Colombo, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Reconciliation, Vavuniya, War Crimes

Reconciliation in Sri Lanka: Breaking the Myth and Bringing the Truth

“There cannot be reconciliation without justice. Justice and equity are at the core of reconciliation” – Professor Hizkias Assefa

The platform for an “genuine reconciliation” should be rooted via the democratic exercises, rights and participation of all citizens throughout a country. But, if people are under fear to express their grievances and aspirations, including opposition political parties, dissident voices, independent media and even some ruling party government ministers how can a national minority discriminated and oppressed for more than five decades practice their rights in Sri Lanka?

If a conducive environment to experience human fundamental rights including basic human needs (non negotiable rights such as survival, wellbeing, freedom and identity according to peace studies scholars) and to enjoy the values of democracy in Sri Lanka does not exist, then what guarantee is there that a ‘genuine reconciliation’ will take place?

From a perspective genuine reconciliation should start from the mind, heart and soul of all human beings and it should not be forcefully implemented through state activity. However, in practice the Sri Lankan government is forcing Tamil people to take part in a whitewashing reconciliation process. “Genuine reconciliation” is impossible unless the oppressed can enjoy their rights and all communities experience a conducive ambience towards democratic values. The present regime does not even accommodate dissidents from the majority Sinhala community, including “their” own former army commander. Hence, how can they provide justice and accommodate Tamils aspiration?

How can people still believe in such a whitewashing reconciliation process even after the regime consitutionalized its dictatorship through the 18th Amendment? The last nail in the coffin of Sri Lankan Democracy is also helping to bury genuine reconciliation along with it.

TNA parliamentarian Hon. Sumanthiran who opened the debate for the opposition questioned in the parliament asked whether “… the Cabinet had a copy or even a draft of this Bill? What the Cabinet certified and what was sent to the Supreme Court were two different versions and this came to light at the hearing in the Supreme Court.[1]

Did the people of Sri Lanka get to freely express their views and then be granted the 18th Amendment to their own constitution or did they have to be solemnly resolved by to let the mandate and the confidence reposed in their representative do the granting and expressing for them?[2]. According to Sumanthiran “there wasn’t even any notice to the public; and only twenty-four hours notice given to the Supreme Court[3].

If the present regime can play around with the supreme law of Sri Lanka like this, how can normal citizens even imagine that reconciliation with this government is possible? The unlimited power of a family dynastic dictatorship is an absolute disaster on Sri Lankan Democracy. It is obvious that Tamil people did not expect any miracle from the 18th constitutional amendment as they had already had bitter experiences from previous constitutions and amendments which only legitimized oppression. But the downright disappointment right now is that the Sinhalese themselves are being cheated by the Rajapakse regime.

Past constitutions predominantly oppressed the Tamil people, but for the first time in the history of Sri Lanka the Sinhala and Muslim people going to experience mass suffering under the a dictatorship legitimized through the 18th amendment to the Constitution passed in parliament with a illegitimate 2/3rds majority. It has led to a “collective victimization through undemocratic constitution changing or making” going beyond ethnic differences and thus becoming a common issue for or communities in Sri Lankan in relation to reconciliation.

At this crucial juncture the following issues are imperative and unavoidable. As Simon Hughes MP quoted at the British parliament on the 15th of September 2010 “tens of thousands of Tamils are still interned in camps since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009”. He further noted that “thousands of people, including children, are suspected of being held in secret detention without charge or access to the outside world and are therefore at increased risk of torture and extrajudicial execution.”[4]

If Sri Lanka is indeed free from “terror” then why does the regime still have emergency laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)? In addition to this there has been no adequate resettlement for Tamils and Muslims. On the contrary state sponsored Sinhala colonization is being carried out hastily, while Tamil people are prevented to go or resettle in their traditional inhabitant places by the creation of High Security Zones (HSZ) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in these areas.

If well planned “state” activities are carried out in a rapid manner the Tamil national minority will not be able to claim themselves to be a “national” minority over time, because they may disappear to be substantially reduced in areas which they are supposed to be majority. The Post-war Sinhala colonization scheme of the Rajapakse regime is a program to reduce and make Tamil speaking communities (Tamil and Muslim people) as minorities in each and every region and province. This plan is slowly succeeding in the Eastern province. Not only will this reduce the claim for self-determination or self-autonomy, but even if there is a power sharing arrangement including federalism, the exercise of Tamil people independency will be questionable.

