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Old 03-12-11, 11:09 PM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

The promise and potential for reconciliation

Text of a presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP, Advisor on Reconciliation to the President at the National Conference on Reconciliation on November 24 at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime

Andrew Marvell was writing about love or rather, to be blunt, sex. In talking about reconciliation, I should also be talking about love, or rather about charity, the Greek word Caritas as in the enormously helpful NGO of that name which refers to that universal loving kindness which the Buddhist concept of metta also encompasses.

Caritas requires sympathy as well as understanding, and I believe we can see much of this in action. Unfortunately the theoreticians about reconciliation who seem to dominate the discourse about Sri Lanka seem often bereft of these feelings. On the contrary we see an excess of self-righteousness which takes little account of the actual suffering that must be assuaged.

Reconciliation does require healing, but the wounds that must be healed are those of deprivation rather than resentment. It is in that context that we must understand the distinction we have heard between restorative justice and retributive justice. Those who declare themselves proponents of the latter claim that punishment is required for those who did wrong, but they forget that, on the one hand, many of those guilty of the worst excesses are beyond punishment, and on the other that many of those responsible for manifold deaths were forced into actions for which they cannot be held wholly responsible.

LTTE cadres

At its simplest, there is no doubt that civilians seeking to escape were fired on and many died. It would not only be impossible, it would also be perverse to engage in protracted investigation of the many LTTE cadres who surrendered, to see if any of them had engaged in such activity. Rather, our stress should be on ensuring that all those who lost loved ones come to terms with their bereavement.

This is difficult, and we see from much of the testimony before the LLRC that what concerns people is finding out what happened to their loved ones, not clarifying responsibility for any deaths. And the fact that search extends back into the last century, the need for clarification that was not satisfied during so many years of war, make it clear what our priorities should be with regard to the past, not punishment but understanding and sympathy.

I should note that I do not mean that prima facie cases of abuse should not be investigated. But we should use the investigative resources we have, not in pursuing cases based on manipulated evidence, but rather on finding out what we can about the missing. This I believe we should have done more thoroughly from the moment resettlement began, and I think the longer we delay, the longer we will have to wait for reconciliation. In that regard I believe the interim measures proposed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission were spot on, and I believe government has not done enough in pursuing those recommendations actively.

I hasten to add that I know much has been done. But I cannot understand why those tasked with fulfilling those recommendations did not make clear what they were doing, record what was achieved, and draw up schedules of work to make it clear that they were pursuing their responsibilities coherently as well as actively. I hope that at least now, with the LLRC having finished its task, we will do much better in this regard.

What was the reason for our failure to do what was required, I believe the answer lies at the heart of the problems we still face as to reconciliation. I believe we have done much that should have made reconciliation easy. Some of this will be referred to later, but if I could sum things up briefly with regard to living conditions in the area worst affected by the conflict;

1. Two years ago it was claimed that we would delay resettlement, however almost all those displaced in the last year of the war are now resettled.
2. Two years ago it was claimed that we would hold former cadres in custody indefinitely, but almost all have now been rehabilitated and have returned to their homes, and it seems that only a few hundred, if that, will be charged
3. Two years ago the Vanni had hardly any infrastructure, much has been put in place, including hospitals and schools where previously facilities had been primitive
4. Banks have set up in all areas, and commerce is flourishing more than ever before.

External consumption

All this and more has been done. However information about this is not readily available. It can be obtained with difficulty, but it is not easy to collate, and as a result there is more emphasis on failures rather than successes.

A ready example of what I mean can be seen in the response, or rather the lack of a response, to the document that the Tamil National Alliance tabled in Parliament on October 21st. It was obvious that this was prepared for external consumption, and I do not blame the TNA for making certain allegations, for that is part of the cut and thrust of political debate and maneuvering. But with no response from government, I have since been told as though they were totally to be relied upon about their presentation by people they met in America, and I have been asked about it by a commentator in Australia, who had been approached about a particular claim by someone else.

I answered that claim, but the response was the government has not responded to the TNA report which doesn’t speak too well for them, to which the commentator added, ‘since it was a public TNA statement should not the government present facts and figures etc in both Parliament and newspapers?’ The short answer is of course, but we never do, because we still do not understand that positive actions need to be communicated, they need to be understood and appreciated.
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Old 03-12-11, 11:17 PM
sriyanjay sriyanjay is offline
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Default Cont.Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

Potential beneficiaries

Caritas, or loving kindness, also needs to be a two way process. By laying out clearly what has been done, you also leave it open to beneficiaries to point out what more can be done, where there are shortcomings, where more effort should be concentrated. To give a simple example of what I mean, we had the National Savings Bank recently telling us in Parliament that they had opened several branches in the North. When asked how many of these were outside the Jaffna District, they took a long time to answer - so long that impatient colleagues in Parliament tried to move on - and finally said none. Now I do not think this was deliberate neglect, but it needs concentration and concern to make sure that more deprived areas also benefit from proactive measures to promote prosperity.

Because we do not communicate well, we do not plan well. Planning is often done in isolation, with inadequate consultation of potential beneficiaries. Of course in some instances it could have been argued that urgent action was necessary, and I can see that the enormous strides made in 2009 might not have been possible if we waited not only to consult more widely, but to identify with whom to consult. But more recently, with both appointed and elected officials in place, it would make sense to have regular discussions, to promote mutual understanding. And if it seems that some of those in what should be positions of authority have no experience of the planning process, we should embark on training programmes for the purpose.

I was surprised, for instance, in discussions with some elected representatives, that they had never thought of what they wanted to achieve for the people they represented, what they felt should be minimum goals with regard to utilities and health and education facilities.

Regular consultation on such matters might help with filling appalling gaps now in what government has achieved, well built schools for instance that have few teachers, or wonderful bridges but without half decent roads to access them.

All this is depressing, precisely because so much has been achieved, and a little bit of sympathetic understanding would have ensured that the reconciliation process would have gone much further than it seems to have done in the two years since the conflict ceased.

We need more order and method in planning as well as in explaining what is being done. We need better training for public servants as well as elected officials to make sure they can plan and implement projects efficiently and measure and maximize benefits.

We need to work much more coherently on the bilingual and trilingual skills that will allow our people to communicate with each other without the barriers that now loom so large. And we need to develop more schemes by which youngsters of all communities can work together, play together and also engage in joint projects.

I come back to the need for a much more coherent education system, with particular attention to developing competent administrators as well as creative teachers in the subjects that matter most.

Vocational skills

We need to move much more swiftly on tertiary training that is meaningful, combining vocational skills with personality development and competencies that will promote management and entrepreneurship. We should encourage community development projects that enhance dignity without entrenching dependency. And, by drawing attention to initiatives that have succeeded, by supporting those doing well, whether in the public or the private sector, we must allow those who have suffered to feel that they can get on with their lives, receiving support when they need it, but without controls that will inhibit their full development.

The land is full of promise. We need to allow people to realize their full potential, and we need to move swiftly and coherently. We cannot run the risk of resentments developing again simply because we do not develop mutual trust, through better communication, more consultation, careful consideration of benefits as well as possible complications through proposed projects and policies. As Marvell went on to say,

The grave’s a fine and private place
But none, I think, do there embrace

We cannot bring back the dead, but we must do what we can to comfort and give new hope to the living., so that none will think it desirable to join them.

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