Victim-Politics and Post-Conflict Foreign Policy in Rwanda and Sri Lanka

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Recognition, Reconciliation and Recalibration: Influence of Victim-Politics on Post-Conflict Foreign Policy in Rwanda and Sri Lanka


CHAPTER ONE: Introduction


The genesis of foreign policy construction in the modern world tends to lie within a framework that encompasses several factors, including but not limited to, security affairs, the economy, and religion. Thus, in addition to basic factors that influence the foreign policy agenda, historical experiences, especially those related to violence, form an important component of foreign policy development. The incorporation of such matters is particularly evident with nations that do not posses military or economic capabilities to assert themselves on the international stage.

Since the conclusion of the Cold War, the “third world” has gained considerably more agency in terms of determining its foreign policy. Its international relations, therefore, do not necessarily emerge from an ideological binary. Thus, in order to gain the assistance of other nations while preserving its priorities, nations construct a foreign policy that elicits support based on common experiences while balancing common interests. Consequently, Sri Lanka and Rwanda elicit a sense of victimhood upon which their respective foreign policies have been built. In the case of Sri Lanka, its foreign policy has largely been based on the fact that it is victimized by the constant threat of terrorism, while Rwanda invokes its experience of genocide. Therefore, it is argued that both countries adopt a foreign policy agenda based on victimhood: the introduction of “victimism” into the theoretical deliberations of foreign policy analysis.

The study of these two case studies does not allege that Rwanda was plagued by terrorism, nor that the Sri Lankan conflict resulted in genocide. Rather, Rwanda provides the closest analogue to the conflict in Sri Lanka in its manifestation of domestic politics and international interactions due to the use of victimhood as a mainstay in its foreign policy. The thesis will argue that Rwanda promotes a foreign policy agenda based on victimization, a strategy mirrored by multiple Sri Lankan governments during its conflict. However, since the conclusion of the military engagement with the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Sri Lanka has lost its basis to maintain its status as victims of terrorism. The defeat of the LTTE has enabled countries to de-couple the question of terrorism from the political question. Subsequent discussions will conclude that Sri Lanka continues to orient itself as victims, albeit of a western agenda, and have thus lost its credence with international diplomatic partners while Rwanda is better placed to continue its strategy, at least in the immediate future. In order to do so, a brief overview on the characteristics of a foreign policy oriented on victimhood would follow a thematic discussion on the focal political determinants of Rwandan and Sri Lankan post-conflict foreign policy; the internal securitization of the state, diaspora politics, civil society organizations, and regional politics.

History of Violence and Victimhood

A history of violence and consequent victimization is one of the primary characteristics upon which “Victimism” is developed. The horrors of the Rwandan genocide as the world stood still will forever be a defining moment in international relations. The human cost, within the space of a few days demonstrated the fundamental weaknesses of the world order at the time while seriously bringing to question the moral imperative of multilateral organizations such as the United Nations in safeguarding international peace and security. Similarly, the Sri Lankan conflict that spanned nearly three decades brought about the loss of nearly 100,000 citizens while displacing more than a million. Both conflicts began and ended with little to no international intervention; therefore, for all intents and purposes, they can be categorized as domestic conflicts. However, the repercussions of both these conflicts on international politics are quite profound as hitherto virtually unknown nations became famous for the catastrophically high level of life lost, and even more so as both nations built their foreign policies around this experience with conflict.

The current Rwandan political situation is somewhat unique in that a Tutsi minority that was victim to a ruthless genocide controls the political processes with an overwhelming mandate. President Paul Kagame and most of the current ruling administration in Rwanda originate primarily from Rwandan Tutsi refugees, a population exiled during a political movement to create an exclusive Hutu nation. Therefore, amidst gaining control of the nation, the political victory has arrived subsequent to a humanitarian crisis. Thus, the dominant narrative of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has been ‘never again’, in reference to the return of genocide, and a need for ‘national unity’ underpinned by ‘Rwandanness’ to ensure peace, security and development. (Reed, 1996) With the human cost as a grounding element for the ruling party, the Rwandan government has not necessarily considered itself as victors, but rather victims.

Sri Lankan governments throughout its conflict-ridden history, on the other hand, constitute of mostly the majority, Sinhala-Buddhists. Therefore, its conceptualization of victimhood is narrated through the war on terrorism rather than minority status. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since their emergence in the 1980s evolved into a full-fledged militant outfit that had access to a functioning Air Force and Navy. Moreover, during a considerable time period, the LTTE governed parts of Sri Lanka while creating several institutions that mirrored a fully functioning state. (Stokke, 2006) In addition to the institutional realm, however, the LTTE’s presence was most felt through frequent suicide bombings and military raids across public spaces that killed thousands of civilians, and at times eminent politicians, including two Heads of State. Therefore, the focus of Sri Lankan governments has revolved around highlighting the advanced capabilities of the LTTE. In doing so, the government framed the conflict in terms of a conflict between a terrorist organization and legitimate state sanctioned military, while disputing the notion of the LTTE as merely minority antagonists. Thus, Sri Lanka to many, especially within the country, was victim to fully-fledged terrorism.

Presence of a Security Threat

In order to effectively propose a foreign policy based on victimhood, the state in concern should perceive a reasonable threat to its national security either internally or externally. There are many who consider Israel to use its victimization during the holocaust as a basis for establishing alliances and assistance from other nations, especially the United States and its NATO allies. The suffering of Jews during a despicable period of anti-Semitism is unquestionable and the creation of Israel is a legitimate response to their suffering. However, critics note that support based on past moral failings should not necessarily justify continued support. (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006) Therefore, in order for such a policy to have long-term implications, the nation in question requires a threat that continues to exist in order to justify its position as a victim rather than a victor. Similarly, nations such as Cambodia, South Korea during its infancy, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have integrated some form of “victimism” within their foreign policy agendas.

Positioning Israel’s foreign policy within the framework of “victimism” provides a clearer understanding of how continued security threats can be transformed into foreign policy alliances that benefit a nation. For example, since independence, up until the late 20th century, Israel faced a considerable security threat from neighboring Arab states. During the conflict, Israeli leaders were particularly effective in portraying the nation as an underdog: the Jewish David to the Arab Goliath. While, Israel is arguably better equipped than their neighbors currently, at its infancy, the image of victimhood was significant in garnering the support of the wider international community. At present, even though the threat of the Arab-Israeli conflict has diminished from its original context, Israel continues to face an impending threat in the form of an Iran possessing nuclear weaponry and the regional terrorism threat originating from Palestine and Lebanon. As noted by Lindsey and Takeyh, “Iran’s leaders have turned anti-Americanism and a strident opposition to Israel into pillars of the state.” (Lindsay & Takeyh, 2010) Therefore, its proliferation of nuclear material poses a clear and present danger to Israel that can be transformed into policy support. In fact, the opposition by Israeli leaders during recent negotiations between Iran and the United States could be attributed to the fear of being undermined while potentially disarming a common enemy.

For Rwanda, this threat represents itself in the form of anti-Tutsi militias in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R. Congo). Meanwhile the continued presence of the LTTE during the conflict and the perceived reemergence of the terrorist organization through the support of its international networks form the basis of risk observed in Sri Lanka. Consequently, as discussed in a chapter to follow, the perceived threats to the nation translate into an indulgence in securitizing the state.

Adoption and Recognition

Even though individual nations recognize their position as victims and embrace a policy of “victimism”, its efficacy relies heavily upon recognition by other countries. As noted previously, the main purpose of pursuing a foreign policy based on victimhood is to garner the sympathy and, when relevant, empathy of other nations in order to establish common allegiances. As such, the threats discussed in the previous section require contextualization within the global political discourse. The issue of terrorism in Sri Lanka is particularly enlightening in this regard as it demonstrates global perspectives on terrorism and its implications on Sri Lankan foreign policy.

Two isolated incidents during the conflict in Sri Lanka influenced the conception of its foreign policy and the conflict as a whole. First, the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 transformed the formerly domestic conflict limited to the island nation into an international incident. The presence of the LTTE was no longer a threat only to Sri Lanka but others as well, especially those in the region. As discussed further under diaspora relations, the assassination also converts the opinion of India, the political hegemon of the region, to actively oppose the existence of the LTTE and thus consider the plight of the Sri Lankan government. Secondly, the 9/11 attacks transformed terrorism from isolated phenomena to one with global consequences. The subsequent global “war on terror” was a particularly effective platform on which Sri Lanka put forth its position in order to gain the support of other nations, especially those who were either against or neutral to the Sri Lankan government. Whereas terrorism in the pre-9/11 era garnered occasional sympathy, the post 9/11 world was filled with global empathy as common victims of terrorism.

This recognition of victimhood by international actors was thus translated into policy measures voiced by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar during the UN debate on International Terrorism in October 2001, as the Sri Lankan government called upon the internal comity to eliminate supportive financial systems on which terrorism depend. (Kadirgamar, 2001) Similarly, upon closer inspection, the Sri Lankan government used the common threat of terrorism to fulfill its military objectives as well. For example, the final thrust of the Fourth Eelam War, that ultimately defeated the LTTE, coincided with Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into Gaza in order to quell the threat of militants. It should be noted that the Sri Lankan government was under considerable international pressure to find a peaceful solution prior to deploying its final assault after cornering the LTTE to a very narrow space. (BBC, 2008) However, the Sri Lankan government successfully convinced the international community to refrain from intervening by invoking the common theme of “victimization by terrorism” while corresponding its attack to the Israeli offensive.

Identifying the Enemy

Along with the presence of a threat to national security, in order to invoke “victimism” and substantiate the international community’s recognition of victimhood, it is imperative that the nation in question clearly identifies the threat and portrays it as such to their partners. For Rwanda, the identified enemy of national reconciliation is a segment of the Hutu population in favor of the genocide while during the conflict; the LTTE was clearly identified as the imminent threat to national security in Sri Lanka.

The identification and consequent classification of a threat to the nation enhances the scope of victimhood in several ways. First, such a classification assists the state to tailor its domestic and foreign policy within a cohesive framework in order to address the entity. In doing so, its international partners are better able to respond to developments regarding the identified entity and provide assistance to combat the threat. South Korean foreign policy during the 1960s and 1970s further highlight the identification and classification of a threat to initiate strategic alliances with other nations for its benefit. Since identifying North Korea and later Vietnam as imminent threats to national and regional security, along with its past experience of the Korean War, South Korea was able to gain the support of the United States and its allies through economic and military arrangements.

Secondly, it should be noted that with the clear identification of a threat to a nation’s stability, foreign governments are relatively more eager to provide economic and military assistance given the fear of instability boiling over to the region. Such assistance takes place since nations are better equipped to recognize common concerns through this process. Moreover, by doing so, internal governance mechanisms that usually determine aid policy (e.g. Protection of democratic principles) are given secondary status to regional and international security. The classification of priorities to grant international aid by the United States to South Korea was best exemplified by the continuous provision of assistance amidst increasingly authoritarian rule during the time period in question. In fact, the influence of “victimism” can still be observed with the foreign policy agenda of South Korea, as they continue to depend on the United States to provide strategic military security. (Clinton, 2011)

The inability to clearly identify an imminent threat, on the other hand, creates the basis for the dissolution of a foreign policy agenda based on victimhood. The current Sri Lankan foreign policy perfectly exemplifies this process as the government struggles to clearly identify a threat in a post-LTTE political arena. Since the defeat of the LTTE, the government has attempted to portray the Tamil diaspora, Civil Society Organizations and, even at times, neo-colonialism as impending threats to its national security. (Gunawardene, 2014) However, broad classifications have limited Sri Lanka’s ability to provide any coherent mechanism by which the alleged threats can be dealt with and therefore have only succeeded in alienating itself. Therefore, the broad categorization of multiple entities as threats, while succeeding somewhat with its domestic electorate, has failed internationally.

Limitations to Implementing “Victimism”

The status of victimhood, therefore, is integral to the survival of “victimism” as a viable foreign policy strategy. The absence of an imminent threat to national security or the inability to clearly identify a specific actor related to the threat, therefore, results in the erosion of victimhood. Since international partners base their support on the nation’s position as victim to a common concern, the elevation of a nation from the status of victim to victor initiates a reconfiguration of alliances. The Russo-Japanese war provides an apt example into the transformation of a victim into a victor and the resulting reconfiguration of international relations. Prior to 1904, Japan was considered to be a victim of the Russian expansionist agenda and was thus granted strategic support by Great Britain. However, since Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905, European powers no longer recognized their position as victims and thus initiated a much more circumspect foreign policy agenda with the Empire of Japan. (van der Oye, 2005)

The change in foreign relations that takes place with the erosion of victimhood occurs due to two distinct reasons. First, as has been discussed, a nation’s status as a victim is based on certain concerns that invoke empathy from some and sympathy from others. However, a change in the status gives other nations an opportunity to move away from this common concern and initiate dialogue on other matters. Second, the elevation of another country from victimhood poses a strategic threat to some in terms of economic and military engagement. For Sri Lanka, the conclusion of the conflict has enabled the nation to devote resources to other issues. For example, since 2009 the Sri Lankan Navy has increased its presence in the Indian Ocean to tackle illegal fishing in Sri Lanka’s sovereign waters. As a result, the number of Indian fishermen arrested for fishing illegally in Sri Lankan waters has increased exponentially over the past few years and therefore poses a significant challenge to India. (Panda, 2014)

Potential of Pursuing “Victimism”

A foreign policy based on a sense of victimhood, therefore, necessitates the fine balance of configuring the image of a nation as victims of violence with the strategic interests of other nations. Given that the basis of such a political strategy emerges from the presence of a national security threat, the greatest benefit accrued through “Victimism” is the ability to garner international support to strengthen one’s position over the threat, be it internal or external. Given that most nations that pursue a victim-based foreign policy lack substantial economic or political clout, they require the assistance of alliances to provide economic and political assistance when needed. Moreover, nations that pursue this policy are afforded an opportunity to use its violent history as a watershed in domestic and international politics. By doing so, the ruling administration gain some credence on the international front and mitigate the potential for international interventions in domestic affairs. Among nations such as Rwanda and Sri Lanka that subscribe to this form of foreign policy development, the Kingdom of Cambodia can be cited as pursuing a similar agenda since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge and the accession of Hun Sen to power as Prime Minister.