The Northern Province of Sri Lanka is controlled with a high-level military presence making it an open-prison. If there is a civil administration functioning in the Northern region then why does almost all major events including opening ceremonies, temple festivals, school programs and cultural programs take place with a military presence? More than three-thousand Christian, Hindu and Islamic religious places have been destroyed by the war, but government programs aiding to rebuild these religious places are inadequate. At the same time the government is very keen to build, rebuild and expand Buddhist temples all around the Northeast of Sri Lanka alongside its militarization program.

On one hand the Rajapakse regime is constructing new monuments for fallen Sri Lankan Armed Forces while on the other hand they demolished almost all monuments to fallen LTTE cadres. Successive Sri Lankan governments failed to protect the war memorials. Going on further then this, the Rajapakse regime and a majority of the Sinhala community celebrated the one year war victory over the LTTE. At the same time, they did not allow Tamil people to commemorate the massacre of their kith and kin which numbered nearly forty-thousand in the last phase of the war in May 2009. Despite military intimidation in the Northeast of Sri Lanka, people gathered to observe religious rituals and remember their loved one’s in religious places, particularly in churches and in some parts of the Northern region.

Remarkably, a handful of Sinhala and Muslim people shared this helpless situation with the Tamil people because they knew about the true atrocities that were committed against the Tamil people. Some Sinhala friends wrote and told their Tamil friends that “we are very shamed to call ourselves Sinhalese, when we see or hear what atrocities were forced on Tamil people; we are very sorry for it and please accept our sincere apologies, we know that our sorry is not going to bring anything for you, but at this moment this what we can say”. Another Sinhala friend is working with dedication at a war affected children’s home in the Northern Province. If she wants, she really can study abroad or work at a high level organization in Colombo, but she decided she wants to contribute at least towards rebuilding the life of “survivors”. These can be the roots for forgiveness in the future, if any genuine reconciliation occurs. Any process of reconciliation is unfeasible until victims forgive as forgiveness is at the heart of reconciliation.

These destructive attitudes mentioned earlier are only some examples when considering actions for reconciliation in Sri Lanka. All the above mentioned discrimination and oppressions are hurting minds, hearts and souls of the Tamil people in an auxiliary manner thus pushing the Tamil people further away from the reconciliation process.

The Rajapakse Regime is contradicting their own statements and with their own activities. The regime is enduringly suspicious of the Tamil community. A Climate of Doubt will never take the reconciliation process to the right destination.

Additionally, the Rajapakse regime is attempting to use development as a tool, in order to divert international attention on war crimes, crimes against humanity and the humanitarian situation. International independent investigations on War Crimes charges and Crimes against Humanity” will lead towards justice for the people, who have been deprived by Sri Lanka’s system in the past. James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch said, “the US State Department report shows that nearly 15 months after the war, the Sri Lankan government has accomplished nothing for the victims of war crimes. Real progress on justice demands an international investigation”.[5] Justice and rights are need for the Tamil people rather than a military solution and cheating development plans.  Sri Lanka cannot exercise lasting peace unless there is justice and a political solution for the national question.

The development strategy is not going to strengthen war affected Tamil people in comparison to other societies in Sri Lanka. This development strategy is similar to that used by former President Chandrika Kumarathunga’s “War for Peace” strategy, which utterly failed to bring even a negative peace and led Sri Lanka towards a dark economic era.

The Rajapakse regime’s military victory and activities of reconciliation have not created any paths to respect and recognize the Tamil people’s dignity, equity and sovereignty. Furthermore there has been no single concrete measure taken to provide justice for the Tamil people, who are severely affected by discriminatory policies and principles of Sri Lanka’s successive governments since Sri Lanka’s “independence”.

The Tamil people need normalcy, dignity, justice and a durable peace for a better life rather than a whitewashing “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” and untruthful reconciliation process.  The past history and Amnesty International’s report “Twenty years of make-believe – Sri Lanka’s Commissions of Inquiry” precisely shows the capacity of Sri Lanka’s commissions  and its ineffectiveness and inefficiency. How can the “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission” be genuine and truthful, if military intelligence officers are monitoring and taking notes of the entire hearing as people try to present their testimonies? This has taken place in Vavuiya, in Northern Sri Lanka in mid August (Virakeasari, August 15, 2010, Page 11). This shows that the LLRC is not credible but it also brings-out that Sri Lanka is heading to a complete militarized dictatorship like Burma.
In the last twenty years, a considerable number of commissions were formed by Sri Lankan authorities to deal with the past but all of those commissions failed to be credible. Even though, due to demands and with the hope of finding out about their kith and kin people are still appearing before the commissions there are no witness protection mechanisms for these people in Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka’s commissions are operating without independency and accountability, the government does not allow any international independent human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights council to function in Sri Lanka.

Therefore, this leads to the conclusion that the Rajapakse regime’s uses reconciliation to handle the international community’s mounting pressure on recent developments in Sri Lanka to aid in hiding and justifying their continued discrimination against Tamil people.


