The latest version of the Country’s Background issued by the State Department, USA,
on 06 April,2011
Official Name: Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Area: 65,610 sq. km. (25,332 sq. mi.); about the size of West Virginia.
Cities: Capital–Colombo (pop. est. 1.3 million–urban area). Sri Jayewardenepura-Kotte is the officially designated capital and is the site of Parliament. Other cities–Kandy (150,000), Galle (110,000), Jaffna (100,000).
Terrain: Coastal plains in the northern third of country; hills and mountains in south-central Sri Lanka rise to more than 2,133 meters (7,000 ft.).
Climate: Tropical. Rainy seasons–light in northeast, fall and winter, with average rainfall of 50 in.; heavy in southwest, summer and fall, with average rainfall of 200 in.
Nationality: Noun and adjective–Sri Lankan(s).
Population: 21.3 million.
Annual population growth rate: 0.9%.
Ethnic groups (2002): Sinhalese (74%), Tamils (18%), Muslims (7%), others (1%).
Religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity.
Languages: Sinhala and Tamil (official), English.
Education: Years compulsory–to age 14. Primary school attendance–96.5%. Literacy–91%.
Health: Infant mortality rate–18.57/1,000. Life expectancy–73 yrs. (male); 77 yrs. (female).
Work force: 7.6 million (excluding northern provinces).
Independence: February 4, 1948.
Constitution: August 31, 1978.
Suffrage: Universal over 18.
Branches: Executive–president, chief of state and head of government, elected for a 6-year term. Legislative–unicameral 225-member Parliament. Judicial–Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, subordinate courts.
Administrative subdivisions: Nine provinces and 25 administrative districts.
Political parties: Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, National Freedom Front, Jathika Hela Urumaya, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Tamil National Alliance, United National Party, Tamileela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, National Unity Alliance, Ceylon Workers’ Congress, Up-Country People’s Front, several small Tamil and Muslim parties, Marxists, and others.
Economy (2010 est.)
GDP: $49.55 billion.
Annual growth rate: 8%.
Natural resources: Limestone, graphite, mineral sands, gems, and phosphate.
Agriculture (11% of GDP): Major products–rice, tea, rubber, coconut, and spices.
Services (59% of GDP): Major types–tourism, wholesale and retail trade, transport, telecom, financial services.
Industry (29% of GDP): Major types–garments and leather goods, rubber products, food processing, chemicals, refined petroleum, gems and jewelry, non-metallic mineral-based products, and construction.
Trade: Exports–$8.3 billion: garments, tea, rubber products, jewelry and gems, refined petroleum, and coconuts. Major markets–U.S. ($1.77 billion), U.K., India. Imports–$13.5 billion. Major suppliers–India, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Iran, Malaysia, Japan, U.K., U.A.E., Belgium, Indonesia, South Korea, U.S. ($178 million).
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is an island in the Indian Ocean about 28 kilometers (18 mi.) off the southeastern coast of India with a population of about 21 million. Density is highest in the southwest where Colombo, the country’s main port and industrial center, is located. The net population growth rate is about 1%. Sri Lanka is ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse.
Sinhalese make up 74% of the population and are concentrated in the densely populated southwest. Sri Lankan Tamils, citizens whose South Indian ancestors have lived on the island for centuries, total about 12%, live throughout the country, and predominate in the Northern Province.
Indian Tamils, a distinct ethnic group, represent about 5% of the population. The British brought them to Sri Lanka in the 19th century as tea and rubber plantation workers, and they remain concentrated in the “tea country” of south-central Sri Lanka. In accordance with a 1964 agreement with India, Sri Lanka granted citizenship to 230,000 “stateless” Indian Tamils in 1988. Under the pact, India granted citizenship to the remainder, some 200,000 of whom now live in India. Another 75,000 Indian Tamils, who themselves or whose parents once applied for Indian citizenship, chose to remain in Sri Lanka and have since been granted Sri Lankan citizenship.
Other minorities include Muslims (both Moors and Malays), at about 7% of the population; Burghers, who are descendants of European colonists, principally from the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (U.K.); and aboriginal Veddahs. Most Sinhalese are Buddhist; most Tamils are Hindu. The majority of Sri Lanka’s Muslims practice Sunni Islam. Sizable minorities of both Sinhalese and Tamils are Christians, most of whom are Roman Catholic. The 1978 constitution–while assuring freedom of religion–grants primacy to Buddhism.
