Sri Lanka: Looking back and to the future

Ten years after the end of the civil war, coming to terms with events and the reconciliation process remain key issues. A touring exhibition has now been launched to help explain the past.

The dispute between the Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil separatists went on for more than 25 years. Before it ended in 2009, the conflict claimed up to 100,000 lives. A report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2015 regarded an extensive investigation of the causes and effects of the conflict as a prerequisite for reconciliation. In cooperation with the United Nations, the Government of Sri Lanka has drawn up a plan for stabilising the peaceful relations.

It includes a national policy for reconciliation and peaceful coexistence that was launched in May 2017. On behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office and the European Union, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is working with the British Council to support the Government of Sri Lanka in implementing the policy. Actors from the fields of politics, civil society and local communities are joining forces to address the most important aspects of reconciliation.

In the context of the policy, specific practical areas have been identified as vital foundations for reconciliation. These include, for example, psychosocial support. More than 250 participants, from social workers and youth workers to medical first-aiders, have improved their knowledge with regard to supporting victims and implementing de-escalation measures.

Another particular concern of the initiative is to help explain the past and establish a dialogue between different generations and ethnic groups. An interactive museum portrays the history of Sri Lanka since the country’s independence. The exhibition, entitled ‘It’s About Time’, uses historical documents, art, films and cuisine to illustrate the events of the past 70 years. A total of 4,600 people visited the exhibition in the first ten days following its opening in February 2019. Over the next three years, the touring exhibition will be visiting 30 locations around the country and expects to receive up to 350,000 visitors. The initial response is positive: ‘The exhibition doesn’t attempt to depict history as a “correct” truth, but rather invites people to experience the past and form their own impression,’ says a visitor.

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