Humanitarian Interventions and the Suspicion Factor of Faith Based Organizations in Sri Lanka


  • Ven. Pinnawala Sangasumana Department of Geography, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka
  • Rajith W. D. Lakshman University of Sussex, United Kingdom



This paper analyses an important faith related episode in Sri Lankan humanitarian history. Nearly threedecades of civil war in the country between the government forces and the LTTE (the Tamil separatists) hadjustified concerted and widespread interventions from both local and international NGOs. The 2004 tsunami,which havocked coastal Sri Lanka, strengthened these justifications and led to a manifold increase in thenumber of NGOs present in the country. This attracted much public and media attention toward NGOactivities in Sri Lanka lead by allegations of abuse of funds, failure to deliver, lack of coordination, etc. Aforemost allegation perhaps is the conversion of Buddhists using unethical methods. Allegations of suchabuses of the Christian faith led to wide spread protests led by the Buddhist monks which created tryingconditions for all humanitarian actors in the country; not just FBOs.

The suspicion of Faith Based Organizations (FBO) activities exploded in the final phase of the civil war withfurther allegations that some of the FBOs were in fact siding with the LTTE. These developments had somesway among the Buddhists who account for 70 percent of the population. The paper flags conversion as themost important concern that had soured the way Buddhists in Sri Lanka perceive FBO activities. Using theanti-conversion bill that was tabled in the parliament of Sri Lanka in 2004 as a case study we analyze howthe ethno-religious cleavages of the wider community could be used to gain precise political ends in thebackdrop of faith community activities. In addition the study looks into the recent agitations against FBOswithin the country. The paper thereby sheds light on certain costs of faith based humanitarianism which arehitherto not examined in the literature. The costs exposed here occur to the public, to the humanitariancommunity and most importantly to the at-risk-populations.

KEYWORDS: Sri Lanka; FBOs; Buddhism; Religious Conversion.

Author Biographies

Ven. Pinnawala Sangasumana, Department of Geography, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

Department of Geography, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

Rajith W. D. Lakshman, University of Sussex, United Kingdom

University of Sussex, United Kingdom