Will ‘Peace’ Arrive Before Death?

It was, unfortunately, a necessary war, for terrorism had to be defeated, eliminated. After some thirty long years, on or around the 19th of May 2009, Sri Lanka gained liberation; liberation from the clutches of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), from the clutches of terrorism (May, 2010: The Prime Minister states in Parliament that a new military wing of the LTTE is being formed, is getting ready to raise its ugly head).

‘Terrorism’, however, was only one facet of the problem. The moment that ugly facet becomes non-existent, the moment there is an absence of a violent armed conflict, problems which remained unresolved, problems which could not be resolved through the use of force, re-emerge, re-surface. Political developments which soon followed the defeat of the LTTE proved this, to some extent. An acrimonious debate ensued concerning the 13th Amendment (Did not, for a brief moment in our history, the 13th Amendment become something like the 6th Amendment, like ‘separatism’; something no one could utter a word in favour of?) Then, unfortunate developments surrounding a confused, misguided and revengeful Army Commander unfolded in quick succession. Thereafter the people, a vast majority, indicated on whose side they stood; at the Presidential and General elections. As a consequence, there is, now, a very strong government; strong here meaning a government that cannot be brought down easily. There is also a very weak opposition; weak here meaning an opposition that cannot be resuscitated easily.

Soon after the defeat of terrorism there arises, in the mind, that inevitable question of whether terrorism would re-surface in the future (suffering, anxiety, which knows no end, which is unending). This question in turn raises much broader questions. Now that violent terrorism has been defeated, how, and in what way, should different ethnic groups co-exist within a multi-ethnic State, peacefully? How, and in what way, should we, the people, act? How long would it take for ‘peace’ to arrive, and from where (if not from our heart), would ‘peace’ begin its long journey? What should be done, what should we do, to achieve ‘peace’? (Why do we still ask this latter question, in a country which is full of ‘peace-loving’ and friendly people? Are we, really, a ‘peace-loving’ people, and if so in what way, to what extent? Are problems the creations of politicians only, of successive Parliaments, of Parliamentarians? Or is the Parliament, its composition, a microcosm of the larger society that we live in?)

It is not possible to answer these questions, these complicated questions, satisfactorily. There may be no clear answers to such questions, anyway. Yet, there may be certain things, some obvious things, that evade us. Perhaps, the answer to many of our political problems rests in our own attitudes and perceptions, in our ability to ‘compromise’. But how difficult it would be to reach a compromise, by changing our deeply-held, deep-rooted, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions?

Such changes in our own attitude and approach are necessary when considering some of the critical challenges facing the country, today. Two such challenges would be: the ‘devolution of powers’ and the ‘promotion and protection of human rights and equality’ – issues on which people hold very strong and uncompromising views.

Consider the critical and contentious issue of devolution of powers – the “most intractable problem” – which touches that strong ‘nationalist nerve’ in many people, across the Sinhala-Tamil ethnic divide. It is one problem concerning which some form of a ‘compromise’ is quintessential, the resolution of which calls for that need to “hammer out a compromise”, as the late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar put it, when he spoke in Parliament, in favour of the 2000 Draft Constitution (Kadirgamar: one who opposed the LTTE and was shot and killed by the LTTE, but nevertheless strongly believed in the idea of ‘power-sharing’, in the need for some resolution of the conflict, based, perhaps, on the lines of the 2000 Draft Constitution).

But, today, on the issue of devolution, is ‘compromise’ possible? Or is there any evidence to suggest that a ‘compromise’ is forthcoming?

On the one hand there are very strong views placed against the idea of ‘devolution’ – i.e. that devolution is unnecessary, that it is “development and not devolution”. The argument that the mandate received by President Rajapaksa does not make any significant reference to ‘devolution’ is also raised. The 13th Amendment is claimed to be unnecessary and an absolute failure (Was it not due to the inability and/or unwillingness to implement? Is the waste of resources a problem of the document or more of a problem regarding those who were supposed to implement it?). Recently, a subtle rubbishing of the 13th Amendment did take place when Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa was interviewed by Al-Jazeera (Question: in such a context, how could President Rajapaksa rubbish Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s views, by fully implementing the 13th Amendment, now, as promised?)

On the other hand, the case in favour of devolution/power-sharing resonates strongly in the views expressed by many Tamil politicians, in particular; from ITAK’s R. Sambanthan to UPFA’s Douglas Devananda. Reference is made not only to the 13th Amendment, but also to, for instance, the 2000 Draft Constitution and the APRC-Majority Report of the Panel of Experts.

How then would there be a compromise? One would not believe in the concept of a ‘traditional homeland’ or in a merged North-East, and would dismiss these ideas as political myths. But the fact that the majority of the North and the East consist of Tamil speaking people is not a myth, along with the fact that this demand for power-sharing had always been the predominant demand of the Tamil minority, or its representatives, elite or otherwise.

