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Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
London, UK

Crisis Group Role

Alan Keenan is Crisis Group's Senior Consultant on Sri Lanka. Based in London, he coordinates and contributes to the organisation's research, publications and advocacy on Sri Lanka. Alan has lived and worked in Sri Lanka for extended periods since first visiting in February 2000. He has a PhD in political theory and has taught at various US colleges and universities before joining Crisis Group in 2006.

Areas of Expertise

  • Sri Lankan politics
  • Human rights and peacebuilding
  • Transitional justice
  • Democratisation

Professional Background

  • Visiting Scholar, University of Pennsylvania's Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict (2005-2006)
  • Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Peace and Conflict Studies, Bryn Mawr College (2003-2005) 
  • Consultant, Programme on Human Rights and Conflict, Law and Society Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka (2002-2004)
  • Visiting Fellow at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, Sri Lanka (2000-2003)
  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict, University of Pennsylvania (1999-2002)
  • Taught political, legal, and social theory in the Committee on Degrees in Social Studies at Harvard University (1996-1999) and at the Universities of California at Berkeley and Santa Cruz (1992-1996)
  • PhD, Political Theory, John Hopkins University (1995)

Select Publications

  • “‘Building the Conflict Back Better’: The Politics of Tsunami Relief and Reconstruction in Sri Lanka”, in Dennis B. McGilvray and Michele R. Gamburd eds.,  Tsunami Recovery in  Sri Lanka: Ethnic and Regional Dimensions (New York: Routledge, 2010)
  • “The Temptations of Evenhandedness: On the Politics of Human Rights and Peace Advocacy in Sri Lanka,” in Michel Feher, ed., Non Governmental Politics (New York: Zone Books, 2007)
  • "Building a Democratic Middle-Ground: Professional Civil Society and the Politics of Human Rights in Sri Lanka's Peace Process", in Jeff Helsing and Julie Mertus (eds.), Human Rights and Conflict: New Actors, Strategies and Ethical Dilemmas (Washington, DC, 2006)
  • "No Peace, No War: Have International Donors Failed Sri Lanka's Most Vulnerable?",Boston Review, Vol 30, No 3, Summer 2005
  • "Making Sense of Bindunuwewa: From Massacre to Acquittals", Law and Society Trust Review, Vol 15, No 212, June 2005
  • "Human Rights and Sacred Cows: Framing Violence, Disappearing Struggles", with Vasuki Nesiah, in Neve Gordon (ed.), From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights (New York, 2004)
  • "Critical Engagement or Constructive Engagement? Sri Lankan Civil Society at the Crossroads of Politics and Principle", Lines Magazine, Vol 3, No 1, May 2004
  • Democracy in Question: Democratic Openness in a Time of Political Closure (Stanford, 2003)
  • Working on a manuscript entitled "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: The Politics of Human Rights and Peacebuilding in Sri Lanka"

Languages

  • English (native)
  • French (fluent/conversant)
  • Sinhala (conversant)

In The News

25 Apr 2019
The president has tried to weaken [Sri Lanka's Prime Minister] in many ways, including taking the police under his control. So it's entirely possible that the police wouldn't share information with ministers not aligned with the president. AFP

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
23 Apr 2019
What these [Sri Lankan] bombings potentially do is take it from inertia and political infighting and rudderlessness to a real fear of instability. Fortune

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
24 Jun 2018
It is particularly damaging that the reasons the U.S. Government gave for leaving the Human Rights Council – for being hypocritical and biased, echo so closely criticisms that the previous Sri Lankan Government and many Lankan politicians in opposition and in the current Government have made about the Council’s engagement with and resolutions on Sri Lanka. The U.S. withdrawal will have lasting damage and will strengthen governments and politicians across the globe who prefer to be left to their own devices, even when this involves violating the fundamental rights of their own citizens. Sunday Observer

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
8 Mar 2018
There is good reason to believe [the Sinhala Buddhists attacks in Sri Lanka] are partly designed to provoke a Muslim response, which would then justify more violence against Muslims. Al Jazeera

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
6 Mar 2018
Many Sinhalese and Buddhists have [the sense] that Sri Lanka [is a] Sinhala and Buddhist island, and [that] other communities are here on the sufferance of the majority. The Guardian

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka
18 Feb 2018
The [Sri Lankan] government will need to figure out how to come together. They need to go back to the drawing board and return to their fundamental principles and start to deliver. CNN

Alan Keenan

Senior Consultant, Sri Lanka

Latest Updates

Op-Ed / Asia

Sri Lanka: Landslide win for the Rajapaksa puts democracy and pluralism at risk

Twice postponed because of COVID-19, Sri Lanka's parliamentary election finally took place on 5 August. The SLPP's electoral victory should be understood not simply as a result of dissatisfaction with rival party UNP, but of the failure of its internationally-backed liberal reform agenda to gain lasting traction with Sri Lankan voters.

Originally published in LSE South Asia Centre

Commentary / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Other COVID-19 Crisis: Is Parliamentary Democracy at Risk?

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government appears headed for a constitutional crisis that could lastingly damage Sri Lanka’s political institutions and aggravate conflict risks. Firm and concerted action by the country’s international partners could help break the impasse, which comes amid rising authoritarianism and anti-Muslim propaganda.

Q&A / Asia

Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election Brings Back a Polarising Wartime Figure

Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s decisive victory in Sri Lanka’s presidential election reflects voters’ concerns over security, poor economic prospects and ineffective governance – but also indicates the country’s dangerous ethnic polarisation. Many worry that Rajapaksa, a Sinhalese nationalist, will energise anti-Muslim campaigning and further alienate the Tamil community.

Commentary / Asia

Sri Lanka Election Sparks Fear of Return to Violent Past

Sri Lanka’s powerful Rajapaksa family appears to be making a political comeback, and presidential front runner Gotabaya Rajapaksa has a troubled, violent history with Tamils and Muslims. These groups and others worry Gotobaya’s election will leave them more vulnerable, and threatens fragile democratic progress after decades of war.

Our Journeys / Asia

Picturing Sri Lanka’s Undead War

Ten years after the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Crisis Group’s Sri Lanka Project Director Alan Keenan and Photographer Julie David de Lossy travelled 1,500km through ex-combat zones. They found a population finding ways to cope with their traumatic experiences and an extraordinary array of monuments to the war.