Sinhala, an Indo-European language, is the native tongue of the Sinhalese. Tamils and most Muslims speak Tamil, part of the South Indian Dravidian linguistic group. Use of English has declined since independence, but it continues to be spoken by many in the middle and upper middle classes, particularly in Colombo. The government is seeking to reverse the decline in the use of English, mainly for economic but also for political reasons. Both Sinhala and Tamil are official languages.
The actual origins of the Sinhalese are shrouded in myth. Most believe they came to Sri Lanka from northern India during the 6th century BC. Buddhism arrived from the subcontinent 300 years later and spread rapidly. Buddhism and a sophisticated system of irrigation became the pillars of classical Sinhalese civilization (200 BC-1200 AD) that flourished in the north-central part of the island. Invasions from southern India, combined with internecine strife, pushed Sinhalese kingdoms southward.
The island’s contact with the outside world began early. Roman sailors called the island Taprobane. Arab traders knew it as “Serendip,” the root of the word “serendipity.” Beginning in 1505, Portuguese traders, in search of cinnamon and other spices, seized the island’s coastal areas and spread Catholicism. The Dutch supplanted the Portuguese in 1658. Although the British ejected the Dutch in 1796, Dutch law remains an important part of Sri Lankan jurisprudence. In 1815, the British defeated the king of Kandy, last of the native rulers, and created the Crown Colony of Ceylon. They established a plantation economy based on tea, rubber, and coconuts. In 1931, the British granted Ceylon limited self-rule and a universal franchise. Ceylon became independent on February 4, 1948.
Sri Lankan politics since independence have been strongly democratic. Two major parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), have generally alternated rule.
The UNP ruled first from 1948-56 under three Prime Ministers–D.S. Senanayake, his son Dudley, and Sir John Kotelawala. The SLFP ruled from 1956-65, with a short hiatus in 1960, first under S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and then, after his assassination in 1959, under his widow, Sirimavo, the world’s first female chief executive in modern times. Dudley Senanayake and the UNP returned to power in 1965.
In 1970, Mrs. Bandaranaike again assumed the premiership. A year later, an insurrection by followers of the Maoist “Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna” (JVP, or “People’s Liberation Front”) broke out. The SLFP government suppressed the revolt and declared a state of emergency that lasted 6 years.
In 1972, Mrs. Bandaranaike’s government introduced a new constitution, which changed the country’s name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, declared it a republic, made protection of Buddhism a constitutional principle, and created a weak president appointed by the prime minister. Its economic policies during this period were highly socialist and included the nationalization of large tea and rubber plantations and other private industries.
The UNP, under J.R. Jayewardene, returned to power in 1977. The Jayewardene government opened the economy and, in 1978, introduced a new constitution based on the French model, a key element of which was the creation of a strong executive presidency. J.R. Jayewardene was elected President by Parliament in 1978 and by nationwide election in 1982. In 1982, a national referendum extended the life of Parliament another 6 years.
The UNP’s Ranasinghe Premadasa, Prime Minister in the Jayewardene government, narrowly defeated Mrs. Bandaranaike (SLFP) in the 1988 presidential elections. The UNP also won an absolute majority in the 1989 parliamentary elections. Mr. Premadasa was assassinated on May 1, 1993 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (“LTTE” or “Tigers”), and was replaced by then-Prime Minister Dingiri Banda Wijetunga, who appointed Ranil Wickremasinghe Prime Minister.
The SLFP, the main party in the People’s Alliance (PA) coalition, returned to power in 1994 for the first time in 17 years. The PA won a plurality in the August 1994 parliamentary elections and formed a coalition government with Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga as Prime Minister. Prime Minister Kumaratunga later won the November 1994 presidential elections and appointed her mother (former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike) to replace her as Prime Minister. President Kumaratunga won re-election to another 6-year term in December 1999. In August 2000, Mrs. Bandaranaike resigned as Prime Minister for health reasons, and Ratnasiri Wickramanayake was appointed to take her place. In December 2001, the UNP assumed power, led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe. Chandrika Kumaratunga remained as President. In November of 2003, President Kumaratunga suddenly took control of three key ministries, triggering a serious cohabitation crisis.
In January 2004, the SLFP and the JVP formed a political grouping known as the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). In February, President Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament and called for fresh elections. In these elections, which took place in April 2004, the UPFA received 45% of the vote, with the UNP receiving 37% of the vote. While it did not win enough seats to command a majority in Parliament, the UPFA was able to form a government and appoint a cabinet headed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The JVP later broke with the SLFP and left the government, but has often supported it from outside.
