The way forward for post-conflict Sri Lanka

29 November 2011 04:23 am - 4     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


‘Reconciliation: The way forward for post conflict Sri Lanka’ was a forum held at the Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute where eminent speakers spoke on various aspects of reconciliation  under their areas of specialty.
The day’s programme was divided into sessions and the first session was chaired by terrorism expert Prof. Rohan Gunaratna head of ICPVTR, Singapore. He asked his two panelists Former Attorney General Mohan Peiris and MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesingha on ‘Promise and potential for reconciliation: challenges and opportunity’.

Session two was on economic development in the reconciliation process and the contribution of the public and private sectors. The occasion saw a leading apparel manufacturer Brandix speak of their experience in the East while a few of the public servants spoke of their efforts.

“Reconciliation through economic development – Private sector participation”
 - General Manager Brandix East Theordore Gunasekara

Speaking on his company’s experience when they first moved to Punani in  Batticaloa to open a factory, their main aim was to give a chance to those who had none while testing the ground for future factories. They made use of the tax holiday and initially employed 100 youth from the area with great difficulty. Since most of the persons could not read, write and attend school, they were forced to rewrite their selection criteria. Now, the factory that employees a total of 500 persons has proven to be a success story.
They set up a training centre to teach young girls to operate a sewing machine and before they did so they had to break the ice and bring all the communities living in disharmony to accept individuals outside their caste and ethnicity. They had to instill in them the values of working as a team and principles to reach high efficiency and smooth functioning of the factory once it started, Mr. Gunasekara said.
He said that they went to IDP camps in search of employees and thousands of interviews before meeting persons who had the potential to be trained. He said when they overcame the manpower hunt they were faced with yet another difficulty of providing power to their factory which he was thankful to the Government for bringing a special grid to Batticaloa and covering the factory necessities during the trying times.

“Sri Lanka’s approach to reconciliation using restorative justice Vs. retributive justice”

-Former Attorney General and Special Advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers Mohan Peiris
Speaking on transitional justice he said that in the global trend and broad sense it means to recover from a period of violence.  It is essential to develop a home grown solution to the problems that started in our home land, he added. Transitional justice is a range of responses available for use in societies which have gone through a period of violence. One has to retrace it to the African continent and globally it is said that transitional justice is to be linked to the value of dignity or humanity; it is a shift from confrontation to mediation and reconciliation, he further stated.  According to him transitional justice could be a mix and match of restorative and retributive justice.

The entire concept is the essence of being humane; quite similar to the quality ‘Maithree’ described in Buddhism which we have great faith in.
This is restorative justice. As you see the concept is as wide as ever for the essence of being humane, Mr Peiris noted. According to him the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) points to truth commissions, security sector reforms and memorialization reforms as a few options in delivering transitional justice that are not mutually exclusive. “Do we use them alternately or do we mix them up, when we talk of reconciliation?” Mr. Peiris questioned. Speaking of the efforts to reintegrate ex-combatants, he asked whether we can be purely restorative.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan gave another meaning to transitional justice  which is similar to the LLRC report on the root of law. He said that the Government considered the idea of Kofi Annan who said that the full range of coming to terms with a legacy of large scale abuses was to serve justice, reconciliation and accountability. Kofi Annan at the time recognized a need for a locally tailored mechanism for human rights violations. He said the UN is now looking for nationally led strategies for accountability and reconciliation. If this was relevant then it is equally relevant now, Mr Peiris emphasized.

“Transitional justice options should not be selected by the people of this country, more to do with outsiders’ expectations more than what is required by ground,” Mr. Peiris said. He said that a home grown mechanism to make sure that it works is the right and prudent way to locate peace building efforts on the sovereignty of the people.

