“Less passionate the long war throws
its burning thorn about all men,
caught in one grief, we share one wound,
and cry one dialect of pain.
We have forgot who fired the house,
whose easy mischief spilt first blood
under one raging roof we lie
the fault no longer understood.,
But as our twisted arms embrace
the desert where our cities stood,,
death’s family likeness in each face
must show, at last, our brotherhood.”
– Laurie Lee (1914-97)
“Sri Lanka now faces a moment of unprecedented opportunity. Rarely does such an opportunity come along without equally important attendant challenges. This is especially true of any meaningful effort towards post-conflict peace building following a protracted conflict. Sri Lanka’s case is no exception. Terrorism and violence have ended. Time and space have been created for healing and building sustainable peace and security so that the fruits of democracy and citizenship can be equitably enjoyed by all Sri Lankans. To this end, the success of ending armed conflict must be invested in an all-inclusive political process of dialogue and accommodation so that the conflict by other means will not continue.” Those were the wise words of the learned Commissioners of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission when they presented their final report one year ago.
They went on, “Based on what it heard from the people, the Commission is confident that the citizens are ready and willing to support consensual approaches advancing national interest, national reconciliation, justice and equality for all citizens, so long as the political leaders take the lead in a spirit of tolerance, accommodation and compromise.”
The LLRC made several practical suggestions to foster reconciliation in post-conflict Sri Lanka. Most of these recommendations remain unimplemented to date. The Government takes behind the fact that these are included in the National Action and will be implemented in due course. But there is bipartisan consensus between the major political parties on many of the LLRC recommendations. With political will, these could and should have been implemented immediately. It appears that it is this political will that is lacking. Recent developments in respect of one of the former LTTE stalwarts make this clear.
Reaching out to the people
These LTTE elements went by so many aliases, we lose track of their real name. So we shall refer to them by their assumed name by which the reader can easily identify them. One is KP who was recently released from supposed house arrest. Lakshman Hulugalle from the Media Centre for National Security says that there are no charges against KP and that he is going to be engaging in some NGO activity in the Vanni. Another report stated that KP was locating himself at the residence of the former head of LTTE’s Peace Secretariat the ever-smiling Thamilselvan who was killed in an aerial bombing attack by the Air Force. There was another report that he would be the conduit for the Government to talk to the Tamil diaspora. When the media pointed out that there was an Interpol warrant for KP’s arrest, media spokesperson was quick to deny that that KP had been absolved of all charges as Lakshman Hulugalle had first claimed. But he was silent about the man being released from house arrest and engaging in some NGO activity and talking to the Tamil diaspora.
If the Government is serious about reconciliation and wishing to enter into a dialogue with the Tamil community, their approach continues to be wrong. The Government is well aware that neither KP nor the Tamil diaspora represent the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Dialogue towards reconciliation should be with the elected representatives of the people. It should begin with the minority parties representing the Tamils and Muslims of the North, East and the Hill Country. This initial dialogue with the parties representing the minorities can include representatives of both the SLFP and UNP, because success of the dialogue will require consensus between the two major political parties of the South. Once broad lines of agreement have been reached, then the dialogue should be extended to include the other elected representatives of the majority community.
The Government cannot also be unaware that bypassing the TNA, which has shown repeatedly at elections that it enjoys the confidence of the Tamil people, and relying on ex-militants like Colonel Karuna (another alias), Douglas Devananda and now KP to bring the Tamil people into the mainstream is a futile exercise. At the last Eastern Provincial Council election, Colonel Karuna campaigned hard for his sister boasting that she would be the next Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. In the end, his sister could not poll enough votes even to get herself elected as a member of the Provincial Council.
Government must take the initiative
Reconciliation is the pre-requisite for any meaningful peace in the country. All parties undoubtedly recognize this but sadly seem unwilling to take the initiative. It is the Government that must take the initiative in this regard. As the LLRC Commissioners very rightly stated: “There must be willingness on the part of all political parties to give up adversarial politics and have consensual decision making on national issues. In order to meet the challenges of this opportunity there has to be courage and political will on the part of all political parties. Reconciliation cannot be achieved unless there is political commitment on the part of the leadership of all political parties and the leaders of all communities.
Representations before the Commission were equally loud and clear that the people of all communities are ready and willing, as they have always been, to use this opportunity to promote reconciliation, amity and cooperation if the political leadership from all parties on all sides of the ethnic divide, are willing and able to lead the way. The Commission was further informed that it is possible to do this if the political leaders of all successive Governments, including the present Government, can summon the political will and the courage to introspect and reflect on the past failures and agree to nurture consensual decision making on issues of national importance and do not resort to the adversarial politics of the past, that sought short term electoral gain as against the long term national interest.”
Reconciliation in the context of a long drawn out conflict is a long process. It will take a long time to heal the wounds and to change attitudes. It is not easy for a woman in the Vanni to forgive and forget that she has lost her husband and some children who have simply disappeared after surrendering to the security forces or killed due to shelling. It is not easy for a woman in Dehiwala to forgive and forget when the family’s breadwinner has been killed following a senseless LTTE bomb attack. It is not easy for a woman in Kattankudy to forgive and forget that the LTTE killed her husband inside a mosque. Nor is it easy for a family in Sampoor or Myliddy to forgive when their only house and land have been permanently lost because the Army needs it for their use citing security reasons. But the process of genuine reconciliation requires the government and the reconcilers to be patient and give a sensitive hearing to the stories of deprivation and to heal the wounds, wherever possible in a practical way. The ’ and ‘them’ divide must be broken. Confidence must be built that those who have the authority to do so are addressing to eradicate the root causes of the conflict and that everything possible is being done to prevent conflicts erupting again. The process of reconciliation must not be an attempt to gloss the wrongs of the past or even of the present, or to gloss over the loss of human dignity. One witness, a victim of apartheid, giving evidence before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa stated: “Reconciliation is only in the vocabulary of those who can afford it. It is non-existent to a person whose self-respect has been stripped away and poverty is a festering wound that consumes his soul”.
Democracy and Reconciliation
Reconciliation cannot also come about in a society that does not uphold the values of democracy, the rule of law and economic justice. Without these basic principles, any process of reconciliation will remain hollow and meaningless. For these to succeed, we will need a robust civil society and an activist religious leadership. Fortunately, we seem to have the germs of both here. But, in addition we need an independent and non-partisan judiciary, a non-politicised and professional Police Service and an impartial and socially conscious public service. The citizenry must be conscious of the need to fight authoritarianism and to safeguard the democraic rights of the people. It is an idealistic situation but one we need to work towards to bring about, hopefully in the not too distant future, a society that values human rights – social, economic, cultural, political and civic.
It is well to remember that the Preamble to the Constitution of Sri Lanka assures “to all peoples freedom, equality, justice, fundamental human rights and the independence of the judiciary as the intangible heritage that guarantees the dignity and well-being of the succeeding generations of the People of Sri Lanka and of all the People of the World.”