Amidst constant criticism by international actors for corruption and political authoritarianism, Hun Sen has been capable of distinguishing his administration from its predecessors by reiterating memories of the Cambodian genocide. (Country Watch Inc., 2012) In fact, Cambodia successfully created alliances with important allies such as the United States and France. These allegiances provided political credence to the regime and simultaneously afforded some political security on the international stage. However, given the necessity to balance the nation’s image while aligning interests, slight reconfigurations could severely undermine the position of countries. For example, Cambodia’s attempt to align itself closer to China recently weakened its position as a victim and it thus opened itself to greater criticism from the United States and other regional allies. Interestingly, the erosion of international credence has strengthened Cambodia’s opposition and has consequently posed a considerable challenge to the future rule of Hun Sen. (Hiebert & Nguyen, 2014) A similar situation is observed with Sri Lanka (and discussed further subsequently) as the defeat of the LTTE and the realignment towards China resulted in unprecedented levels of diplomatic pressures on the Rajapaksha administration.

The contextualization of a nation as a victim, therefore, also affords the ruling administration some domestic stability. In essence, given the recognition of a prevalent threat to the stability of a nation, international actors are increasingly hesitant to weaken the position of a government capable of sustaining stability under such conditions. Rwanda perfectly exemplifies this process as the foes and allies alike fear the future of the country in the absence of President Kagame. In effect, the hesitancy on the part of external actors has afforded the government an opportunity to strengthen its position internally and embrace an increasingly securitized state.


CHAPTER TWO: Securitization of the State


Upon the conclusion of their respective conflicts, Rwanda and Sri Lanka have continued their prioritization on internal security, be it in the form of controlling internal oppositions or external military threats. In doing so, it appears that both states have subscribed to a form of securitization theory, first proposed by the Copenhagen school of thought during the late 1980s. In essence, for both states, “security is treated not as an objective condition but as the outcome of a specific social process.” (Williams, 2003) As shall be discussed through this chapter, both states call on a common notion of security to enhance their domestic political agendas and consequently to influence foreign policy agendas as well.

Security in Sri Lanka

The conclusion of the conflict provided President Mahinda Rajapaksha with the perfect opportunity to consolidate the unitary state, entrench a new political dynasty, and neutralize the threat of militant Tamil nationalism and secessionism. In doing so, the Government of Sri Lanka utilized its military successes as a facilitatory tool towards political successes. Consequently, strong continuities could be observed during the “war for peace” and the “post-war” period. (Goodhand, Sri Lanka in 2011: Consolidation and Militarization of the Post-War Regime, 2012) The strategy bore considerable benefits within the context of domestic politics, best illustrated by the overwhelming majority gained by the Rajapaksha led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) during general elections, and was therefore mirrored in its foreign policy agenda as well, albeit with contrasting results.

The Government of Sri Lanka, thus far, has staked its credibility on achieving rapid economic growth, especially in post-conflict regions. This agenda has reaped considerable successes as the resettlement of nearly all IDPs was complemented by the construction of new infrastructure, lower costs of living, and improved agricultural productivity. However, most of the said projects have been coordinated by or are being carried out through the nation’s Ministry of Defense. In doing so, local governance in the North has been reconfigured to host a combination of both civil and military structures. In Jaffna, for example, reportedly 40,000 army personnel and 10,000 police have been stationed as part of consolidating the state’s military presence in the area. This situation appears to have occurred due to two main reasons. Firstly, the government fears the reemergence of Tamil national militarism amidst the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE. With increased participation of non-governmental actors in the region, the state fears that former LTTE cadres and other LTTE sympathizers might be rejuvenated. This initial concern demonstrates the continuation of discourse in the realms of victimhood with a potential security threat.

Secondly, the government has found it challenging to deal with the vast military structures that were created across a three decade long war. A significant proportion of the Sri Lankan populace, especially Sinhalese in rural areas, are employed in the Armed Forces which is in fact the largest public sector employer. Consequently, the government has been hesitant in reducing the size of the army given the prospect of increasing unemployment, particularly among its core base of supporters. Therefore, the Sri Lankan military has gradually reconfigured itself to contribute towards infrastructure development projects. The decision to do so was best made clear by the conglomeration of the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development. Such decisions have led to former diplomat Dr. Dayan Jayatillake noting that Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is “dictated by the Defense Minstry.” (The Sunday Times, 2014) It should be noted that the gradual centralization of power within the Presidency is yet to meet any substantive opposition from domestic sources as the main opposition remains fractured and weak; thus posing an insignificant political threat to the sustenance of the UPFA government, at least in the short term.

The tone of interactions between Sri Lanka and international partners after the conclusion of the conflict has tended to err on the side of defiance. The nation’s military was elevated during multiple state speeches by the President as being the only notable victory in the global war against terrorism. Therefore, the government expected the international community to celebrate the victory on a similar scale to its own and elevate the status of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces as well. Thus, the response of the international community in regards to allegations of human rights abuse came as a rude shock to the leadership of the country. The continued securitization of Sri Lanka has in turn influenced the state’s agenda on international platforms while also shaping the perception of the country by foreign actors, and therefore has become a key determinant of its post-conflict foreign policy agenda. Sri Lanka, at least according to those in power, has thus been victimized by “western indifference”.

As a result of securitizing the nation, the power in the country has begun to flow solely through President Rajapaksha and his closest advisors, who seemingly include most of his family members, since the respective Ministries are directly under the purview of the President. Moreover, upon the conclusion of the conflict, a growing number of positions on the country’s diplomatic corps have been granted to former military leaders of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Therefore, to the rest of the world, members of the military, some of whom are accused of human rights violations, represent the country.

Due to a growing focus on domestic security and the brains of the nation being dominated by individuals experienced on the domestic front, it appears though that the foreign policy agenda in post-conflict Sri Lanka has been taken for granted by its leadership. This notion was best exemplified by the laissez-faire manner in which the leadership responded to initial warnings by the United States and its allies about potential UNHRC resolutions against Sri Lanka. For example, the Kerry-Lugar Report of 2009 expressed a firm willingness on part of the United States for a reset; whereby accountability was to be put on the backburner in return for substantive progress on political reconciliation with the Tamil minority in the form of provincial devolution. (Jayatilleka D. D., 2014) The response to many such options was a dogged arrogance that a victory on the battlefield prepared a nation for definite successes on the political spectrum. Such notions are underlined by the continued prioritization of military engagements that existed during its confrontations with the LTTE and highlight the state’s inability to respond to its newfound status without the security threat of an armed terrorist organization.

Securitization in Rwanda

The Rwandan expansion of domestic politics has, in fact, followed a similar trajectory to that of Sri Lanka as well. The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) has established a high degree of hierarchy into its political structures that centralize most power in the hands of the President. This was due to both a matter of necessity as well as choice. Internal party cohesion along with the individual political strength of President Kagame was ably assisted by an international community seeking redemption after its failure to intervene and halt the genocide in order to rebuild the nation after 1994. Consequently, the RPF-led Rwandan government was capable of rebuilding the physical and institutional infrastructure necessary to bring peace and reconciliation to a divided nation. However, “the core strengths of the RPF pose substantial challenges in other vital policy areas. In particular, the RPF’s desire for internal cohesion has made it suspicious of critical voices within and outside of the party.” (Clark, After Genocide: Democracy in Rwanda, 20 years on, 2014)

The Rwandan reconciliation process has two main components: to reassure a public audience of stability and prosperity while demonstrating the successes of reconciliation to the international community, especially donors. However, Melvin argues that “the current Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government successfully manipulates national reconciliation to bolster political support, silence opposition and promote development that is primarily uneven.” (Melvin, 2012) Moreover, several human rights organizations have noted intimidation of critiques of the Kagame presidency and the acquisition of coerced political support. The securitization of the state, in the Rwandan context, however, is not just limited to its territory. In addition to the consolidation of power internally, President Kagame has gone on to further the powers of Rwanda across its borders as well – notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

Amidst these allegations, however, the Kagame administration, similar to that of Rajapaksha, continues to be popular among the masses due to a combination of rapid economic growth and a weak domestic political opposition. As the International Crisis Group noted, “the political parties that exist today in Rwanda are only tolerated if they agree not to question the definition of political life drawn up by the RPF.” (International Crisis Group, 2002) In response, the government initiated its ‘democratization process’ by holding elections in 2001, however, the process allowed the RPF to exercise full control over the process and consequently legitimize its place in the political spectrum of Rwanda. In effect, “consensual democracy has become the imposition of one party’s ideology.” (International Crisis Group, 2001)

In addition to the political maneuvers of the Rwandan government, its policy of eliminating ethnicity has come across as one of the most controversial policies within the scheme of securitization. In some quarters the dissolution of Tutsi and Hutu identities in order to create a common Rwandan identity is heralded as a facilitator of reconciliation and a major contributor towards the current peace. Contrastingly, political analysts such as Bradol and Guibert state that the absence of ethnic identities has become a means of masking the monopoly by Tutsi military of political power. (Reyntjens, 2004) In response, the Rwandan government has continued to deny a proactive policy of concentrating power within a Tutsi elite. At the same time, however, political discourse on ethnicity has been attributed to pro-genocidal elements that threaten national security and stability. Thus, the experience of the genocide forms a significant portion of the nation’s discourse on internal issues and the status of victimhood is used as a justification for increasing state power. The pursuit of “victimism” hinges upon invoking one’s history of violence and insecurity and as demonstrated here, a violent history plays a pivotal role in domestic and, consequently, international politics.

Homegrown Solutions

The pursuit of national security has translated to a deep contempt against international interventions and proposals of reconciliation. Both Sri Lanka and Rwanda have publicly remonstrated against any plan of action proposed by the international community and have continued to promote a “homegrown solution”. This aversion to foreign models of reconciliation and redevelopment is best exemplified by President Kagame’s allegation that foreign actors “come [to Rwanda] knowing almost nothing, understanding almost nothing, and they judge and criticize and tell you what you should do. A big part of the misunderstanding is that they expect us to be a normal country, like the ones where they are from. They do not understand that we are operating in a very different context.” (Kagame, 2010) Sri Lanka’s leadership has made similar statements regarding the need to be cognizant of differing political and cultural contexts that have led to the policies implemented. The aversion to international interventions, therefore, emanates from the common experience of being victimized through previous international interventions.

Therefore, the most significant influence of the concentration by Rwanda and Sri Lanka on securitizing the state against enemies, both home and abroad, has been their implementation of the Gacaca courts and the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), respectively. These measures were proposed as diametrically opposing mechanisms to those proposed by international actors such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and a similar international investigation in Sri Lanka. These measures represent a distinct pursuit of unique solutions tailored to the issues faced by the respective nation and moreover, the translation of the leader’s vision into policy decisions.

The implementation of the respective visions, however, has contributed to the successes and failures of the post-conflict agenda, especially on the foreign policy front, in Rwanda and Sri Lanka. President Kagame, at present, wields a great deal of influence on the governance of Rwanda while President Rajapaksha is situated in a similar position. The UPFA has established itself as the forerunner of Sri Lankan politics in recent times through the tactful balance of appeasing all parties involved. Yet, consequently, it has been unable to reach a consensus on a process to pursue in order to solve the political question of Tamil minority rights. The Rwandan state, on the other hand, has mostly subscribed to the strategies proposed by Kagame. Therefore, the sole focus of the administration is to gain international credence and the foreign policy agenda is tailored as such. While the Sri Lankan government has collectively agreed to the vision of a united nation, unanimous consent does not exist on how to proceed towards achieving complete reconciliation. For example, the current administration consists of a coalition that spans the spectrum of nationalist elements advocating for a state based on Buddhist principles and those who firmly advocate a federal system that grants administrative autonomy to minorities.

In addition to the absence of a distinct mechanism to achieve the ultimate goal of a united country, Sri Lanka’s politicians have made individual statements on multiple occasions that have contradicted the government’s official message. For example, amidst continuous assurances by Sri Lankan officials on safeguarding democratic rights in the country, ardent Sinhala nationalist Cabinet Minister Mervyn Silva warned that he would “break the limbs” of some journalists and human rights defenders that spoke against the government at the UNHRC. (Havinland, 2012) Similar rhetoric has been used by Sri Lankan politicians in the context of the LTTE and has been accommodated by domestic and international allies to a great extent. However, the change in context from dealing with a terrorist threat to human rights activists has completely reconfigured the manner in which such rhetoric is interpreted on the international stage. The change in acceptance, therefore, clearly identifies back to the necessity for a clear and present threat to national security in order to gain support among a wider international audience. Contrastingly, the Rwandan policy framework is set out clearly and its interactions with those involved are implemented through “competent and even charming élites articulating an intelligent discourse.” (Reyntjens, 2004) The absence of an imminent threat along with the lack of a clear framework of reconciliation, as will be discussed further in sections to follow, has severely undermined Sri Lanka’s interactions with state and non-state actors.


CHAPTER THREE: The Role of Diasporas


‘Diaspora’ as a term generally originates from the context of Jews exiled from their homeland and thus reflected a connotation of a persecuted people. (Ostergaard-Nielsen, 2001) However, recent scholarship has expanded this term to include populations dispersed away from their state of origin due to multiple reasons, be it voluntary or involuntary. In the absence of a clear definition, this study shall consider diasporas to be a people with a common origin residing outside their “home state”, whether it is real or symbolic. In an international order established strongly in the presence of the nation state and its ancillaries, diaspora politics fail to play a particularly significant role in determining the outcome of foreign policy decisions. Even in situations where diasporas tend to be active players in a given situation, state structures usually tend to disregard the position of the diaspora as a worthwhile partner.

Yet, as Byman et. al note, “some of the most significant diasporas of today, like the Indians and Sri Lankan Tamils, have begun to exercise unprecedented clout in the affairs of their home countries, akin to the Jewish diaspora in the US.” (Byman, Chalk, Hoffman, Rosenau, & Brannan, 2001) Consequently, as will be discussed further in this section, diaspora politics are considerably influential towards the evolution of foreign policies in a post-conflict setting. In fact, it would be argued that the political strength of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora relative to that of the Rwandan diaspora contributes to the divergent foreign policy agendas of the home nations as well the response of other nations to the respective conflicts and their reconciliation process.

The influence of diaspora communities in influencing the outcome of domestic conflicts, however, does not limit itself to Sri Lanka or Rwanda. The influence of the diaspora is particularly strengthened in terms of secessionist movements. As Aryasinha observes, among the 20 major armed conflicts ongoing in 1999, many were secessionist in nature and all of them had sizable diasporas spread across the globe. These groups include the Armenians, Kashmiris, Assamese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Kurds, Palestinians, Kosovars, Shi’s, Basques, Irish, and Chechens. (Aryasinha, 2002) Therefore, diasporas should no longer be categorized solely as a domestic political entity within the “host state”, and its imperative that their transnational implications also be recognized. Given its global recognition, diaspora groups have situated themselves to provide an antithesis to the state’s claims of victimhood. Therefore, diaspora politics heavily influence the outlook of victimhood since the state has to respond to alternate claims of victimization on an international setting.