“We looked at comparative experiences from Argentina, South Africa, Cambodia and Sierra Leon, we found that prosecutions alone would not heal the wounds of the past,” Mr Peiris highlighted. The country had to balance the criminal trials which are retributive in nature. Therefore he goes on to say that Transitional justice is a mix of both restorative and retributive justice. From whatever angle we looked at it there are four pillars of international norms in structuring a home grown mechanism of international legal principles such as the right to know, right to justice, right to justice and remedy and recurrence. He said the ideal model perceived incorporated all those principles into the Lesssons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) or the mandate of the LLRC. They focus on concerns that were real to people at that moment, reflect on the past and learn from the recent history to assure an era of peace and harmony amongst the people.

He said they cannot discount other restorative mechanisms such as the National Action Plan for the Protection of Human Rights. The country confirmed and fully endorsed to give greater impetus to international peace and formulate a national action plan to improve all areas and targets of five years which is an initiative to protect human rights.

The National Action Plan commenced in 2009  and passed by the cabinet will be available at Government departments in a short while. Speaking of its manifesto, he said there was a clear commitment to promote and protect a strong HR culture. He added that the LLRC and the national action plan were not the only stories of transitional justice in the post conflict period; caring for the IDPs and the process of resettlement are also a part of restorative justice. 

“It’s about reconciliation and promoting reconciliation work of the govt.”

 Member of Parliament Prof. Rajiva Wijesingha
Starting his speech Prof. Wijesingha said that “Talking about reconciliation, one should talk about love and charity.” Pointing to the Buddhist principle ‘Metta,’ he said that we see an excess of self righteousness in the context of retributive and restorative justice. Punishment required and many who are guilty of manifold death were forced into action, Prof. Rajiva stated. We should stress on ensuring to come to terms with what happened to their loved ones;  in some cases the search extends to the last decade, he noted. Many complaints are for means of clarification not punishment but understanding and support, he added. It is not to say that prima facie cases are not to be looked at but not to be persuaded on cases of manipulated evidence, he pointed out. “LLRC is spot on and the Government has not done enough. Why are those tasks of fulfilling not detailed? I hope the recommendations the LLRC make help us better,” Prof. Wijesingha opined. 

It was claimed two years ago that the resettlement programme will be delayed but the resettlement of IDPs now remains complete. It was also claimed that we would hold back re-integrating the former LTTE cadres. The Government didn’t hold back, they rehabilitated all but now a few remain at the rehabilitation centres, he stressed. “I do not blame the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) for making allegations that more than 200,000 IDPs remain to be resettled, Government has not replied to the TNA's allegations. We should have replied to it at Parliament and outside. Positive actions need to be communicated and transferred,” Prof. Wijesingha emphasized.

“National Savings Bank told us in Parliament that they opened many branches in the North and when asked how many were situated outside Jaffna they said none,” he recalled. Speaking of the post conflict planning he said that the country and the civil administration was faced with a situation new to them and the representatives of the public didn’t have plans for their people. They did not have experience of the planning process and as a result although the North and East have many new bridges there weren’t half that number of decent bridges to get to them, he added.

Then addressing the issue of militarization in the North Prof Wijesingha said that it was only natural that military personnel were offered responsibilities of civil administration since they were more efficient than the public servants as they knew how to work under contingency. He said that an ambassador asked him why they appointed a military man as the resettlement commissioner and the reason behind it was his efficiency when compared to the previous person who did not make the most in his role. Therefore he stressed the need for bilingual and tri-lingual training, technology and language development and engagement in joint projects. He also stressed on the importance of a coherent education system with creative teachers and competent administrators enhanced by character and personality development as well as skills and tertiary training in management and entrepreneurship and community development to get rid of the culture of dependency.  The public sector has no role to play other than promoting the skills and capacities of the people while helping those who have suffered and most of all help people realize their own potential.

Jaffna GA Imelda Sukumar

Reconciliation is the way forward for the post conflict Sri Lanka. And the Jaffna district has 15 divisional secretariat divisions with 1405 villages comprising of 614,577 persons.
The GA’s office has been instrumental in rebuilding divisional secretariats and circuit bungalows. We have realized the importance of capacity building and diversity building programmes to bring the youth together and get them to interact with each other imprinting in them the concept of cross culture and multi culturalism.

