Sri Lanka: Conflict mapping and archiving

Related Project: International projects

November 23, 2017

Photo: Flickr/ Gerald Pereira

Documentation, research and investigations are all integral to the effectiveness of the transitional justice mechanisms that will be implemented in Sri Lanka. Each mechanism, including a truth commission and judicial mechanism, will need to have access to existing documentation as well as a sound understanding of the conflict – the kinds of violations that are alleged to have occurred, when and where, and who the victims were – in order to design their strategies on documentation, research and investigations.

The Conflict Mapping & Archive Project

PIAC established the Conflict Mapping and Archive Project (CMAP) to collect, analyse and preserve open source documentation in relation to the Sri Lankan civil war. This material will be used to develop a conflict map report. In addition to the report, PIAC hopes to develop a shared database with open-source (and non-confidential) documents in a fully searchable, electronic form to preserve and organise evidence and facilitate planning and research for transitional justice mechanisms.

What is a conflict map?

A conflict map is an overview of the incidents that occurred during a conflict, often organised by geography and chronology. It provides a detailed inventory and analysis of the types of violations, the scale of alleged violations, potential patterns of abuses, potential victims and perpetrators, and identifies possible evidentiary leads or sources relating to a conflict.

A conflict map is the first step for creating an informed approach to research and investigations for a truth commission and judicial mechanism.


The main objectives of the conflict mapping and archiving project are to:

  • build on existing inquiries and investigations as well as reliable information from media and civil society to establish a more detailed map of the conflict by region and chronology;
  • preserve relevant documentation in a searchable database for future judicial and truth-seeking initiatives and as a historical record;
  • provide a preliminary step essential for an informed research and investigation strategy for a truth commission and an informed prosecutorial strategy for a judicial mechanism; and
  • enable Sri Lanka’s transitional justice mechanisms to operate with greater efficiency, with an existing detailed, high-quality sketch of the conflict and access to the source documents in a searchable format.

Project partners and governance

PIAC leads the project, working closely with Colombo based non-government organisations. CMAP is overseen by an international expert advisory committee, comprising experts in documentation, mapping, investigations and transitional justice. Members include:

  • John Ralston (Chair), former Executive Director of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations, former Chief of Investigations at the United Nations (UN) International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and Chief Investigator at the UN Commission of Inquiry into Darfur.
  • Luc Côté, former Executive Director of the UN Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste (2006), the UN mapping exercise conducted in the DRC (2008), and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Kyrgyzstan (2011).
  • Brenda Hollis, Prosecutor of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (2014 onward), Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (2010-2013), Principal Trial Attorney in the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) (2007-2010), and has been an Expert Legal Consultant on international law and criminal procedure, training judges, prosecutors and investigators at courts and international tribunals in Indonesia, Iraq and Cambodia.
  • Howard Varney, senior program adviser at the International Center for Transitional Justice, previously a consultant to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the chief investigator for the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and assisted the Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in Timor-Leste with the compilation of its final report.

PIAC relies on its long-standing, extensive network of experts, pro bono lawyers from Herbert Smith Freehills and Clayton Utz and law student volunteers as resources for this project.

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