Motivations for Diasporic Interventions

Unlike other non-State actors, diasporas are usually motivated by multiple factors as opposed to material gain or mere altruism. Strong familial and psychological bonds with a conflict in the homeland generally incentivize diasporas to unify under a given identity and consequently intervene in situations in the homeland. That said, identity formation does not necessarily form in isolation. Rather, the notion of an identity emerges among marginalized communities in response to a plethora of factors, including but not limited to, racism, euro-centrism and exclusion. (Yon, 1995) Identity politics are particularly important in the context of Sri Lanka and Rwanda as they posit the first forms of divergence in diaspora interventions. The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora is without a doubt one of the strongest diaspora networks in the world. The rest of Sri Lankans living abroad though are remarkably dormant as a collective body and are yet to garner the sort of influence yielded by the Sri Lankan Tamil community. The lack of a singular identity for Sri Lankans to rally behind is a major factor creating this vacuum. “Rather than being constituted by principled actors, transnational ethnic networks unite around instrumental as well as symbolic identity-related goals” and this is most pertinent in the contrasting dynamics of diaspora politics between Sri Lankans and Rwandans. (Wayland, 2004) For the past three decades or so, Sri Lankan Tamils have recognized growing injustices against their brethren and appear to empathize with those back home. In essence, an alternate perception of victimhood to that of the Sri Lankan state is created as “the Tamil Diaspora sees itself as externally displaced alongside other internally displaced Tamils on the island.” (Vimalarajah & Cheran, 2010)

Organizational and bureaucratic interests play an equally important role in motivating diasporas to intervene in conflicts. As Shain and Aryasinha opine, “the vision with respect to homeland conflict and compromise is often rooted in the collective memory (immediate or generational) of the state, or the ‘people’ who were forced out of their land as part of a historic trauma.” (Shain & Aryasinha, 2006) Therefore, the existence of a collective diaspora hinges on the survival of this traumatic memory and use of the memory to build a common identity that relates to a dynamic organizational interest. At the conclusion of conflicts and the opportunity to return to ones homeland, gives way to the emergence of what Clark and Kaufman term as “victim diasporic nationalism.” (Clark & Kaufman, 2009)

The conclusion of a military conflict, especially in a sudden manner similar to the one in Sri Lanka poses several challenges to diasporas. In the absence of an active oppressor, diaspora communities may feel that they have lost the main identifier of their cause and thus lose legitimacy in the eyes of the host state. The Tamil diaspora likely feels that achievements gained at the conclusion of a near three decade long armed struggle are minor, if not negligible. As Shaheen Akhtar notes, “the struggle only offers them an asymmetrical and loser’s peace.” (Akhtar, 2010) In response, the Tamil diaspora appears to have undertaken a campaign to continually refresh the minds of the international community about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and alleged war crimes committed during the conclusion of the conflict. Sporadic attempts have been made by segments of the Rwandan diaspora to bring similar charges against President Kagame, however, they appear to lack the political clout necessary to achieve any substantial influence.

The Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora

The emergence of the Tamil diaspora in its contemporary form is intrinsically linked to the spread of violence in 1983. Prior to the wave of violence in 1983, experts observe two distinct waves of Tamil migrants to Europe. The first wave occurred in a post-independence migration pattern which included professional, English-speaking Tamils, especially to Great Britain. (Orjuela, Distant warriors, distant peac workers? Multiple diaspora roles in Sri Lanka’s violent conflict, 2008) The second wave occurred in the 1970’s as a result of restricted economic and education opportunities to Tamils. The basis of these limitations emanated from an ultra-nationalist government led by members of the Sinhala majority. While trying to distinguish Ceylon[1] from its colonial rulers, the “Sinhala Only Act” [2] of 1956 was arguably the first of many domestic policies that exacerbated growing tensions between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil and Muslim minorities. These two waves of Tamil migrants, however, differ considerably from the final wave of migrants since the 1983 conflicts as the diaspora spread to other parts of the world, especially Canada. Vimalarajah and Cheran note these distinctions within these patterns by noting that “as one of the oldest Tamil diasporas, the formation of the Tamil diaspora in the UK was predominantly marked by class structure at least until 1983, whereas the Canadian diaspora is mainly a refugee diaspora.” (Vimalarajah & Cheran, 2010) Some analysts suggest that at present nearly one fourth of the total Sri Lankan Tamil population lives in the diaspora, with approximately 700,000 to 800,000 settled across Canada, the United States, Europe, Australia and India. (Fair, 2005)

The activities of the Tamil diaspora took a considerably different landscape with the emergence of the LTTE. An initial advocacy for inclusivity evolved into demands for sovereign territory. Hargreaves et al. note that the LTTE’s “ambition to be the sole representative of the Tamils and the heavy handed tactics they used to ensure this meant that their political agenda became the de-facto non-negotiable policy of the entire community.” (Hargreaves, Karlsson, Agrawal, Hootnick, & Tengtio) This recalibration severely undermined the position of the Tamil diaspora as legitimate partners in finding a political solution in Sri Lanka and was eventually seen as sympathizers of terrorism. The growing number of nations declaring the LTTE as a terrorist organization further limited the influence of the diaspora as they failed to garner any meaningful support. The political question in Sri Lanka had thus become secondary to the war against terrorism. Amidst these consequences, the Tamil diaspora continued to provide a significant amount of assistance in sustaining the LTTE through the years in terms of monetary assistance, armaments, and occasionally, political capital. Diaspora politics, therefore, provide an insight into foreign relations based on victimhood on a more micro perspective. Similar to that of states, diasporas gain credibility in many instances by promoting its status as victims; whereas the transition of diaspora organizations from victims to supporters of aggressors led to the loss of credence among many international entities, until the eventual defeat of the LTTE.

Economic Assistance

Wayland identifies three sets of factors that account for the emergence and development of transnational movements and more militant forms of action: mobilizing structures, framing processes, and political opportunity structures. (Wayland, 2004) The Tamil diaspora was an invaluable resource for the LTTE to mobilize structures around the world in order to facilitate its activities. Some estimate that the LTTE was capable of generating US$ 200-300 million per year by mobilizing its vast network of licit and illicit businesses and fronts abroad. (Jane’s Intelligence Review, 2007) Moreover, it was reported that the LTTE raised considerable funds directly through donations from members of the Tamil diaspora. It should be noted though that such contributions were not necessarily voluntary as a significant amount of coercion is reported by multiple sources. The fundraising efforts were particularly intense during the final stages of the war. While it is possible to consider the influence the Tamil diaspora may have on the LTTE, especially given its financial dependence, Human Rights Watch reports that the potential for influence “has effectively been neutralized by the LTTE’s effective use of intimidation and extortion within the community.” (Human Rights Watch, 2006)

In the wake of being outlawed, the LTTE was particularly successful in operating under front organizations established to circumvent legal provisions against terrorist funding. These fundraising and propaganda activities were created as pseudo-religious, cultural, sports and humanitarian associations. During an EU-US International Seminar on LTTE held in 2008, the Sri Lankan Government identified several organizations as acting “for or on behalf of or at the behest of the LTTE”, including the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), White Pigeon, the World Tamil Movement (WTM), the British Tamil Association (BTA), and the Tamil Youth Organization (TYO). (EUROPOL, 2008)

It should be noted that financial flows to the LTTE through the Tamil diaspora fluctuated depending on performances on the battlefield. In addition to on-field performances, according to Fair, the diaspora “pulled back funding in an effort to motivate the LTTE to pursue peace with Colombo during the 2001 ceasefire negotiations.” (Fair, 2005) However, other reports suggest that the slow down in fundraising was temporary and the ceasefire agreement provided the LTTE with an opportunity to regroup and strengthen its international network for the future. Narco-trafficking is suggested as another significant source of funding to the LTTE through the diaspora. During a hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, the Intelligence Chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) opined that; “Information obtained since the mid-1980s indicates that some Tamil Tiger communities in Europe are also involved in narcotics smuggling, having historically served as drug couriers moving narcotics into Europe.” (Committee on the Judiciary, 2003) Thus, International recognition of the Tamil diaspora’s complicity in LTTE related activities was largely instrumental in undermining Tamil diaspora politics related to victimhood while strengthening the position of the Sri Lankan government.

Political and Diplomatic Advocacy

The role of the diaspora was mainly two-fold during the conflict. On the one hand, organizations established under the auspices of the LTTE were tasked with collectivizing the Tamil population towards supporting the LTTE and on the other hand aimed to gain the sympathy of the host state. Until the eventual defeat of the LTTE, the diaspora was engaging in what the French call La Politique du pire: endorsing strategies to make things worse so that they cannot possibly get better. Any Tamil politician working towards a political solution in collaboration with the Sri Lankan Government was seen as a traitor and the organization established a firm emphasis of ultimate victory through the actions of the LTTE, at least in public.

There is considerable divergence in opinions within the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora though. Yet, few were openly critical of the LTTE in fear of retribution and the public support towards them has been rather uniform. Therefore, due to the consistent support given by the Tamil diaspora to the LTTE during the conflict, the Government of Sri Lanka was able to demonstrate a divergence between the Tamil populace living in Sri Lanka and their counterparts from the diaspora. Therefore the Sri Lankan foreign policy agenda was tailored as an all-encompassing tool to deal with terrorism and transnational Tamil activism collectively.

The LTTE’s exclusive reliance on war tactics to achieve political goals was incongruous to the demands of the time, especially in the post 9/11 world order. In response, the Sri Lankan government, especially under the leadership of Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar as Minister of Foreign Affairs, actively lobbied nations to declare the LTTE as a terrorist organization and consequently Tamil diaspora groups as affiliates. Simultaneously, certain Tamil groups actively canvassed against the Sri Lankan government and attempted to redefine the LTTE as a legitimate political entity. For example, in 1998, the Union Tamils Organization openly declared at an event that “The Tigers are engaged in a coordinated armed struggle played out to international rules.” (BBC)

However, the United States Department of State designated the LTTE as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in October 1997. (United States Department of State) Similarly, other countries with major diaspora presence such as the United Kingdom followed suit during the late 1990s. The response of the international community in this regard thereby resulted in the disbanding of Tamil groups or drove them underground “as a result of being accused of supporting the LTTE, or possibly for fear of becoming so, and the repercussions of this.” (Krynitzki, 2012) The impetus of actively engaging with “host states” by Sri Lanka is best exemplified by the differences in diaspora activity in the United Kingdom and Canada. Unlike the United Kingdom, Canada was considerably more lenient towards the LTTE and ultimately decided to categorize them as terrorists in 2006. For Canadian Members of Parliament, the Tamil population was an important constituency whereas the influence of Tamil populations on the outcome of elections in the United Kingdom was relatively minute. That said, electorates have changed to a significant degree with the emergence of second-generation Tamil diaspora members within the political frameworks of the UK. Consequently, in recent elections, the Tamil vote is heavily influential in certain constituencies, especially in the greater London area.

One of the most significant victories on the foreign policy front for Sri Lanka, however, was achieved in 1992 when India proscribed the LTTE as a terrorist organization. This decision followed what is arguably one of the biggest strategic errors made by the terrorist organization, when an LTTE suicide cadre assassinated Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The assassination projected the LTTE as an international threat, especially within the region rather than just a domestic issue in Sri Lanka and tarnished its favorability among the political hierarchy of India. Moreover, the event signified the transformation of the LTTE from advocates of minority victimization to a militarily aggressive entity. Therefore, the Sri Lankan government was able to proactively engage with other nations and use the common anger of the Indian populace against the LTTE in order to garner much needed support for their cause. More importantly though, since 1992, India was willing to revert from exuding any meaningful pressure on Sri Lanka to cease violence or recognize the legitimacy of a sovereign Tamil state. In many matters concerning Sri Lanka, the international community uses India as a signaling function and their decision to not intervene in any formal manner during the last stages of the war was particularly advantageous to the Sri Lankan government.

Amidst significant opposition by the Tamil diaspora in Europe and Canada though, foreign governments were hesitant to intervene in the Sri Lankan conflict and alter its trajectory. It was in the best interests of everyone that the LTTE be defeated and the Sri Lankan government succeeded in framing the question in that manner.

Changes in Perspective

At the conclusion of the conflict following the defeat of the LTTE, many diaspora groups made a clarion call to its members to continue the struggle against the Sri Lankan Government to achieve Eelam:

“It is time for Tamils to reignite their struggle for freedom with more vigor and commitment. It is time for the Tamils to learn from their mistakes of the past and march forward towards protecting their homeland. It is time for the Tamils to mobilize their global resources to launch diplomatic and economic offensives against the Sri Lanka. It is time for the Tamils to bring the Sinhala Buddhist regime which is attempting to destroy us to the courts of justice. It is time for the Tamils to act, act immediately and wisely.” (Arvalan, 2009)

“It is also high time now that all Tamil entities join together in truly reflecting the minds of the people they claim to serve rather than serving the minds of others. Failing, they may never be able to find political or social platform among their own.” (TamilNet, 2009)

These statements exemplify the manner by which the Tamil diaspora framed its activities with a considerably different tone at the end of the conflict. Unlike in previous years, it could be observed that the diaspora began to promote the humanitarian cause of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, rather than solely focusing on the question of Eelam, and even going to the extent of criticizing the violent acts of the LTTE. As Vimalarajah and Cheran note, “The abrupt end signifies an important rupture in the continuity of Tamil politics at the national and transnational levels while offering challenges and opportunities for Tamil communities to rethink and re-articulate anew their demands for equality, justice and sovereignty.” (Vimalarajah & Cheran, 2010)

The conclusion of the war and the changes in strategy within the Tamil diaspora interestingly coincide with the emergence of second-generation Tamil activists. As the Financial Times noted, the younger Tamil diaspora were keen to “swap bombs for BlackBerrys” in an effort to continue the struggle. (Asokan, 2009). Immediately following the war, the diaspora shifted its immediate focus inwards in order to guard against the complete collapse of its network. This change in focus is best exemplified by a change in tone used in articles published by TamilNet, one of the main news sources for the LTTE and Tamil diaspora. (Prins, 2010) It was after this inward focus, that the diaspora continued to lobby their respective host states and other civil society actors to investigate the human rights impact of actions taken by the Government of Sri Lanka.

