Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

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Archive for May, 2017

Reflections; eight years after the war ended

Posted by harimpeiris on May 24, 2017

                                                                                                                      By Harim Peiris
                                                                                             (Published in the Island of 24th May 2017)

Earlier this month, on May 19th to be exact, Sri Lanka marked the eight anniversary of the ending of our long drawn out civil war. As Sri Lanka moves beyond the violence and conflict which marked our near three decades long conflict, it is necessary to look back and see what we have accomplished and what more needs to be done, to ensure that Sri Lanka moves from a no-war situation to a sustainable or durable peace situation.

The end of the civil war is a historic opportunity for Sri Lanka to make a fresh start, to rebuild institutions of the state, which are inclusive and at least accommodate if not exactly celebrate our diversity as a nation. The reality of our war, was that it tapped into the alienation of ethnic minorities from the Sri Lanka state. The debate at the start of the Yahapalana Government, of singing the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil at the National day celebration, the near hysteria of some opponents of this simple gesture of inclusiveness, is an indicator of the entrenched nature of what LTTE suicide bomb victim and former Parliamentarian Dr. Neelen Tiruchelvam described as the “anomaly of imposing a mono ethnic state on a multi ethnic polity”.

A post war situation in any society poses serious challenges and especially so, when the war has been a civil conflict fought along ethnic lines. There is a need to address both the effects as well as the causes of the conflict, to ensure that such conflict does not re-occur and that the hard-won peace is sustainable and durable. Despite being within sight of a near decade after the end of the war, we still have a long way to go to address both the effects and causes of our war.

Addressing the effects of our war

Sri Lanka’s civil war had a significant negative impact on all her citizens from missed opportunities to weakening democratic institutions, seriously negating our economic development and generally sapping our national vitality. But there were direct victims of the conflict, people who lost their family members, relatives, other loved ones, the injured, the maimed and those who suffered loss of property or homes. We have a long way to go as yet, to address these issues. The former conflict areas of the North and East has perhaps fifty thousand young war widows and young women headed households, where the men folk are missing. These people are still in desperate need and the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts on going in the former conflict areas, seem to have missed them.  Besides this the number of people still displaced from their properties and living as internally displaced persons (IDP)s in the North and East, is also about approximately forty thousand, besides the Muslims chased out of Jaffna and Mannar by the LTTE, who have made their homes in Puttlam, perhaps still wanting to return to their districts of origin.

Expanding civil society space

Given the challenges of addressing the very human problems of the war affected communities, a conscious decision of the Yahapalanaya Administration has been to expand the civil society space in the former conflict areas, for the non-commercial and the voluntary sector, to engage themselves in assisting the war affected communities. Regrettably there was some missed opportunities and lost time right after the end of the war to accelerate the process of dealing with the effects of the war. While the rebuilding of the essential public infrastructure took place, a more community based relief and rehabilitation effort focusing on human needs, including psychosocial and livelihood issues has tended to get neglected. Given the shear scope of the needs of the communities of the war affected areas, especially the rural poor in the North and East, the government’s response and resources are often inadequate and should be supplemented and assisted by both civil society and increasingly as we move forward by the private commercial sector, for regional economic development and employment generation.

The other rather obvious stakeholder in Sri Lankan society is the large Sri Lankan diaspora, largely ethnic Tamils, who fled the civil war and are now domiciled and largely prosperous in the West. Sadly, they largely funded Sri Lanka’s civil war, the LTTE was not funded by the farmers and fishermen of the Vanni, but by the Tamil diaspora, well organized by the LTTE. It is in Sri Lanka’s own interest that post war, the Diaspora channel their passion for Sri Lanka, creatively rather than destructively and become commercial investors and supporters of reconstruction and a new Sri Lanka.

Addressing the causes of the war

Addressing the causes of the war has been more elusive and to the extent that addressing the effects of the war is a common interest of all stakeholders, addressing the causes of the war poses a more competing interest between ethnic groups. However, Sri Lanka’s unfinished task of nation building, the attempt to create a Sri Lankan state which is inclusive of all her communities and reflective of the diversity of her society has been an ongoing exercise even during the height of the conflict. From President Kumaratunga’s devolution proposals which led to the draft constitution of 2000 and subsequently President Rajapaksa’s All Party Conference (APC) and its technical All Party Representative Committee (APRC) the political dialogue has been ongoing and some contours of an agreement and common ground has been found. A lot of this common ground centers around various powers already devolved to the provincial councils and a full or fuller implementation of the 13th amendment which does not require any further constitutional reform or referendum is perhaps an important step in having a more inclusive state.

Finally, the leadership of the Tamil community in Sri Lanka has swung decisively away from the extremist armed groups represented by the LTTE, back to the traditional ruling elites of the Tamil community organized around the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK). It is again in Sri Lanka’s own interest that the democratic and moderate leadership of the TNA, be successful in partnering in a new Sri Lanka, in a reconciliation process, which addresses both the effects and the causes of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.

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