[lg policy] Sri Lanka; Draft national policy on reconciliation - Part II: National integration as a prime need

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 12 14:55:34 UTC 2012

Draft national policy on reconciliation - Part II: National
integration as a prime need

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, MP Advisor on Reconciliation to the President

With regard to specific grievances of Sinhalese in villages adjacent
to former conflict areas, the LLRC Commission notes that the
government has tended to overlook those who lived in villages such as
Weli Oya, Moneragala and Kebethigollawa, who survived the terror
perpetrated by the LTTE. The people in these villages continued to
live under tremendous threats to their lives without migrating to safe
areas in the South.

They faced security risks, hardships in education, disrupted and
fractured livelihoods, paucity of health care and transport
facilities. Moreover, the Sinhalese who resided in the Eastern
Province faced inadequacies of the administrative system. For
instance, Weli Oya is categorized under a number of districts, a
section under the Mullaitivu district, a section under the Vavuniya
district and another under the Trincomalee district. As a result
numerous difficulties were faced by people in the areas where work is
done in Tamil, whereas people living in Weli Oya are predominantly

The perception of discrimination and unequal treatment within the
Tamil population arose from a series of administrative changes, such
as discrimination against the use of the Tamil language in a context
where education was segregated by language. This contributed to
deprivation in regard to jobs, which was exacerbated by the state
being the predominant employer in the context of statist economic
policies. Positive discrimination policies in education struck hardest
at the well educated Tamils in the North. The perceived discrimination
was seen as arising from the fact that central government and its
decision making processes were far removed from the needs and
aspirations of the Tamil people. The many youth rebellions all over
the country testify to the sense of alienation felt generally by the
rural population, but in the North and East this sense was increased
by the absence of representation at decision-making levels in
government. In addition, there arose resentment over total state
control of lands and colonization schemes which seemed
disproportionately beneficial to the majority community.

Muslim community

The Muslims, though not direct protagonists in the armed conflict
between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state, have undergone considerable
suffering during the years of fighting in the North and East. The
forcible eviction of the entire Muslim community from the Northern
Province by the LTTE, the massacre of hundreds of Muslims while
worshipping in mosques in Kattankudy and Eravur, the takeover of lands
belonging to the Muslims in the Eastern Province, the deprivation of
the livelihoods of Muslims in the conflict areas and the lack of
adequate security to the Muslims were a few of the phenomena that
contributed greatly to the sense of insecurity and unease that Muslims
faced because of the conflict.

Unlike the Tamil community which challenged state structures as a
means of addressing grievances, the Muslims took a separate political
path and preferred to engage with the state and work within the
mainstream of Sri Lankan politics. This created a great deal of
misunderstanding between the Tamil and Muslim communities and caused a
strain in their relationship.

Problem analysis

Discrimination against the Tamil population which is seen to lie at
the root of the three-decade conflict has been attributed to the
struggle between a majority community and a minority community, where
the latter seeks space to operate within a larger polity. The notion
of democracy dictates that a balance must be achieved for this in a
manner that is not at the expense of any community.

The balance to be found would need to be premised upon the common need
for integration. In negotiating such a balance, trust is a
prerequisite. There currently exists a trust deficit which has
contributed to the view that, as the minority moves towards advocating
geographical separation, any concession by the state will be
detrimental to the majority community. Conversely, the Tamil minority
is labouring under a lack of confidence and trust as a result of
failed aspirations and expectations.

The challenge

As a result of the long-standing strife and struggle, two key
challenges remain to be addressed so as to propel the country towards
enduring and sustainable peace and prosperity. First, the root causes
of the conflict need solutions which are satisfactory to all the
communities and peoples of Sri Lanka. Second, there is a need to
dispel suspicions and weld all communities into and within the fabric
of one nation. The LLRC report of November 2011 states that
'...despite the lapse of two years since the ending of the conflict,
the violence, suspicion and sense of discrimination are still
prevalent in social and political life. Delay in the implementation of
a clearly focused post conflict peace building agenda may have
contributed to this situation.'

The vision

* To build a shared future for the people of Sri Lanka based upon
equality, justice and dignity.

* To ensure that all citizens have equal opportunities without
alienation and discrimination of any kind.

* To wholeheartedly accept individual identity and respect cultural
diversity within a united Sri Lanka

* To acknowledge and address the needs and aspirations of all
communities residing in the country

* To encourage a sense of caring to be shown by the state to all
citizens and communities and acknowledge and address fears and
insecurities of all communities residing in the country.

* To foster a sense of belonging in all peoples and communities
irrespective of language, ethnicity, race or religion.
The goal

Harmony and reconciliation for sustainable peace and prosperity
through improved inter-communal relationships based on trust,
equality, confidence and mutual benefit.

The opportunity

The end of the armed conflict has opened up space to address the task
of nation building unhindered by pre-occupation with a debilitating
armed struggle which was a drain on the nation's resources. The
decimation of the LTTE has created a vacuum that long dormant economic
forces have moved in to fill. With the Sri Lankan government's efforts
to ensure large infrastructure development in the past two years,
healthy growth rates have been achieved. There remains a need to take
further steps so that economic achievements may be translated into
meaningful and equitable benefits that will impact on the life of
every Sri Lankan. In this context, there remains a need for political
reforms that entrench empowerment and a willingness to bring closure
for the suffering of individuals and communities as a whole. The LLRC
report of November 2011 states that 'people from all corners of the
country who came before the Commission gave an almost palpable
impression that this is Sri Lanka's moment of opportunity for Sri
Lankans to chart a vision for a harmonious future for our nation and a
wholesome Sri Lankan identity.'

