India and Sri Lanka's Civil War
Image Credit: Office of the Prime Minister: India

India and Sri Lanka's Civil War


Last month the United Nations published a highly critical internal report in which it admitted it didn’t do enough to protect Tamil civilians in the final months of the Sri Lanka civil war. In late 2008, the UN had withdrawn staff from the northern part of the country in anticipation of the Sri Lanka government’s bloody military offensive against the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, more commonly known as Tamil Tigers). Tamil civilians had pleaded with the UN to stay at the time, but the international organization said it was unable to ensure the safety of its staff members. Still, the new report raises real questions about the international community’s response during and after the conflict.

A UN report from last year, however, issued a damning indictment of the Sri Lankan government’s actions during the conflict, and called on Colombo to “issue a public acknowledgment of its role in and responsibility for extensive civilian casualties in the final stages of the war.” The UN believes that the final offensive alone may have resulted in more than 40,000 deaths. The senseless violence depicted in the UN report is also shown in the documentary, “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,” which details the brutality of the war and suggests some Sri Lankan officials may have been complicit in war crimes.

The international community has strongly condemned the Sri Lankan government for its refusal to allow an international investigation into these alleged war crimes. Along with the criticism offered by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has threatened to boycott next year’s Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka. There is also a campaign underway in the United Kingdom urging its Prime Minister, David Cameron, to follow Harper’s lead.

As Sri Lanka’s neighbor and the country with the greatest degree of influence on Colombo, India’s support for the Sri Lankan government is perhaps crucial in its ability to rebuke the international community on this issue.

The ethnic and historical links between Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils as well as New Delhi’s own regional influence in South Asia give India an enduring interest in its southern neighbor. An earlier attempt to broker peace between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers ended in disaster when Indian peacekeeping forces that were deployed to implement the 1987 India-Sri Lanka accord ended up fighting the LTTE. This was followed by the LTTE’s assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, which prompted India to publicly distance itself from the neighboring civil war.

However, according to journalist Nitin Gokhale, author of Sri Lanka: from War to Peacein 2006 India began quietly extending military support to the Sri Lankan government, including the delivery of five Mi-17 helicopters. Gokhale reports that these helicopters played a crucial role in several of the Sri Lankan Air Force’s missions aimed at crushing LTTE resistance.

India’s Sri Lankan policy was undoubtedly driven by its need to retain leverage over Colombo in the face of growing Chinese influence. In recent years, Beijing has made a slew of investments in the island country such as building a port at Hambantota. China has also strongly backed Colombo’s call for non-interference in its internal affairs, and is widely believed to have been instrumental in helping to modernize Sri Lanka’s military force which finally allowed it to suppress the LTTE separatist movement.

The Indian government has also offered tactic approval of the government’s 2009 military offensive against the LTTE, despite occasionally calling on Colombo to respect “Tamil rights” and address the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

In this context, it is difficult to believe that India’s support for a U.S.-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in March represents a fundamental change of policy.  The Congress-led government in India almost certainly supported the resolution in order to retain crucial coalition allies in Tamil Nadu. Furthermore, the Ministry of External Affairs was less than enthusiast in pressing the resolution’s cause in a statement: "While we subscribe to the broader message…any assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights or visits of UN Special Procedures should be in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Sri Lankan Government. A democratic country like Sri Lanka has to be provided time and space to achieve the objectives of reconciliation and peace." 

While it would be too much to ask for New Delhi to institute a panel assessing its own role in the Sri Lankan civil war, at the very least the international community should encourage India to call upon upon Sri Lanka to recognize the credibility of the 2011 UN report on accountability, and to support an international probe on alleged war crimes that may have occurred in the last few months of the civil war.

Pratyush is a journalist based in New Delhi, India.  His areas of interest include South Asia, the Middle East and China. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.

January 2, 2013 at 03:15

In order to start with a clean slate the past has to be dealt with based on full acccountability under applicable international laws subscribed to by SL. Only then can a new beginning be made based on proper lessons learnt from the past while dealing with those who committed gross crimes against humanity. Else, repeats are most likely in  a badly failed state. 

December 31, 2012 at 09:26

This cannot happen because the island nation has the following population percentages.
Sinhalese (natives oof the island nation not found in any other country) 75%
Native Muslims 9%
Tamils (also found in Tamil Nadu, India) 11%
Indians 4%
Others 1%
A power sharing mechanism that follows these percentages will be most suitable. Otherwise it will fail.

December 31, 2012 at 09:22

That makes me objective unlike so many Sri Lankans of South Indian origin who try to portray a wrong picture of the island nation. Federalism will never work in such a very small island. It must remain unitary for the benefit of all. Tamils must integrate into the Sri Lankan society for a future for them. Most Tamils in Sri Lanka (not outside) are doing just that. In another few years all Sri Lankans will be same at this speed of integration. I can see this happening from 2009 to 2012 and it is continuing.