In such a context, how does one approach the issue of ‘devolution’? Perhaps the responsibility falls on both (or all) ethnic groups. The political leadership representing the majority would need to understand that this notion of ‘devolution’ cannot be rubbished off easily, cannot be dumped in a political dustbin, so conveniently and easily as one would like to do. The political leadership representing the minority would also need to understand that their demands would need to be couched in less inflammatory language; a language which does not resemble that of the Provisional Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam, for instance. There would also be a need to approach the idea of power-sharing from a citizen’s perspective; to regard devolution as a tool that empowers the people at the periphery; as a tool that effectively challenges an all-powerful centre, whenever necessary. Yet, it would be a serious mistake to imagine that that kind of approach means that the unit of devolution ought to be the Gamsabha or Janasabha (In this regard, would one forget that even the APRC-Minority Report states that the unit of devolution should be primarily the existing ‘province’?)

In reaching this compromise (‘would there be a compromise?’ is a recurring question, a doubtful prospect) there is also another critical factor which needs to be borne in mind; i.e. that ‘devolution’ would not work (or logically, it cannot work) unless of course there is a serious commitment, a parallel and simultaneous commitment, to constitutionalism, the rule of law, the establishment of independent institutions and a firm resolve to promote and protect human rights and equality. It is a great fantasy to imagine that significant devolution would resolve all problems the moment it is agreed upon and put down on paper. Even if there is a compromise reached, it would not be long lasting, unless there is commitment shown concerning the above issues as well.

But here again, there is an enormous challenge. On constitutionalism and the rule of law, Sri Lanka’s track record, unfortunately, is a dismal one. So too, with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights and equality; an issue over which many seem to have very fixed, even uncompromising, views; an issue, then, which needs to be approached with a changed attitude and mindset, today.

There is too much concern about the problem of the ‘West’. The ‘West’ displays hypocrisy when it talks about human rights protection, since it continues to show that its practice, elsewhere in the world, is no different. Such hypocrisy needs to be exposed. But in doing so, there is a tendency to view the notion of ‘human rights’ as simply a Western-liberal notion, without understanding that the moment one views ‘human rights’ as simply a Western concept, one’s resentment towards the West shapes the way in which one approaches all that is perceived to be Western concepts’; forgetting completely and even conveniently, the importance attached to the protection of human rights in our own Buddhist teaching and philosophy (or in any other religion) for example. Unless one’s attitude changes in a more positive way, there will not be any progress in relation to the improvement of own human rights standards. President Rajapaksa reminded the world in September 2007 that human rights have been an essential part of Sri Lanka’s cultural tradition and human rights protection is “nothing new for us”. True. But one needs to go further, and prove, that this is so even today, that this cultural tradition has not stopped, that it continues (And what a shame for a country with such a rich and glorious tradition, to be continually reminded of the importance of human rights protection, and that too, by the EU or the ‘West’).

So too is the case of ‘equality’. If the country and its people are burdened by that problem of complex – the ‘majority with a minority complex and a minority with a majority complex’ – then, ‘equality’ becomes a terrible problem, one that threatens one’s perceived status (that dominant status, that rightful place) in society. Demanding ‘equality’ or the respect for ‘equality’ is easy, but that demand becomes meaningless if one is not ready to accommodate what this ‘equality’ would necessarily mean; i.e. inter alia, equal status in society, equal citizenship, opportunities based on meritocracy, independent institutions etc. (How would a strong Sinhala or Tamil nationalist view ‘equality’? Does ‘equality’ shatter ideologies, nationalist ideologies?). Ensuring ‘equality’, too, is a great challenge.

Conclusion
The year was 2005, the year in which he was killed. Mr. Kadirgamar, who had delivered a lecture (“Third World Democracy in Action: Sri Lanka’s Experience”) at an event organized by the SAIS-Johns Hopkins, was asked a question (the audio recording, which I listened to on the web, seems to be, unfortunately, unavailable now). The question was asked by one; whether there would be an end to our conflict during his lifetime. Mr. Kadirgamar (was it a humorous or poignant tone) answered: ‘it depends on how long you are going to live’ (Was he thinking about the difficulty of resolving the conflict with an armed and violent terrorist group, or of the conflict, in general). How would one answer, how differently could one answer, that question, today?

There would be no announcements made; ‘The Government of Sri Lanka officially declares and confirms that peace has finally arrived and all the people are living peacefully’. There would be no possibility of lighting fire-crackers or cooking kiri bath, to celebrate ‘peace’. An opportunity, a tremendous opportunity, has arrived, now that there is an absence of violent conflict; but success depends on how well that opportunity is used, or utilized. There is, therefore, that challenge, as always: to try and make today a more ‘peaceful’ day than yesterday, to make tomorrow a more ‘peaceful’ day than today, however arduous that may be – until, suddenly, a different kind of peace overwhelms one, as it inevitably should, one fine day.