That said, the Tamil diaspora, especially following the defeat of the LTTE, was divided in ideology and practice to a great extent. Brun and Van Hear identified four main grouping reflecting different strands of ideology (Brun & Van Hear, 2012):

i)               The LTTE ‘old guard’

ii)             The LTTE legacy/heritage (mostly second generation activists)

iii)            The moderates (attempted to open discussions of Tamil Eelam outside the realm of the LTTE); and

iv)            A harder opposition to the LTTE

Amidst these wavering expressions of self-determination from outright secession to a federal arrangement, a core tenant of granting every Tamil citizen the right to determine its political future remained strong. (Vimalarajah & Cheran, 2010) Moreover, as Prins notes, the remobilization of the Tamil community experienced the creation of three new initiatives: the Global Tamil Forum (GTF); the referendum on the Vaddukoddai Resolution of 1976[3]; and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). Notwithstanding a change in strategy, these actions reemphasize a continuing pursuit of Eelam, however, as a report by the International Crisis Group states, “most Tamils abroad remain profoundly committed to Tamil Eelam, the existence of a separate state in Sri Lanka. This has widened the gap between the diaspora and Tamils in Sri Lanka. Most in the country are exhausted by decades of war and are more concerned with rebuilding their lives under difficult circumstances than in continuing the struggle for an independent state” (International Crisis Group, 2010)

The Global Tamil Forum is structured as a conglomerate of the main Pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora groups across the world. The Organization has highlighted its goal to advocate for the humanitarian conditions of Tamils in Sri Lanka and require Western democracies to intervene against the Sri Lankan state. Whilst the GTF is plagued by internal politics and has failed to lend a cohesive message to either its members or the international community, it has access to important resources that may well be required if the Sri Lankan political question is to be solved amicably between the government and the Tamil population. As Vimalarajah and Cheran point out, “those who are traditionally classified as ‘extremist’ are also those who are firmly rooted in their constituencies, are at the driving seat of decision-making processes, have a wide network, enjoy the trust of the community and are influential.” (Vimalarajah & Cheran, 2010)

As a form of legitimizing the movement for Eelam, a series of referenda were held in Tamil communities on the Vaddukkoddai Resolution. The Tamil separatist agenda has for years been anchored in this resolution and the need for the community to revisit the agenda complemented the movement’s necessity to regroup and give its claims some credence among the international community. Even though the resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority of voters in 2009/10 across Europe and North America, it is unlikely that any tangible benefits will be accrued through this practice. By reemphasizing the claim for a sovereign Tamil state, the diaspora immediately cast itself as the new enemy of the Sri Lankan government. Moreover, amidst its continuous advocacy, the Tamil Eelam movement lacks any international support, especially within the United Nations Security Council and thus is likely to only act as a distraction from its primary advocacy of the humanitarian situation.

The TGTE along with the referenda constitute “the most significant political development in the diaspora since the LTTE’s defeat.” (International Crisis Group, 2010) The move to establish a pseudo-government reinforced the change in strategy towards rebranding the movement as a non-violent, democratic entity. Effectively, the TGTE should be recognized as an entity tailored towards a long-term strategy of garnering necessary international support for an independent state for Sri Lankan Tamils. However, international support has not been forthcoming, with several nations, including the United States, openly declining to recognize the entity. In addition to these external issues, internally, the Tamil community has yet to coordinate all these efforts and is accused of being aloof from the real aspirations of Tamils residing in Sri Lanka.

As noted before, the most important contribution of the Tamil diaspora in influencing the post-conflict foreign policy agenda of Sri Lanka, however, has been the recalibration of issues in Sri Lanka towards a humanitarian perspective. In order to do so, the TGTE, GTF and other groups have highlighted the victimization of Tamils during the conflict as well as in the post-conflict setting. Therefore, in the eyes of some observers, Tamils are no longer freedom fighters, but rather, marginalized victims of state violence. This message of victimization has been reiterated by several groups and is based on a series of accusations against the Sri Lankan government ranging from war crimes and genocide, to electoral coercion.

As a result of reclaiming the narrative of the Tamil populace as victims, the diaspora has established itself with a sense of innocence that demands justice. As a result, respective host governments across Europe and North America have been called on to establish an international investigation into human rights violations that occurred during the final stages of the war, conditions of internment camps and a growing fear of state authoritarianism. During the final months of the war and the immediate aftermath, media organizations affiliated with the Tamil diaspora aggressively reported on the heavy loss of life and the dramatic increase in violence. (Prins, 2010) During these discussions, at times, the humanitarian situation was emphasized more by these groups than the question of self-determination. Alleged attacks by the Sri Lankan Army on No-Fire Zones (NFZs), resulting in the killing of many innocent civilians, have become a critical point of contention and the release of a documentary titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” by British TV station Channel 4 in 2011 has become the main point of reference in their propaganda activities.[4] Similarly, considerable discussion has taken place on the creation of internment camps with less than preferable living conditions for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the issue of IDPs in Sri Lanka as far back as February 2009 named “War on the Displaced” which gave sufficient credence to many grievances brought forth through the diaspora. (Human Rights Watch, 2009) Consequently, while the public discourse on self-determination receded and was substituted by a humanitarian agenda, the case of the Tamil diaspora became more identifiable to a broad audience rather than just a Tamil one.

A parallel to the change made by the Tamil diaspora could be drawn with the Kurdish question. While the symbolic significance of Kurdish independence remains strong, the question is contextualized more in a human rights and humanitarian framework. Not only did this change create a moral imperative for western democracies to intervene in some form or at least pay more consideration, but it also facilitated the establishment of closer relations between the Kurdish movement and civil society actors. (Ostergaard-Nielsen, 2001) Since the conclusion of the war in Sri Lanka, for example, several organizations have emerged within the Tamil diaspora in order to work with other community groups, human rights organizations, and non-state actors. As a result, “the notion of solidarity with other oppressed peoples of the world has reentered the Tamil political lexicon.” (Vimalarajah & Cheran, 2010)

These actions have further coincided with an opportune moment for the diaspora to influence host states as well. For example it was revealed immediately after the conclusion of the war that the United Kingdom granted licenses to export arms to Sri Lanka to be used during the war. This evidence was considerably embarrassing to the UK, especially in light of growing allegations of human rights abuse. The interventions of the diaspora during this period, therefore, provided an opportune moment for policymakers to redeem themselves by taking on the Tamil cause by calling for international investigations. These decisions were made easier for the UK government with the absence of a terrorist organization to cloud the issue. The defeat of the LTTE along with diaspora interventions finally succeeded in divorcing the issue of terrorism from the political question of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The Tamil diaspora, therefore, reconstituted itself as victims of Sinhalese oppression.

Response of the Sri Lankan Government to the Diaspora

At this crucial juncture, however, the Sri Lankan government failed to reassess the situation and respond appropriately to the shifts in strategy by the Tamil diaspora. The foreign policy agenda continued its traditional course of attributing the diaspora to terrorism and the emergence of a new form of political discourse within once allied nations in Europe and Northern America were unaddressed. In effect, the Sri Lankan government continued to identify itself as victims while the Tamil diaspora reconfigured an alternative narrative of victimhood. The most common response by the government in response to allegations is that other governments and NGOs are “being deviously manipulated by a seemingly all powerful Tamil diaspora.” (Rush, 2014) During an interview with CNN, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to the UK, Chris Nonis, called the criticism a “proxy propaganda war” while Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksha, continues to allude to an “LTTE rump” agitating against reconciliation. (Cullinane, 2013) As noted before, the Tamil diaspora continues to have links to the LTTE; however, the response of the government attempts to completely circumvent the concerns of the international community and fails to engage with either other governments or the diaspora on a political platform.

This is not to say though that the Sri Lankan government has completely dismissed the Tamil diaspora. During multiple addresses, President Rajapaksha has called upon the Sri Lankan diaspora to contribute towards the redevelopment of the country, especially the Northern Province. However, while some headway has been made to create an increase in Tamil entrepreneurship in the country, many are still hesitant to come back to Sri Lanka under the fear of retribution or coercion by state authorities. Therefore it is becoming increasingly evident that economic factors alone will not ease tensions between the two parties. Moreover, multiple parties have attempted to organize transnational diaspora forums. However, these attempts have failed regardless of the presence or absence of the government, mainly since the Tamil and Sinhala diasporas fail to recognize topics of mutual interest.

As Vimalarajah and Cheran note, “there is a general feeling that the Sri Lankan state has identified the Tamil diaspora as its ‘new enemy’ whose political activities have to be curtailed and banned. The new wave of arrests of alleged LTTE supporters in many European countries is seen as the result of Sri Lanka’s new diplomatic policy against the political Tamil diaspora.” (Vimalarajah & Cheran, 2010) However by implementing a reactive agenda to the activities of the diaspora rather than a proactive one, the Sri Lankan government continues to be on the defensive. A robust policy to engage with the diaspora is imperative to stabilizing domestic politics and external affairs of the country. In order to do so, the “smoke and mirror” strategy outlined above is unlikely to make any positive contributions. As Yusuf notes, “perception management must be accorded top priority in any effort to engage the diaspora and reap the true benefits of reconciliation. Effecting a strong and credible visibility strategy of national progress, plans and challenges are critical to perception management.” (Yusuf, 2013) However, thus far, the government has attempted to replicate its advocacy strategies used in domestic politics on the international arena and failed. In essence, a near three-decade long war has created a siege mentality between the government and the Tamil diaspora and thus far neither party has taken any substantive steps to break away from it.

Incidentally though, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Report discusses these same matters and recommends that the government take measures to mitigate the negative perceptions aligned with the conflict. The report goes onto propose several elements to facilitate a constructive approach by the government towards the diaspora. These elements include:

  • Engaging elected officials of minority parties through a structured dialogue that has visibility and recognition at a high political level to make ‘hostile diaspora groups’ irrelevant;
  • Constructively approach groups sympathetic towards the LTTE and find measures for them to contribute to local reconciliation and development efforts;
  • Engage in a proactive diplomatic initiative with the international community, especially those hosting diaspora groups that are circumspect of the Sri Lankan government; and
  • Grant liberal policies towards expatriates who wish to invest and work in Sri Lanka.

The report goes on further to warn that failure to adopt a comprehensive strategy to engage with the diaspora would “continue to promote polarization that will significantly impair the genuine efforts of others who espouse reconciliation back home in Sri Lanka.” (Commission of Inquiry on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation, 2011) However, the government has failed to successfully implement these proposals and has instead gone on to pursue a rather adversarial agenda with the diaspora and foreign governments that play host to diaspora organizations.

The Rwandan Diaspora

The Rwandan diaspora, similar to that of Sri Lanka, has been created through gradual waves of emigration that coincide with waves of instability in the country. A significant number of Tutsi fled Rwanda during the Hutu revolution of 1959 while large numbers of Hutu fled after the 1994 genocide. A third wave of Rwandans left the country since 2000 due to the fear of an increasingly authoritarian state under President Kagame. The Rwandan diaspora, however, could in large be categorized into two distinct forms – the first being a sub-section of the diaspora that relocated in Europe and North America and in turn established itself in the professional sector in most instances. The Rwandan diaspora also includes a large section of the population that moved to neighboring countries under refugee status. While the diaspora is heterogeneous, these sub-categories have influenced Rwandan politics in differing forms and the state, in return, engages with the diaspora in different ways. Like in many other conflict-affected nations, Rwandans face legacies from the past that may challenge the perceptions of the diaspora.

The independent Republic of Rwanda was born during a refugee crisis in 1962 and every subsequent political crisis (1973, 1990, 1994, 1996, and 1997-8) has resulted in large-scale displacement. (Murison, 2003) Between 1962 and 1994, multiple refugee settlements took shape in Uganda, Tanzania, the Republic of Congo, and Burundi. In response, host states were hesitant to contribute and thus allocated land to refugees in the hopes that they will become self-sufficient and minimize the drain on national and international resources. (Stein & Clark, 1990) As a result, Rwandan refugees in neighboring African nations failed to fully integrate into the host state, barring a few exceptions. For example, while Tanzania granted access to attain citizenship in the mid 1980s, three decades in, Uganda continued to treat the Rwandan refugee crisis as a temporary phenomenon that would lead to the eventual return of refugees to Rwanda. (Van Der Meeran, 1996) Given these conditions and the inability to fully integrate elsewhere, the Rwandan diaspora attempted multiple incursions into Rwanda in order to gain control of the state. It should be noted that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the current ruling political party of Rwanda, emerged through such a diaspora group in Uganda before expanding to other host states in the late 1980s.

The 1994 genocide and the removal of the genocidal government by the RPF in the same year provoked a mass exodus of over two million people from the country. (Prunier, 1995) Among these refugees, however, were high-ranking officers of the defeated Rwandan armed forces (Forces armées rwandaises or FAS) and these individuals largely influenced politics within refugee camps, especially in Congo. Moreover, the presence of large refugee communities on the borders of Rwanda and especially the existence of para-military groups such as the Interahamwe, presented a considerable threat to national security. It was under these circumstances that repatriation efforts began in 1995 and continues since. (UNHCR, 2000)

As a whole though, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 75,000 Rwandans seek refugee status or asylum around the world, with about 10,000 Rwandan refugees in OECD nations. Given that the Rwandan diaspora is made up of a large number of intelligentsia and professional classes of the old regime, political activism is at a considerably high level. In fact, a number of opposition parties and platforms such as the INHANGO and CPODR (Concertation Permanente de l’Opposition Democratique Rwandaise) are currently based in Europe and North America. As Black, et al. note, “in the absence of strong opposition inside Rwanda, these exiled opposition parties in some way represent an alternative political voice.” (Black, Mclean Hilker, & Pooley, 2004)

While all groups involved in the diaspora are not extremists, some have a large following amongst the diaspora, though their influence on those in Rwanda is not clear. Moreover, the fact that the emigration rate of the tertiary-educated population in Rwanda is 26.0% as of the year 2000 demonstrates that the Rwandan diaspora in turn is highly educated. (World Bank, 2011) Therefore, the Rwandan diaspora is of paramount importance in setting a sustainable post-conflict development agenda as they have the ability to be spoilers or catalysts in peace. Thus, the Rwandan government under President Kagame has taken multiple measures that reach out to their diaspora “by focusing on diasporic unity and communication between diaspora groups and the Rwanda government.” (Fransen & Siegel, 2011)

Victimhood and Engagement

Following a brief period of acclimatization since the genocide, the Rwandan government appears to have recognized the potential of its diaspora during early 2000. Interestingly, this realization coincides with a gradual improvement in economic infrastructure and political stability. The diaspora, therefore, was necessary to facilitate economic development while strengthening the political capital of the Kagame administration, especially in the eyes of a circumspect international community and suspicious Hutu diaspora. The Rwandan diaspora Policy therefore is based on three pillars: “the increase in cohesion within and between the different Rwandan diaspora, the stimulation of communication between Rwanda and its diaspora, and the stimulation of the active role of the Rwandan diaspora in the socio-economic development of the country.” (Fransen & Siegel, 2011) This policy compliments the renewed declaration by the government to include the diaspora in its long-term vision to establish unity and reconciliation. As mentioned in its policy declaration, Rwanda Vision 2020:

“Rwanda will become a modern, united and prosperous nation founded on the positive values of its culture. The nation will be open to the world, including its own Diaspora. Rwandans will be a people, sharing the same vision for the future and ready to contribute to social cohesion, equity and equality of opportunity.”