Presidential elections were held in November 2005, with Mahinda Rajapaksa becoming President, and Ratnasiri Wickramanayake becoming Prime Minister. President Rajapaksa stood for re-election 2 years before the end of his term, in January 2010, and was reelected by a margin of 18% over the opposition candidate, retired Army General Sarath Fonseka. The presidential elections were soon followed by a large victory for Rajapaksa’s UPFA coalition in April 2010 parliamentary elections, where it captured 144 out of 225 seats possible, just shy of a two-thirds majority. The remaining parliamentary seats were secured by the United National Front (60), the Tamil National Alliance (14), and the Democratic National Alliance (7).
Historical divisions continue to have an impact on Sri Lankan society and politics. From independence, the Tamil minority has been uneasy with the country’s unitary form of government and apprehensive that the Sinhalese majority would abuse Tamil rights. Those fears were reinforced when S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike triumphed in the 1956 elections after appealing to Sinhalese nationalism. His declaration that Sinhala was the country’s official language–an act felt by Tamils to be a denigration of their own tongue–was the first in a series of steps over the following decades that appeared discriminatory to Tamils. Tamils also protested government educational policies and agriculture programs that encouraged Sinhalese farmers from the south to move to newly irrigated lands in the east. The decades following 1956 saw intermittent outbreaks of communal violence and growing radicalization among Tamil groups. By the mid-1970s Tamil politicians were moving from support for federalism to a demand for a separate Tamil state–“Tamil Eelam”–in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, areas of traditional Tamil settlement. In the 1977 elections, the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) won all the seats in Tamil areas on a platform of separatism. Other groups–particularly the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers)–sought an independent state by force.
In 1983, the death of 13 Sinhalese soldiers at the hands of the LTTE unleashed the largest outburst of communal violence in the country’s history. Hundreds of Tamils were killed in Colombo and elsewhere, tens of thousands were left homeless, and more than 100,000 fled to south India. The north and east became the scene of bloodshed as security forces attempted to suppress the LTTE and other militant groups. Terrorist incidents occurred in Colombo and other cities. Each side in the conflict accused the other of violating human rights. The conflict assumed an international dimension when the Sri Lankan Government accused India of supporting the Tamil insurgents.
In October 1997, the U.S. Government designated the LTTE as a foreign terrorist organization under provisions of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and has maintained this designation since then, most recently redesignating the group in October of 2003. The U.S. Government in November 2007 froze the U.S.-held assets of the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation, a charitable organization associated with the LTTE, and in February 2009, the U.S. froze the assets of the Maryland-based Tamil Foundation, on suspicion that they were funneling money to the LTTE.
By mid-1987, India intervened in the conflict by air-dropping supplies to prevent what it felt was harsh treatment and starvation of the Tamil population in the Jaffna Peninsula caused by an economic blockade by Colombo. Under a July 29, 1987, accord (the Indo-Lanka Accord) signed by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and President Jayewardene, the Sri Lankan Government made a number of concessions to Tamil demands, which included devolution of power to the provinces, merger–subject to later referendum–of the northern and eastern provinces, and official status for the Tamil language. India agreed to establish order in the north and east with an Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF) and to cease assisting Tamil insurgents. Militant groups, although initially reluctant, agreed to surrender their arms to the IPKF.
Within weeks, however, the LTTE declared its intent to continue its armed struggle for an independent Tamil Eelam and refused to disarm. The IPKF found itself engaged in a bloody police action against the LTTE. Further complicating the return to peace was a burgeoning Sinhalese insurgency in the south. The JVP, relatively quiescent since the 1971 insurrection, began to reassert itself in 1987. Capitalizing on opposition to the Indo-Lankan Accord in the Sinhalese community, the JVP launched an intimidation campaign against supporters of the accord. Numerous UNP and other government supporters were assassinated. The government, relieved of its security burden by the IPKF in the north and east, intensified its efforts in the south. The JVP was crushed but at a high cost in human lives.
From April 1989 through June 1990, the government engaged in direct communications with the LTTE leadership. In the meantime, fighting between the LTTE and the IPKF escalated in the north. India withdrew the last of its forces from Sri Lanka in early 1990, and fighting between the LTTE and the government resumed. Both the LTTE and government forces committed serious human rights violations. In January 1995, the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE agreed to a cessation of hostilities as a preliminary step in a government-initiated plan for peace negotiations. After 3 months, however, the LTTE unilaterally resumed hostilities. The government then adopted a policy of military engagement with the Tigers, with government forces liberating Jaffna from LTTE control by mid-1996 and moving against LTTE positions in the northern part of the country called the Vanni. An LTTE counteroffensive begun in October 1999 reversed most government gains and by May 2000 threatened government forces in Jaffna. Heavy fighting continued into 2001.
