Efforts Towards Reconciliation Process Not Met With Urgency
By Dinouk Colombage
With his three-year term in Sri Lanka coming to an end Canada’s High Commissioner, Bruce Levy, spoke about the country’s process of reconciliation and whether he felt enough was being done.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: What is your opinion of Sri Lanka’s post war progress during your time here?
Bruce Levy: When we got here a lot of the discussion was the challenge of the resettlement of some 300,000 IDPs and that was the main focus.
I think at the end of the day the resettlement took place in a major way, certainly not a perfect way but by and large the main humanitarian concerns were met in the short-term. As that seemed to be proceeding, there seemed a natural evolution in our focus towards how the government would respond to a lot of the background problems that contributed to the 27 year period of violence. Much of the discussions that took place were focused on addressing the issues faced by the minority communities, giving them confidence that Sri Lanka would be a stable and prosperous country for all.
Q: Do you think that is being done now?
Bruce Levy: Obviously that is not a yes or no answer, so I will say that there have been efforts underway. As I leave after three years, my concern is that these efforts have not been met with the urgency we all thought they would be. There have been discussions and an awful lot of talk about the process, but at the end of the day I am struck by the fact that as I leave I will not be able to tell somebody what is the clearly articulated perspective of the leadership of Sri Lanka as to what the future of Sri Lanka should look like. To me this is an odd thing. As a non-Sri Lankan I am not going to argue against the process, but at some point the process must become substance. This is a time when the opposition and the government must be in a situation of give and take, I do not see this happening.
Q: Coming from Canada do you feel that our opposition is vocal enough for a Democratic country?
Bruce Levy: I think the opposition is vocal, but I feel it is not my place to comment any further.
Q: You mentioned reconciliation earlier. How do you feel the discussions are going between the Canadian diaspora, who are very critical, and the government?
Bruce Levy: At this stage there is a regrettable degree of mistrust on both sides towards the other. One of my main objectives on coming here was to see if we could encourage confidence building measures between the two parties. There is no question that the end of the war came, at least to those in Canada, as a bit of a shock. I think the Tamil community in Canada were terribly worried and at sea as to what they should do next. That situation has not evolved as much as I would have hoped to have seen. We can all agree that the communities in Canada have resources they could use to help rebuild Sri Lanka. But there has not been much in the way of large scale investment on their part.
Q: Do you feel having the largest contingent of Tamil diaspora strains relations with Sri Lanka or contributes to improving those relations?
Bruce Levy: I quickly discovered that there are so many groups in Canada all claiming to speak for the diaspora, and I am pretty skeptical about that. There are certain groups that hold strongly to the ideas supported by the LTTE, and this makes it more difficult in improving relations.
Q: Why do you feel these relations have not improved?
Bruce Levy: I think that goes back to the mistrust stemming from the war and the fact that there were some people in Toronto that supported illegal activities.
There is also a larger issue that goes beyond the conflict, which produces a larger issue to the government, and this is why international business is seeming to hesitate to come in to Sri Lanka?
Q: Do you feel that 27 years of war has left us ill-prepared to handle these sorts of issues?
Bruce Levy: I think that there is no question that the war held the country back. In the North and the East of the country development came to a standstill during the war, so the country has to wait till those areas now catch up.
Q: The argument has been put forth that foreign governments have been overly critical of Sri Lanka, and that they need more time. Do you agree?
Bruce Levy: I will be very frank with you. I think that issue of foreign governments being critical, and it should be mentioned that they have also been supportive, has almost been used as a further excuse for the delays. To that I say there is a very simple answer, act and foreign governments will then get behind the Sri Lankan government.
Q: The argument has been put forth that three years is not long enough and the international community must be patient. Is this a fair point?
Bruce Levy: Yes, to an extent it has only been three years. But as I said earlier it is time that some sort of application of their plans is seen. The LLRC report is a good place to start, while some recommendations will take time, there are some that could be done in a shorter period of time.
Q: In regard to the LLRC, some countries were very critical of it before it was released. They then turned around and voiced support for it after it was published. Were they being unfairly critical at the start?
Bruce Levy: I think that to a certain extent foreign governments were a little hasty in criticising the report so early on.
When the report was finally released and the government spoke about implementing its recommendations, the foreign governments supported the idea of action being taken. It must be mentioned that while we all support the LLRC report, we have said that more needs to be done.