post-war literature around the world shows a variety of examples of reintegration of ex–militants of war affected nations. The DDR process serves to execute the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex – combatants as a preventative method against future violations and as a method of sharing the peace divided. (Thalpawila, 2015)

The normalization process in was said to have begun immediately after the conclusion of the war. The disengagement of the military from administrative and law and order functions was looked into promptly and the complete responsibility for such functions was handed over to the Police. Furthermore, the Government accomplished the disarmament of numerous armed groups in the Northern and Eastern provinces that had been working in opposition to the separatist LTTE. (Rajapaksa, 2013)

The presence of military camps in the former war–torn provinces was systematically reduced. The remaining troops were set to engage in development work in order to gain the good faith of the civilian population. (Rajapaksa, 2013)

Most significantly, the Government endeavoured to deal with those who had been detained for their involvement with the LTTE. Many of the detainees were directed into rehabilitation while others awaited lawful prosecution. A comprehensive database of all relevant details was compiled and access to this database was enabled via police stations. Access to the detention centers was granted to a plethora of individuals including lawyers and family members of the detainees and officials of agencies/ non – government organizations. (Rajapaksa, 2013).

Approximately 11, 664 LTTE ex-combatants were said to have surrendered to the government which in turn undertook a commitment to reintegrate these individuals into society subsequent to undergoing rehabilitation. The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation commenced to honour this commitment via six rehabilitation centers in the North referred to as ‘Protection, Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centers’ (PARC)(Thalpawila 2015). The programme was designed according to the model provided by the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism research in Singapore (Dharmawardhane, 2014). This extensive rehabilitation programme was inclusive of six modules, covering areas: (i) educational, (ii)vocational, (iii) psychological and creative therapies, (iv) social cultural and family (v) spiritual and religious (vi) recreational and community rehabilitation and named as the “6+1 model” (Hettiarachchi, 2012).

The Commissioner-General of Rehabilitation pointed out that the President had allocated Rs.525 million to assist the rehabilitated cadres in their quest for self-employment (Wijayapala, 2013).

The DDR process implemented by the Sri Lankan government deserves commendation. However, long–term rehabilitation efforts fall short. A study finds that ex-combatants have largely been unable to improve economic wellbeing, and thus experience economic difficulties. Many struck with injuries, poor skills, and inadequate access to markets and loans have been unable to undertake their micro-businesses successfully. Though most were happier than they were during their time with the LTTE due to the ‘absence of fear’ and improved familial life, they were dissatisfied with their economic situation. Moreover, the study found a strong correlation between economic wellbeing and their perception of long-term peace (Miriyagalla, 2014). It is therefore recommended that the government take their DDR efforts further and look into the afore mentioned factors to ensure the rehabilitated individuals a smoother transition to normalcy.

Socio–economic Foundation

The civil war destroyed infrastructure in the North and East. For instance, the entire road transport network and railway lines underwent severe damage, including the A9 road connecting Jaffna and the South. This disconnected war–torn regions from the rest of the country and led to negative impacts on livelihood through loss of market. The wartime population displacement cou[led with asset depletion lead to a new form of social inequality (Kelegama,2011)

The government has Taking periodic measures, the Government aimed for restoration of the Northern and Eastern provinces. A study conducted by the Faculty of Agriculture, Eastern University of Sri Lanka, revealed that significant socio – economic development had taken place in the Batticaloa and Trincomalee districts.

The study denotes that 32% of the Batticaloa population were displaced in 2006 and 2007 and 100% of the displaced persons were resettled in their own land. Furthermore, the 936 km road was rehabilitated and 33 small to medium bridges were constructed, allowing improved trade opportunities with increased resource accessibility and reduced time and cost of transportation. 277 irrigation tanks and channels were rehabilitated, increasing the extent of cultivation from 60% to 90% while increasing the capacity of recharging ground water. The agricultural sector too saw many stark improvements. Percentage of contribution for national production increased by 3%, doubling of production and improvement of storage facilities were a few improvements in the agricultural sector. (Sutharsan, 2014)

However, there are a number of key issues despite the progress seen. Lack of investors, absence of a functional disaster management system and flood mitigation are a few such obstacles that have the potential to reverse the progress made if gone unaddressed. (Sutharsan,2014)

Sri Lanka experienced a substantial economic recovery the 2010 GDP growth increasing from 2009’s 3.5% to 8%. Unemployment fell from 2009’s 5.7% to 4.9% in 2010.  Inflation came down from 2008’s 22.6 % to 6% in 2010. Fiscal deficit narrowed, foreign reserves went up, and Colombo stock market, nearly doubled in value in 2010, became the 2nd best performer among global markets for two years. 

This resurgence of growth in the immediate aftermath of an end to a violent conflict is often observed, however, there is no guarantee that such progress would be maintained in the long – run (Coyne and Mathers, 2011)

The post – war socio – economic progress and optimism has been viewed as an immediate aftermath to the end of war. This early optimism was bound to fade. By 2011, developments in economic policy and in the political arena began to raise

concerns pertaining to the sustainability of recovery. 2012 began to experience slowing economic growth, sharp deterioration of the current account and swift decline in foreign reserves.  Government was compelled to undertake a series of measures that involved devaluation of the ruppee, ostracized means of curbing public expenditures and an increased reliance on short term commercial borrowings. (Athukorala and Jayasuriya, 2012). 