The strategy

Interdependence between the three communities and the role of the state

The three communities must also work hard to create governance,
administrative and social structures that create and foster
interdependence among themselves. This will help create the feeling in
each of the communities that their progress or downfall is
inextricably linked with the progress or downfall of the other
communities and thus help to inculcate a strong sense of nationhood
among Sri Lankans.

The addressing and resolution of political issues affecting the
minorities is an important part of a strategy to achieve national
reconciliation leading to nation building. In this task the Sri Lankan
state must play a critical if not a lead role. It must be realized
that although the majority of the Tamils did not support and or
approve the LTTEs resort to an armed struggle, as a result of the
defeat of the LTTE and the fallout of the military campaign to achieve
that end result, the Tamils are a demoralized and wounded community.

The LLRC report of November 2011 states that 'Many who appeared before
the Commission emphasized that what had been achieved by the Security
Forces should be invested in a political process...The Commission
again found significant common ground among a broad spectrum of
persons who made representations that this task can and should be
achieved whilst upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of
the nation and safeguarding the long cherished Sri Lankan values of
democracy, tolerance and power sharing.'
The strategy

A. Recovery and equitable development

It is acknowledged that a sense of grievance that led later to
separatism arose through perceptions of discrimination and inequitable
treatment. Government schemes to promote infrastructure and employment
opportunities seemed confined to Sinhala majority areas. Whilst this
may have been due to populist policies based on electoral
considerations, it created a strong sense of deprivation. Most
upsetting perhaps was the introduction of a language policy that,
whilst maintaining segregation in education on the basis of language,
privileged those who knew Sinhala with regard to state employment as
well as dealings with officials. This extended later to restrictions
on educational opportunities based on language distinctions. Though
initially intended as a means of positive discrimination,
implementation was callous, and in one instance the system was changed
after unfair allegations with regard to Tamil language examiners, who
were cleared following inquiry.

Though measures have been taken to promote equity in development, and
language policies have been revised, there is still need of greater
committed concern to ensure equity.

For this purpose;

* The state shall work towards inculcating a culture where each
citizen becomes an active participant in society and feels a sense of
belonging and of being Sri Lankan. To this end, the state shall make
every effort to identify and address the social, economic and
political structures which caused dissension between communities.

* The government shall undertake an in-depth study to identify the
needs of the people in the North and East to address the question of
improving their livelihoods

* The government will commit to making every effort to ensure
equitable resource allocation and development of villages, bearing in
mind that the reverse could lead to frustration and communal tension
in clusters of villages dominated by different ethnic communities,
particularly in the Eastern province.

* The government will make every effort to ensure that all future
development activities are carried out in consultation and with the
participation of the local people, so as to, build ownership to the
development activities, as well as, give them a sense of participation
in nation building.

* Cognizant of the sense of marginalization expressed by Tamil people
due to long-standing language policies, and deficiencies in the
implementation thus far of changes, and further being sensitive to the
perception prevailing among the Tamil people of being second class
citizens, the government shall adopt urgent measures to ensure that
the current language policy is satisfactorily implemented, and
developed to promote equity as well as mutual understanding.

* Measures shall be taken to take further current measures for
recruitment of Tamil speaking Police officers, recruitment to the
Police and armed services of Tamils and Tamil speaking citizens, with
particular attention to officer cadres, should be fast forwarded.

* Recognizing that an independent permanent Police Commission is a
pre-requisite to guarantee the effective functioning of the Police and
to generate public confidence, the government shall make every effort
to empower such a Police Commission to monitor the performance of the
Police service and ensure that all Police officers act independently
and maintain a high degree of professional conduct. This will also
increase the confidence of the minorities in the impartiality of the
Police. Police training shall be given the highest priority, with a
change of culture required to emphasize the legal and moral
responsibilities of the force and its accountability to citizens.

* The government will make every effort to promote professional skills
training and activities that bring about the necessary attitudinal
changes in the public service. Public servants should be guided by
criteria, norms and conduct sensitized to the concerns and
apprehensions of all citizens, particularly the minorities.

* Bearing in mind the significant lapse of time since the introduction
of standardisation as a means of affirmative action by the state to
mitigate the imbalance in educational opportunities afforded to
different communities, the state shall in the best interests of future
generations undertake a careful review of this quota system and work
towards the introduction of a merit based admission system.

* The government shall pursue actively a programme of equitable
distribution of educational facilities and make a concerted effort to
minimize any feeling of discrimination felt by the minorities.
Further, the government shall make every effort to ensure that the
inequality in the availability of educational facilities in different
areas of the country is reduced and eventually eliminated.

* The government strongly discourages disqualifying students on ethnic
or religious grounds, in respect of admission to schools, as being a
significant impediment to reconciliation. The government strongly
declares its commitment to developing a pro-active policy to encourage
mixed schools serving children from different ethnic and religious
backgrounds. Such a policy will be implemented, so as to, facilitate
the admission of children from different ethnic and religious groups
to these schools.

To be continued


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