Upon closer inspection, thus, it is evident that such policies are not just tailored towards the Rwandan diaspora and Rwandans residing in the country, but international donors and other multilateral players as well.

Given the heterogeneity of the Rwandan diaspora and its suspicions about the government, Rwanda’s engagement policy appears to categorize the diaspora into three groups: a positive diaspora that supports the state, a skeptical diaspora whose members maybe converted, and finally a hostile diaspora beyond reach. (Turner, 2013) Rwanda, therefore, pursues a proactive policy to engage with the diaspora and mitigate potential discontent that might occur outside the country. It should be noted that the present Rwandan state is in fact the culmination of a successful diasporic struggle and, arguably, this experience has led to the states attention to diaspora activities that may threaten its stability.

The sub-categorization of the Rwandan diaspora according to desirability is in fact quite evident through the Rwandan Diaspora Policy and highlights the presence of “victimism” as a central component of its foreign policy. The policy goes on to differentiate between two particular strands of diaspora groups: a group that left the country between 1959 and 1994, and a group of Rwandans that left after 1994. The group that left after 1994 is described as follows:

“It was identified that part of this population are grouped into armed and political subversive groups, social, cultural, and the so-called human rights associations while others operate as individuals to spread genocide ideology and sensitize other Rwandan Diaspora to go against Government’s policies and programmes targeting national development.”

However, the Diaspora Policy goes onto describe a ‘positive’ diaspora among those who fled for political and security reasons. This group is described as:

“[E]specially composed of descendents [sic] of 1959 refugees that are returning to Rwanda and are playing in different ways a critical role towards the national development in the public and private sectors.”

Upon closer inspection, these categories go on to demonstrate that engagement policies with the diaspora enhance the state’s position to determine its allies. By doing so, the government ascertains necessary resources for its reconciliation efforts while bringing members of the diaspora under closer control. Therefore, the proactive diaspora policy of Rwanda enables the state to control most of the variables and thus minimize the potential for the diaspora to act as peace ‘spoilers’.

One of the main objectives of the Rwandan Diaspora Policy, as mentioned previously, is to unify the multiple strands of the diaspora and present a unified entity. These policies enhance the notion of “De-ethnicization” that has been the focal point of reconciliation efforts in the post-conflict setting. The notion aims to replace ethnicity and other potentially divisive loyalties that have plagued the nation’s politics with an undifferentiating ‘Rwandanness’. As Purdeková notes, “De-ethnicization is thus composed of the narrative of ‘unity’ and ‘dissolubility of difference,’ both rooted in a re-reading of the already much embattled history.” (Purdekova, 2010) In effect, therefore, the State has initiated a scheme to suppress alternate forms of identity in the hopes of building one in line with the state’s narrative. The multi-dimensionality of identity politics in Rwanda, especially in terms of defining a “Hutu” and “Tutsi”, complements this process as the ethnic identities fail to hold a permanent place in Rwandan discourse. The de-ethnicization of Rwanda signals its perception that ethnic divisions, especially in the form of extremist Hutus, present a significant threat to national stability and positive engagement in this regard bodes well with its international discourse of victimhood and reconciliation. In response, the categorization of the Rwandan diaspora limits the scope for the anti-Kagame elements to successfully create an alternate narrative of victimhood.

Several state institutions have been created over the last decade by Rwanda in order to coordinate efforts between different diaspora organizations through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. The Diaspora General Directorate (DSG) is one such institution created specifically with the mission “to mobilize Rwandan diaspora for unity/cohesion among themselves targeted for the promotion of security and socio-economic development of their homeland.” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation, 2010) The reference to the promotion of security is of particular note, as it reflects the state’s concern of diaspora led initiatives that may destabilize the country and in turn have decided to initiate links between the diaspora and state. Moreover, as mentioned previously, such initiatives have also been implemented in order to create a positive image of Rwanda to the international community while using valuable skills-based resources for development. These thoughts are reflected through the strategic objectives of the DSG:

  • “To mobilize active Rwandan diaspora for socio-economic activities of their motherland;
  • To encourage Rwandan diaspora to promote their culture and safeguard the interests and privileges of Rwandan expatriate abroad;
  • To mobilize the Rwandan diaspora communities abroad for a sustained and organized image building of their motherland;
  • To serve as a liaison between different public, private institutions in Rwanda and international organizations with Rwandan diaspora;
  • To mobilize expatriate and highly skilled Rwandan diaspora on knowledge and skills transfer to Rwanda;
  • To create an enabling environment for financial investment and remittances, trade for Rwandan diaspora in Rwanda;
  • To coordinate and harmonize different initiatives and activities related to Rwandan diaspora in Rwanda.” (Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Cooperation, 2010)

Another key facet in Rwanda’s post-conflict agenda in terms of diaspora relations is the provision of constitutional guarantees to complement institutional support. The Rwandan constitution of 2003 is of particular importance in this regard, especially Articles 7, 23, and 24. Article 7 guarantees Rwandan nationals the opportunity to regain their nationality and assures other nationals similar access to citizenship if they wish to pursue. Easy access to dual-citizenship is of utmost importance in granting diaspora members easy access to relocate or at least visit the nation and thereby circumvent the legal barriers restricting any potential contributions towards the betterment of their homeland. This notion is facilitated through Article 23, which pledges freedom of movement to and out of Rwanda. Moreover, Article 24, somewhat symbolically, reaffirms the eternal connection between the diaspora and the Rwandan state by noting: “every Rwandan has the right to his or her country” and “No Rwandan shall be banished from the country.” (Republic of Rwanda, 2003) As noted by Shindo, these articles highlight the willingness of the Rwandan state to accept diaspora returnees and consider the diaspora as active constituents. (Shindo, 2012) By doing so, the Rwandan government invokes its violent history to draw a distinction between the current administration and the government during the genocide to demonstrate its relative benefits to the international community. By creating a dichotomy in possible choices of governance, the current regime presents itself as the more reliable choice to sustain national and regional stability.

In addition to issues of coordination, Rwanda also faces the arduous task of mitigating long-held suspicions about post-genocide administrations by the diaspora. Therefore diaspora return programs have become an integral part of the state’s strategy to appeal to a suspicious community. The Rwanda Diaspora Global Convention, a biannual conference, and an annual gathering termed ‘the Retreat’ act as forums for various diaspora groups to demonstrate its solidarity. These forums have provided the government a platform from which to address the diaspora directly and address any concerns they may have regarding the direction of the country. Moreover, President Kagame has scheduled multiple meetings with diaspora groups across the world in order to reassure them of their safety and encouraged individuals to ‘come and see’ the country. As Turner observes, “members of the diaspora who either fear revenge and hatred by those in the country or who themselves harbor feelings of hatred, are flown in, land on Rwandan soil, are welcomed by the president whom they fear/hate, and are driven around the national territory from north to south and east to west to witness the changes in the new Rwanda.” (Turner, 2013) Such events reinforce the state in a positive light and attempts to mitigate preconceived notions that may tarnish the image of Rwanda.

However, the third wave of emigrants from Rwanda, those who left since 2000, pose one of the strongest challenges to the legitimacy of the current administration. This segment of the diaspora does not constitute either of the main diaspora categorizations but instead reflects upon a growing sense of authoritarianism on the political spectrum of the nation and thereby acts as an opposition to President Kagame. In response, the state has used its diaspora engagement policies to define these diasporas as a group ‘beyond reach’. During a speech to the first National Summit on Unity and Reconciliation in October 2000, President Kagame warned against:

“Those Rwandans who chose to run away to foreign countries and deceive the international community do a disservice to their motherland and their fellow countrymen and women. Some of them may have committed crimes, while others are driven by their selfish interests; yet others are guided by outmoded and backward ideas based on divisionism and ethnicity. But as we have often stated, every Munyarwanda who would like to come back to their homeland is most welcome.”

These remarks are of particular value as they highlight the distinctions and responses of the state to the ‘negative diaspora’. Since the latest category of the diaspora cannot be defined with the framework of ‘génocidaires’, they are portrayed as having selfish interests rather than political objectives. (Turner, 2013) The Rwandan government is afforded the opportunity to reflect in such a manner, however, due to its efforts to engage positively with the rest of the diaspora. Consequently, the state designates between moderates and extremists.

As Clark opines, “the RPF’s singular focus on rebuilding the nation and facilitating the return of refugees means it has often viewed dissent as an unaffordable distraction.” (Clark, 2014) Therefore, positive diaspora engagement strategies are particularly effective against anti-Kagame propaganda within in the international arena since members of the diaspora are now converted to spokespeople for the government, rather than using government officials alone. These campaigns are reinforced by the advert of certain prominent members of the Hutu diaspora who relocated to Rwanda. In fact, such measures go on to prove that a ‘negative diaspora’ can be transformed into a ‘positive diaspora’ through information campaigns. Meanwhile, however, the state has preserved its recourse to the threat of violence and exclusion for those who do not wish to subscribe to its vision by categorizing them as a threat to national security. In doing so, Rwanda’s international partners are more likely to assist the state in confronting anti-Kagame elements and less likely to intervene, given the fear of creating instability.

Managing the Diaspora

As has been discussed above, the diaspora plays a crucial part in the post-conflict reconciliation and development process in Sri Lanka and Rwanda and influences discourse on victimhood. The mechanisms through which the diaspora works, however, differ considerably and the responses of the respective governments have varied considerably as well. As Shain and Aryasinha note, “in many ways diasporas are not merely contractors, fulfilling the homeland leaders’ orders; they are often architects and initiators of policy.” (Shain & Aryasinha, 2006) Moreover governments in post-conflict nations should develop strategies to reduce the damage done by diasporas in post-conflict societies in order to mitigate the risk of conflict repetition. (Collier, 2000)

Rwandan diaspora policy is based on a central theme of designation and intervention. The policy has recognized the differing potentials that exist within its diaspora and therefore engage with those that provide an opportunity for positive reinforcement. By doing so, the state has located itself in a manner that addresses political issues within the nation while engaging with the international community. Moreover by doing so, the Rwandan diaspora is better controlled by the state as well. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has failed to engage with the diaspora, especially the Tamil diaspora, in a constructive manner. The most significant failure in this regard is the absence of a mechanism to reach out to the more moderate voices within the Tamil diaspora. The current Sri Lankan government and those in the future are unlikely to find a constructive solution to its situation unless the political question is addressed adequately.

That said, it is important to note that the extremist elements of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora are much stronger than their Rwandan counterparts and therefore provide a sterner challenge to engage with. These elements of the diaspora have become important political actors in the domestic and international arena. While the post-conflict foreign policy agenda of Sri Lanka could afford to engage with the Tamil diaspora more, the Tamil diaspora in turn needs to moderate its stance in order to achieve a sustainable peace. The incentives for the extremist elements of the Tamil diaspora to moderate are questionable since their existence depends on a continued struggle against the Sri Lankan state for Eelam. However, these extremist elements are lent a political platform as long as the political question remains unaddressed.

At the same time, the Sri Lankan state has more to lose with the continuation of these current relations and therefore should consider initiating the discussed diaspora engagement policies. In doing so, the government is likely to elevate the moderate diaspora to a more public platform and use these groups to complement its reconciliation efforts. A majority of Tamils in Sri Lanka and abroad seek a peaceful solution to their problems rather than the re-emergence of an armed struggle in the form of another terrorist organization. Thus, these moderate elements are likely to gain more ground at the expense of the extremist elements declaring themselves to be the sole voice for Tamils. In doing so, similar to that of Rwanda’s Diaspora Policy, Sri Lanka should refocus its diaspora policies towards addressing the moderates within a ‘negative diaspora’, which in turn would lead to a renewed legitimacy to the government, and thereby delegitimize the action of ‘peace-spoilers’.


CHAPTER FOUR: The Role of Civil Society


Civil Society as a term has gained particular popularity in modern political literature, and gained wide traction among both state and non-state actors. Citizen participation is imperative in practicing democratic values successfully. Especially in post-conflict situations where democratic institutions may not be at their strongest, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are seen to play a crucial role as an intermediary between the state and the citizen to facilitate decision-making processes. Moreover, CSOs also act as intermediaries between states. Through this multi-dimensional role, therefore, Civil Society becomes an important determinant of foreign policy. This importance is elevated by the highly critical role played by civil society in peace-building, and social and economic reconstruction. (Mukamunana & Brynard, 2005) Thus, to Rwanda and Sri Lanka, Civil Society Organizations represent modern interventionist approaches by foreign entities and thus require proactive measures to manage them.

As with the concept of diaspora, an accepted definition for civil society does not exist. Yet, many have described the appearance of CSOs and their ideal contributions within a democratic framework. However, a survey of literature on the subject illustrates that civil society as a concept contains elements that are diverse, complex and contentious. Initially discussed as a realm of social mutuality during the eighteenth century, the concept evolved during the nineteenth century to characterize civil society as an aspect of social life that existed beyond the realm of the state. (Seligman, 1992) Like Locke, Montesquieu, for example, distinguished the political society that regulates interactions between the state and its citizens from civil society as regulating relations between citizens. However, Hegel considered civil society to be a sphere of life that existed between household and state. (Markovitz, 1998) As Keane notes, in western democratic discourse, civil society not only acts as an intermediary, but also a balancing force against states that attempt to exploit its power. (Keane, 1988) Moreover, civil society organization is particularly important for marginalized groups. Political parties and parliaments need to “get informed public opinion beyond the established power structures.” (Habermas, 1991) These multiple opinions, therefore, demonstrate the plethora of identities given to civil society amidst being discussed within a specific scope of political discourse.