“Emerging reconciliation initiatives in the North by the Security Forces”

Conflict is an unavoidable situation in life; peace is the most complex concept in human history, in that endeavour the Government is doing its best to augment the process of long term sustainable peace. “We are trying to change our image from that a fighter to that of a protector,” Gen. Hathurusinghe said.

Security Force Commander Jaffna Gen. Mahinda Hathurusinghe
This is a trying task for which the security forces are willing to work hard, he said. The security forces he pointed out were the most organized arm of administration when compared to the war battered civil administration in the Jaffna district. Speaking of their various initiatives he said that they developed a committee system to work together with the public assisting them in their endeavours like rebuilding houses using the manpower within the security forces and at times they went ahead and found means to donate money to buy the necessary raw materials for the houses that needed to be rebuilt.

Speaking of the livelihood support he said that every inch of the sea was returned to the public without any restriction of a high security zone to engage in fisheries as their main source of income. Meanwhile, speaking of their other livelihood promoting initiatives he said they completed 232 home gardening projects while providing machinery for back yard poultry and cattle farming.

The stigma in the Jaffna district in terms of caste differences rides high and the public refrained from donating blood to one another at a time. The security forces took it upon themselves to donate the required amount of blood and now we can proudly say that our blood is in you, Gen. Hathurusinghe said. He applauded the efforts of the Jaffna Hospital staff and despite their shortcomings they work without labour strikes and the security forces help with medical camps from time to time to ease the pressure on the hospital.

Special projects are established to look into children’s welfare in the area; as a result of which construction of playgrounds and nurseries were implemented.

 We encourage the ex combatants to take up livelihood initiatives such as crab farming and aloe Vera cultivation. We have also laid special emphasis on rebuilding schools and religious places of worship, he added.

“The responsibility of Media in reconciliation was the topic handled”

Former Uthayan Editor Noel Nadesan
Media is equally responsible for reconciliation. The media was used by both sides considering the role it could have played in saving the lives of the people.

The emerging pattern points to pluralism in the English media while the Tamil media is self destructing if not boasting the Eelam dream.

Journalists applied pressure that did not please political parties easily if not coerced.

But the behaviour of the Tamil media is not responsible for it; it denied its duty towards the public and the masses that were heavily dependant upon them. The media that was expected to be critical played god to the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam. They should have stayed critical but they failed to see the reality, I don't know whether they were convicted by the LTTE, he argued.

Questioning the Tamil media’s inkling towards the LTTE, he said it did not question the actions and repercussions of the decisions made by the LTTE during the last stage of the war.  “Why did the Tamil media mislead the Tamil community saying that the LTTE will rise when they were being defeated time after time,” he questioned.

Also he questions why they didn’t question the LTTE strategies to assassinate all the Tamil militants and leaders, ethnic cleansing of Muslims from north and most importantly the killing of Rajiv Gandhi which was also easily justified by the media. It is a shame to say that the Tamil media did not question why youth were sacrificed for the glory of one man.

“We lost the cause since we refused to look beyond violence. We abandoned the innocents and we lost all our credible leaders” he said. Should we blame the businessmen or journalists or the Tamil community for failing? Finally he said “it was depressing for me to criticize the Tamil media which I'm a part of”.

  Comments - 4

  • johnbass Tuesday, 29 November 2011 12:46 PM


    raj Wednesday, 30 November 2011 03:20 AM

    if Hitler alived today, he would have asked the world to let his government to reconcile with Jewish after the massacare.

    mano ganeshan Tuesday, 29 November 2011 05:07 PM

    Excellent initiative and excellent reporting.

    mano ganeshan Tuesday, 29 November 2011 05:11 PM

    Excellent event and excellent reporting

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