Building Peace in Sri Lanka: A Role for Civil Society?

Journal article

Orjuela, Camilla (2003) Building Peace in Sri Lanka: A Role for Civil Society?, Journal of Peace Research 40 (2).

This article deals with civil society in the ethnically polarized violent conflict of Sri Lanka. It spells out the possible role of civil society in peacebuilding, while at the same time problematizing the civil-society concept and pointing to the problems faced by civil society in Sri Lanka in taking on this role. Civil-society actors in Sri Lanka strive to contribute to peace processes (1) addressing ethnic divides and public opinion with education and awareness-raising programmes, as well as cross-ethnic dialogue, (2) addressing politics with popular mobilization, advocacy work, and informal diplomacy, and (3) addressing economic issues through reconstruction and development. However, civil society in Sri Lanka has been weakened by political patronage and the protracted war. Like Sri Lankan society, it is to a large extent ethnically divided, and popular mobilization has through history been nationalist and violent rather than pro-peace. Although civic peace organizations work hard to take on a peacebuilding role, their activities are often project-oriented and top-down, rather than mass-based and bottom-up. Moreover, critical assessments of the impact of small-scale activities and analysis of the linkage between them and the larger conflict context (in which the work of similar organizations as well as external forces have to be taken into account) need to be further developed, by civil-society actors as well as researchers.

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