More on war, peace, and post-tsunami reconstruction in Sri Lanka

Also in the recent Boston Review, Alan Keenan looks at post-tsunami reconstruction, war and peace in Sri Lanka.

“[T]he problems bedeviling the distribution of tsunami relief are only the latest example of the limitations inherent in the Norwegian and international approach to peace-building, which focuses on only the two main actors. By systematically downplaying the importance of human rights and pluralism as central components in any process of trust-building and de-escalation, the bipolar approach has weakened the middle—those Sinhalese and Tamils and Muslims interested in compromise. The fact that representatives of Muslim political and civil society have been almost entirely ignored in the negotiations to devise the joint mechanism, even though Muslim communities in the eastern province suffered devastating and disproportionately severe effects from the tsunami, only further undermines the potential benefits of the proposal. The concerns of Muslims must be placed at the center of post-tsunami reconstruction and conflict-resolution efforts.

The central goal for the international community, then, should not be to devise an impossibly neutral intervention, but rather to help increase the space for Sri Lankans of all ethnicities to engage in their own independent democratic politics. The two most pressing political questions in this regard are interrelated: can foreign governments and international agencies devise effective ways to put pressure on the Tigers to curtail their worst policies—without simply letting the Sri Lankan state and Sinhalese majority off the hook? And can foreign donors learn how to support the development of forms of independent local civil-society activism capable of defending human rights more effectively?”