Peace Process, Resumption of Conflict, and Conclusion of Fighting
In December 2001, with the election of a new UNP government, the LTTE and government declared unilateral cease-fires. In February 2002, the Government of Sri Lanka (GSL) and LTTE signed a ceasefire agreement sponsored by peace process facilitator Norway. Peace talks began in Norway in December 2002. The Tigers dropped out of talks in February 2003, however, claiming they were being marginalized. In July 2004, the first suicide bomb since 2001 struck Colombo.
In March 2004, Eastern Tiger commander Karuna broke with the LTTE, going underground with his supporters. In March 2006, the Karuna faction registered a political party, the Tamil People’s Liberation Tigers (TMVP). The LTTE and the Karuna faction began targeting each other in low-level attacks. In late 2007, Sivanesethurai Chandrakanthan (“Pillaiyan”) took over the leadership of the TMVP. In March 2008, Karuna left the TMVP and joined President Rajapaksa’s SLFP as Minister for National Reconciliation.
Over 30,000 Sri Lankans died in the December 2004 tsunami, and hundreds of thousands of others fled their homes. In June 2005, the GSL and LTTE reached an agreement to share $3 billion in international tsunami aid. However, the agreement was challenged in court and was never implemented. In August 2005, the LTTE assassinated Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil. Parliament passed a state of emergency regulation that has been renewed every month since then.
During the November 2005 presidential election, the LTTE enforced a voting boycott in areas under its control. As a result, perceived hard-liner and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) leader Mahinda Rajapaksa won by a narrow margin. Low-level violence between the LTTE and security forces escalated. In December 2005, pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance Member of Parliament (MP) Joseph Pararajasingham was assassinated within a GSL high-security zone in the eastern town of Batticaloa.
In February 2006, exactly 4 years after the ceasefire agreement was signed, the GSL and LTTE renewed their commitment to the agreement at talks in Geneva. There was a lull in violence until April 2006, when an explosion rocked a Sinhalese market in Trincomalee, followed by limited Sinhalese backlash against Tamils. Several days later, an LTTE suicide bomber attacked the main army compound in Colombo, killing eight soldiers and seriously wounding Army Commander General Fonseka. The government retaliated with air strikes on Tiger targets. In June 2006, an LTTE suicide bomber succeeded in killing Army third-in-command General Kulatunga in a suburb of Colombo.
The European Union (EU) banned the LTTE as a terrorist organization on May 30, 2006. In June 2006, GSL and LTTE delegations flew to Oslo to discuss the future of the Scandinavian-led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM). The Tigers refused to sit for talks with the GSL and instead demanded the SLMM remove any monitors from EU-member nations.
Heavy fighting in August 2006, the worst since the 2002 ceasefire, killed hundreds of people and caused tens of thousands to flee their homes when the Tamil Tiger rebels clashed with government forces in the north and east. In September 2006, the government carried out the first major seizure of enemy territory by either side since the 2002 ceasefire when it drove Tamil Tiger rebels from the entrance of the strategic Trincomalee harbor.
In October 2006, the LTTE attacked a Navy bus convoy at a transit point in Habarana, killing 90 sailors, and a few days later, attacked the Sri Lankan Navy Headquarters in Galle, a major tourist destination in the far south. Peace talks in Geneva at the end of October ended with no progress. The LTTE attempted to assassinate the Defense Secretary by bombing his motorcade in December 2006, but he escaped unharmed.
Government troops took control of the LTTE’s eastern stronghold of Vakarai in January 2007, resulting in thousands more internally displaced persons (IDPs). In March 2007, the Tamil Tiger rebels launched their first-ever air attack, which targeted the Katunayake Air Force base adjacent to Bandaranaike International Airport. By July 2007, however, the government had recaptured the remaining territory held in the Eastern Province from the Tigers. In November 2007, a Sri Lankan Air Force bomb killed LTTE political chief and number two leader, S.P. Tamilchelvan. Also during that month, the LTTE detonated a bomb in a busy Colombo shopping center, killing 17 and wounding many more.
In January 2008, the government announced that it was unilaterally abrogating the 2002 ceasefire agreement. Government forces stepped up their campaign to assert control over the northern areas still led by the LTTE. The LTTE resisted government advances into the north and carried out attacks on economic and civilian targets in the south.
In May 2008, elections were held for the first time to fill the newly created Eastern Provincial Council covering the Ampara, Batticaloa, and Trincomalee districts. Although opposition parties alleged widespread vote-rigging, the government’s United People’s Freedom Alliance in a coalition with the TMVP secured the majority in the new Provincial Council, and TMVP leader Sivanesethurai Chandrakanthan (“Pillaiyan”) was sworn in by President Rajapaksa as Chief Minister.