As a largely western concept, civil society organizations have played a substantial role in molding the identity of post-conflict nations. Over the years, these organizations have been involved in various capacities ranging from public voter education and monitoring elections, protesting against what they conceive to be unjust policies, protecting citizens from oppressive regimes, and bringing the conditions of post-conflict nations to the notice of the international community. Bearing in mind these contributions, Manor goes on to group CSOs into four categories: public policy and decision making; enhancing state performance; transparency and information; and social justice and the rule of law. (Manor, 1999)

Civil society organizations, however, have not limited their scope of influence to bilateral relations between nations. Traditionally, UN agencies have viewed civil society organizations as subcontractors in a subordinate position and not as equal partners. However, over the past decade or so, the United Nations has extended its systems to increasingly accommodate CSOs; human rights organizations have taken a particularly significant position of influence. For example, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) allows NGOs and other civil society representatives to directly contribute during official sessions and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has over 2000 accredited civil society organizations. Therefore, engagement with civil society on a multilateral platform has become a necessity for all nations and post-conflict nations in particular. Natsios observes that while UN agencies generally strictly adhere to the bounds of national sovereignty, NGOs tend to pay less attention to such notions. In that vein, when faced with the arduous task of coordinating the subtle balance of human rights advocacy and diplomacy, “UN staff are hesitant to criticize publicly a member state during a civil war, while NGOs do this more often in the context of their normal advocacy efforts.” (Natsios, 1995)

For the purpose of a coherent discussion in sections to follow, however, this paper will consider the following definition of civil society posited by Spurk, et al:

“Civil society is a sphere of voluntary action that is distinct from the state, political, private, and economic spheres, keeping in mind that in practice the boundaries between these sectors are often complex and blurred. It consists of a large and diverse set of voluntary organizations – competing with each other and oriented to specific interests – that are not purely driven by private or economic interests, are autonomously organized, and interact in the public sphere. Thus, civil society is independent from the state and political sphere, but it is oriented toward and interacts closely with them.” (Spurk, 2010)

This definition will be used as the basis for identifying some of the main participants in the post-conflict foreign policy agenda of Sri Lanka and Rwanda in order to analyze their influence and the response of the state to their activities. As shall be discussed, both states respond to CSOs in a similar manner, with a “you’re either with us or against us” stance – an extension of their aversion to foreign interventions. However, the standing of CSOs in their respective nations differs considerably due to the varied presence of democratic institutions that consequently determine the extent of influence.

Civil Society in Rwanda

As noted previously, since 1994, subsequent administrations have embarked on a process of democratizing the country and opening the political space to all segments of the population has become an important theme. The role of civil society, therefore, has gradually expanded along with the expansion of the democratization process of the country, as part of its peace and reconciliation process. The historical roots of civil society participation in Rwanda are mostly associated with religious organizations. However, civil society organizations gained considerable scope within national affairs during the Habyarimana regime in the early 1980s through rural development projects.

Mukamunana and Brynard trace three important phases in the emergence of civil society in Rwanda. The initial phase that emerged during the Habyarimana administration was mostly apolitical and was organized through an increase in foreign development aid into the country. (Uvin, Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda, 1998) The second phase is made up mostly of human rights organizations that emerged in the early 1990s during the short-lived period of political liberalization. These groups include “organizations such as the Ligue Rwandaise pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (LIPRODHOR), women’s groups such as Réseau des Femmes and Hagruka, and labor unions such as the Conseil National des Organizations Syndicales Libres au Rwanda (COSYLI).” (Mukamunana & Brynard, 2005) The third group of civil society organizations was created during the immediate aftermath of the 1994 genocide, with a principal aim of providing emergency aid to survivors and addressing the consequences of the genocide. These groups include organizations such as Ibuka and Avega Agahozo.

Consequently, these organizations made up a part of the first response team to the genocide and therefore were instrumental in influencing survivors as well. In turn, the post-conflict identity of genocide survivors has somewhat been influenced by the interventions of CSOs. It should be noted that international NGOs (INGOs) dominate the post-1994 CSO landscape along with only a handful of local associations. In fact, international donors are increasingly engaging with civil society organizations directly to coordinate public programs on justice and reconciliation. The initial influence appears to have had a long-lasting impact as demonstrated by the positive reflection of civil society values in Rwandan society, as noted in the Civil Society Index Rwanda Report. (CCOAIB, 2011) However, the study reveals certain deficiencies in the field of government transparency. In lieu of this expanded role of CSOs in Rwandan politics, the government established the Commission for Civil Society in the Office of the President.

Rwanda depends heavily on receiving foreign aid toward the implementation of its reconciliation agenda, and civil society organizations are vital instruments in facilitating the flow of aid and the final objective. In fact, Rwanda can be cited as one of the forbearers of integrating a post-conflict agenda within the development aid mandate of the international community. These steps were ceremoniously codified at the multilateral level through documents such as the 1997 OECD Guidelines on Peace, Conflict and Development Cooperation, and the 1998 UN Secretary General’s Report on Priorities for Post-Conflict Peace building. These documents introduced concepts such as governance and representation, justice and security, and prejudice and representation, to the development agenda. (Uvin, 2001)

In response to these changes towards the development agenda of the world, civil society organizations constituted a crucial component in recreating the justice system of Rwanda after the genocide. Ending the ‘culture of impunity’ was established as one of the cornerstones of the post-genocide government and the support of international civil society organizations were required to assist in the development of institutions and simultaneously inform the populace of the Gacaca courts. Civil Society Organizations, therefore, were used by Rwanda to project its victimhood to an international audience. Former secretary-general of Amnesty International and chief of the UN Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda, Ian Martin’s comments on the “impossibility of justice” to demonstrate the magnitude of the effort taken up by the Rwandan government, foreign states, and civil society organizations exemplifies the use of Civil Society actors as a medium of interaction between Rwanda and their international partners. (Martin, 1998)

Influence of the Rwandan State

Rwandan civil society influence on government decisions, however, is severely hampered by interventions of the state at the same time. As Paul Gready notes, “Rwanda is a hard case for NGOs and civil society, in that both the internal freedoms of democracy and the external support structures that often assist resistance to authoritarian rule are lacking.” (Gready, 2010) Most CSOs have limited their scope of intervention to development issues and therefore, only human rights and affiliated organizations appear to be the most critical of government policies, if at all. This situation has arisen due to rigid government controls over civil society operations within Rwanda. A United States Agency for International Development (USAID) report reaffirms this stance by noting that Rwandan civil society members are expected to operate within very rigid boundaries and that the government is wary of independent actors. (USAID, 2005) For example, the Rwandan government cracked down severely on civil society organizations that went beyond its boundaries and several organizations and their staff were suspended from the country.

Amidst these stringent controls imposed by the government, civil society in Rwanda has generally failed to mount any significant opposition. Mukamunana and Brynard note that “numerous obstacles undermine effective contribution of CSO to the process of policy making. These include problems of tight political environment, challenges of a society with deep scars left by the genocide, lack of resources and organizational challenges.” (Mukamunana & Brynard, 2005) In addition to these obstacles, it also appears that INGOs, in particular, are somewhat hesitant to intervene due to a sense of guilt prevailing from their inaction in addressing the genocide. As Gready opines, the political focus on civil society and its relevant discourse is characterized by “the new regime’s moral legitimacy combined with its material dependence on a delegitimized international community.” (Gready, 2010)

By invoking the tragic experience of the genocide and Rwanda’s victimization through counter-productive international interventions, CSOs in Rwanda appear to follow a strategy of enacting change through cooperation rather than pursuing an adversarial process. The former strategy attempts to forge partnerships with policy makers and power brokers, while the latter attempts to impose external pressure on the government. In fact, civil society organizations that have pursued this sort of strategy, such as those dealing with women’s rights, have achieved the most success in Rwanda. One of the biggest benefits of this strategy is that CSOs are better equipped to deal with issues on the local level in coordination with the government, rather than fight a national battle. A supportive civil society, therefore, has been an important tool for the design of Rwandan foreign policy. Similar to its diaspora policies, the government has been proactive in using the “charm offensive” towards garnering domestic and international support for its decisions. More importantly, in the face of occasional criticisms, the government has not hesitated to use civil society organizations to act as a buffer from criticisms. In fact Peter Uvin comments that “within the international community, it is now common to state that Rwanda, like Israel, is skillfully using the genocide, and the general imagery of victimhood, to justify brutal policies and deflect attention.” (Uvin, 2001) The Rwandan government has identified the intrinsic differences between the political, humanitarian, and human rights priorities of the UN and non-governmental entities.

Civil Society in Sri Lanka

Similar to Rwanda, Sri Lanka’s civil society has evolved with its internal conflict as a growing number of non-state actors began operating in the subsequent context of destruction, displacement, and breakdown of trust between ethnic groups. These interventions by civil society organizations in Sri Lanka, however, have been fraught with controversy and lined with difficulties.

Since independence, the nation has evolved along a strong allegiance to the welfare state and therefore power is heavily invested with state actors. Throughout its post-colonial history, civil society organizations and the Sri Lankan state have had a tense relationship at times. The state has had prior experience in repressing popular protests such as its brutal counter-violence against socialist uprisings in the south, its violent response to Tamil nonviolent protests in the 1960s and 70s, and the public sector strike in 1980. Civil society actors, NGOs in particular are looked at suspiciously and perceived as corrupt entities serving foreign interests that require state oversight. (Uyangoda, 2003) Consequently, the role of civil society in Sri Lanka is somewhat limited. However, missionary work, like in many other post-colonial nations, remained a dynamic force in creating CSOs across the nation. As a result, civil society organizations throughout Sri Lanka have emerged through some form of top-down establishment, rather than as a purely grassroots movement. (Orjuela, Building Peace in Sri Lanka: A Role for Civil Society?, 2003) The role of civil society deteriorated further during the years of the war as state control was a defined priority and non-governmental entities were seen as potential threats to the success of military excursions. In fact, Goodhand, et al. note that Sri Lanka’s civil society spectrum is considerably tinged by mono-ethnic biases as contact between civic groups in the south and the north were rare as fear and violence discouraged citizens from taking leadership roles in civil society organizations. (Goodhand, Lewer, & Hulme, NGOs and Peace Building in Complex Political Emergencies: Sri Lanka Study, 1999)

Under these conditions, most civil society organizations in Sri Lanka were formed during the 1970s in response to ethnic riots and government suppression. These groups were complemented by the growing international attention given to the conflict, which resulted in the establishment of international civil society organizations as well. Arguably, the protests, the public marches and advocacy events that occurred in relation to the International Human Rights Day in 1994 is a watershed moment in the growth and position of civil society of Sri Lanka. (Wickremasinghe, 2001) This led to the emergence of several civil society organizations such as the National Peace Council that attempted to coordinate the efforts of multiple civil society organizations across the country. Yet, generally, Sri Lankan citizens resign themselves to political activism only during an impending election and grant a fair share of political responsibility to its powers.

A similar passivity could be observed within LTTE controlled areas as well. While anti-war protests were few and far between, the consequences of supporting peace in the Northern District carried a near death wish. As one correspondent informed Orjuela, the “LTTE prepare people to go to war, we can’t do anything about that. We give our opinion about peace. But we don’t say Stop the War.” (Orjuela, Building Peace in Sri Lanka: A Role for Civil Society?, 2003) Due to these tensions, civil society organizations have been mostly limited to development projects and have hesitated to intervene directly during the conflict, with the obvious exception of human rights organizations. However, as shall be discussed subsequently, civil society organizations are playing a more proactive role in post-conflict Sri Lanka and are providing an alternate perspective to the notion of state centered victimhood.

During the war, civil society organizations actively involved in the political landscape of the country tended to generally fall into two distinct categories; (i) a cosmopolitan group that advocated for peace between the two parties; and (ii) a category that espouse an exclusionary nationalist agenda, for both the Sinhalese and Tamils. In order to achieve these objectives, the former category of CSOs has pursued a mixture of lobbying and advising legislators and organizing protests to exert political pressure. Similarly, civil society organizations were instrumental in providing the international community with some credibility when interventions were proposed. For example, statements made by civil society organizations were used as a basis by the Norwegian government when initiating its mediation efforts prior to negotiations on a ceasefire agreement in 2001. Therefore, the former category, especially after the 2004 Tsunami, generated multilateral support from foreign governments as well as institutions. (Hargreaves, Karlsson, Agrawal, Hootnick, & Tengtio)

The latter category has usually operated under the auspices of local political organizations and some international support that originate from non-state actors. These groups have perpetuated divisions created by the conflict and have surprisingly strong political clout in the domestic political arena. Moreover, civil society actors with nationalist tendencies appear to be structured in a very rigid top-down system as well and embrace a professional advocacy of their cause as opposed to a bottom-up embodiment of popular sentiments. (Orjuela, 2008) In fact, during several instances, these nationalist elements have actively caused disruptions during peace summits in order to achieve an exclusionary state. It should be noted that, since the conclusion of the war, the Sinhala nationalist elements have become even more politically active. Its latest manifestation in the form of The Bodu Bala Sena (loosely translated to ‘The Buddhist Power Force’), for example, has recently campaigned for a Sri Lankan state based on what it perceives to be Sinhala-Buddhist principles.

The presence of such organizations has been severely detrimental to the image of the Sri Lankan government, especially given the inability of the government to censure such groups. The unwillingness of the government to censure these groups has given credence to allegations of majority authoritarianism under the Rajapaksha administration. (BBC, 2013) Moreover, actions by these organizations have also undermined reconciliation efforts between the Sinhalese and other minorities in Sri Lanka. The presence of such organizations, therefore, contributes towards the reemphasis of Sri Lankan minorities as victims of the state. In a political landscape shaped by common suspicions, the presence of such radical elements only go towards substantiating preconceived notions that have emerged during times of war and facilitate communal hatred. It should be noted though that some prominent members of the Sri Lankan political spectrum have publicly declared their unease with the actions of such groups. For example, retired Sri Lankan diplomat and popular political commentator, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka called the BBS an “ethno-religious fascist movement from the dark underside of Sinhala society.” (Jayatilleka D. , 2013) Yet, the presence of such groups contributes significantly to the alternate account of victimhood proposed by the politically vocal minority organizations.

Similar groups have emerged over the years advocating for the Tamil nationalist cause as well. These groups were particularly critical during the implementation of the ceasefire agreement in 2002. In fact, reports suggest that such groups heavily lobbied the LTTE to renew military engagements. Notably though, Tamil nationalist civil society organizations have common relationships to the extremist elements of the Tamil diaspora. Similar to the efforts of the diaspora, civil society organizations related to the Tamil nationalist cause have ceased most of their public appearances in Sri Lanka following the defeat of the LTTE. This is most likely to have occurred due to the lack of political protection available to such groups from either a strong entity such as the LTTE or any mainstream political party in the country. Moreover, the presence of such entities undermines the perception of Tamil victimhood.

