ARMS TRADE WITH SRI LANKA – global business, local costs

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Executive Summary

This report analyses the role of global arms trade in civil wars, focusing specifically on Sri Lanka. The war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (ltte) was one of the world’s most violent and long-lasting armed conflicts. An estimated 84 000 people lost their lives, while hundreds of thousands were displaced. Severe human rights abuses accompanied the armed conflict, which started in 1983 and ended with a government military victory over the ltte in 2009 – a victory that, however, did not end the underlying conflicts that had caused the war.

The experiences from Sri Lanka vividly illustrates how contemporary armed conflicts remain one of the most pressing global problems, causing death, displacement, poverty, social divides and personal trauma. Civil wars such as the one in Sri Lanka are enabled by weapons provided through  the global arms trade. A global process is currently under way, aiming to develop an Arms Trade Treaty (att) – a comprehensive and binding agreement that would control the international trade in conventional weapons. The treaty is being negotiated in a series of preparatory committee meetings, leading up to a negotiating conference in 2012.

This in-depth study of arms supplies to Sri Lanka aims to contribute to the debate about arms trade and a potential international treaty. The report illustrates the workings of the global arms trade and the limitations of current arms trade regulations, while also connecting the arms deals to its real consequences in armed conflict. The report shows how the arms trade was part of and has affected both the conflict and conflict resolution attempts in Sri Lanka. It looks at the human suffering and economic consequences of the war, investigates from where the Sri Lankan government and the ltte obtained their weapons and, finally, identifies the gaps between arms trade regulations and the rhetoric by international actors, on the one hand, and the practices of arms trade on the other.