Colombo, Constitutional Reform, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance

Opportunity to make terrorism history

“The war will not end through war, through collective suicide or through international intervention. This is why a sober and humanist approach is necessary to be evolved from within Sri Lankan society at this very juncture if a solution is to be found sooner rather than later for a shared future in our shared island.”

Jehan Perera- Daily Mirror 10-3-2009

The sober and humanist approach is orchestrated in Sri Lanka according to the spokesperson’s preference. This is why we hear most politicians, bureaucrats, donors etc state that the intended path would focus on physical infratsruture development (e.g. roads, rail lines, harbors etc). This I believe is erroneous because the effects of a conflict have several other facets to be addressed to carve a sober and humanist approach.

For example, I quote the orphaned Tamil children’s hate on the ‘South initiated war’, and the hate of uneducated, vocationally untrained, conscripted cadres of whom some are suicide cadres in the north and east. Similarly I quote the mental frame of gun toting, regimentalized, youthful soldiers, sailors or airmen who return to a different social atmosphere in the south, with deserved aura and halo of “saviors of the nation.” After the “war” is over they could be ‘underutilized civilians’ requiring other opportunities, if not planned properly.

Authors Scilla Elworthy and Gabrielle Rifkind write in “Making Terrorism History” some areas of concern if violence has to be erased off from an environment of conflict. We may discuss below them and other relevant issues in the Sri Lankan context.

  1. First, avoid more violence both by the government forces and remaining LTTE cadres. Is it easily achievable? Perhaps, other means of satisfying the aspirations of the Tamil people will distance the LTTE from the Tamil public and build the required restraint. The need to be vigilant by all Armed Forces / Police will be a clear necessity and this has been already mentioned by Secretary Defense too.
  2. Lack of showing respect (e.g. for language, opportunities for health/ education, areas of habitation, demographic changes, employment etc) has been one of the main causes for North / East destabilization and hence how these could be equitably sorted will be important. This will require constitutional amendments, legal changes and systems development.
  3. Whether the (b) above could be achieved by the All Party Representatives Committee (APRC) sans the major political groups’ participation is difficult to assess. The genuine and whole hearted participation of such non-participating political/ ethnic groups either in the APRC or another alternate forum to achieve peace, and, exhibition of genuine magnanimity by the Government to convince and motivate the distracted parties are essential follow up.
  4. Improvement of physical conditions in facilitating early return to the areas of origin of the displaced, regular employment, larger freedom of movement, reduction of militarized curfews, road blocks etc have to be considered positively. Further, providing compensatory financial insurance mooted by the State in the event of recurrence of violence will give confidence to the affected public and make the State’s intervention more attractive.
  5. All peace efforts in Sri Lanka had a common weakness of non-inclusivity because the LTTE appeared as the sole representative of Tamils. From the statements made publicly now it appears that all other groups and parties other than LTTE will be involved in solving the national crisis. I wonder whether I have understood the approach correctly. If correct, it will be repetition of the past! The LTTE could be “dead” in the North and East after the war victory, but yet alive elsewhere. Its thinking will not be erased so soon. It is the Diaspora and its funding, lobbying and motivating that pumped life to LTTE. These will fade after a lapse of time. Nevertheless, hearing its thinking may be useful to slowly squeeze its effect on its supporters and the Diaspora. One could argue back that such space given will revitalize the LTTE, which is a defeated enemy. It could be. Hence, it is important to decide on an appropriate strategy not to revive LTTE, but to hear their point of view, though the Government need not agree with them in totality. To expect the participating Tamil groups to accept just a handout of the Government’s choice –crumbs falling from the table- may be preposterous and unfair too.
  6. The indigenous civil society structures in the north and east had been mostly extremist and influenced by the LTTE. With inclusivity being achieved this has to change to wider participation of civil groups and hence respect for human rights and constitutional freedoms.
  7. The human suffering has been vast during the period of conflict irrespective of ethnicity. Whether the Government could establish Centers for Listening and Documentation of past events will be worthwhile considering because any humanitarian compensatory inputs could be based on such documented evidence, especially in the absence of official records due to the conflict. Non governmental organizations (NGOs), clergy and civil society involvements in such efforts will be extraordinarily useful. It will also give an opportunity to the incumbent Government to tear off the mantle of suspicion on the NGOs and civil society organizations.
  8. Along with the outputs of such Centers it will be possible to engage personnel for trauma counseling, women and child rehabilitation, rehabilitation of the maimed, conscripted, trained suicide bombers etc. The engagement of specialized foreign institutions is recommended for this act since Sri Lanka lacks in such expertise.
  9. Due to excessive killing of Tamil male youth there ought to be a vacuum in youth participation created in the political and social spheres in the future. Hence, the need to fill in that void with possible increased female participation becomes important. However, the void has to be filled with less educated women and even male youth and hence training them to face such situations will be important. The Rwandan experience after the genocide with 53% of women parliamentarians could be a good lesson to emulate.
  10. This will even be applicable to enhance training in vocations, change of recruitment procedures if the youth giving up terrorism and joining the mainstream are to be accommodated. We should not forget that already Chief Minister Pillaiyan has stated that his men are reluctant to join the military. Then what is in store if change of attitudes, systems does not take place?
  11. There will be another psychological vacuum created by the self-imposed non-negotiable systems that have been used by the LTTE and the military. That will be related also to negotiations in economic, social, security and other aspects of civil life. This also should be overcome through training of all these groups and introduction of appropriate negotiation processes. For example, integration of LTTE cadres and military cadres to civilian environments cannot be achieved without proper negotiations.
  12. The LTTE and military have been managed on a ‘conflict mode’ all the while and unfortunately religious groups were pleading with both parties for concessions. Sometimes the military suspected them as stooges or proxies of the LTTE. If societal normalcy is to be achieved the traditional respect and roles of the clergy have to be restored.
  13. The above actions if implemented will be the bridge building paths too.  The accepted roles of institutions and personalities will automatically undertake bridge building. The southern media has a great role in bridge building to condition the minds of the southern public regarding the absolute demand for equal treatment to the North / East people. The media conditioned the South with war euphoria for the Government to gain a large slice of confidence from the public. Now it will have to repeat perform in another context.
  14. Truth and reconciliation is another way of finding solace to many of the sufferings in the hands of the other party. Some believe that our religious, cultural and social behaviors are not appropriate to such action though this has worked well elsewhere (e.g. South Africa). Adjusted action may be preferred.

