Weekly Briefing: Sri Lanka Attacks

26 April, 2019: Sri Lanka is reeling after coordinated suicide attacks at churches and luxury hotels killed more than 250 people and wounded another 500 on one of the most sacred of Christian days, Easter Sunday.

It was a horrific shock to the island nation that had been growing accustomed to increasing numbers of tourists after a fragile peace was established in 2009 following decades of civil war between majority Sinhalese, backed by government forces, and the separatist minority Tamil group.

But a different kind of discord has been simmering beneath the veneer of ethnic peace. In recent years, the predominately Buddhist country had been witnessing incidents of violence against religious minorities including anti-Muslim rioting and attacks on Christian churches.

In the week following the attacks, the traumatised nation has come to learn that its security officials failed to respond to intelligence warnings and that the carnage could have been avoided, leading to the defence secretary stepping down.

Authorities believe a local militant Islamist group, National Thowheed Jamath, was behind the attacks that targeted mainly Christians and Westerners, but say the group must have had outside help due to the scale of the operation.

In the meantime, Islamic State has claimed responsibility, but authorities have not yet confirmed the purported link.

Sri Lanka by the numbers

Global rank: 67 out of 163 countries, on the Global Peace Index.
Regional rank: 2 out of 7 countries in South Asia.
Positive Peace: Sri Lanka ranks 79 out of 163 countries.
Terrorism: In 2018, Sri Lanka ranked 49 out of 163 countries.


Sri Lanka’s fragile position in an unsteady region

Sri Lanka had been enjoying relative improvements to peacefulness recently, but the fragile post-civil war rebuilding process is taking place in an uncertain region, beset by terrorism risks and other conflicts.

As part of the South Asia region, Sri Lanka was again the second most peaceful nation in 2018, for the second year in a row.

Although the scores for terrorism impact, the incarceration rate and military expenditure improved, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) found some worrying signs.

The scores for both refugees and IDPs and political instability had deteriorated, a reflection of waning confidence that President Maithripala Sirisena can deliver the reforms his government promised.

There were also signs that communal tension was once again on the rise.

The government declared a state of emergency in March 2018 to prevent violent demonstrations by radical Buddhist elements of the Sinhalese majority against the country’s Muslim minority in the city of Kandy from spreading nationwide.


Source: Global Terrorism Index

When tracking the phenomenon of terrorism, the South Asia region had deteriorated during 2016 to 2017.

The regional decline was due to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India finding themselves amongst the ten countries most impacted by terrorism. Afghanistan now overtakes Iraq as the country with the most terror-related deaths.

Before the Easter Sunday attacks took place, Sri Lanka was experiencing improvements in terror-related impacts. Sri Lanka and Nepal were the only two countries in South Asia showing a decrease terrorism.

Although both deteriorated in 2017, they have improved significantly since their peaks in terror-related deaths in 2006 and 2004 respectively. The decline in terrorism in Sri Lanka is largely the result of the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil in Eelam, following the Civil War.

Terrorist activity at the hands of Islamic State and the Levant, and its affiliates, has increased across the South Asia region. In Bangladesh, the largest recent terrorist attack occurred in 2016, when an armed assault in Dhaka killed 28 people.

ISIL later claimed responsibility for the attack. In 2017, the two deadliest attacks in South Asia were committed by the Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan, killing 93 and 91 persons respectively.

Source: Economic Value of Peace

The economic impact of violence

South Asia is the second least peaceful region after the Middle East and North Africa, and the economic impact of violence in the region amounted to $1.52 trillion in 2017.

The economic impact of violence in South Asia increased five per cent in 2017 due to the increasing intensity of conflict in Afghanistan.

The economic impact of violence in South Asia is largely due to military and internal security expenditure and costs arising from armed conflict and terrorism.

Containment costs, which include military at 35% and internal security expenditure at 16%, comprise more than half of the regional economic impact.

Costs arising from conflict, such as deaths from conflict and terrorism, population displacement and GDP losses, consist of 17% of the regional impact of violence.

In contrast, Bhutan and Sri Lanka had their economic impact of violence decline by 26 and 18%, respectively in 2018. Since the end of conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka has seen a decrease of the economic impact of violence.