This downward progression is still prevalent and is evident by a number of economic facts including an ailing Sri Lankan rupee against the US dollar at 177.65 and 189.90 buying and selling rates respectively. 

Political Framework

The affiliation of Sri Lanka’s military and politics is a topic that has its place in the headlined though there aren’t many academic materials on the subject. The nature of civil–military relations incurred a unique change after the war, a time during which national-security burden of the military became less striking. 

This began with the emergence of the Ministry of Defence as a powerful player. The Ministry continued to remain under the President however, the Defence Secretary, with his military credentials and military mindset was more a military leader than a civil bureaucrat. (Uyangoda, 2018)

2009 – 2014 set in motion a new politically decisive role for the MoD which had a say in public policy, notably, defence, law and order, judiciary, foreign relations and diplomacy, education, urban development, cultural affairs, human rights and peace building. (Uyangoda, 2018)

The 2015 regime change which halted the consolidation of this unfamiliar political phenomena must be commended for striking this tendency with tact and care in their move to restore democratic governance. (Uyangoda, 2018)

The political fiascos of the recent past are undoubtedly despicable. Democracy is an essential for post-conflict Sri Lanka and thus whatever happens next in the Sri Lankan political arena would be a decisive factor when considering the current state of post – conflict reconstruction.

Reconciliation and Transitional Justice

The post-war period comprised of two eras marked by the change of government. A defensive approach to transitional justice characterized 2009-2014. (Uyangoda, 2009) Post 2015, the government was seen as comparatively progressive with regard to its post–conflict commitments with constitutional reform and transitional justice being of paramount importance. This approach to TJ provided unique opportunities for realization that TJ developments have been inadequate while lacking political commitment or even complete disregard of the need for TJ.  (Goodhand, 2012)

The lack of concrete progress 2011, prompted the UN Secretary-General to appoint a panel of experts to advise him with regard to the allegations against government of IHRL and IHL violations.  The Government, as a possible reaction, established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (“LLRC”). Both bodies issued their reports in 2011. The PoE report concluded there were credible allegations the government as well as the LTTE. The LLRC report concluded that any violation of human rights law were individual and isolated acts. LLRC went on to make several findings and recommendations pertaining to transitional justice, the rule of law, and democracy along with issues of enforced disappearances, forced recruitment of children and human rights issues faced in matrilineal households. (Report, 2011)

Since then, the Human Rights Council (UN HRC) adopted a series of resolutions, from 2012 – 2015, drawing on recommendations of LLRC and non–implementation. UNHRC reviews have been made periodically. 

A Presidential Commission was established in 2013, investigating into complaints pertaining to missing persons, with a report submitted in 2016. (Somarathne,2017)

Moreover, a constitutional reform process was initiated in 2016 and several new laws have been enforced. For instance, the Right to Information Act, Act to establish an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) along with an amendment to introduce Certificates of Absence are noteworthy examples. (Somarathne,2017)


The initial wave of happiness of liberation from the civil war may have sparked haste development in almost all spheres concerning post – war reconstruction. The initial happiness ceased and out came undemocratic authorizations and economic conditions that began reversing progress made in post–war reconstruction. It is indeed disappointing to have been fed with a false sense of hope of solid reconstruction. All is is not lost, yet. The government holds the power to bring back that wave of progress with regards to post – war reconstruction. The next course of action by the government, should there be a legitimate government, has the potential to uplift and improve the initial progress and bring back on track the post – conflict reconstruction in Sri Lanka.


Thalpawila, O. N. (2015) – Rehabilitation and Reintegration as a Key Activity of Post – War Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka 

Rajapaksa, G. (2003) – Keynote Speech at the Annual Defence Seminar 

Dharmawardhane, I. (2014) – Sri Lanka’s post – Conflict Strategy: Restorative Justice for Rebels and Rebuilding of Conflict- Affected Communities

Hettiarachchi, M. (2012) – Sri Lanka Rehabilitation Programme: A New Frontier in Counter Terrorism and Counter Insurgency

Wijayapala, R. (2011) – Livelihood Project Loans for Ex-Combatants

Miriyagalla, D. (2014) – Socio – economic Integration of Former LTTE  Combatants in Sri Lanka : Self – employment, Sustainable Incomes and Long – term Peace.

Kelegama, S. (2011) – Socioeconomic Challenges of Post – Conflict Reconstruction in Sri Lanka

Sutharsan, S. (2014)- Post War Socio – Economic Development in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka 

World Development Report 2011 devoted to ‘Conflict, Security and Development’ 

Coyne, C. J and Mathers, R. L (2011) – The Handbook on the Political Economy of War

Athukorala, P. and Jayasuriya, S. (2012) – Economic Policy Shifts in Sri Lanka : The Post – conflict Development Challenge

Uyangoda, J. (2018) – Military, Ex – military and Current Politics in Sri Lanka

Uyangoda, J. (2009) – Sri Lanka in 2009 : From Civil War to Political Uncertainties 

Goodhand, J (2012) – Sri Lanka in 2012 : Securing the State, Enforcing the “Peace”

Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconcilliation (2011)

Samarathne, D. (2017) – The Quest for Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka 

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