We're always looking for ways to make better. Have an idea? See something that needs fixing? Let us know!



Country Profile

Area: 65,610 sq km
Population: 20.8 (World Bank 2010)
Capital City: Colombo (population 681,000 (2009 CIA Fact book)
People: 73.94% Sinhalese, 12.7% Tamil, 7.1% Muslim, 5.5% Hill Tamil, and 1.5% other
Languages: Sinhalese, Tamil, English
Religion(s): Buddhist (69.3%); Hindu (15.5%); Muslim (7.5%); Christianity (6.9%), other (0.8%)
Currency: Rupee, divided into 100 cents
Major political parties: Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) (President’s party and largest government party), United National Party (UNP) (main opposition party), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) (left wing, Sinhala nationalist), Tamil National Alliance (a coalition of Tamil parties), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) (Sinhala nationalist Buddhist party led by monks and coalition partner of the Government), Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) (member of the TNA), Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP) (a government-aligned Tamil party), Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) (represents Hill Tamils also aligned to the Government)
Government: Unicameral Parliament with Executive Presidency
Head of State (President): His Excellency Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa
Prime Minister/Premier: The Hon DM Jayaratne
Foreign Minister: The Hon GL Peiris MP
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Commonwealth, The South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), United Nations (UN), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G77).

Back to the Top


Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$ 50bn (2010)
GDP per head: US$ 2428 (2010)
GDP Growth: 8.0% (2010), 3.5% (2009) 6.0% (2008)
Inflation: Annual average 6% (2010)
Major Industries: Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Manufacturing, Construction, Utilities, Services.
Major trading partners: Main export partners (goods): US (21%), UK (12%), India (6%), and Germany (5%). Main origins of imports: India (21%), Singapore (13%), China (12%), Iran (5%), South Korea (5.23%). (UN COMTRADE, 2010).
An IMF loan facility of $2.6 billion was approved in July 2009.
Tourist arrivals by country of residence: 2010 - India 126,882 (19%); UK 105,496 (16%); followed by Germany, Maldives and Australia (Source: Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority).
Exchange rate: (November 2011) US$1 – 114 rupees, £1 Sterling – 177 rupees

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) monitors trade and investment figures worldwide. For current economic background and sector reports on Sri Lanka please visit the UK Trade and Investment website: UK Trade & Investment Country Profile ( : Sri Lanka.

In March 2000 the Indo-Sri Lankan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) came into effect. At the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) conference held in Pakistan in early January 2004 a wider free trade agreement between all SAARC members was signed and entered into force in 2006.

Back to the Top


Sri Lanka's history has reflected its close links with the subcontinent and with South East Asia. The colonial European powers arrived in 1505. The Portuguese, the Dutch and then the British ruled Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was then known) gained independence from Britain in February 1948.

The Internal Conflict

On 19 May 2009 the Government of Sri Lanka announced the military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) following a 26 year long internal conflict. Over this period at least 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed and some one million displaced.

The roots of the conflict lie in the deterioration of relations between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities from the 1950s. By the late 1970s a number of armed groups were operating in the north and east of the island. In 1983 there were serious anti-Tamil riots in Colombo resulting in the killing of some 2,000 Tamils. Some Ministers in the Government of Sri Lanka were implicated in the event. Many Tamils returned to traditional Tamil areas in the North and many others began to seek asylum abroad.

One of the highest profile violent acts was the assassination of the Mayor of Jaffna in 1975 by Vellupillai Prabhakaran who later became the leader of the LTTE.

In mid 1987 when a Government of Sri Lanka embargo of Jaffna began to result in severe hardship, the Government of India, pushed by public opinion in Tamil Nadu, persuaded the Sri Lankan Government to sign the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord. This provided for an Indian peacekeeping Force (IPKF) in the North and East. However relations between the IPKF and the LTTE broke down and there was heavy fighting and reports of human rights violations on both sides. President Premadasa negotiated the IPKF's withdrawal, which was completed in March 1990.

During 1988, in part as a result of Indian intervention, unrest among the Sinhalese community grew into a violent insurgency by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). The government launched a ruthless counter-insurgency campaign against the JVP and the rebellion ended in 1989 when its leaders were murdered. Tens of thousands were killed or disappeared during the conflict between the government and the JVP.

There followed a period of relative peace before the situation in the North and East deteriorated in June 1990. After 18 months, negotiations fell apart and the LTTE again resorted to violence. They extended their control until they held the Tamil heartland: the Jaffna Peninsula and large areas of the North and East. Security forces succeeded in winning back most of the East, but the North remained outside their control.

