Sri Lanka 1983-2009


Between 1983 and 2009, a civil war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ravaged the country. Ethnic conflict had existed between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil minority since Sri Lanka achieved independence in 1948, with years of discrimination against and disenfranchisement of the Tamil population. Militant groups arose in opposition to the government, and the LTTE fought for an independent state until 2009, when the Sri Lankan government announced its victory and ostensible peace was established in the country—interrupted by bursts of violence.


Basis of Conflict

This crisis was based on ethnic and religious tensions between the Sinhalese Buddhist majority and the Tamil Hindu minority, rooted in the British colonial period.

Regime Type

The regime at the time was a democratic republic governed by a presidential-parliamentary system.

Severity of Crisis

By the end of the crisis, casualties had amounted to 80,000-100,000 people, and the conflict had lasted 26 years.


A unilateral military intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War was undertaken in 1987, when India sent peacekeeping troops into the country as part of a pact with the Sri Lankan government. India had previously trained and armed the LTTE in the 70s, but subsequently withdrawn their support. India eventually left the conflict in 1990, at the direction of Sri Lanka's prime minister.

Meanwhile, negotiations stalled at the United Nations; 3 member states on the UN Security Council argued that Sri Lanka should be on the formal agenda, but nothing beyond informal dialogue was achieved. The Human Rights Council eventually released a Sri Lanka-proposed resolution congratulating the Sri Lankan government on the conclusion of the civil war, despite the proposal of a European-backed resolution calling for an investigation of war crimes. In 2009, the European Union called for an independent inquiry into human rights violations. The Human Rights Council finally launched an international inquiry into war crimes in 2014, five years after the war’s conclusion. 


The conflict did not end with any official treaty or power-sharing agreement, but with the LTTE's admission of defeat. While conflict has not formally re-opened, bursts of violence have occurred among calls for accountability to war crimes (including torture, rape, disappearances, and continued detainment), and Sri Lanka appears far from true peace.


The Sri Lanka Crisis from 1983 to 2009 represents a failure to act on the part of the international community and humanitarian organizations.

Despite over 25 years of conflict, and accusations of war crimes throughout this conflict, the Human Rights Council did not act until five years after the war ended, after having tacitly endorsed the actions of the Sri Lankan government. The slow response and reluctance to act until after the war allowed the conflict to escalate, and has complicated efforts towards peace, justice, and reconciliation.