The conflict entered a new phase in September 2008 when government forces initiated an offensive on LTTE, resulting in significant losses of LTTE territory. The government continued to capture territory in northern Sri Lanka through May 2009, when fighting became confined to a small area of land near Mullaitivu, where thousands of civilians were forcibly held by the LTTE in a government-designated “no fire zone”. On May 19, the government declared victory over the LTTE as they reported the capture of remaining Tiger-held territory and the death of LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.
The end of the military conflict resulted in nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons and allegations of potential violations of international humanitarian law and other harms committed by both sides in the final stages of the conflict. IDPs were initially detained at camps, primarily in Vavuniya area, but IDPs have been permitted freedom of movement since December 2009. Most IDPs have since returned to their home districts, staying primarily with host families. But many have not been resettled in their homes, due to the lingering presence of land mines and government-enforced high-security zones. To date, international non-governmental organizations, working in coordination with the Government of Sri Lanka and the United Nations, have removed a reported 1.1 million land mines. The humanitarian effort continues to progress–as of May 2010 it was estimated that 68,000 IDPs remained within the camps.
Under the 1978 constitution, the president of the republic, directly elected for a 6-year term, is chief of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces. Responsible to Parliament for the exercise of duties under the constitution and laws, the president may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of Parliament with the concurrence of the Supreme Court.
The president appoints and heads a cabinet of ministers responsible to Parliament. The president’s deputy is the prime minister, who leads the ruling party in Parliament. A parliamentary no-confidence vote requires dissolution of the cabinet and the appointment of a new one by the president.
Parliament is a unicameral 225-member legislature elected by universal suffrage and proportional representation to a 6-year term. The president may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament. Parliament reserves the power to make all laws.
Sri Lanka’s judiciary consists of a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and a number of subordinate courts. Sri Lanka’s legal system reflects diverse cultural influences. Criminal law is fundamentally British. Basic civil law is Roman-Dutch. Laws pertaining to marriage, divorce, and inheritance are communal.
Under the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord of July 1987 and the 13th amendment to the constitution, the Government of Sri Lanka agreed to devolve significant authority to the provinces. Provincial Councils are directly elected for 5-year terms. The leader of the council majority serves as the province’s chief minister; a provincial governor is appointed by the president. The councils possess limited powers in education, health, rural development, social services, agriculture, security, and local taxation. Many of these powers are shared or subject to central government oversight. As a result, the Provincial Councils have never functioned effectively. Devolution proposals under consideration as a means of finding a political solution to the ethnic conflict foresee a strengthening of the Provincial Councils, with greater autonomy from central control. Predating the accord are municipal, urban, and rural councils with limited powers.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister–Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Jayaratne
Ambassador to the United States–Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Ambassador to the United Nations–Palitha T.B. Kohona
Sri Lanka maintains an embassy in the United States at 2148 Wyoming Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-483-4025 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 202-483-4025 end_of_the_skype_highlighting).
Sri Lanka’s two major political parties–the UNP and the SLFP–have historically embraced democratic values, international nonalignment, and encouragement of Sinhalese culture. However, the SLFP-led coalition government under President Rajapaksa, aided by emergency regulations, has consolidated political power in the executive and limited media freedom and the role of civil society in Sri Lankan politics.
Sri Lanka has a multi-party democracy that enjoys considerable stability despite relatively high levels of political violence during its 26-year civil conflict. In May 2009, the government declared victory over the LTTE and the LTTE’s longtime leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, was killed. The LTTE’s terrorist activities had generally been aimed at destabilizing Sri Lanka politically, economically, and socially. Economic targets included the airport in July 2001, the Colombo World Trade Center in October 1997, and the central bank in January 1996. In January 1998, the LTTE detonated a truck bomb in Kandy, damaging the Temple of the Tooth relic, the holiest Buddhist shrine in the country. After a lull following the 2002 ceasefire, LTTE-perpetrated terrorist bombings directed against politicians and civilian targets became more common in Colombo, Kandy, and elsewhere in the country. LTTE attacks on key political figures included the attempted assassinations of Social Affairs Minister Douglas Devananda in November 2007 and of Secretary of Defense Gothabaya Rajapaksa in December 2006, the assassination of Army General Kulatunga in June 2006, the attempted assassination of Army Commander General Fonseka in April 2006, the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005, the killing of the Industrial Development Minister by suicide bombing in June 2000, and the December 1999 attempted assassination of President Kumaratunga. The LTTE is also suspected of being behind the assassinations of two government ministers in early 2008.
