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Civil society in civil war: the case of Sri Lanka

Journal article
Authors Camilla Orjuela
Published in Civil Wars
Volume 7
Issue 2
Pages 120-37
ISSN 1369-8249
Publication year 2005
Published at Department of Peace and Development Research
Department of Environmental and Regional Studies of the Human Condition, Centre for Asian Studies
Pages 120-37
Language en
Keywords civil society, civil war, Sri Lanka, peace building
Subject categories Peace and development research


This article argues, using the case of Sri Lanka, that what is theoretically lumped together as 'civil society' is not uniform, neutral or necessarily pro-peace. In Sri Lanka, the civil society sphere is shaped by colonial heritage, post-colonial structures of political patronage and the growth of an NGO sector dependent on foreign funding. Civil society is geographically and ethnically divided and comprises struggles both in favour of and against a negotiated settlement to the violent conflict. While popular mobilisation in the war zone is largely controlled by the guerrilla organisation, limited spaces for dissent also exist. Civil society in Sri Lanka, as in other war-torn societies, should not be simplistically understood but be recognised as a sphere with conflicting struggles which can influence peace processes in various directions.

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