The frequency of interventions by civil society organizations was particularly high during the final stages of the conflict and during its immediate aftermath. For example, several CSOs, including the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect invoked the principle of R2P on 11 April 2009 while openly advocating the Security Council to “authorize ‘timely and decisive’ measures to prevent or halt mass atrocities.” (ICRtoP, 2012) Meanwhile, organizations such as Human Rights Watch have continued to call for an international investigations into alleged war crimes committed by both the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE during the final stages of the conflict. These calls have traditionally not been acted upon, however, have gained a new found popularity among the international human rights community that ultimately culminated in the adoption of the latest UNHRC Resolution on Sri Lanka in March 2014. This resolution called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an investigation into allegations of human rights abuses. (Kerry, 2014)

Response of the Sri Lankan State

With an overwhelming mandate following elections held at the conclusion of the conflict, the Rajapaksha administration has taken a similar stance to that of the Kagame administration when dealing with civil society and dissent in general. The government has acknowledged the value of civil society organizations in facilitating its reconciliation efforts, yet, considers civil society organizations critical of its policies as an obstruction. The Sri Lankan government’s main contention with civil society organization, however, pertains mostly to interventions made by NGOs and INGOs on international platforms such as the Human Rights Council sessions on Sri Lanka. During the HRC’s Universal Periodical Reviews as well as special sessions pertaining to the situation in Sri Lanka, civil society actors have been actively involved in calling for international investigations. Moreover, they have successfully lobbied important actors such as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanetham Pillay, during her recent visit to the island. Furthermore, multiple allegations have been made about the intimidation of human rights defenders that attend these sessions.

Similar to Rwanda, those with dissenting views have been portrayed as “traitors” in sections of the state media and the government has taken multiple measures to try and dispute the legitimacy of such civil society actors. Moreover, the Sri Lankan government has been accused by local and international sources for carrying out enforced disappearances of human rights advocates and other dissenting voices. It should be noted that these advocates originate from the whole spectrum of ethnicities present in Sri Lanka. In response, local civil society activists and family members of those disappeared held events in opposition to commemorate the International Day of Disappearances. (United Kingdom , 2014)

Subsequent to these accusations, the government has continued to reflect on the credibility of NGOs and INGOs. As such, it has called on the international community to enforce stricter regulations in order to increase transparency and accountability of civil society organizations in order to mitigate the negative effects of such actors. For example, during the 23rd session of the HRC, Sri Lanka’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Manisha Gunasekara, cautioned that “front organizations of the LTTE posing as legitimate civil society organizations and charities based overseas formed part of a complex international terrorist network which through various means injected the funding and resources needed to nurture the thirty year terrorist conflict in Sri Lanka.” (Sri Lanka, 2013) As noted previously, this statement is not without reason. Throughout the history of the Sri Lankan conflict, extremist elements have posed as civil society organizations to attain its goals, including assistance to a recognized terrorist organization. That said, such extreme organizations have emerged on both spectrums of the conflict and government would be better positioned were all such groups to be dealt equally.

Given these difficulties in dealing with civil society organizations, it is imperative that the Sri Lankan government actively engages with foreign governments to differentiate “civil” organizations from “uncivil” ones, and in order to do so the respective governments would likely need to establish good relations. However, recent decisions taken in the context of foreign policy have led to straining the relationship between Sri Lanka and other nations, especially those in Europe and therefore have undermined even the legitimate concerns of the government. Therefore, it would be in the best interests of the Sri Lankan government to make an attempt at reengaging with the west in order to improve its political value.

Elements of Divergence Between Rwanda and Sri Lanka

As has been discussed previously, CSOs in both Rwanda and Sri Lanka have taken similar roles in their respective reconciliation efforts. Both categories of organizations have gained an invaluable position in influencing the social discourse on development and reconciliation; however, both feel restricted by stern government regulations. Therefore, civil society organizations have been mandated to work in coherence with the state’s narrative of peace and face severe consequences when dissenting. However, it appears that the civil society organizations of Sri Lanka have a greater capacity to influence the international community in applying political pressures on the Sri Lankan government.

One of the most distinct features of civil society actors in the two countries stem from the context through which they were formed. Rwanda has a very short memory of civil society interventions, at least in the political context. Therefore, they are hugely reliant on the structural support of the state to preserve its status. Moreover, given its novelty, civil society organizations in Rwanda do not appear to have the same power of assembling the masses towards any substantive political opposition to alleged human rights abuses carried out by the state. In effect, civil society organizations are required to be sufficiently nuanced to elicit significant domestic endorsement for their campaigns and while those in Rwanda lack the structures to immediately achieve that status their Sri Lankan counterparts are well versed in the practice.

Moreover, Rwandan civil society organizations suffer from a perpetual environment of mistrust based on the state’s successful implementation of “victimism”. Some civil societies in Rwanda are directly linked to the conditions that led to the genocide or are guilty of ignoring the conditions. Therefore, the populace is somewhat hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace civil society organizations as a legitimate actor in national politics. Moreover, as Mukamunana and Brynard state, “it would be even harder for civic groups to coalesce and take a common stand about government policies if they are ethnically divided, as it is in Rwanda.” Furthermore, groups have been unable to establish any credible links with foreign governments in order to lobby them successfully. Therefore the status of civil society actors in Rwanda is somewhat diluted and does not carry the same political credence that Sri Lankan civil society actors appear to carry on the national platform, and more so on the international level. As such, while both nations have an important civil society, the Sri Lankan government is required to deal with a better structured, funded, and experienced group of actors. Thus, Sri Lankan civil society actors exert relatively more influence on how the nation orients its post-conflict foreign policy agenda and is better equipped to question its discourse on victimhood and thus necessitates an active engagement policy that is yet to be formulated.


CHAPTER FIVE: Regional Geo-Political Considerations


Indo-Sri Lanka Relations

Indo-Sri Lanka relations have been fraught with peaks and troughs and India remains to date as the most important geo-political actor in influencing Sri Lanka’s foreign policy agenda. As noted previously, the successful implementation of “victimism” hinges upon the adoption and recognition of said victimhood by other nations. Given India’s geo-political significance in international relations, Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is largely dependent on its interactions with India as it sets certain precedents for other actors to follow. The two nations have at times acted as invaluable allies, while seemingly being mentioned as a problematic neighbor. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi once referred to Sri Lanka as India’s ‘daughter state’ and analysis of its relations over years bear testimony to this metaphoric observation. (Manoharan, 2011)

Post-independence relations were influenced by a growing concern among the Sri Lankan elite that India will retain its British imperial legacy in South Asia after independence. However, continued efforts by Jawaharlal Nehru to engage with the newly elected Sri Lankan leadership tamed these concerns to a considerable extent and established fruitful negotiations towards establishing important economic and security partnerships. As Manoharan observes, “most of the bilateral issues and irritants were sorted out, mostly by dint of personal diplomacy.” (Manoharan, 2011) However, the emergence of the ethnic conflict strained relations between the two nations, fuelled mostly by the political pressures exerted by regional politics in South India.

Tamil Nadu politics and the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict has influenced each other since time immemorial and it stems from a desire for a Dravidian state in South India where the states speaking Dravidian languages are united. In fact, the “Dravidasthan movement” emerged in response to a fear that the North Indian Hindi language would dominate south Indian politics and thus the related militant movement within India posed a serious threat to the union of post-independent India. (Hardgrave Jr., 1964) However, Tamils in Tamil Nadu were forced to abjure their claims to the formation of a nation state with the adoption of an anti-secessionist amendment to the Indian constitution in 1963 following the Indo-Sino border conflict. (De Silva, 1988) As a result, the secessionist movement in Northern Sri Lanka provided an opportunity for south Indian Tamils to advocate for a ‘surrogate’ Tamil state. These frustrations were made clear during the World Confederation of Tamils when a member noted that “There is no state without a Tamil – but there is no state for the Tamils.” (World Confederation of Tamils, 2006) Therefore, the question of Tamil secessionism would not necessarily have gained the traction it has, had it not been for the contiguity of the question of Dravidasthan and Sri Lanka’s Jaffna. (Bandarage, 2012) Thus, most Sri Lankans feel victimized by a foreign demand to divide a nation. Continued dependence of multiple coalition governments on the support of South Indian political parties have increased the need for India to intervene in Sri Lanka’s domestic politics. The exodus of Tamil refugees to India during the previously mentioned 1983 riots however, gave the Indian government a substantive reason to directly intervene, albeit hesitantly.

After several rounds of failed negotiations mediated by India, the government even went to the extent of providing military training to some Tamil militant groups in the 1980s in order to shore up their bargaining power vis-à-vis the Sri Lankan government. (Manoharan, 2011) In addition, Rajiv Gandhi further authorized the Indian Air Force (IAF) to air drop supplies to the besieged city of Jaffna while blatantly violating the territorial sovereignty of Sri Lanka and showcasing its intent to intervene at all costs. However, the key event in defining Indo-Sri Lankan relations for many years to follow occurred with the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987. The Indo-Sri Lankan Accord that established the mission was seen as an intrusion on the sovereignty of the island nation. However, more importantly, the decision was met with opposition by the LTTE, which picked up arms against the IPKF. Moreover, diplomatic efforts between then Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi also led to the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution. These measures have left an indelible mark on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, as fears of being threatened by a powerful neighbor were realized. This experience has defined Sri Lanka’s perception of victimhood and its strong aversion to foreign interventions.

The Thirteenth Amendment, passed on 14 November 1987, made Tamil an official language with English as a link language. The main opposition, however, emanated from a provision devolving power to the Provincial Councils and the subtle recognition of the Northern and Eastern Provinces as “Tamil homelands”. The extent of Sinhala opposition was made visible by the attack on the Indian Prime Minister with a rifle butt by a navy cadet during the guard of honor held after signing the Accord. (Reuters, 1987) Yet, the military interventions were a catastrophic failure and only succeeded in establishing the LTTE as the ‘sole representative of Tamils’ and create a long lasting legacy of antipathy towards India by many Sri Lankans. As noted in a previous section, the failure of the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka was highlighted by the eventual assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi by an LTTE suicide cadre.

Since then, subsequent Indian governments have been cautious in dealing with the Sri Lankan situation and limited itself to political interventions. Recognizing the potential regional threat posed by the LTTE, India was one of the first countries to formally ban the Tigers in 1992. This decision provided ample leverage to the Sri Lankan government to initiate a campaign advocating a universal ban of the LTTE and its proscription as a terrorist organization. From 1992, until the eventual conclusion of the war, India has remained abreast of the ethnic struggle and its non-interventionist stance was in effect an endorsement to the Sri Lankan state. During the final phase of the conflict, for example, India politely declined an invitation to act as a mediator between the government and the LTTE. Meanwhile, the Indians were willing to provide non-lethal military supplies and intelligence services to the Sri Lankan government. The decision to engage the Sri Lankan government in such a manner was two fold. Firstly, India believed that the defeat of the LTTE was in their best security interests and secondly, it feared that China would begin to gain a foothold in Sri Lankan politics if India were to subvert the aspirations of an increasingly strengthening Sri Lankan political apparatus. Therefore, the presentation of Sri Lanka as victims of terrorism was vitally important in gaining bilateral political support that eventually led to multilateral support as well. These decisions, however, were made by the Indian government while being cognizant of continued political pressure exerted by Tamil Nadu against Sri Lanka. (Mazumdar, 2012)

Post-LTTE Relations

The defeat of the LTTE, therefore, was a significant blessing to India, as the focal point of Indo-Sri Lanka relations was now given an opportunity to make a paradigmatic shift away from security issues to political ones. Since the armed conflict has ended, India has continuously attempted to engage with the Rajapaksha administration to solve the political question. However, the current administration in Sri Lanka sees the emergence of ethnic tensions as a cause of economic depravity, rather than political ostracization. Consequently, the government considers its development agenda in the North and East as an adequate measure to address the grievances of the Tamil minority in the North. Thus, addressing political grievances of the Tamil minority has become subordinate to the larger task of economic development. (Mazumdar, 2012)

India has continued to support the development agenda enacted by Sri Lanka by pledging over US$ 100 million for relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction purposes. (Business Standard, 2011) However, it has been eager to bring forward the political agenda through bilateral and multilateral platforms. The urgency to highlight the political question was heightened by a fragile coalition led by the Congress Party that depended on support from parties in the south. (The Hindu, 2009) The tone of the Indian government is made clearer through a brief on Indo-Sri Lanka relations published by the Ministry of External Affairs in India, which states:

“The nearly three-decade long armed conflict between Sri Lankan forces and the LTTE came to an end in May 2009. During the course of the conflict, India supported the right of the Government of Sri Lanka to act against terrorist forces. At the same time, it conveyed at the highest level its deep concern at the plight of the mostly Tamil civilian population, emphasizing their rights and welfare should not get enmeshed in hostilities against the LTTE.” (Ministry of External Affairs, 2014)

In order to achieve their envisioned political settlement, India has proposed measures based off on the Thirteenth amendment that devolves power to the Provincial Councils. However, as discussed previously, a vast majority of the political hierarchy in Sri Lanka has been hesitant in granting any such degree of autonomy on the provincial level. In response, President Rajapaksha has intimated on a plan to devolve power beyond the Thirteenth amendment. Yet, this plan, commonly known as “thirteen plus”, has rarely been elaborated upon and a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) was appointed in June 2013 to deliberate changes to the constitution. These deliberations, however, are severely undermined by the decision of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to decline an invitation to participate in PSC sessions.

The Chinese Connection

The Government of India, therefore, has been unable to gain a firm foothold in Sri Lankan politics to bring forth any satisfactory change in policy regarding Tamil minority rights. Its concerns about the situation in Sri Lanka were furthered by Sri Lanka’s pivot towards strategic economic and security partnerships with China. Given its geographical location, Sri Lanka is strategically placed to control many shipping routes through the Indian Ocean and access to its harbors is a vital strategic security resource courted by both India and China. The Chinese Government has pledged numerous financial assistance packages to build a new harbor and airport in Hambantota, a city in Southern Sri Lanka, and also assisted in building a new wing to the Colombo Harbor. In fact, some of the administrative duties in the new container terminal of the Colombo harbor have been handed over to Chinese firms. Moreover, the recent commitment made by Sri Lanka to join the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) with China indicates the proximity of the states’ interests. (Goodman, 2014) These measures are seen as China’s strategic accumulation of a “string of pearls”.