In the year following the defeat of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Government has faced widespread criticism on human rights issues. Shortly after his defeat in the January 2010 presidential election, retired Army General Sarath Fonseka was arrested and sequestered without facing formal charges. He eventually was charged with engaging in politics while still a serving military officer and corruption in military procurements and tried by two courts martial, which found him guilty in September 2010 and sentenced him to 30 months in prison and stripped him of his pension and all military honors. The Government of Sri Lanka received appeals from the international community that any action against the former Army general be pursued in accordance with Sri Lankan law and consistent with Sri Lanka’s political traditions, but many observers regarded Fonseka’s prosecution and conviction as politically motivated. The Sri Lankan Government received praise for pardoning Tamil journalist J.S. Tissanayagam in May 2010, but concerns remain about the state of media freedom and the ability of Sri Lankans to express dissent against government policies and actions.
Sri Lanka is a lower-middle income developing nation with a gross domestic product of about $50 billion (official exchange rate). This translates into a per capita income of $5,100 (purchasing power parity). Sri Lanka’s 91% literacy rate in local languages and life expectancy of 75 years rank well above those of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. English language ability is relatively high, but has declined significantly since the 1970s.
Sri Lanka’s income inequality is severe, with striking differences between rural and urban areas. About 15% of the country’s population remains impoverished. The effects of 26 years of civil conflict, falling agricultural labor productivity, lack of income-earning opportunities for the rural population, high inflation, and poor infrastructure outside the Western Province were impediments to poverty reduction. There are reports that poverty has been decreasing significantly in the last few years.
In 1978, Sri Lanka shifted away from a socialist orientation and opened its economy to foreign investment. But the pace of reform has been uneven. A period of aggressive economic reform under the UNP-led government that ruled from 2002 to 2004 was followed by a more statist approach under President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Despite a brutal civil war that began in 1983, economic growth has averaged around 5% in the last 10 years. Due to the global recession and escalation of violence during the final stages of the war, GDP growth slowed to 3.5% in 2009 and foreign reserves fell sharply. Business confidence rebounded quickly with the end of the war and an International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement in July 2009. Consequently, Sri Lanka recorded strong growth in 2010, as GDP grew by 8%. Official foreign reserves, including borrowings, reached $6.6 billion (5.9 months of imports). The post-war economic re-integration of northern and eastern provinces has boosted agriculture and fisheries, although a large area of agricultural land was damaged by floods in early 2011. Reconstruction of the war-damaged areas as well as infrastructure development throughout the country is also fueling growth. Tourism has rebounded strongly to record levels. Exports grew by a healthy 17% in 2010. Foreign remittance inflows from Sri Lankans working abroad swelled to $4.1 billion in 2010 from $3.3 billion in 2009. The Colombo Stock Exchange was the second-best performing market for the second year in a row. Inflation, which had reached double digit levels during the war years, was around 7% in 2010. Inflation pressures are building, and inflation reached 8.6% in March 2011. Foreign direct investment (FDI) remained relatively low in 2010 at about $450 million. The FDI target for 2011 is $1 billion, including investments in the tourism sector.
Government fiscal control remains a concern. The budget deficit reached almost 10% of GDP in 2009, but was forecast to fall to around 8% of GDP in 2010.
President Rajapaksa’s broad economic strategy outlined in his 2005 and 2010 election manifestos, “Mahinda Chintana” (Mahinda’s Thoughts), guides government economic policy. Mahinda Chintana policies focus on poverty alleviation and steering investment to disadvantaged areas; developing the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector; promotion of agriculture; and developing Sri Lanka to become the regional hub of ports, aviation, commerce, knowledge, and energy. The government has developed a 10-year development framework to boost growth through a combination of large infrastructure projects. The Rajapaksa government rejects the privatization of state enterprises, including “strategic” enterprises such as state-owned banks, airports, and electrical utilities. Instead, it plans to retain ownership and management of these enterprises and make them profitable.
The Mahinda Chintana plan aims to double Sri Lanka’s per capita income to $4,000 within 6 years. To do so, Sri Lanka requires GDP growth well over 8%, and the investment rate needs to rise from 25% of GDP to 35% of GDP.
Sri Lanka’s economy will continue its post-war resurgence and is expected to grow strongly in the immediate term. Although Sri Lanka should maintain moderate economic growth, Sri Lanka needs to enact important policy reforms to reach its full economic potential. Sri Lanka has set the goal of improving its business climate, but must follow through with reforms to decrease bureaucratic red tape; increase transparency, particularly in government procurement; and increase the predictability of government policies. Sri Lanka must also continue to improve its fiscal discipline. The 26-year conflict and high government expenditure have contributed to Sri Lanka’s high public debt load (83% of GDP in 2009).
