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What Sri Lanka Failed To Achieve In Last 71 Years?
Published Date: 07/02/2019 (Thursday)

By Vidya Abhayagunawardena

Post-independence Sri Lanka is preparing to celebrate the 71st Independence Day on 4th February 2019. The same year post-war Sri Lanka will celebrate the 10th anniversary of ending the 3 decade-long internal conflict in the country in 2009. Since 1948 independence and after the 3 decade-long internal war in Sri Lanka it needs to be analyzed whether the country has really achieved continuous improvement of human security and quality of life for its citizens? 

Successive Sri Lankan governments had their own political development projects linked to economic development plans in post-independence and post-war. Overall such projects had failed to achieve basic human-security sector development and quality of life status.  And also celebrations always will not bring prosperity to the nation as they did in the past and especially when it faces severe socioeconomic and political instabilities on a regular basis. 

During the last 71 years Sri Lanka has been experiencing violent and protracted conflicts, natural disasters, epidemics, persistence poverty, economic downturns, and a fragile peace which are heavy costs for improving human security and the quality of life for the nation. Most of the governments which came into office during these times left with huge corruption charges which affected the poor tax payers in the country. For the last 71 years Sri Lanka has failed to prosecute a single politician for looting the public funds. Sri Lanka ranked 89th place in Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2018 and the country has failed to show the progress. 

What is Human Security and the Quality of Life? 

According to the UN General Assembly Resolution 66/290 “Human security is an approach to assist Member States in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people.” It calls for “people-centered comprehensive, context-specific and prevention oriented responses that strengthen the protection and empowerment of all people.” 

The recent reports revealed that Canada ranks number one in the world for quality of life for the 4th year in a row. The category uses nine metrics to determine the country ranking: affordable, a good job market, economically stable, family friendly, income equality, politically stable, safe, well-developed public education system and a well-developed health system. 

Failed political projects linked to economic development 

Mega development projects carried out by successive governments of post-independent and post-war Sri Lanka hardly improved human security and the quality of life. Particular after the 3 decade-long armed conflict in 2009 post-war Sri Lanka had no reform agenda on human security sector reforms. These mainly include health, education, job market, public transport, disability sector support, housing, community safety etc. For the last 71 years Sri Lanka may have spent billions of dollars on these sectors development and the question is can any of these sectors be on par with today’s international standards?  Discussion on the threat to “National Security” is not the key issue anymore after the war ended in 2009 in Sri Lanka, but the issue is “Human Security”.

Health and education were public goods in Sri Lanka before independence. In terms of the service delivery both the health and education are not up to present day standards compared with many middle-income countries in the world. Vulnerable sectors of the country are not in a position to access better health and education although it is freely available. Certain health facilities are still not available in many hospitals in the country and even though available one has to be in the queue for weeks and months for certain surgeries. Most of the graduates produced by the state universities have not been able to accommodate the current day job market due to their lack of knowledge and incompatibility with job requirements.  

Since 1948, none of the political parties campaigned for reforming or modernizing the public transport sector. Sri Lanka’s public transport sector is still at a primitive stage both rail and buses. It is unfortunate to note that the disabled community in the country has still not been able to integrate with society due to lack of facilities available for them and their rights are still not recognized by the state. Today no wheel-chair user in the country that can ride her or his wheel chair from home to the road, taking the pavement and go to the bus stop/railway station taking a bus or a train. They are restricted to home and it is believe that around 15percent of the population in Sri Lanka is disabled and further not integrated to the country’s productive labor force.  Sri Lanka ratified the UN Disability Convention in 2016 and is still struggling to have local regulations to implement the Convention in the country. 

 There are many families who live under the poverty line and without the ownership of a house. In this regard it is very important to note that many people in the war-affected areas are still without houses and during the last 10 years previous and present governments have failed to fulfill these peoples’ basic housing needs. The discussion on building 50,000 houses is still going on but unfortunately nothing has materialized.  

Gun violence in Post-war Sri Lanka

Since 2009 soaring gun-related violence, proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons are terrorizing the nation. Cracking down gun-related violence needs multiple approaches and laws have to be updated. In 2005 Sri Lanka setup the National Commission Against Proliferation of Illicit Small Arms (NCAPISA) which functioned up to 2008. The NCAPISA was the first Commission which was set up in the Asian region and carried out various important activities in Sri Lanka these include a massive public awareness campaign on illicit small arms (except in the conflict areas of North and East regions), collection of illicit small arms and destruction of them publicly. 

Since 2005 onwards Sri Lanka took the leadership in the UN Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspect (PoA). Sri Lanka benefited from engagement with the PoA and the country’s fight against proliferation of illicit small arms. Further, Sri Lanka chaired its first review conference in 2006 in New York. It is unfortunate to note that after 2008 Sri Lanka did not engage with any of the PoA meetings or activities and the last review conference was held in 2018 in New York and chaired by France. 

Most recently a new comprehensive Treaty on the Arms Trade (ATT) came into force in December 2014. During the Treaty negotiations a Sri Lankan senior diplomat led a Committee appointed by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2012 on seeking expert ideas on having a framework for establishing international norms for responsible trade in conventional weapons. The Committee headed by a senior Sri Lankan diplomat who had recommended the importance of having such a Treaty under the prevailing unregulated arms trade in the world. It is unfortunate to note that since the ATT came into force Sri Lanka did not attend any of the Conference of State Parties to the ATT. Last year at the UN General Assembly 73rd Session First Committee Meeting on Disarmament Sri Lanka was a notable absentee for non-voting on a resolution on “Women, Disarmament, Nonproliferation and Arms Control” whereas the majority of South Asians nations voted on this important resolution. 