[The writer thanks the editors of Groundviews for the kind invitation extended to him to contribute this article for a Special Edition which marks the completion of one year since the military defeat of the LTTE, in May 2009]

End of War Special Edition

  • Sie.Kathieravealu

    “There would also be a need to approach the idea of power-sharing from a citizen’s perspective; to regard devolution as a tool that empowers the people at the periphery; as a tool that effectively challenges an all-powerful centre, whenever necessary. Yet, it would be a serious mistake to imagine that that kind of approach means that the unit of devolution ought to be the Gamsabha or Janasabha (In this regard, would one forget that even the APRC-Minority Report states that the unit of devolution should be primarily the existing ‘province’?)”

    Some suggestions of power-sharing from a citizen;s perspective and that would help to create a UNIQUE SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE that would ultimately bring in GOOD GOVERNANCE by showing the way out for injustice, discrimination, oppression and corruption born due and bred by the present system of governance that is mistakenly or mischievously termed as democratic by persons who call themselves political scientists.

    “Even the demand for devolution needs to be reframed as a demand for democratization that brings government closer to all the people, not just minorities, apart from being made far stronger than the 13th Amendment, which has loopholes allowing the Centre to take back the devolved powers. Along with the demand for abolition of the Executive Presidency, and further devolution to smaller units, it would give all the people of Sri Lanka more control over their lives, instead of having their lives ruled by a remote power in Colombo that knows little and cares less about their needs”.
    So, it is high-time we start to RETHINK in terms of a solution that would address the ASPIRATIONS ALL THE PEOPLE in the country, not just the aspirations of the Tamils, in a just and meaningful way rather than continue to criticize other people for their “faults
    A UNIQUE concept that moves towards a meaningful and just power-sharing arrangement (not devolution) based on true democracy – a large number of people participating in the governance of the country based on equality, equity – is a great deviation from the usual thinking of the meaning of the word “sharing of power” is given below for the perusal and comments of concerned people.
    The best political solution/system of governance to address the problems faced by various sections of the Sri Lankan society – particularly the poor, the politically weak and the various categories of “minorities” who do not carry any “political weight” – would be to DILUTE the powers of all elected representatives of the people by separating the various powers of the Parliament and by horizontally empowering different sets of people’s representatives elected on different area basis to administer the different sets of the separated powers at different locations.
    It has to be devolution HORIZONTALLY where each and every set of representatives would be in the SAME LEVEL as equals and in par and NOT VERTICALLY, where one set of representatives would be above (more powerful than) the other, which is the normal adopted practice when talking of devolution, in this power-hungry world. It is because “devolution of power” has been evolved “vertically”, we have all the trouble in this power-hungry world. So, for sustainable peace it should not be the present form of “devolution of power” but “dilution of powers” or “meaningful sharing of powers” in such a way that no single person or single set of people’s representatives be “superior” to another.
    This system of governance would help to eradicate injustice, discrimination, corruption and oppression – the four pillars of an evil society – and help to establish the “Rule of Law” and “Rule by ALL” for sustainable peace, tranquility and prosperity and a pleasant harmonious living with dignity and respect for all the inhabitants in the country. It is based on the principle that everyone must have similar powers, rights, duties and responsibilities and most importantly everyone should be deemed “equal” and treated “equitably” before the law not only on paper but also practically – be it the Head of State, The Chief Justice or the voiceless poor of the poorest in the country.
    Since all political and other powers flow from the sovereignty of the people, it is proposed herein that these powers be not given to any ONE set of representatives but distributed among different sets of people’s representatives (groups) elected on different area basis (village and villages grouped) to perform the different, defined and distinct functions of one and the same institution – the Parliament – like the organs of our body – heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, nose, ear etc. – performing different and distinct functions to enable us to sustain normal life.
    In these suggestions the powers of the Parliament have been so separated and distributed among different sets of people’s representatives in different areas so as to dilute the powers of an individual representative or that of a set of representatives in any area. (Dilution is better than Devolution)

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    From http://www.island.lk/2010/05/30/features9.html

    ###

    Grievance first, devolution later (if at all)

    by Malinda Seneviratne

    Kalana Senaratne, in an article titled ‘Will there be peace before death?’ published in http://www.groundviews.org, begins an interesting essay on the 13th Amendment with the obvious preamble that the end of a war is followed by the resurfacing of problems that could not be resolved through the use of force.

    He offers that the answer to political problems rests in our own attitudes and perceptions, and in our ability to compromise. He singles out two issues; that of ‘devolution of power’ and ‘promotion and protection of human rights and equality’; as challenges that confront us and ones on which people hold strong and uncompromising views. He is correct. These have been talked-to-death issues over at least two decades and the two have often been conflated for reasons of political convenience. They can be but are not necessarily related. Kalana makes this distinction.

