Peace and Conflict

In Search of a Peace Package

Now that the government appears to be fighting the war to a finish, it behoves concerned members of our civil society to put their heads together to evolve an optimum Peace Package that could win over as many contenders as possible in our ethnic dispute.

Once I blamed a Tamil friend of mine who is a leading professional, for not taking an active part in the search for a solution to the ethnic impasse. He was despondent and thought it a waste of time to get involved with a problem that no government after independence has had the guts to get to grips with. According to him, all of them have been intimidated by the threat of a highly inflated vociferous minority of demagogues and the moderate Tamils have been silenced by the violent reaction to that lethargy. Reason on both sides has become the prisoner of these forces.

‘If we are genuine and pragmatic in our search,” my friend said, “the solution is simple. Let the Tamils put down their minimum demands clearly and let the Sinhalese decide the maximum they are prepared to go along with. Then let the two sides sit down and hammer out the differences until a consensus is reached.”

The idea looked simple. Coming to think of it, that is what we are supposed to have been doing all the time. But it would appear on hindsight that we have only been going round and round the mulberry bush with the problem, for two main reasons. We never had a clear policy on the modalities of resolution. The second reason which is essentially the cause of the first, is that our leaders never had the wisdom, the sensitivity and the courage to handle the problem with statesmanship. In the alternative, they were exploiting the dispute for their own survival in power.

The latest make-believe is the All Party Representatives Committee without some of the most relevant parties, no less logical than ‘Sinhala only with Tamil also’. Judging by its record of performance, the APRC is destined to drag its feet ad infinitum with even the only recommendation they have made so far, allegedly under dictation, not implemented in full up to now. It is in this scenario, that I say the intelligentsia has a duty to engage themselves in the search for a consensus to the vexed problem of our ethnic conflict, if the Tamils are not to be left at a dead end at the end of the fight.

At the going rate of state procrastination, the international community is very likely to become the final arbiters of the dispute, as has already happened in other theaters of ethnic conflict, sometimes to the detriment of the intended ‘beneficiary’. No self-respecting nation could be happy about such an intervention. The best way to prevent such humiliation is for opinion leaders on both sides to engage themselves in a brave and open debate on the minimum mutually acceptable Peace Package.

It is my belief that coordinating the evolution of a Peace Package calls for an NGO eminently qualified and resourceful enough to handle such a momentous undertaking. Fortunately we already have non-partisan, intellectual institutions dedicated to the resolution of the ethnic conflict. It is earnestly hoped that one of them would rise to the occasion and undertake the venture. I suggest that the effort be coordinated on the following lines;

  1. Publish a paper indicating what the minimum requirements of the Tamils would be. This could be written by an internationally recognized Tamil with a standing equivalent to that of the Late Dr. Neelan Thiruchelvam. The writer may remain anonymous to avoid imaginable risks from both sides.
  2. The second stage would be extensive publication of support, objections and counter-objections to the Paper.
  3. Once supporters, advocates and activists on both sides have had their say, a Constitutional Law Expert can sum up the debate short-listing the challenged moot points at the end of the report.
  4. An Institution with wide experience in statistical analysis of similar questions, then conducts a survey on the responses to the vexed points. It is important that this survey is conducted in Tamil majority areas as well, unlike in the past. The East should present no problem now. Even the North may be roped in by courtesy of the Public Service and a diplomatic approach to the Peace Secretariat of the LTTE. Any objection by the latter would reflect on their honesty of purpose.
  5. The results of the survey are then referred to an Expert with an international reputation, for formulation of a Draft Package. It would be helpful to ensure that the selected Expert is neither a Tamil nor a Sinhalese. But the selectee should have an abiding interest in the affairs of this country, having his umbilical code with the island still intact.
  6. The draft Package is then considered at a Workshop. It is important to ensure that this occasion is well attended by representatives of stake-holders, intellectuals and international activists. The Workshop will fine-tune the draft and finalize its text. The experts referred to at A, C and E above would be an ideal Panel of Rapporteurs for this occasion.
  7. The finalized Package is then presented to the Government for active and prompt consideration and implementation. No government will be able to play hide and seek for long with a package built up with such transparency, debate, investigation and analysis of optimum preferences.
  8. The Government will then refer the Package to a real 100% APRC. It is possible that some parties would boycott the Committee for ulterior motives. Abstinence has always been a favourite weapon of sabotage among our political parties. But the Government should have the courage to ignore any party that does not have the guts to fight their case before a properly constituted forum. The final recommendations of the genuine APRC will then be implemented without trepidation.

In view of the grave urgency to find a way out of the canker of our ethnic dispute, it is necessary that the process of evolving the Peace Package is implemented on a strict time-frame. Though the ideal should be three months, imaginable problems of the statistical survey may extend it to six.

Armed with a Peace Package filtered through the above process, the President should feel confident to act on it decisively. The international community which appears to be closing in on our ethnic conflict, is unlikely to turn a Nelsonian eye on a Hamlet-like approach to the Package.

In implementing the Peace Package, the President should take the cue from his predecessor as Chairman of SAARC, Manmohan Singh, who only recently pulled out victory from the jaws of defeat with his undaunted action in the teeth of opposition to the Atomic Power agreement with the US. In the ultimate analysis, it is the determination and statesmanship with which the ethnic issue is handled that would decide whether Mahinda Rajapaksa or his challenger, Veluppillai Pirapaharan would live longer in history.