Sri Lanka depends on a strong global economy for investment and for expansion of its export base. It has been advised to diversify export products and destinations to make use of the Indo-Lanka and Pakistan-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreements and to benefit from rapid economic growth in emerging East Asia. Sri Lanka’s exports to the European Union qualified for duty-free entry under the EU Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) Plus market access program, granted in 2005 to help Sri Lanka rebuild after the 2004 tsunami. However, after a lengthy review process, the European Union suspended the GSP Plus market access benefit in August 2010, due to Sri Lanka’s poor human rights record. Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s exports grew strongly by over 17% in 2010, despite the loss of this benefit. Sri Lanka continues to receive limited tariff preferences under the EU GSP program. Sri Lanka also receives preferential access to the U.S. market under the U.S. GSP program. This program has been temporarily suspended pending congressional approval.
The service sector is the largest component of GDP at almost 60%. In 2010, service sector growth increased to 8% from about 3% in 2009. Tourism, shipping, aviation, telecom, trading, and financial services were the main contributors to growth. Public administration and defense expenditures increased in recent years due to hostilities, and there has been an expansion of public sector employment. Despite the end of the war, defense expenditures remain at around 3.9% of GDP. There is a growing information technology sector, especially information technology training and software development.
Industry accounts for almost 30% of GDP. Manufacturing is the largest industrial subsector, accounting for 17% of GDP. The construction sector accounts for 7% of GDP. Mining and quarrying account for 2% of GDP. Electricity, gas, and water account for 2% of GDP. Within the manufacturing sector, food, beverage, and tobacco is the largest subsector in terms of value addition. Textiles, apparel, and leather is the second-largest sector. The third-largest sector in value added terms is chemical, petroleum, rubber, and plastic products.
Agriculture has lost its relative importance to the Sri Lankan economy in recent decades. It employs 31% of the working population, but accounts for only about 11% of GDP. Rice, the staple cereal, is cultivated extensively. The plantation sector consists of tea, rubber, and coconut; in recent years, the tea crop has made significant contributions to export earnings. Domestic agriculture such as rice and other food crops improved significantly with the return of peace to the eastern and northern provinces. However, floods in early 2011 destroyed many crops and livestock, including rice, in the main cultivation period.
Trade and Foreign Assistance
Sri Lanka’s exports (mainly apparel, tea, rubber, gems and jewelry) were estimated at $8.3 billion and imports (mainly oil, textiles, food, and machinery) were estimated at $13.5 billion for 2010. The resulting large trade deficit was financed primarily by remittances from Sri Lankan expatriate workers, foreign assistance, and commercial borrowing. Sri Lanka must diversify its exports beyond garments and tea. The information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) sector is small but growing.
Exports to the United States, Sri Lanka’s most important single-country market, were estimated to be around $1.77 billion for 2010, or 21% of total exports. The United States is Sri Lanka’s second-biggest market for garments, taking almost 40% of total garment exports. (The EU as a whole is Sri Lanka’s biggest export market and largest apparel buyer.) India is Sri Lanka’s largest source of imports, accounting for over 20% of imports. United States exports to Sri Lanka were estimated to be around $178 million for 2010, consisting primarily of machinery and mechanical appliances, medical and scientific equipment, electrical apparatus, wheat, plastics, lentils, and paper.
Sri Lanka is a large recipient of foreign assistance, with China, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, Japan, and other donors disbursing loans totaling almost $1.0 billion in 2009. China is a major lender for infrastructure projects, such as a new port, a coal power plant, and roads. Iran is also a major lender to Sri Lanka and has committed $450 million for the Uma Oya multipurpose irrigation project and $111 for rural electrification. Iran provides an interest-free credit facility for oil imports. Iran has also promised assistance for modernization of Sri Lanka’s only oil refinery, though no firm commitments are in place. The Government of India is providing loans for the railway sector. Foreign grants amounted to $230 million in 2009. There continue to be problems with projects awarded without tenders.
The unemployment rate declined to 4.5% in fourth-quarter 2010, from 5.7% in fourth-quarter 2009. Unemployment is highest in the 20-29 age group. The rate of unemployment among women and high school and college graduates has been proportionally higher than the rate for less-educated workers. The government has embarked on educational reforms it hopes will lead to better preparation of students and better matches between graduates and jobs.