    He dwells at length on the issue of devolution, picking the debate over the 13th Amendment as an illustrative case of the condition he laments – i.e. perceptions and (in)ability to compromise. I am yet to come across as clear and accurate a delineation of the contending positions, pointing to the fault lines that have time and again caused fissures in discussion and crumbled compromise when it comes to devolution. Being an opponent of the 13th Amendment and devolution along the lines proposed by both Eelamists and their academic and other apologists, I will focus on the issues that Kalana raises regarding objections to the 13th.

    He observes that some of the arguments against the 13th Amendment are presented mischievously. For example, the on-the-ground failure of the 13th is not a sufficient argument against devolution, Kalana points out, because ‘failure’ can be attributed to ‘the inability and/or unwillingness to implement,’ and less a matter of a waste of resources than the problem of those who were supposed to implement it. He is absolutely correct here. Just because some Christian or Buddhist fundamentalist does something horrendously uncivilized in the name of Jesus on Lord Buddha, it does not mean that the respective faiths or their founders are uncivilized and/or erroneous. The 13th can be rubbished on other grounds that have nothing to do with identity-issues and which indeed are foregrounded by issues of democracy, human rights etc.

    I find Kalana’s observation regarding myth and reality to be spot on. This is what he says:

    ‘One would not believe in the concept of a ‘traditional homeland’ or in a merged North-East, and would dismiss these ideas as political myths. But the fact that the majority of the North and the East consist of Tamil speaking people is not a myth, along with the fact that this demand for power-sharing had always been the predominant demand of the Tamil minority, or its representatives, elite or otherwise.’

    Yes, ‘Tamil-speaking’ and this, let us not forget, was political sleight of hand on the part of Prabhakaran and a little game that Ashraff, the founder of the SLMC was happy to play. The two communities, Tamil and Muslim, in terms of linguistic commonality do make the majority. It doesn’t mean that the total land area of the North and East is mostly ‘Tamil-speaking’ though. The linguistic issue can have a language-related ‘solution’ and the legislation for this already exists. Political will has been slow off the blocks, but it is not standing still either. Citing ‘language’ when convenient and leaving it out when it is not is bad, insincere and ‘rubbishable’ politics. That kind of conflation is good for Eelamists, not for any sensible person who genuinely wants resolution or is agreeable to deferring to superior logic.

    Yes, the demand for power-sharing has always been a biggie as far as the Tamil minority is concerned. So? All kudukaarayas (drug addicts) consistently want heroin. When they run out of money they rob. It is quite ok to demand, but for a demand to be reasonable, it must flow from grievance. Having said this, I do agree that ‘devolution’ cannot be rubbished off the political stage easily, but for different reasons from what Kalana offers. Devolution has been politically accorded a kind of currency that is not congruent with the grievances that it seeks to redress. Furthermore, the grievances have been so frilled that their true dimensions need to be re-obtained. This is why I say that we are putting the cart before the horse when we talk about devolution and grievances.

    My contention, as the title indicates, is that ‘Devolution’ is not a necessary town that the nation-train has to pass on the way to a conflict-free, peaceful and harmonious future. I am not saying that we must not take a route that takes us through Devolution, but that the issue of devolution has been poorly framed.

    The question of whether or not the 13th Amendment makes Sri Lanka a federal entity or not is academic at a certain level. Kalana believes that the 13th is harmless. One doesn’t write into law and implement all harmless things. That makes constitutional enactment a joke.

    The bottom line here is that we have to work up from minority grievances. ‘Devolution’ cannot only be about efficiencies (the 13th is inefficient for reasons other than those that Kalana states), it has to allude to the grievances. We are not talking about aspirations here because that’s a as-high-as-the-sky kind of thing. We are talking instead of real grievances of a community that is clearly aggrieved. We are talking of redressing these grievances and doing without disregarding demographic realities, political do-ability and in ways that make economic sense.

    It is important to understand, as Kalana argues, that resolution of grievances (through devolution or in some other manner, as made ‘appropriate’ by grievance-dimension) must go hand-in-hand with ‘constitutionalism, the rule of law, the establishment of independent institutions and a firm resolve to promote and protect human rights and equality’, not just to placate minority anxiety but in creating the conditions conducive to a wholesome citizenry.

    It all begins from the beginning that time was made to forget by a kind of politics that I suspect did not necessarily like it: GRIEVANCE. Forget it and all ‘solutioning’ is easily reducible to crass politicking.

    Kalana is absolutely right: an opportunity, a tremendous opportunity, has arrived, now that there is an absence of violent conflict; but success depends on how well that opportunity is used, or utilized.’ I would add, it depends on how honest we want to be about what we gripe about.

    Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]