  • Bruno Umbato

    There are many ideas, concepts, peace agendas floating around the socalled ‘ethinic’ problem of Sri Lanka. Even people in our concerned neighbour, Tamilnadu is also conducting surveys/opinions about what to do with Sri Lanka. But, people in Sri Lanka has now realised that this is simply a terrorism problem. Anybody go to Colombo can not ignore the reality that how sinhalese/tamils/muslims..etc live peacfully there. In Colombo, I heard that more tamils than sinhalese live in there. If they could live like that under extreme provocations by terrorists, outsiders (mostly terror sympathisers) do not have to give solutions as there is no problem ethnically.
    Luckily, Sri Lanka now has a responsible government who could eliminate this terrorism not only from south and east but also from north so that people in north could enjoy the freedom.

  • Ekcol

    Your goal is noble, but the process you propose does not take into account the history of similar process that failed. The soulbury constitution entrenched the section 29 which the Tamils and the Sinhala leaders accepted. But you know it was dishonoured by the Sinhala leaders soon after independence, in 1956 and done away with in 1972, and there was no neutral person, institution or country including Britain to ask the reason why. I need not remind you what happened to the minimum Tamil request that two Sinhala Prime Ministers accepted but could not get their electorate to agree.
    Then there was the minimum that all Tamil Leaders put foreward at Thimpu and the Sinhala Leaders rejected it. The Indo-Lanka Accord lost its meaning when it got translated into the 13th amendmend. It was not put to the people at referendum for fear that it would be rejected. It was never implemented and Varatharaja Perumal had to run to India.

    Then there was Neelan T and GL P who worked out the August 1995 proposal, which they had to water it down a few months after publication, and in 2000. It was finally rejected by the SLFP convention and Chandrika tabled it in Parliament to gather dust in its archives!

    You ask for a Tamil of Neelan’s reputation to propose what Tamils will accept as a minimum. Neelan’s academic reputation is not questionable, but his assessment of what Tamils will accept as a minimum is far from realistic. Though you did not propose who you would hold as an ideal candidate to state what the the Sinhala will accept as a minimum, I am glad you did not hold GL as the model.

    Why not call on the TNA to nominate three Tamils who are not in Parliament to prepare a paper outlining what the Tamils will accept as a minimum solution. Also let the leaders of the two major Sinhala Parties and the Mahanayaka’s nominate three Sinhalese who are not in Parliament to prepare a paper outlining what the Sinhala would accept as a minimum solution.

    I find it difficult to identify an NGO or academic institution in Sri Lanka that is impartial to the outcome of the form of a solution. You may have to look for an academic institution in another country or within the UN that has no preconceived form of a solution.

    It is best to get Sinhala and Tamil organizations such as the farmers, teachers, doctors, clerical, to respond to the respective Tamil and Sinhala proposals would be more practical than getting individuals to respond directly.

    Instead of one constitutional expert, it is best to get one Tamil, one Sinhala and one international consitutional expert to be a Panel to draft the fundamentals of the constitution that would take the submissions from the various organizations into consideration. The idea of APRC never worked. Why try to waken a dead dinasaur.

    Rather than a statistical survey with samples, why not a UN statistical team conduct a survey of all Tamils, Muslims and Sinhala voters separately. If a two third majority of each of the three community accept the draft constitution, the international community including the UN should consider it as the verdict of each of the community.

  • As a first step, implement the existing laws of the land including the full acceptance of tamil too as an official language. Remove anti social legislation which is mainly used against minorities – such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Normal laws are sufficient. Implement the 17th amendment to restore giood governance which is the bedrock of social justice and fairplay for all communities. Abolish the most obnoxious aspect of the constitution – the presidential immunity – which is hated by all people except the corrupt politicians who are protected by it.
    If all this is done most else will automatically fall into place.
    After this phase, there can be an reppraisal of what more is wanted.
    The ethnic problem, which is due to social injustce, will fade away.
    This has been seen to happen in other countries.
    I am sure that all will agree, except those who thrive on disorder, injustice, fraud and corruption.

  • Sarath

    Sorry Mr Gunadheera, but I didn’t see a point in your list where your provided an opportunity for the Sri Lankan masses to voice their opinion – as in a referendum. Doesn’t any solution, especially one aimed at solving the 25+ year old crises need the consent of the majority of Sri Lankan population? And by majority I mean around 60+% of the vote regardless of ethnicity etc. A survey just does not do any justice (it can also be manipulated). People need to vote with their own hands.

  • TVMP now represents a greater majority of Tamils than the hypoctitical tiger proxy; TNA, representing 200 000 people (2%). The ground realities have changed, people are sick of race based politics and war. Many people in the newly liberated areas care mainly of good livelyhood, fascilities for education, health, infrastructure. The local authorities/provincial councils have more funds and authority th deliver these. The issues of language inequality no longer exists and do not appliy and are what happened over 30 years ago. The political problem has to be solved through this investment in people and the terrorist one is dealt currently in a fine fashon. All regions in SL should be entitled to pratice many of their customs in so far as it does not hinder the collective progress of the country. This right should be based on regionalism rather than on racism, this is the way foward that will address not only communalism but also the class divide.