The economic interests of China with Sri Lanka have been complemented by the political clout it carries in multilateral platforms and therefore, Sri Lanka has become more aligned to Chinese interests. Throughout the final stages of the war, China, along with the Russian Federation, used the threat of a veto to oppose any international interventions. Similarly, the Sri Lankan government believes that China would provide some political cover against any potential sanctions. Established economic and political interests between Sri Lanka and China have therefore fuelled Indian and American fears of growing Chinese significance in South Asia. Such fears have led to India’s External Affairs Minister, Salman Kurshid, to urge the Sri Lankan leadership to look at “possible ways to avoid an (sic) hostile attitude towards peoples and countries that matter.” (Daily Mirror, 2014) These views demonstrate the limitations of “victimism” as it is heavily dependent on the strategic interests of a nation’s international partners.

India, Sri Lanka, and the United Nations

Arguably, strategic concerns have become a contributing factor in India’s aggressive political positions against Sri Lanka over the past four years, especially during UNHRC sessions. The initial foray into this strategy occurred during India’s unanticipated support to a US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka that gained passage in March 2012 and has left a bitter taste in Sri Lanka since. (Hariharan, 2012) The vote was extremely significant towards narrating international discourse on Sri Lanka, as it was India’s intervention that blocked a similar resolution in 2009. In addition to its change in stance regarding Sri Lanka, the vote in favor of the US-sponsored resolution also noted a principled shift away from supporting country-specific resolutions at the UNHRC. These measures led to a similar resolution passed in 2013 during the Universal Periodical Review (UPR) of Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. It should be noted though that during both these instances, India’s intervention was instrumental in diluting the strength of the language initially proposed by the sponsors. As such, the resolutions were limited to recalling the provisions of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations. Therefore, Indian intervention circumvented an international call for investigations into alleged war crimes during the final stages of the war. However, India’s affinity to sustain political pressure on the Sri Lankan leadership, therefore, created momentum among diaspora and civil society organizations to renew its campaigns against the Government of Sri Lanka.

One of the most significant blows to Indo-Sri Lanka relations, however, occurred with the decision of Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Sing, to decline an invitation by Sri Lanka to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 2013. The decision to boycott the summit had several effects on both the image of the Sri Lankan government, as well as the outlook of future international deliberations, that eventually materialized into a UNHRC resolution calling for an international investigation into alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka during the war.

The rejection of the invitation had several crucial implications, inter-alia, the severe media scrutiny on Sri Lanka during an international event meant to showcase its recovery from the war and tsunami, and the political pressures imposed on David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to publicly denounce the reconciliation process in the country. Amidst boycotting the event, India succeeded in orchestrating the attention of the international community towards Sri Lanka’s human rights record and ensured that the issue necessitated discussion in private and public discourse among attending dignitaries. In effect, the presence of international delegations was imperative to India’s achievement of its political objectives with Sri Lanka. Since bilateral discussions between the two nations had failed to achieve anything substantial, India used its political clout to gather international support against the island nation. Furthermore, India’s absence highlighted the position of the United Kingdom in regards to the Commonwealth summit and the Sri Lankan situation in general. Given the added focus on David Cameron, in order to compensate for criticisms over continuing the visit, the United Kingdom was required to publicly take a strong stance against Sri Lanka. In doing so, Cameron stated that:

“If an investigation is not completed by March, then I will use out position on the UN Human Rights Council to work with the UN Human Rights Commission and call for a full, credible and independent international inquiry.” (Cameron, 2013)

This statement was unprecedented in that it actively called for an international investigation into alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, and more importantly, set a timeframe to which the Government of Sri Lanka was meant to respond. Until then, only vague claims were made about conducting credible investigations and the Rajapaksha administration continued to appeal for more time to conduct an investigation into a thirty-year war. Therefore, India’s absence was significantly influential in both appeasing its Tamil constituents in the South and issuing a stern warning to Sri Lanka.

These clarion calls by the United Kingdom, Canada and other nations for an independent, international investigation was fuelled by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem “Navi” Pillay’s visit to Sri Lanka and the report that followed. While acknowledging some progress in the reconciliation process, the High Commissioner “recommends the establishment of an independent, international inquiry mechanism, which would contribute to establishing the truth where domestic inquiry mechanisms have failed.” (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights , 2014) In response, Sri Lanka has vehemently criticized such efforts as infringing on its national sovereignty and an erroneous breach of mandate by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) a concern supported by India during the most recent UNHRC session in Geneva. (Cumming-Bruce, 2014) Thus Sri Lanka’s negligence to reconstitute its foreign policy away from “victimism” at the conclusion of the war and the erosion of its victimhood has led to a swift collapse of its alliances.

That said, India has most recently recognized the need to temper its aggressive political positions, as the fear of Sino-Sri Lankan relations strengthening further appears to be a legitimate concern. The decision to abstain from the latest US-sponsored resolution that called for international investigations is arguably a decision taken in consideration of the geo-political implications of marginalizing Sri Lanka too much. In addition to this decision, the abstention could also be related to the sudden change of stance by Sri Lankan authorities in daring an investigation to be conducted on the full spectrum of the war, rather than its final stages. In doing so, an investigation would also discuss potential allegations against Indian forces through the IPKF intervention, an allegation that the Indian government can ill-afford currently. Moreover, the governing Congress Party has lost its support from the Tamil Nadu political leadership such as Jayalalitha Jayaram and Karunanidhi. As such, India had more to lose by voting in favor of a resolution against Sri Lanka. (Pramod Kumar, 2014)

With impending general elections in India over the next few weeks, it is critical that Sri Lanka engages with the newly elected government. As Sri Lanka’s perception of victimhood weakens it currently lacks the capacity to establish substantial alliances while alienating India. Even though China and Russia are capable of providing political protections in the Security Council, India’s political clout is invaluable in the greater scheme of international relations as they direct the tone of discourse on Sri Lanka. The success of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in the immediate future, therefore, would depend, to a considerable extent, on how well it balances its interests with China and India.

Rwandan Regional Politics

Unlike in Sri Lanka, Rwanda has the benefit of not having a regional power cast an imperious shadow over its domestic and international affairs and does not entail the complexities associated with Sri Lanka. Consequently, Rwanda’s policy priority in regards to regional politics continues to be the security of its borders, especially when faced with the prospect of countering an anti-government movement from abroad. This status as being an equal, if not more powerful, partner in regional politics is furthered by the rapid economic growth experienced by Rwanda since the genocide. However, as Lemarchand notes, “nowehere else does ethnic and political exclusion pose a more daunting challenge.” (Lemarchand, 2001)

Beyond Rwandan interactions with DR Congo, its other regional neighbors have generally been cooperative in matters related to foreign policy. The common method of accession to power and ethnic politics has established a cooperative and dynamic relationship between leaders of these nations. For example, Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni, and Isaias Afewerki all gained power by leading externally supported rural insurgencies and with considerable support from each other. Therefore, in addition to the common experience of being victorious against a common enemy, the respective leaders were heavily dependent on each other, militarily and politically, to rebuild their nations while sustaining power. “Whether Tutsi (Kagame), Tutsi-Hima (Buyoya), or Hima-Munyankole (Museveni), they share the same cultural self-awareness and therefore see themselves as the spokesmen of threatened minorities.” (Lemarchand, 2001) Consequently, all leaders established some sense of regional solidarity, at least in the short term. In fact, amidst a debilitating genocide that would have set back Rwanda considerably in relation to the totem pole of regional power, similar waves of internal struggles amongst its neighbors helped Rwanda to regain some equilibrium at the onset of rebuilding the nation.

The greatest strategic regional interest in the Great Lakes region for Rwanda lies in its interactions with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). For years, political instability in DR Congo has led to cautious interventions by Rwanda in affairs across the border. The 1996 incursion of Rwandan forces to launch a search-and-destroy operation in Eastern Congo marks a watershed moment in regional politics. Firstly, the operation demonstrated the new government’s stern stance against the threat of insurgency. More importantly, though, it highlighted the military cooperation between Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi to dispel a regional fore in Mobutu Sese Seko, the President of DR Congo at the time. It should be noted that this alliance was built around a common concern of victimization and a perceived threat to all. Moreover, following this military operation, the Rwandan government was able to revisit the issue of Hutu refugees in DR Congo by announcing the voluntary return of nearly 700,000 Hutu refugees. As such, Rwanda was able to isolate the remaining refugees across its borders as pro-genocidal militias. The position of Rwanda in the context of regional politics was further elevated by the visit of U.S. President Clinton in 1998 and his pledge to support the Kagame vision while declining to comment on the military incursion that occurred just a year before.

In November 2007, the governments of DR Congo and Rwanda signed an agreement to pursue a “common approach to end the threat posed to peace and stability” in the Great Lakes region. In addition, both nations pledged to end political and material support to armed groups in the region. Even though the agreement established some semblance of stability between the two countries, tensions continue to grow over the presence of the M23 – a rebel militia group fighting against Congolese troops, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) – composed of elements from the former Rwanda Armed Forces (RAF) and the Interahamwe militia that were granted a safe haven in eastern Congo. (Dagne, 2011)

The Rwandan government has repeatedly accused elements in the Congolese government of providing assistance to the FDLR while President Kagame is repeatedly accused of supporting the M23. In fact, a recent report by the United Nations mentions that members of the M23 originate from Rwanda and that Rwandan authorities are complicit in recruiting soldiers for the Congolese rebels. (Kron, 2012) In response, Rwanda has steadfastly refuted such claims and insisted that Rwandan troops have not engaged with other entities beyond its borders. It has, however, threatened to militarily intervene if the FDLR continues to initiate attacks into Rwandan territory. (Al Jazeera, 2013) Given Rwanda’s position in the UN Security Council and its relative stability, the country is better positioned in regional political affairs than its neighbors. Such a situation substantiates the notion that the successful implementation of “victimism” causes deterrence to international interventions due to the fear of causing national and regional instability. The context of Rwanda further reinforces the fact that the implementation of “victimism” is heavily dependent on the strategic interests of one’s partners.

Importantly though, the prevalence of the security threat by the FDLR gives Rwandan concerns some valuable credence. For Rwanda, there is no alternative to ethnic exclusion as long as the Hutu opposition appears to condone or support the crimes of the interahawe. Furthermore, the Kagame administration continues to recall the international community’s passivity during the genocide and the compliance of foreign NGOs in assisting the genocidal government by assisting Hutu refugee camps while little was being done to assist Tutsi returnees. As such, any external interventions, be it by the UN, European Union, or NGOs, to limit the actions of Rwanda is seen as weakening the security interests of the nation. In effect, Rwanda is able to harvest its security concerns in order to garner international support, similar to Sri Lanka’s strategy during the existence of the LTTE. However, with the absence of a recognizable threat in Sri Lanka, their international partners are more likely to exert political pressure on the administration in order to maximize its strategic benefits. Therefore, Sri Lanka’s continued reliance on victimhood is counter-productive to its aspirations, in a post-LTTE setting, and requires an immediate change.


CHAPTER SIX: Conclusion


Much attention has been given to the development of domestic politics in post-conflict settings and this thesis attempts to expand the discussion towards its international components. In a post-conflict setting, governments attempt to create centralized political processes that are meant to create internal stability. In its attempt to create internal stability, therefore, the state pursues a foreign policy agenda that maximizes the potential of establishing alliances between like-minded nations. Unlike Cold War politics, however, modern alliance building is not necessarily decided on political ideology, but rather common experiences. As such, developing nations in particular, revisit the experience of violence and victimhood in order to garner the sympathy of some and empathy of others.

As has been discussed throughout this thesis, both Rwanda and Sri Lanka have pursued a similar strategy of pursuing “victimism” in order to improve its credence in the political arena. Rwanda’s basis of victimhood stems from years of discriminatory policies against minority Tutsis that culminated in the genocide of 1994. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, has based its sense of victimhood on the presence of a persistent threat of terrorism. The basis for creating a foreign policy agenda based on victimhood therefore relies heavily upon the presence of an internal or external threat leading to an increased emphasis on national security. The existence of a recognizable threat complemented by rhetoric alleging victimization has afforded individual states, particularly Rwanda and Sri Lanka, a greater amount of flexibility in terms of its national and international strategies. However, as discussed, the flexibility afforded relies heavily upon how well international political structures and its ancillary organs can be impressioned upon. Failure to do so, as has been the case with the Sri Lankan foreign policy agenda in recent years, leads to greater emphasis on the nation in question and international political pressures associated with it.

The root for divergent foreign policy experiences between Rwanda and Sri Lanka lies in the political environments created by the respective administration. Rwanda has a centralized political structure with a clear framework through which their long-term goals are to be achieved. Sri Lanka, on the other hand, is plagued by internal political ambiguity that has resulted in the absence of a clear pathway towards reconciliation and unity. Consequently, policy ambiguity has enabled critics of the Sri Lankan government, particularly in the form of diaspora and civil society activists, to bring about an unprecedented level of international political pressure on the Rajapaksha administration. In fact, the more vocal elements of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora have mirrored the government’s strategies by invoking the notion of victimhood in order to garner the support of other nations. These pressures have been further exacerbated by the lack of any substantive engagement policies between the government, diaspora, and civil society organizations. As noted, the Sri Lankan government would be best served by initiating constructive dialogue with moderate elements of the Tamil diaspora since the inability to do so may result in elevating extremist pro-LTTE segments further while silencing the moderates.

The future of Sri Lankan foreign policy, however, depends on its ability to identify the paradigmatic shift in discourse it faces since nullifying the military threat of the LTTE. Since the military victory, Sri Lanka’s international partners have been afforded an opportunity to divorce the question of terrorism from minority politics. While the Kagame administration successfully identified and reconstituted its image appropriately since taking power, their Sri Lankan counterparts have failed to respond to the change in tone. Thus, in order to mitigate future failures on multilateral and bilateral platforms, Sri Lanka should reconstitute its image from one that’s based on victimhood and rather recalibrate towards one that promotes positive engagement, both internally and externally.


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[1] The Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka was established on 22 May 1972

[2] Formally termed the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956

[3] Adopted on 14 May 1976, called for an Independent Tamil Eelam

[4] The documentary and its follow up can be viewed at:

Written by: Kithmina Virochana Hewage
Written at: The Johns Hopkins University
Written for: Dr. Steven David
Date written: May 2014

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