Hundreds of people were killed and injured in terrorist attacks relating to the conflict. Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in southern India in May 1991. President Premadasa was assassinated in May 1993.

In July 1995, the Sri Lankan army launched a military operation, culminating in the fall of Jaffna in December 1995 to Government forces. At the end of January 1996 the LTTE began a bombing campaign in Colombo.

During 1996, the Sri Lankan army secured enough of the Jaffna Peninsula to allow the civilian population to return to Jaffna town. But the LTTE reasserted itself in the Eastern province and infiltrated back into the Jaffna Peninsula. LTTE inspired terrorist attacks continued in the South, including on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, the most sacred Buddhist site in Sri Lanka.

In March 1999 the Sri Lankan Army launched two major offensives in the Vanni and captured over 800 sq kms of territory from the LTTE. Fighting in the North intensified in late 1999 and the Vanni (jungle areas in the North) fell to the LTTE after some of the fiercest fighting since the conflict began. In April 2000 the LTTE carried out a major assault which led to the withdrawal of Sri Lankan troops from Elephant Pass (which links the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of Sri Lanka). With control of Elephant Pass, the LTTE continued further attacks into the Jaffna Peninsula. Fighting continued until December 2001 when the announcement of a new ceasefire by the LTTE was reciprocated by the newly elected United National Front government. A Ceasefire Agreement was signed in February 2002 by the government and LTTE.

In April 2004, the LTTE’s eastern commander, Karuna and a group broke away from the LTTE. He complained that the LTTE leadership did not sufficiently look after the interests of those in the east of the country. The Karuna group aligned themselves to the Government and fought against the LTTE in the East.

After President Rajapaksa came to power in November 2005, there was an initial period of violence and short-lived talks between the LTTE and the Government in December 2005 and January 2006. Large-scale violence resumed in April 2006. Talks were eventually held in Geneva in October 2006, but were inconclusive. In January 2008 the Government of Sri Lanka abrogated the Ceasefire Agreement.

In the period January - May 2009 the Government of Sri Lanka captured the last remaining LTTE strongholds in Northern Sri Lanka and in May 2009 announced that it had captured all land previously held by the LTTE. All senior LTTE leaders, including Prabhakaran, had been killed in the final stages of the battle.

Towards the end of the fighting, high numbers of civilians are believed to have been killed and injured as a result of the heavy fighting. There was no independent access to the conflict zone and international concern has been raised about the conduct of hostilities by both sides in the final months of the conflict.

An estimated 300,000 civilians were displaced as a result of the fighting and placed in camps in northern Sri Lanka. International attention focused on improving conditions for them and for other longer-term displaced civilians, and supporting the Government to return Internally Displaced People (IDPs) to their areas of origin. By November 2011, the number remaining in government camps had fallen to approximately 7,000, but many more had been unable to return to their former areas of residence.


Through the Department for International Development (DFID), the UK provided £13.5 million between 2008 and March 2011 in response to the humanitarian needs resulting from the conflict which ended in May 2009. All funds were channelled through humanitarian agencies such as the UN, non-governmental organisations and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Our aid helped to provide emergency shelter, cash grants to displaced people, safe water and sanitation, medical care, mine clearance, help for people to recover their livelihoods, and logistical support for the aid effort. Although this programme has now come to an end, a £3 million demining programme will enable more people to return safely to their homes and land in areas affected by the conflict.

While the UK does not have a long-term bilateral aid programme for Sri Lanka, UK funding continues to be provided through our contributions to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the European Union


Bilateral relations are good. The former Defence Secretary, Dr Fox, visited Sri Lanka in July 2011. Alistair Burt, Minister for South Asia, visited Sri Lanka in February 2011. Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Peiris visited the UK in October 2010 and met the Foreign Secretary.

Previous visits by UK Ministers to Sri Lanka include:
-- April and October 2009, then Minister of State at DFID, Mike Foster

-- April 2009, then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband (in conjunction with Bernard Kouchner, French Foreign Minister).

-- July 2008, then Minister of State, Lord Malloch Brown.

There are approximately 300,000 Sri Lankans settled in Britain, divided between Sinhalese and Tamils.

Cultural Relations with the UK

The British Council has English Teaching Centres in Colombo (one of the fastest growing in the network with well over 3,000 students) and Kandy, and is involved in English language projects throughout the island. It also runs busy libraries at the teaching centres, and maintains a lively arts programme.

