Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • August 2010
    M T W T F S S

Why the lessons learned; reconciliation commission must deliver

Posted by harimpeiris on August 19, 2010

Chitta Ranjan De Silva PC, eminent lawyer and  former attorney general, better known as CR De Silva, heads the lessons learnt and reconciliation commission, the body tasked by the president among other things to ensure that Sri Lanka is not forced to relieve its bitter, polarized and strife torn history of the past three decades.

It was Ambassador Dr.Dayan Jayatilake who coined the phrase “post, post 9/11”, to indicate a global policy shift away from the blinkered war on terror and unilateralism of the George W Bush era. Under President Obama, once again, dialogue, diplomacy and multilateralism are making a comeback. It is within this context that Sri Lanka finds that the international space she enjoyed in fighting and defeating the LTTE has shrunk significantly in the post war period.

The major reason for this is of course substantive. Few if any countries were willing to line up in support of, or act in defense of the LTTE. The LTTE was a banned terrorist organization from India to the US and Canada, from the EU to Australia. Especially the US Republican Administration that had backed the Ranil Wickramasinge led Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) driven peace process, held the LTTE largely responsible for its collapse and viewed the LTTE as the major obstacle to peace in Sri Lanka. Neither did Indian policy makers or the public have any love or affection for the killers of Rajiv Gandhi. Accordingly the world supported Sri Lanka’s war against the LTTE, through arms sales, intelligence sharing and crack downs on Tamil Diaspora fundraising. So we fought our war with Israeli Kfir jets, Czech multi barrel rocket launches, Russian main battle tanks (MBTs), Pakistani ammunition and Indian naval intelligence. But now Prabhakan and Pottu Amman and their families are dead, their erstwhile deputy Karuna is a minister in the government and their successor KP is a state guest / detainee in Colombo.

The leadership of the Tamil Community in Sri Lanka has once again reverted to its traditional upper caste political elite, who have demonstrated their popular legitimacy through the democratic process of the general elections and the world will just not tolerate us treating Rajavarothiam Sambanthan MP and the Tamil people in quite the same way we militarily dealt with Prabhakan and the LTTE. The lessons learnt and reconciliation commission has the potential to lay the ground work and policy framework that can lead to ethnic reconciliation and a more inclusive Sri Lankan State, reflective of the full diversity of her peoples.

There are several factors that the Commission can take into consideration. They can be categorized as the immediate or short term measures, the medium term measures and the long term measures.


The immediate, short term measures

The immediate short term measures that are required are the humanitarian needs of the conflict affected people of the North and East. Generally what has occurred in the North has been release from the Manik Farm complex in Vavuniya and not really resettlement in localities of original habitation. Significant resources have to be devoted towards rebuilding dwellings, rural infrastructure geared towards livelihoods and community services especially health care and education. Also the people have suffered loss of property and persons. There is a need to document the same and prepare a scheme of compensation that can bring closure and assist in families moving on with their lives. Some of the immediate short term measures that can be recommended are;

(i)                  The establishment of a Commission or mechanism similar to the Manouri Muttetuwegama Commission established by the PA government in 1994, to document the missing from the JVP conflict of 1988/89, issue death certificates and devise a scheme of compensation.

(ii)                A second phase of the World Bank funded North East Housing Development Project, to create a home owner driven core housing unit for all IDP returnees / re-settlers.

(iii)               To facilitate the private and voluntary sector in providing services to the conflict affected returned IDP’s on a scale similar to the post Tsunami disaster period.


The medium term measures at reconciliation

The medium term approach in the North as well as in the East has to be geared towards winning the hearts and minds of the people of the North and East. This is through engaging with the political and civil leadership of the Tamil and indeed the Muslim communities and making these communities genuine stakeholders in the new post war Sri Lanka and partners in the progress processes in the Northern and Eastern provinces and nationally. Some medium term measures that can be recommended are;

(i)                  Hold the Northern Provincial Council election and recognize the Chief Minister so elected and the Council and make them partners and stake holders in the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in the North. The frustrations experienced by the elected (Tamil) Chief Minister of the Eastern Province, in  relation to the unelected (Sinhala) retired Military Officers appointed as Governors should not be allowed to be repeated in the North (and indeed resolved in the East).

(ii)                Implement the 13th Amendment, which is implemented everywhere else in the country, in the Northern Province as well.

(iii)               Consider a roll back of the Jaffna High Security (HSZ) zones, located in prime hereditary private property at least from the extreme artillery range extents imposed when the LTTE artillery threat existed, to the normal parameters used in other HSZs elsewhere in the country.

(iv)              Withdraw the emergency regulations and laws, (which indeed were allowed to lapse even during the CFA period and this is no ceasefire but post war victory). If not Sri Lanka will have the dubious distinction of being the only “peaceful” country governed under emergency laws and the suspension of or enjoyment of civil liberties only at executive pleasure.

The long term measures at an inclusive Sri Lankan State

The Commission if it does its work with diligence will capture the fundamental alienation of the ethnic minority communities and especially the Tamil community from the Sri Lankan State. Long term measures should be considered that makes Sri Lankan society more tolerant of its inherent pluralism and the Sri Lankan State more reflective of its rich diversity. It was LTTE murder victim and former TULF parliamentarian the late Neelan Tiruchelvam who articulated the anomaly of “imposing a (near) mono ethnic State on a multi ethnic polity”. Some measures that may be implemented in this regard are;

(i)                  Continue with the education and public administration reforms to ensure that Sri Lanka’s future generations and public service become multi lingual (as indeed has President Mahinda Rajapakse, to set the example).

(ii)                Recruit more ethnic minorities, especially Tamils into the public service and security services, especially for deployment in the North and East.

(iii)               Strengthen individual human rights and fundamental and democratic personal freedoms, by acceding to Sri Lanka’s international treaties and obligations through the passing of enabling domestic legislation.

The above measures are not exhaustive but are worth considering in Sri Lanka’s post war reconciliation and nation building process.

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