Sri Lanka war crimes
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon greets one of the internally displaced persons receiving humanitarian assistance at the health clinic in the Manik Farm Camp. 23 May 2009 Vavuniya, Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, The COVID Response is Exacerbating Religious and Ethnic Tensions

In May 2009, the long running civil war in Sri Lanka ended with the defeat of ethnic Tamil insurgents by the Sinhalese dominated Sri Lankan armed forces.

The manner of this defeat was a mass atrocity event.

Tens of thousands of ethnic tamils were trapped in a thin stretch of land as the military bombarded the area. Since then there has been no accountability for the atrocity crimes committed, nor has there been any meaningful post-conflict peace and reconciliation efforts. In fact, many of those most directly involved in this atrocity are now the most senior political leaders of the country, including the president of the Sri Lanka, Gotobaya Rajapaksa.

Research has demonstrated that countries are more vulnerable to atrocity crimes if there is a recent history of atrocity and now real peace or reconciliation efforts. As my guest today J.S. Tissainaygam (Tissa) explains, this is certainly the case in Sri Lanka. Tissa is a journalist who recently reported a story examining how the government of Sri Lanka is responding to the COVID-19 crisis in ways that have deliberately exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions in Sri Lanka in a bid to assert Sinhalese dominance over ethnic minorities.


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This episode is produced in partnership with the Stanley Center for Peace and Security whose project “Red Flags or Resilience?” examines COVID-19’s impact on atrocity risks.  The project uses journalism to explore the connections between the coronavirus pandemic and the factors for risk and resilience to mass violence and atrocities around the world. You can view Tissa’s article in Sri Lanka and other works of journalism as they are published by visiting