December 31, 2012 at 05:19

What seems obvious is tribal megalomania by a government obsessed with power rather than of any rational governance based on rational good governance based on any political credo. One cannot blame them for the simple reason that tribalistic politics coupled with violence has been  the mode of goveranance for 65 years . Even the good politicians and solutions were replaced by evil solutions coupled with messy India's ways in its internal governance. The ball is now in the UN court and could be a possible way for a better future based on full accountabilty for its past actions.Only then can a better future be charted.  

December 31, 2012 at 04:43

@Jason. From your comments which are based on illiteracy rather than facts one must agree that you are just not serious.SL has moved on to what?  3 years after the commission of war crimes and gross acts of carnage what does one come across? More than 3000, mainly Tamils, have been 'white vanned' for ransom and death,news media people have disappeared, little girls of even 8 years are raped, some even for fees to rich Middle eastern tourists,foreign tourists have been murdered,the north and east  are yet under oppressive Sinhala military control, ethnic engineering and state sponsored colonisation and displacement in productive areas like agriculture and fishing , denial of local employment opportuniities in the north and east with rampamt unemployment as high as 80% with low wages are all harbingers of more peobelms rather than of any sensible solutions by a government with a malignant  agenda. Anyone with an iota of good sense can see even the judiciiary is being destroyed making a mockery of any sense of decent governance.  

December 30, 2012 at 20:12

Jason, you are just a tourist. You would't know any thing without knowing the history. First you need to read the history of Tamils and Singhalese and the war, then make a comment please.

December 30, 2012 at 08:10

Any attempt to form separate countries (Either by North & East or by South) will not be allowed by the international community for geopolitical stability reasons.

The two nations and self-determination theory is lawfully accurate, the international community will not allow this to happen for geopolitical reason.

Hence, instead of lawful separation and referendums, the proposed solution of

two federal states with 50:50 power sharing for both states will be the minimum just solution.

December 30, 2012 at 08:07

Any attempt to form separate countries (Either by North & East or by South) will be allowed by the international community for geopolitical stability reasons.
The two nations and self-determination theory is lawfully accurate, the international community will not allow this to happen for geopolitical reason.
Hence, instead of lawful separation and referendums, the proposed solution of
two federal states with 50:50 power sharing for both states will be the minimum just solution.
The UN also need to ensure that safeguarding all people from state violence and human rights abuses on a permanent basis, once a political solution is implemented.
(Note: You can your comments to me in private, or please alert me if you leave any comments on this space.)

December 30, 2012 at 02:57
Ratna Mano
December 29, 2012 at 18:41

It is already a known fact, India represented by the North Indians made all the crimes against humanity on the Tamils and they are commiting similar actions against the Tamils of Tamil Nadu. Tamil Nadu should start a "Commonwealth" agency along with some of the Southern states and have their own plan for development. They should not take any hand outs from them. Thereon, southern states can dictates terms to the central authorities.  MR

December 29, 2012 at 18:01

Dear Dr,
Without reading your book I cannot make any comments about it. Srilankan Tamils have suffered from 1948. What is going on is TAMIL GENOCIDE – which started in 1948. India and others helped and continue to help SINHALEASE govts to commit this GENOCIDE. From 1948 TAMILS protested peacefully (satygragha – gandian principles) for thirty odd years. Now India does not follow GHANDIAN prinicples. INDIA and SL only exchange GHANDHI and BUDHA statues.
From your comments I do not think you understand how we TAMILS feel and suffered.
Could you please select the best (in your opinion) from your book and paste it here.

December 29, 2012 at 16:52

Dr Premjayanth
Can you please give a glimpse into the book here fpr the benefit of many?

December 29, 2012 at 16:47

This is obsolete news. Sri Lanka has moved on strides after 3 decades of war. Now Sri Lanka is totally peaceful for the past 3 years. I visited the tourist paradise and impressed with the development within such a short time. I couldn't see anything about a war. Even people air the view that they have moved on since the days of war which they have almost forgotten.
Sri Lankans, particularly Muslims and native Sinhalese despise India. It is wise for India to keep out. Otherwise China and Pakistan will follow suit and then there will be trouble again. Growing Tamil nationalism in India is a bigger concern for India.

December 29, 2012 at 14:24

India supported the Tamil Tigers in the past, but changed their policies later.
Due to various geo-political reasons (see Indian intervention in the Sri Lankan Civil War), from August 1983 to May 1987, India, through its intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing(RAW), provided arms, training and monetary support to 6 Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups including LTTE. During that period, 32 camps were set up all over India to train these militants.[40]495 LTTE militants, including 90 women were trained in 10 batches.[41] First batch of Tigers were trained in Establishment 22 based in ChakrataUttarakhand. Second batch including LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman[42] was trained inHimachal Pradesh. Prabakaran himself visited the first and the second batch of Tamil Tigers to see them training.[43] 8 other batches of LTTE were trained in Tamil Nadu.