One will find these as looking at issues from a psychological angle. The priority that is differently given by donors, politicians, economists etc is for infrastructure development such as housing, roads, bridges, rail lines, factories etc. While these have to be most certainly developed the above mentioned areas have to be considered seriously if the memories of violence and terror are to be erased permanently, thus bringing stable peace.

In addition there will be great pressure on the Government and the military to return the displaced to their original habitats. With peace if this does not happen there will be heartburn, especially in Jaffna Peninsula. However, holding on to a limited high security zone will be a necessity for the military, at least until terrorism has been made history and non-recurring.  Sometimes it may be a long trek.

In this matter there could be other road blocks for the State to engage speedily. For instance, demining in the Jaffna Peninsula is only 58% completed and completion is a serious job. In addition, there could be missing owners, no-boundary markings as the area had not been inhabited for long. Proof of ownership by deeds and other official documentation will be another problem. Absentee landlords create another issue. However, indecisiveness and long stay in displaced camps should be always avoided.

Hence, the government will have to look at these issues before returning the affected to original places of habitation. In this case the Government has to arrange for extraordinary attractive compensation where lands cannot be returned to the original owners and the owners too should have the understanding to agree to governmental requests. The inputs from the clergy, civil society, NGOs, women participants and trained negotiators etc may be of help in tackling this problem.

In summary, what the Government should attempt is to ensure that peace dividends are shared with the people of the North and East, but not as a war dividend. The three aspects of dividends are the constitutional / legal dividend, physical development dividend through economic and social development interventions and lastly the psychological dividends as stated earlier in detail.

Participatory action in sharing the three dividends cannot be overlooked. Non-integrated and segregated ad hoc approaches will register another controversial movement, financed by the same financiers, perhaps under a different leadership and name. Negative behavior will attract international criticisms and even the non commitment of Tokyo Declaration pledges, which may be available for “sober and humanist” approaches.

Hence, the country must be surely wishing that the authorities decide on correct approaches to address the unfulfilled aspirations of the people to create an undivided and stable country. It is the way to make terrorism history in Sri Lanka and make way “for a shared future in our shared island.”