Focus has to be placed on urgent psychological needs of a disoriented society of dismembered families, on children whose life experiences have been only war, youth intoxicated with ethnic based hate and violence, women who have suffered on any basis of reckoning, be it loss of a husband, of children, of security of person as a woman, or just the simple factor of the inability to provide a home to one’s family and more importantly the general fear syndrome of having lived through the war for three decades.
To apportion responsibility for the war is of secondary importance although the reconciliation process must necessarily take cognizance of this aspect, objectively, in order to build the necessary bridges for reconciliation through restorative justice and avoid being retributive.
While the measures referred to above focuses on the North- East, it would be amiss if the trauma faced by rest of the country, particularly those living in the villages bordering the North and East are ignored. The ordeal of speculating about an unseen enemy with the power to subject a population en masse to terror attacks is immense.
By the end of the war it became possible to distinguish between the terrorist and the Tamil people, who themselves were for most of the time victims of an extraordinary situation, and has created an unimaginable amount of empathy for the ethnic minority communities. The information that gradually seeped in about the untold suffering that the minorities had faced had such an impact on the rest of the country that a spontaneous peace constituency has sprung up without the need for initiating any awareness programs. Many polls conducted to assess the mood of the South towards reconciliation and cohabitation support this assumption.
The President’s Address at the UN
The President, in his speech at the General Assembly on the 23rd of September 2010 stated, “The entire focus of the nation is now on building a lasting peace, healing wounds, ensuring economic prosperity and guaranteeing the rights of the whole nation to live in harmony; to fulfil these aspirations economic development and political reconciliation must go hand in hand.
Towards this end, the constitution which appropriately reflects the aspirations of our people will evolve with full participation of all stakeholders. Among them the challenges we face the greatest is healing the wounds of the recent past”.
This statement reflects the ideology as well as intent of the President to address the reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction processes comprehensively using a multi- pronged approach not only in the North and the East but in the entirety of the country.
Why then are we not hearing the bells of joy ringing in the North and East? Where have the missteps been? Many reasons are available, a few are discussed below.
Past Experiments at Resolution of the Ethnic Conflict – A Saga of Failure
The conventional strategy to heal ‘the wounds of the past’ and establish healthy trends in interpersonal relationships would be to adopt well tested techniques of negotiation used in conflict resolution. Direct negotiation or the use of independent intermediary or intermediaries has been the options used in situations similar to the Sri Lankan case. To make the process acceptable negotiations cannot be entirely a government initiative but must be a multi- pronged one with a well -structured format arrived at by consensual agreement by all the participating parties.
Sri Lanka has experimented at resolution of the nation’s long standing ethnic conflict through many avenues -direct negotiations between the government and the political parties representing non-minority interests, through international mediation as in the case of the Thimpu talks, through external facilitators as with the Norwegians, through the process of Parliamentary Select Committee, All Party Conference, (used twice), and lastly the LLRC Commission, the last two specially mandated by the governments of the time, the past and the present.
While awaiting the publication by the government of the LLRC Report submitted to the President, the political decision makers are once again experimenting with the process of using a Parliamentary Select Committee to search for ways and means of achieving peaceful cohabitation within a plural society.
So far, the processes that have been experimented with have failed for several reasons. Primarily, because the political will to settle the problem, has never been unequivocally conveyed to the public to ensure the creation of an appropriate environment for confidence and consensus building measures to take root. The premise for the resolution of the problem has been an ever- shifting platform, consistency in attitudes and approach being volatile from the beginning, post ’56 to date.
Within this confusing paradigm, the overall approach becomes most controversial when the question is posed as to whether there is an ethnic problem at all now that the war is over; sometimes the subject of discrimination as a major contributing factor to the ethnic problem is considered merely as perceptions and not as a fundamental concern. Yet another hurdle continues to be the persistent dilemma as to how much to concede for devolution, raising once again the question of the inherent rights of minorities, citizens of the country.
In the past experiments in negotiations for resolution of the ethnic problem, what made matters more complex was the failure by all the negotiating parties to understand the basic principles of compromise, of give and take in a negotiation process. It is a given factor, that in a shared responsibility to find solutions, no one party can expect to secure 100% of their demands, and concessions are a must if the process is to work. It is simply a question of ‘take some, give some’.
Another drawback has been that once decisions were arrived at, it should have been understood that all participating persons– equals in decision making – were jointly bound to uphold the decisions taken. However, many times in the past, the governments have time and again rescinded from implementing successfully concluded agreements under various pressures- political and religious.
This is only possible when the concept of equal partners is merely a theoretical position and the government takes shelter within its authoritative role, taking the mantle as the only effective decision maker. This failure to abide by the concept of equal partners as well as the obligation to uphold negotiated agreements have been a constant feature in all the past and present attempts at resolving the ethnic problem.Hitherto, the prevalence of a mood of combat rather than compromise and conciliation has wrecked many a well worked out process, a major failing not only of the government but also of the minorities as well. During the height of the ethnic war, what contributed to over extension by the Tamil terrorists was the confidence they placed on combat to the total neglect of compromise. With the conclusion of the war, this is no longer a relevant factor. The major impediment to success continues to be the difficulty to come to terms over substantive matters. For example, the government is reluctant to implement, police and land powers and the North –East merger provided for in the 13th Amendment, while the Tamil parties remain adamant to have these constitutional provisions operational. The government is in deniaI of its constitutional obligations. In fairness to the majority it must be stated that there is a serious fear that the North- East merger will lead to a loss of a large portion of the coastline affecting the security of the rest of the country, as well as make the majority increasingly insular crammed up in a small area of the land mass. On the other hand the insistence by the minorities on the merger projects a non- conciliatory approach especially in view of the fact that the principle of merger can be worked out by making use of the clause in the 13th Amendment that permit two or more provincial councils to work together. This can be considered a ‘soft’ alternative to the merger. Since this has been a persistent demand from the outset, the TNA seems to find it difficult to give up on this even as a compromise gesture. If despite this option, the TNA continues with the request for a merger, then suspicions arise of sinister motives behind such a demand.
Having put an end to terrorism there is a strong claim made by the establishment that development of the economy will bring about integration and peace and that in the post conflict scenario negotiation will not be necessary because there is now ‘nothing or nobody to negotiate with’. This point of view will not be helpful in confidence building. The government’s pedestrian attitude to constitutionalism does not help in confidence-building either as there is a growing fear that all agreements are susceptible to reversal by the government at any given time. The possibility remains real with the government’s steam roller majority in parliament that can be used at any given time. The alternate strategy sought in home grown solutions adds further to the impermanence of any agreement as there remains scope for fresh home grown solutions to emerge from time to time.
Another dimension to the already complex situation is the appeal by the minorities to the international community to support their ‘cause’ which quite naturally is looked upon as intimidation by the government as well as intrusion into the domestic matters by outsiders. By pursuing such options, the minorities alienate themselves as loyalty to one’s country is questioned. Such choices create suspicion and hostility while what is required is to build trust.
To be continued.
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