[1] http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/09/12/sumanthiran-at-his-best/

[2] Cited from the 1978 constitution

[3] http://www.groundviews.org/wp-content/uploads/Sumanthiran-Speech-on-18th-Amendment-Bill-corrected-full-version.pdf

[4] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmedm/100915e01.htm

[5] http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/08/11/sri-lanka-us-report-shows-no-progress-accountability

  • TT

    In my view people must reconcile with each other unconditionally. There cannot be any condition for me to reconcile with my neighbour. Laying down too conditions for reconciliation is a sure way to stop it.

    Government must ensure equal fundamental rights to all. Government must hold democracy (not 100% pure democracy but what is fitting for a developing third world country). Everyone must honour democracy which includes bowing to majority decisions. If majority decisions are not accepted by the majority, it is the fault of the minority not the majority. If the majority makes decisions that are detrimental to the minority it is the fault of the majority. However, democracy allows this. It is upto the people to conduct responsibly.

    If over the non-fulfilment of their preconditions for reconciliation, Tamils in the North refuse to reconcile, they will be the losers becasue reconciliation benefits Tamils more than anyone else. The state and the political majority can achieve political, economic, cultural, etc. aspirations easily in the present setting in all 25 districts anyway they please. This is the reality. By refusing the reconcile for whatever reason, Tamils will be the losers not others.

    So I plead with Tamil brothers and sisters not to lay preconditions for reconciling with the Sinhalese and Muslims. We are reconciling not with the government but with the people. We are people and they are people too. We can have people to people reconciliation without any condition. Having established people to people reconciliation, we can then move to arrest political and military powers. This is the only way.

    Let me remind again, if Tamil people don’t reconcile and integrate with the Sinhalese and Muslims, Tamil people will be the biggest losers. The military option is not available to Tamil people but it is avialable to the state.

    In 1931, 1947, 1952, 1956, 1965, 1976, 1982, 1987, 1989, 1995, 2002, 2006 and 2009 Tamil people’s representatives made conditions to integrate and what happened? We cannot afford to do it again.

    Muslims, Upcountry Tamils, Moors, etc. don’t make preconditions to integrate with others. Tamils shouldn’t.

  • Navaratnam

    Rajapakse’s fake reconciliation to detract the UN debate away from SL’s ‘crimes against humanity’ to IDPs in concentration camps; delays in their release, resettlement and rehabilitation

  • Rohan

    Rajapaksa is blaming instability in Sri Lanka on the LTTE is the only way the majority community can hide their true ambitions.

    It was clear from day 1 of independence in 1948 that tamils were not welcome and not equal.

    It took 30 years for the Tamils to take up arms and that only after the JVP led the way.

    Sinhala community would like the world to forget the loss of citizenship of plantation Tamils of indian descent who have been living in Sri lanka for generations.

    They clealry were not aware the meaning of the Sinhala only act, which forced majority of tamils out of government jobs.

    They also would like you to ignore the fact how successive governments have launched anti tamil progroms such as black July and the burning of Jaffna library.

    The JHU and other sinhalese supremacists have publically claimed that the island belong to the sinhalese and tamils do not need the same rights as the majority community.

  • ordinary lankan

    We finished the war – and ended up with a dictatorship. There is widespread demoralization about the hijacking of public institutions by all manner of rogues and scoundrels.
    The fact is that a dictatorship has been created – whether we like it or not.

    Most of the democratic logic and values we invoke will not get us anywhere now. The dictatorship has mastered the art of subverting democracy and also mastered the use of violence – something they will unleash without any hesitation against those who stand in the way. Most of the people are weary or they dont care. Some of us who care are powerless.

    We are powerless the make changes now but if we only realize this single fact – we can also do something to transform this powerlessness into a path of power.

    No.1 is that we must be self reliant – not expect change from others but change from within

    No.2 we must embrace all suffering people whether they belong to our ethnic communities or not

    So the two perspectives of self and suffering and the compassion this will generate are the core perspectives that will ensure a long term change – we have to keep faith and work for such a non violent change.

    eventually only NON – VIOLENCE will displace this dictatorship

    I must also salute TT for his noble sentiments

  • Saro

    The above article is the true reflection of what has been happening and how Rajapakse regime handle post-war period to placate international community and invite foreign investments and aid to establish his dynasty. Only a genuine attempt for reconciliation with an in dependent investigation of rights abuses, impunity to the abusers and war crimes committed by both parties will lead to justice to the victims and resolution of the ethnic problem.

