The events of 2015 set out a path of reform to strengthen our democracy and institutions, entrench respect for human rights and the rule of law. We saw pledges made to take the essential steps needed to learn from our past such that we could ensure that future generations of Sri Lankans of all backgrounds are free from conflict, violence and would enjoy their rights as equal citizens of our country.
While certain interest groups have questioned the legitimacy and need for reform, we must acknowledge that unquestionably, the desire, demand and directive for reform came directly from the people. Sri Lankans, in 2015, understood that long term peace and prosperity can only come about if all citizens and all communities believe that they are part of a nation that respects the rule of law, human rights, dignity for all and promotes inclusivity.
- We must acknowledge that unquestionably, the desire, demand and directive for reform came directly from the people
- A new curriculum module on Reconciliation is also being piloted in 7 key higher education institutes in 2018
- National budget for 2018 has allotted a total of Rs. 12.5 billion, directly for reconciliation related activities in the year 2018.
- Budget provides for a special program to address the needs of the differently abled men and women in the Northern and Eastern provinces
- Over the years of 2016 and 2017 a total of 16,250 houses have been built and handed over to those who were most affected by the brutal conflict
Over the course of the past few years key reconciliation initiatives were undertaken via Arts and Culture, Conflict Transformation and Interfaith Dialogues, Education, University Engagement, Livelihood and Community Development, Psycho-Social Support, Women for Reconciliation, and Public Outreach to build agendas to sustain peace. Government officials, youth and religious leaders have been trained for community-based conflict transformation projects.
The Office on National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) have succeeded in conducting religious harmony programmes involving 250,000 students as participants from the 4 major religions. In addition, under ONURs’ “Sahodara Paasal / Paadasaalai” scheme for school children, 5-day residential camps were conducted, where students from different provinces learnt to live together and be change-makers in their respective schools. A new curriculum module on Reconciliation is also being piloted in 7 key higher education institutes in 2018 with partnership with the University Grants Commission where it aims at building social cohesion among students from different communities. Psycho-social counsellors have also been trained and deployed in the field, to provide support to individuals in need, particularly women and youth.
The national budget for 2018 too is unprecedented. It has allotted a total of Rs. 12.5 billion, directly for reconciliation related activities in the year 2018. These allocations include; Rs.1,000 million to uplift indebted people in the North and North Central provinces via credit cooperation societies. Rs. 750 million to begin construction of 50,000 brick and mortar houses, Rs. 2,500 million to strengthen reconciliation-centred economic empowerment and social infrastructure development. In addition the budget provides for a special program to address the needs of the differently abled men and women in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
In terms of resettlement, over the years of 2016 and 2017 a total of 16,250 houses have been built and handed over to those who were most affected by the brutal conflict. In comparison to previous years, from the close of the conflict to 2015, there were only 6,666 houses built on average per year. However, the last two years saw over 8,100 houses built on average. The most noteworthy fact however, is not the number of houses, but that all these houses were financed by the national budget without the support of foreign aid, a stark contrast in comparison to pre-2016.
Similarly, notable steps towards addressing the question of missing people has been taken. Sri Lanka has been grappling with the question of the missing since the youth insurrections of 1971.
However even-as multiple presidential commissions were created, concrete action on this issue was lacking. Today we have to reckon with the unfortunate fact that over 16,000 Sri Lankans, including over 5,100 Security-Forces personnel, originating from all over Sri Lanka are listed as missing. In a backdrop such as this we saw the creation of a permanent office, accountable to Parliament, to deal with these issues i.e. Office on Missing Persons (OMP). It is hoped that with the appointment of Commissioners and effective operationalization of the OMP, the pain caused through the ambiguity in not knowing what has happened to a missing loved one would be, hopefully, alleviated.
Undoubtedly there are several other issues that need to be addressed,such as the need to establish; a better reparations profile; the truth via understanding narratives conflict; and holding to account those most responsible for offences committed against our own people. This is of course in addition to furthering the work that has been undertaken during the last few years.
Nevertheless, for such work to continue we the people must support and reaffirm the mandate we created in 2015. We must express our continued backing for the work being done and explicitly reject abject efforts to sow hostility and discord amongst us by various groups whose agendas are self-serving and are interested in solely in securing privileges for a select few.
Tharaka W.B. Hettiarachchi
Master of Diplomacy and Trade (Monash University)
BA International Business Management (University of Nottingham)