The Council runs an education information service that offers detailed information on all aspects of the British education system, and administers exams in Colombo and Kandy.

In Sri Lanka the Council also works closely with the Ministry of Education on its education reform agenda, particularly at Primary level.

Back to the Top


Sri Lanka is about half the size of England and lies close to the southern tip of India and near the equator. From the coast, the land rises to a central massif more than 1500 m above sea level. The climate is hot and humid - monsoon from May to September and the north-east monsoon from November to March: rainfall, particularly in the south-west, is heavy.

Sri Lanka was severely affected by the tsunami on 26 December 2004, which killed some 40,000 people and displaced 400,000 – 500,000 thousand people along two thirds of the north-east, south and south-west coastline. Half the fishing fleet was destroyed, and a quarter of hotels in the affected areas sustained serious damage.

Severe flooding also affected Eastern Sri Lanka in January – February 2011, destroying crops and temporarily displacing thousands from their homes.

Back to the Top


The UK exported £117 million worth of goods to Sri Lanka in 2010. 2009 exports from Sri Lanka to the UK were worth around £612m and dominated by the textiles and apparel industry.

The UK is Sri Lanka’s second largest trading partner by volume and its second largest Western export partner. UK companies provided US $300 million of foreign direct investment in Sri Lanka in 2009. This amounts to over 10% of all foreign direct investment in Sri Lanka, more than any other country apart from China.

More UK tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2009 than from any other Western nation. British tourists account for 17% of arrivals with around 105,000 visitors in 2010.

Back to the Top


Political History

Since independence from Britain in February 1948, the political scene has been dominated by two parties: the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is now the main party in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The SLFP was founded by S W R D Bandaranaike, who was Prime Minister until he was assassinated in 1959 by a Buddhist extremist. His widow, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became leader of the SLFP and served as both Prime Minister and leader of the opposition.

A republican constitution was adopted in 1972 and the ruling coalition, led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, gave itself an extra two years in power. The UNP returned to power in 1978 and adopted a new constitution based on an executive presidency. It introduced for the first time elections based on proportional representation. The UNP's Ranasinghe Premadasa won the presidential election in 1988 and served as President until his assassination in 1993.

By this time the SLFP had become part of the People’s Alliance (PA) coalition headed by Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, daughter of SWRD and Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Mrs Kumaratunga went on to win a landslide victory in elections in November 1994 and 1999 and served as President until November 2005. The PA also won the Parliamentary elections in October 2000. In 2001, less than a year after being re-elected, the PA lost their majority. The United National Front coalition, led by UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe, won elections with 109 seats and the President’s PA came second with 77 seats, which led to an arrangement of political cohabitation between two rival parties, with the PA’s leader as President and the UNP’s leader as Prime Minister.

In November 2003, President Kumaratunga sacked three key ministers, taking over their portfolios (including defence), and declared a state of emergency on the grounds of national security. This was lifted a few days later. No agreement on working arrangements was reached between the President and Prime Minister, and in January 2004, the SLFP signed an alliance with the JVP forming the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

In February 2004, the then President dissolved Parliament and called general elections in April. The elections in April 2004 produced a new political order with the victory of the UPFA (SLFP and JVP alliance). Support for the traditional parties dropped, and smaller parties - JVP, TNA and JHU - gained significant numbers of seats. The UPFA formed a minority government. In September 2004, the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC - representing Indian-origin Tamils) with eight seats joined the Government giving it a small majority. In June 2005 the JVP left the Government after the President decided to sign a post-tsunami funding arrangement with the LTTE.

In November 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa (SLFP) was elected President with 50.3% of the vote. The LTTE enforced a boycott of the poll in key Tamil areas. This resulted in extremely low voter participation in the north and east of the country. Ranil Wickremesinghe, UNP Presidential candidate and Leader of the Opposition took 48.4%. In January 2007, a number of UNP members joined the Government side giving it a parliamentary majority. A cabinet reshuffle followed. Throughout 2008 and 2009 the UPFA won a series of victories in Provincial Council elections.