  • Ratna

    All these lessons learned commission’s work is to fool the locals and the international community. If the government is so keen on bringing peace to the island, only thing they have to do is to allow Freedom of Press and Freedom of Speech.The general public is capable to decide whether the government is right or wrong. 

  • Srivan

    At UNGA, the Rajapaksa’s sympathy with the Palestinians does not seem to gravitate towards his own ethnic minority, the Tamils. The hippocracy of the President is revealed now to all the world as he addressed the UNGA, not seeking atonement for the thousands of civilians killed in the name of Sovereignty and Sinhala hegemony.

    But then, how could he tell the UNGA that he has no explanation why his government even after finishing the war continues to impose Emergency Regulations, continues to ban foreign and independent media from covering the LLTC, continues to move from demcocracy towards as steady and sharp decline towards oligarchy and nepotism.

    How could he tell that he only seeks to entrench his position as an autocratic leader on the back of winning the war.

    I wonder how the UN panel’s findings on the war would alter the course this govt. has taken post-war; ie the 18A which would take away every democratic right the Soulbury Constitution bestowed on the people of Sri Lanka and which successive governments since independence chipped away to appease the Sinhala majority.

    Rajapaksa would be looking over his shulders for many years to come; that is if he survives.

  • ordinary lankan

    “Only a genuine attempt for reconciliation with an independent investigation of
    rights abuses, impunity to the abusers and war crimes committed by both parties
    will lead to justice to the victims and resolution of the ethnic problem.”

    I have some questions about this formula. The international community has already let the Tamil community down with its moral impotence – first against the LTTE and now against the Rajapakse regime. They have failed miserably and in fact critics have pointed out that they mishandled the last phase of the war by not exerting enough pressure on the LTTE and exerting too much pressure on the Govt and forcing a quick closure to the war. That is a side issue.

  • ordinary lankan

    So the heart of the issue is taking responsibility for ourselves. Poeple have got used to looking up to all kinds of heroes to deliver but it has not worked. no one has delivered. Please face this truth.

    We have to take the responsibility – we have to change ourselves. How much longer and how many other disappointments do we need to realize this?

  • Rajapkse is dishonest and greedy for power.
    He promised to the voters that he will abolish the executive presidency, twice in his election campaigns. But after he won,
    he bribed corrupt MPs in the opposition with perks to cross over
    and passed Amendment No.18 to the constitution, thereby he ensured continuity as an absolute dictator.

  • TT

    Ordinary Lankan,

    Different sections of the society think differently. Some sections are very happy with their current set of ‘heroes’. As long as their ‘heroes’ continue to champion their interests, they will go after them. It is their choice. They outnumber the others.

    This, is the truth we must face.

  • sinhala_voice

    Rajapakse is in power because other people in other political parties did not assess the threat posed by the LTTE Tamil Separatism within Sri Lanka.

    Mahinda correctly analyzed the situation appointed capable people to confront the LTTE and secured the state of Sri Lanka.

    WHAT DID THE OTHERS DO FOR THE LAST 30 years ? ..

    UNPs lack of intelligence caused the 1983 ethnic riots….THis elivated the LTTE position in the world. Rather than seeing exactly for what they are:= Armed militia using violence for politics.

    Even after September 11 2001 was there a concerted effort by the GOSL to confront and disarm LTTE and related elements ? ANSWER:= NO;

    That is WHY we have Mahinda Rajapakse.

  • Somebody once said, “there is no victory until you subjugate the minds of the enemy?”
    Until Rajapaksa subjugates all his enemies, there will not be peace or reconciliation in the island of Jilmart!

  • Foreigner

    Hi. I think there are few alternatives when it comes to making peace with our neighbors, but a process of truth and reconciliation is one option. Letting resentments and hurts fester over the years to explode one day is the lesson of the Balkans; it is the lesson of the Hutus and Tutsi’s in Africa.

    Having said that, a blanket forgiveness will not allow injustices to be redressed as far as the victims of atrocities are concerned. They will feel personally cheated. So, there has to be punishment as well. We cannot send the message that murder and mayhem are alright in the end because the perpetrators will be forgiven. So, it would seem a thorough investigation of accusations is in order first, then punitive action, then reconciliation.

  • Ponniah

    this article is rubbish one like the others as ignorance of the history of the island. In any solution, starting point must be that

    1. Tamils is not minority but a nation that has been occupied by sinhalese
    2. Errors have been made by UK Government when the island got indeopendance
    3. Cheating and misrepresentation have been made to Tamil Leaders by DS Senanayake, then PM when Tamil members of Parlaiment signed the Soulbury Constitution.
    4. Tamils home land was colonised by the Sinhalese Goverment with Sinhalese population.

    Without these, no solution is possible but another war in future possible