Reconciliation is a process which can rebuild the jagged relationships between diverse groups that have been victims of violence in Sri Lanka.
International Human rights organizations maintain that the reconciliation efforts by the Sri Lankan Government should be a wake-up call for President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The slow pace of transitional justice in Sri Lanka and the lack of a comprehensive strategy to address accountability for past crimes risk derailing the momentum towards lasting peace, reconciliation and stability .This critical opportunity in Sri Lankan history cannot be missed. The Government and people of Sri Lanka need to prioritize justice alongside reconciliation, to ensure that the horrors of the past are firmly dealt with, never to recur.
When focusing on the violence of the past, the violence in the South that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, comes into mind together with the violence associated with the ethno-political conflict in the North.
President Sirisena came to power on a promise that he would restore the rule of law, end the country’s international isolation and take steps towards reconciliation with the Tamil ethnic minority. The political momentum was also in favour of the government as it had the support of the dominant sections of the two largest parties in the country.
The end of the war created opportunities to ensure the reconciliation process and harmony. However, these opportunities were are not utilized properly by the past political regime. After the regime change, President Mithripala Srisena is making efforts towards reconciliation. This is indeed a challenging process.
It is a societal process that involves mutual acknowledgment of past suffering and the changing of destructive attitudes and behavior into constructive relationships toward sustainable peace. The Promotion of justice and reconciliation is paramount for post-conflict peace building. Respect for the specific historical and cultural context of a conflict and of a domestic reconciliation process is essential. Reconciliation is now clearly seen as a crucial dimension of conflict prevention.
After the end of the war, there have been two regimes in Sri Lanka. One is the Mahinda Rajapaksha regime. The other, the Maithripala Sirisena regime.
Reconciliation during Mahinda Rajapaksa regime
After victory over the LTTE in 2009, in a popular speech delivered in the aftermath of the Sri Lankan armed forces, the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa declared: “We have removed the word minorities from our vocabulary three years ago. No longer are there Tamils, Muslims, Burghers, Malays and any others minorities. There are only two categories of people in this country. Patriots and non- patriots”
Maithripala Sirisena is the only President in the world who reduced his executive powers. This was done through the 19th amendment of constitution, (through the 19th amendment the President has reduced his executive power and paved the way for the creation of the constitutional council.) The ethnic war was considered as the result of centralization and the executive presidential system. At this time, the 19th amendment reduces the power of the Executive President, providing hope for the minorities for a resolution to their problems.
The onus is on President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe to champion what was promised and reenergise the reform project. Inaction and apathy now will dash the hope of meaningful reconciliation and pave the way to greater authoritarianism.
A victim of violence speaks out
Kirutharasa Marymalini from Paalapperumalkaddu, Kuruvil, Mannar, speaks thus on reconciliation:
“I, Marymalini, was born in 1957, at Kurunagar in Jaffna. My mother was a housewife and father was a fisherman. I have two brothers and a sister.. We lived happily, when we were in Jaffna.
Sri Lanka is a multi–ethnic nation. Therefore, we all should live without any ethnic, religious or language differences as the children of a mother with equality and brotherhood.
The difficulties and sufferings faced by the Tamils during the war is not explainable. That maybe because we are born in Sri Lanka as Tamils. We cannot explain our sufferings in words. The memories of the past life still bring tears. We never want this sorrowful life hereafter. The wish of our people is that we should live peacefully in our own villages.
Everybody says that we have got a good government. They are doing good things. But we do not know how they are going to give a permanent solution to the Tamil community. The Government should take decisive steps. War crimes should be interrogated and those who were engaged in such crimes should be given punishment, Compensation for destruction of properties and loss of life should be given, the laws and functions of the institutions should be changed according to the present situation, the security for the public should be ascertained. If the government takes steps to implement the proposals, I fervently hope that our country will achieve progress.
“In 1990, clashes started between the movement and army. So our father took us to Nachchikuda in Kilinochchi. Later, we were displaced to Madu, Arippu, Thadchanamaruthamdu and many places. In 1996, I got married.. I have four children, two boys and two girls. They are all studying. He looks after us with his fishing. My parents also live with me. I look after them also satisfactorily.
In 2007, war broke between the army and the movement and were displaced. From 2007 to 2009, we were displaced. We lost all our belongings and suffered a lot without even basic food and clothing. We somehow managed to live with our children. By February 2009, we came to the army via Iruddumadu. They provided us a temporary house and basic facilities.
By October 2009, we were resettled in our native village. They provided us basic facilities. We have been given a house in a housing scheme. Life is very challenging. My four children are studying. We somehow manage the family.
I can tell many unforgettable incidents but now I will tell one. During the final stage of the war, we underwent lot of hardships. Above all, it is strange that we escaped without any injury. This could have been possible only by the grace of God. The people of our village live unitedly. There is no any caste discrimination. Everybody is committed to helping the others.
Youth unrest should be addressed
Employment is the severe problem. Many people are unemployed. They all should be provided with employment. Many youth; boys and girls are unemployed and due to this, they live in depression and engage in unwanted activities. Also, they become addict to drugs. At this juncture, the Government should come forward to provide employment.
The war began the Tamil people believed that their rights were not given. Now, the war is silenced but the fact is that the government has not yet taken complete action for the peaceful living of the Tamils. Therefore, the Government should give all rights to the Tamil community. They should be allowed to live in our country without any threat or fear.
Still, the problem and control of the army and CID continue in some areas. Even after many years have passed since the conclusion of the war, the continuation of threats and pressure are still challenges in the life of Tamil people. Therefore, this situation should be changed. My desire is that Tamils and other minority communities should live with self-respect and equal rights as the majority community”
The above story is taken from the website called, www.memorymap.lk. You will find many other similar real life stories of Sri Lankans of all communities who have been victims of violence in this website. They have all risen from their terrible experiences and are going forward in life. They do not want to see violence ever again.
A bright future ahead
Let us as Sri Lankans do our best to understand one another and live in peace and harmony and contribute to the development of our beautiful country. Let us sow seeds of reconciliation, so that our future generations never witness violence and war in the North, South or anywhere in our country.