Approximately 20% of the 7.6 million-strong work force is unionized, but union membership is declining. There are more than 1,900 registered trade unions, many of which have 50 or fewer members, and 19 federations. Many unions have political affiliations. The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) and Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union are the two largest unions, representing workers in the plantation sector. The president of the CWC also is Minister of Livestock and Rural Community Development. Other strong and influential trade unions include the Ceylon Mercantile Union, Sri Lanka Nidhahas Sevaka Sangamaya, Jathika Sevaka Sangayama, Ceylon Federation of Trade Unions, Ceylon Bank Employees Union, Union of Post and Telecommunication Officers, Conference of Public Sector Independent Trade Unions, and the JVP-aligned Inter-Company Trade Union.
Public sector trade unions usually resist government moves to restructure state-owned corporations. The Government of Sri Lanka has no plans to privatize any state-owned enterprises, and in some cases the government has reversed prior privatizations.
There are 1.7 million Sri Lankan citizens working abroad. A majority are women working as housemaids. Remittances from migrant workers, estimated at around $4.1 billion in 2010, is the most important source of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka, surpassing earnings from apparel exports.
Sri Lanka traditionally follows a nonaligned foreign policy but has been seeking closer relations with the United States since December 2001. It participates in multilateral diplomacy, particularly at the United Nations, where it seeks to promote sovereignty, independence, and development in the developing world. Sri Lanka was a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). It also is a member of the Commonwealth, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and the Colombo Plan. Sri Lanka continues its active participation in the NAM, while also stressing the importance it places on regionalism by playing a strong role in SAARC.
U.S.-SRI LANKAN RELATIONS
The United States enjoys cordial relations with Sri Lanka that are based, in large part, on shared democratic traditions. U.S. policy toward Sri Lanka is characterized by respect for its independence, sovereignty, and moderate nonaligned foreign policy; support for the country’s unity, territorial integrity, and democratic institutions; and encouragement of its social and economic development. The United States is a strong supporter of ethnic reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
U.S. assistance has totaled more than $2 billion since Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), it has contributed to Sri Lanka’s economic growth with projects designed to reduce unemployment, improve housing, develop the Colombo Stock Exchange, modernize the judicial system, and improve competitiveness. At the June 2003 Tokyo Donors’ Conference on Sri Lanka, the United States pledged $54 million, including $40.4 million of USAID funding. Following the 2004 tsunami, the United States provided $135 million in relief and reconstruction assistance. The United States provided over $51.4 million in humanitarian assistance in 2009, and pledged at least $34.5 million for 2010.
In addition, the International Broadcast Bureau (IBB)–formerly Voice of America (VOA)–operates a radio-transmitting station in Sri Lanka. The U.S. Armed Forces maintain a limited military-to-military relationship with the Sri Lanka defense establishment.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador–Patricia A. Butenis
Deputy Chief of Mission–Valerie Crites Fowler
Head of Political Section–Paul M. Carter, Jr.
Head of Economic/Commercial Section–Edward Heartney
Management Officer–Kevin A. Weishar
Consular Officer–William Dowers
Defense Attache–Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith
Director, USAID–James Bednar
Public Affairs Officer–Jeffrey Anderson
IBB Station Manager–William Martin
The U.S. Embassy in Sri Lanka is located at 210 Galle Road, Colombo 3 (tel: 94-11-249-8500, fax: 94-11-243-7345). U.S. Agency for International Development offices are located at the American Center, 44 Galle Road, Colombo 3 (tel: 94-11-249-8000; fax: 94-11-247-2850/247-2860). Public Affairs offices also are located at the American Center (tel: 94-11-249-8100, fax: 94-11-244-9070).
IBB offices are located near Chilaw, 75 kms north of Colombo (94-32-225-5931 to 34/fax: 94-32-225-5822).
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State’s Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings. Country Specific Information exists for all countries and includes information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S. citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department’s travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-407-4747 end_of_the_skype_highlighting toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-202-501-4444 end_of_the_skype_highlighting for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State’s single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4-USA-PPT begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-877-4-USA-PPT end_of_the_skype_highlighting (1-877-487-2778 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-877-487-2778 end_of_the_skype_highlighting); TDD/TTY: 1-888-874-7793 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-874-7793 end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Passport information is available 24 hours, 7 days a week. You may speak with a representative Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 800-CDC-INFO begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-CDC-INFO end_of_the_skype_highlighting (800-232-4636 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 800-232-4636 end_of_the_skype_highlighting) and a web site at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/default.aspx give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. The CDC publication “Health Information for International Travel” can be found at http://wwwn.cdc.gov/travel/contentYellowBook.aspx.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more