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.


[2] Cited from the 1978 constitution