Nine years after the war: A brutal conflict ended, but questions remain

By Tejshree Thapa

The images are vivid. Soldiers standing over the body of the brutal leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) separatist insurgency, who was for so long considered invincible.

Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was president at that time, kissing the ground in gratitude for the end of a 27-year-long war that resulted in hundreds of thousands killed, injured, or displaced.

On May 19, 2009, there was general elation in Sri Lanka that the fighting was over.

The government’s victory, however, had come at the cost of serious violations of the laws of war by both sides. During the conflict the LTTE committed sectarian massacres, political assassinations and suicide bombings, widely deployed child soldiers, and executed detainees.

The Sri Lankan military committed countless arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. Abuses in the last stages of the fighting were shockingly egregious. The army indiscriminately shelled civilians used as human shields by the LTTE. Trophy videos emerged of summary executions of prisoners, and of soldiers jeering over the bodies of women combatants whom they had stripped, possibly raped, and murdered.

Nine years after the war’s end, the search for justice—and answers – remains elusive. Most of the LTTE leadership was wiped out during the final weeks of the conflict, and there are few who can be held accountable for their atrocities today. The LTTE fighters who surrendered at war’s end have been permitted to return home, but over a hundred are still missing.

Some families of the forcibly disappeared have been holding outdoor vigils continuously for over a year seeking answers, despite declarations from the president and prime minister that all the missing are dead.

In 2015 the government responded to intense pressure from victim communities and local activists by pledging to set up transitional justice mechanisms.

While progress has been slow, the Office of Missing Persons has finally begun hearings. The goal now should be to ensure answers, accountability, and reparations. For families of the disappeared, it has been too many long years of waiting.

Tejshree Thapa is the Senior South Asia Researcher at Human Rights Watch

6 Comments for “Nine years after the war: A brutal conflict ended, but questions remain”

  1. Sangaralingham

    A sense of shame disbelief will occupy the minds living till death then continue in teachings of history of the country by schools academic centers of the land. Who will be blamed who will be praised who will be respected

  2. Sangaralingham

    Laws of the war.. It is the laws of commonsense law of inclusion laws of respect for each other.mor important

    • Buddy hanif

      What laws of the war with terrorists. They only understand terrorism. As Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksh once said we have to answer them with terrorism. If they try to funny with Sinhalese same thing will happen in the future. No second word.

  3. Appuhamy

    At least 90% of those so called “disappeared” Tamils are in USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia, Malaysia and Singapore under different names.
    The other 10% were cannon fodder sent by Prabhakaran to face the gallant Sri Lankn military during the war with these terorists!

    • M.Wimalasena

      Mr.Appuhamy is correct.The authorities should follow a step by step procedure to solve this problem of disappearances.Such as:

      A/ let the grama niladaries take a list of such missing persons area wise,supported with a picture and details ,DOB,hight,colour etc of each missing person,in the north and south.

      B/ Let the Embassies of every country prepare a list of all tamil speaking persons,now living in such countries,supported with a copy of the current passport,and other such details about his address in SL:,hight etc,and details of dual passports etc.

      C/ At the foreign ministry,some gradute trainees can be used to reconcile the above details,and minimise the no of persons who cannot be matched and reconciled.

      D/ this process would bring in some solutions about the missing persons,and then to inquire unreconciled names by the CID and / or the missing persons office in colombo report.

      May be The sunday leader can publish this in their next issue.

  4. Buddy hanif

    Tamils got what they deserve.

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