Latest Political Developments

Early Presidential elections took place in January 2010. President Rajapaksa’s main challenger was the former Sri Lankan Army General Sarath Fonseka, who was supported by a number of opposition parties including the UNP, JVP and TNA. Both candidates’ campaigns focussed on their respective roles in the military defeat of the LTTE in May 2009. On 27 January 2010, the Sri Lankan Election Commissioner announced that President Rajapaksa had won the presidential election with 58% of the vote. Independent election monitors expressed broad satisfaction with the conduct of the poll on election day, which attracted a 70% turnout, but highlighted a number of concerns about campaign conduct including the high incidence of pre-election violence. Fonseka announced that he planned to contest the result in court.

Following the Presidential election, Fonseka was arrested on charges of campaigning whilst in uniform and corruption over military procurement contracts. Courts martial found Fonseka guilty on both charges and he was dishonourably discharged and sentenced to 30 months in prison. As a result of the prison sentence, he lost his seat as an MP, having been elected to Parliament in the April 2010 elections. He was also charged under the Emergency Regulations and Penal Code for creating terror and panic by his statement that senior military officials had ordered surrendering LTTE leaders to be killed and sentenced to three years in prison.

Parliamentary elections took place in April 2010. Overall voter turnout was 61%, although much lower in some areas, including the north. Following the re-polling in two districts due to electoral irregularities, the final result confirmed victory for President Rajapaksa’s UPFA, which won 144 of the 225 seats, leaving it just six seats short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution. Shortly after the announcement of the final result, DM Jayaratne of the SLFP was named Prime Minister. A Cabinet reshuffle followed, reducing it from 52 to 37 members. Key roles were given to the President’s brother, Basil Rajapaksa, heading a new ministry of Economic Development, which will have oversight of all major areas of economy, including ports, tourism and foreign investment. Former Trade Minister GL Peiris was appointed Foreign Minister, replacing Rohita Bogollagama, who lost his parliamentary seat in the elections. As of December 2011, the Government now has 161 seats due to a number of crossovers.

Back to the Top


Sri Lanka is a signatory to all six core human rights instruments.

The human rights picture in Sri Lanka is mixed. Despite progress in certain areas, human rights remained a serious concern. Significant progress is still needed to address the institutional weaknesses that allow for frequent human rights abuses. Terrorist suspects continue to be held without charge for long periods. There are continued restrictions on freedom of expression, political violence, reports of torture in custody, continued cases of disappearances and almost no progress in investigating past disappearances. No concrete progress was made in holding accountable those alleged to be responsible for violations of international humanitarian law during the final stages of the war. The government continues to focus on post-conflict reconstruction, including the resettlement of civilians displaced during the conflict and made progress reintegrating former LTTE fighters back into society. The report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC ) appointed by President Rajapaksa in May 2010, to look into causes of the conflict from 2002 to May 2009, was published on 16 December. It made wide-ranging recommendations including on ongoing human rights issues, which the Sri Lankan government committed to consider. In December, the Cabinet approved the National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (NHRAP).

In autumn 2006 President Rajapaksa announced the establishment of a special Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the most serious allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka over the preceding 12 months. The President mandated that a parallel group, the Independent International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP), should also be created with a remit to oversee the work of the CoI and ensure compliance with international norms. The IIGEP withdrew from Sri Lanka in 2008, citing a lack of co-operation from the Government. The CoI submitted its final report to the President in 2009, which set out the results of its investigations into just over half of the cases assigned to it. There has not yet been any follow up.

In October 2008, the European Commission launched an investigation into Sri Lanka’s implementation of three UN conventions in the context of GSP+, which is an EU incentive scheme for vulnerable countries that adhere to human rights conventions, labour rights, environment and good governance. The European Commission released its report in October 2009, which highlighted failings in Sri Lanka’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. On 15 December 2009, the European Commission released its formal proposal recommending the withdrawal of GSP+ benefits from Sri Lanka. On 15 February 2010, the EU voted to suspend Sri Lanka from the GSP+ scheme, which took effect on 15 August 2010.

In October 2009, the EU expressed its concern about reports of severe harassment of journalists, restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. It repeated concerns in November 2011, calling on the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure that the rights of the free media are respected.

In May 2010, President Rajapaksa announced the establishment of the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ to look into causes of the conflict from 2002 to May 2009. The Commission has eight members from all three ethnic groups and is chaired by a former Attorney General. Its report was handed to the President on 20 November and has not yet been published.

Back to the Top

Last Updated: February 2012

Sri Lanka Main Page Country Profiles Main Page


Click any image to enlarge.

National Flag

(₨) Sri Lanka Rupee (LKR)
Convert to Any Currency


Locator Map