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The Road To Reconciliation

By Raisa Wickrematunge

The Final LLRC Report handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by Commission’s Chairman Chitta Ranjan de Silva at the Temple Trees, in Colombo on November 20, 2011

It was 25 to 13 (with eight abstentions) at the UN Human Rights Council sessions last Thursday – and luck was not on Sri Lanka’s side. The second resolution once more called on Sri Lanka to conduct independent investigations into alleged human rights and international law violations in the last stages of the war.

The stories told about the war are imprinted on our collective consciousness. Tales of death, suffering and fear. Tales of people languishing for weeks in IDP camps, or searching frantically for their loved ones. These are terrible memories to bear for Sinhalese and Tamils alike, but four years have passed since the war came to an end, and hopefully, the scars are healing. In the wake of the war it is time to examine the vague issue of reconciliation – vague because it is a word much bandied around without much knowledge of what should be done to achieve it.

The report

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) Report of 2009 has an entire section devoted to reconciliation with several recommendations on what steps should be taken to bring about reconciliation following this bitter war.
Also important was the need for military personnel to move out of civil administration, to allow normalcy to prevail. There needed to be negotiation and understanding to allow for some devolution of power in the Northern Province, a better language policy, which allowed for the learning of each other’s languages, equal opportunities for education for all ethnicities, and a multi-disciplinary task force to look into meaningful dialogue with the expatriate community

Particularly of interest in today’s context is the section on inter-faith dialogue. “All religious leaders must unitedly provide leadership, encouraging people of all faiths to act with wisdom and understanding, and to view the conflict and its aftermath from a perspective of tolerance and mutual accommodation,” the LLRC report stated. While the Report contained a long laundry list of recommendations, it noted with disappointment that even the interim recommendations (on prosecuting illegal armed groups, for example) had not been carried out.

Moving at snail’s pace

The Sunday Leader spoke to several people to find out what their perspective was on the reconciliation process, in light of these proposals. UPFA MP Rajiva Wijesinha said that while this process had initially been progressing at a snail’s pace when Mohan Pieris was the Attorney General, the situation has improved and progress can be seen through the National Action Plan, which was being implemented in response to the LLRC report. At first, settlement of the land issues had been ‘very, very slow’ Wijesinha conceded, but he added it was pretty clear that the Government had made a commitment through a new accelerated plan.

However, Wijesinha said he could not comment on the possible delay of the Northern Provincial Council elections, as he was unaware of the story. At the launch of Dayan Jayatilake’s new book, however, Wijesinha said delaying the Provincial Council elections would be a mistake.

In the meantime, the Human Rights Action Plan was also being put into place. There were two main issues at stake, one being that of settling the question of people who had died during the war. Wijesinha said it would be a good idea to hold a census and scientifically examine the numbers; he said he believed the number amounted to about 2000. The second question was with regard to people in custody, and the figures of people in detention were very low, as many former combatants had been rehabilitated.

While the community needed to grieve over the many deaths, the residual worry remained as to whether there were any more people in custody. It was a matter of assuaging the grief of the families of the disappeared.

Wijesinha said that when examining the census figures, 90% of the children who had disappeared were of combat age, with many between the ages of 15 and 20 years – children who had been dragooned by the LTTE into combat. As such there was no ‘random killing of civilians’ Wijesinha said. However it would be an idea to do a survey on these figures as well, perhaps with the help of an outside party to remain objective.

“I think the Government has to decide to be serious about reconciliation, or the US will be tougher on us next time,” Wijesinha observed.

The US was not seriously concerned about reconciliation but was using this situation as a weapon, he charged, pointing out that many European diplomats had hailed the publication of the LLRC report. Now the issues were mainly on accountability and assuaging people’s grief. While the reconciliation process had not been going as quickly as it should, Wijesinha said he had high hopes as the process had speeded up.

Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu however had a totally different point of view.

Dr. Saravanamuttu said that the LLRC recommendations had not been implemented at all. All incidents such as delaying the Northern Provincial Council elections had adversely affected the situation, he said. The presence of the military also posed a problem in the North. Saravanamuttu said that there was hardly any substantive progress on this issue and said that in fact, things had gotten worse.

He also accused Prof Wijesinha of being an apologist for the state, saying that he had defended it even when the reconciliation process had been moving slowly. The CPA while welcoming the recent accelerated plan for land issues had expressed some reservations towards it, namely that the plan applied to state land only, and gave significant powers to the Divisional Secretariats to solve issues. There was also a need of an appeals process, a public statement by them added.

Roadblocks

One of the major recommendations towards reconciliation was for the devolution of power. Just this Monday (25), none other than the Elections Commissioner reportedly said that the Northern Provincial elections could not be held as the Northern Provincial Council did not exist legally yet – and there had been no instructions to legalise the institution. This came despite assertions by the President in an interview that the Northern Provincial Council elections would be held in September.

The Police Commission, which was reactivated following the LLRC report, is still linked to the Defence Ministry, a fact which raised some eyebrows.

Meanwhile, the military decided to probe into allegations of war-crimes, including civilian casualties and absolved themselves of all responsibility for civilian deaths, a fact which was met with some skepticism by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O. Blake in a recent interview. Last month, a military court of inquiry contended that the incidences of shelling mentioned in the LLRC report were instigated by the LTTE, not the Army. On March 5, over 700 people planned to travel to Colombo from the areas of Jaffna and the Wanni as the Association of Families Searching for Disappeared Relatives, calling for the state to take a proactive stance on accountability and human rights issues. All of them were searching for relatives missing during the conflict. Their buses were blockaded by police in Vavuniya, even though among their number were three Members of Parliament.

Last November, students who were marking Remembrance Day at the Jaffna University were set upon by armed military personnel in civilian clothing. Four were arrested, with just one being bailed out the next day, and the other three being detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act amidst much protest from Opposition politicians. While there are attempts to fulfill the LLRC recommendations, some areas are being pursued with more enthusiasm than others. With such roadblocks continuing to occur, it is clear that the road to reconciliation is still being travelled.

1 Comment for “The Road To Reconciliation”

  1. Asoka

    Vaddokkodai Resolution, 13th Amendment, UNHRC Resolution all depend on the supreme people of Sri Lanka. They are the people who sending the members to the Parliament. Parliament is supreme in any country. How many UNHRC Resolutions brought against Israel and passed by huge majority also. Any thing happened to Israel. President Obama, America’s first black president and first muslim , converted to christian used word “CHANGE” as a Election slogan any changes in America? The only change he made removing worst secretary of state in American history, Hillary Clinton due to her double stand.

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