For the last 22 years Sri Lanka did not amended its Firearms Ordinance No. 22 of 1996. Not amending this important Ordinance shows the country’s commitment towards eradicating the illicit small arms and light weapons, fight against the criminal activities including soaring drug-related cases, robberies, illicit wildlife trade, killings and other grave crimes in the country. Up to now the present Government has not shown interest to re-engage with the UN PoA, acceding to the ATT, re-establishing the NCAPISA and amending the Firearm Ordinance. 

Fragile political regimes  

The general public cannot have faith in the political system of the country. The most recent was last September, political crisis and sudden change of Government overnight which cost billion dollars to the economy.  Without taking prudent political decisions such development is worsening the overall socio-economic and political situation in the country.  Sri Lanka needs a new set of people to be in politics and also in the Government administrative system beyond 2020. This will be a herculean task for the nation to change the current political and administrative system but otherwise there is no way out and quest for quality of life and human security sector development and its improvement. 

Country’s image building measures internationally  

Currently Sri Lanka’s passport is ranked at the individual ranking 183rdplace out of 199 countries, visa required for 152, visa on arrival 32 and visa free 16 countries according to the Global Passport Power Rank of the Passport Index.   

Sri Lanka should look to take global leadership, winning the hearts and minds of other nations. This will benefit directly and indirectly country’s political, social and economic development process. As far as we can see, under the current circumstances Sri Lanka can take continuous leadership in the disarmament sector. This will help Sri Lanka to become peace ambassador in the region. After many years this year Sri Lanka became the President of the 8th Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) which will be held in Geneva in June this year. 

Hosting international conferences in Sri Lanka can benefit the country in many ways. So far post-independence Sri Lanka has hosted only two major international events namely the 5th Non-Aligned Movement Summit in 1976 and Commonwealth Heads of States Meeting in 2013. In May/June this year Sri Lanka will host the Conference of Parties 18 (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and over 180 nations and over 3500 foreign delegates will attend the conference. The CITES CoP18 will be the biggest international gathering in post-independence Sri Lanka. This will be a good opportunity for Sri Lanka to show that the country is capable enough of hosting such international conferences in future.  

Under these circumstances post-independence and post-war celebrations and other project-opening events and celebrations by the State need to be minimized and should be cost effective. Those public funds should be allocated for the nation’s human security and quality of life improvements and country’s positive image building measures internationally.   


[1] An Ordinance to Amend the Law Relating to the Firearms No. 22 of 1996 

<http://citizenslanka.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Firearms-Ordinance-No-33-of-1916-E.pdf > [Accessed on 20th January 2019]

[2] Forum on Disarmament and Development (2018), Why Post-war Sri Lanka Should Accede to the Arms Trade Treaty:  Sri Lanka, Forum on Disarmament and Development.

[3] Forum on Disarmament and Development (2018), CITES and Sri Lanka: Sri Lanka, Forum on Disarmament and Development

[4] East Asia Forum (2019), Sri Lanka’s political problems imperils a fragile economy  

<http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/01/28/sri-lankas-political-problems-imperil-a-fragile-economy/> [Accessed on 29th January 2019]

[5] Passport Index (2018), Sri Lanka

<https://www.passportindex.org/byIndividualRank.php?ccode=lk > [Accessed on 24th January 2019]

[6] Shepert, Elena (2019), Canada ranks no.1 in the world for quality of life for the 4th year in a row 

<https://www.vancouverisawesome.com/2019/01/23/quality-life-ranking-canada-world/> [Accessed on  24th January 2019]

[7] Transparency International (2019), Corruption Perception Index

<https://www.transparency.org/cpi2018 > [Accessed on 20th January 2019]

[8] Sri Lanka Police Department (2017), Crime Statistics

<https://www.police.lk/index.php/crime-trends > [Accessed on 20th January 2019]

[9] The Asian Development Bank (2018), Fostering workforce skills through education

<https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/382296/sri-lanka-employment-diagnostic.pdf> [Accessed on 20th January 2019]

[10] The Asian Development Bank (2019), Poverty in Sri Lanka

<https://www.adb.org/countries/sri-lanka/poverty > [Accessed on 21st January 2019]

[11] The CITES (2017), CITES CoP18 will be held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in May 2019

<https://cites.org/eng/news/pr/CITES_CoP18_will_be_held_in_Colombo_Sri_Lanka_in_May_2019_14122017 > [Accessed on 20th January 2019]

[12] The CCM (2018), The Convention on Cluster Munitions – 8th Meeting of the State Parties 

<http://www.clusterconvention.org/eighth-meeting-of-states-parties/  > [Accessed on 22nd January 2019]

[14] United Nations (2018), UN Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Arms Control 

<http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/73/46  > [Accessed on 20th January 2019]

[15] United Nations (2018), What is Human Security

<https://www.un.org/humansecurity/what-is-human-security/ > [Accessed on 20th January 2019]

[16] United Nations (2006), 2006 Report of the UN review conference of PoA

<http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/CONF.192/2006/RC/9 > [Accessed on 25th January 2019]

[17] United Nations (2018), UN Program of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspect (PoA)

<https://www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/past-meetings/> [Accessed on 23rd January 2019]

[18] United Nations (2018), Arms Trade

<https://www.un.org/disarmament/convarms/att/ > [Accessed on 25th January 2019]

*The writer is the Coordinator for the Forum on Disarmament and Development (FDD). 

Source: Colombo Telegraph

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