Prem Nath
December 29, 2012 at 13:25

What can you expect from a nation which cannot find one of its own citizens to govern the country.
Sorry to say Indians have a slavish attitude to the white and accomodates a forign lady with minimum education to control the country.
India will never be a super power. 

December 29, 2012 at 11:15

Well, you may be correct.
You have to take into account that It was the GoSL that compelled and helped in the strengthening of the LTTE and other armed groups in Sri Lanka and continued and continues to fuel it for their own survival. India too helped to strengthen the anti-government armed groups in Sri Lanka in its own intrest. 
IF not for the LTTE, most of the political parties in Sri Lanka would not be able to survive today. This survival of the political parties is at the expanse of the ordinary people who are not ambitious to grab political power to enrich themselves.
A political solution with a system that would help to eradicate injustice, discrimination, corruption and oppression – the four pillars of an evil society – and help to establish the “Rule of Law” and “Rule by ALL” for sustainable peace, tranquility and prosperity and a pleasant harmonious living with dignity and respect for all the inhabitants in the country is needed.
Since all political and other powers flow from the sovereignty of the people, it is proposed herein that these powers be not given to any ONE set of representatives but distributed among different sets of people’s representatives (groups) elected on different area basis (village and villages grouped) to perform the different, defined and distinct functions of one and the same institution – the Parliament – like the organs of our body – heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, nose, ear etc. – performing different and distinct functions to enable us to sustain normal life.  
The present GoSL is obsessed with the idea that any solution must be on the foundation of majoritarianism and that it will not accede to the much-honoured concept of unity in diversity, equality and justice in a country that is essentially pluralistic in character.
The above is the obstacle in finding a reasonable, acceptable, workable and durable political solution within a united, undivided Sri Lanka which is the need of the day.

December 29, 2012 at 05:36

India's mixed-up policies vis-a-vis Sri Lanka keeps the embers of the tribal policies and actions on the island alive especially in international fora like the UN. India's blowing hot and cold at the same time in foreign policy makes it a dicy situation without any concrete results. It is well known that the IPKF foray was a failure and ended up with  human rights abuses against local people further compounded by covert ground support to the marauding SL forces in the last stages of the war making it also a party to human rights situation. Even worse is the cover up within the UN itself by doing nothing about the crises because of possible personal interests and involvemnts in the last stages of the war. Only an impartial international investigation by indepnedent experrts can disentangle the hidden intesrts and come up with an objective future course of action. This is much like the incountry situation regarding "rape" about which there is an ongoing furore in India. Clarity is needed.    

Vel Tharma
December 29, 2012 at 04:52

It is India that created the problem between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka(SL)  by arming the Tamils militants. Then India cunningly signed an agreement in 1987 with Sri Lanka to force SL not allow US in SL. Since then India behaves like a diplomatic cooly of SL. India helped SL to kill over 300,000 innocent Tamils in 2008-09. In 2009 a motion was brought to UN Human Rights Council to condemn SL for violation of human rights during war. India changed it as a motion to praise SL. The Indian's act was found wrong by the Panel of Experts appointed by the UN to look into the accountablity of SL govt during the brutal war during 2008-09. India still helping Sri Lanka to eliminate Tamils in Sri Laka. The poilitical parties in Tamil Nadu are always after the cabinet posts in the Union govt of India. They only pay lip service to the plights of Tamis in SL. The remained mere spectator when over 300,000 innocent Tamisl were killed by SL.

December 29, 2012 at 01:52

Sri Lanka Peace: Thoughts to Share with My Children By Dr. S. Premjeyanth

A book on Sri Lanka Peace; and I thought you may be interested in reading this. You can get a copy from

First of all, this book is neither a serious discussion about politics nor proposing a political solution to a long standing problem; but, collection of thoughts that came to my mind when I thought about my children and the next generation, and how I am going to tell them about the situation in Sri Lanka. What I have attempted is to develop a mindset within which a peaceful coexistence can happen in order to create a basis for achieving peace in Sri Lanka.
This book explores hitherto ignored ideas of self-transformation, starting at individual transformation and growing towards a collective “national” transformation, which can be used as tools for our own introspection as well as for a political solution and overall peace and prosperity.
This book is written with my children in mind – the next generation. Some may even be disappointed with me for over-simplifying a long drawn-out political struggle and not going into a deep, political analysis of the issues. But there has been enough of this. This is not the purpose of the book. Many other authors have written from these perspectives. The purpose of this book is to tell my children, the next generation, how they can truly move forward in Sri Lanka; how they can be the change they wish to see.
This book focuses on one main way in which we can move forward: this is that our “let him change, and then I will change” attitude should be replaced with a “let me change and see how that change influences others” mentality. 
I request that you read this book with an open mind and a holistic awareness that self-transformation works and is possible.
Dr. S. Premjeyanth


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