Competing for Victimhood Status: Northern Muslims and the Ironies of Post-War Reconciliation, Justice and Development

ICES Research Paper No. 13
By Farzana Haniffa
July 2014

The northern Muslims together with all protracted IDPs displaced prior to 2008 became a low priority case load for return and resettlement assistance in the aftermath of the ‘end’ of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009. Framed in terms of an ethics of ‘greatest need’ connected only to funding availability, all Old IDPs lost out in the resettlement process. This paper attempts to decentre this idea of economic limits and humanitarian need by discussing the manner in which such ideas of ‘greatest need’ actually emerge from discourses about victimhood that are part of an ethical humanitarian project to which local politics are irrelevant.

This paper will show, however that these initiatives consistently intersect with local power hierarchies and local ideas of legitimacy and belonging. Therefore, this paper will look at the manner in which the war-related victim discourse of International Humanitarianism, helped to exacerbate northern Muslims’ own marginality and continued exclusion from the north. Looking also at the manner in which victimhood narratives are mobilised in Sri Lanka by electoral politics, and displaced IDP activists themselves, this paper will speculate about the efficacy of the victim identity for political and social transformation during this time of transition in Sri Lanka.

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