22 June, 2018

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Activating Reconciliation Policy Requires Governmental Unity Now 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The setback suffered by the government at the local government elections has not dissuaded it from following through on its plans for national reconciliation. This is a cause for hope that the battle for national reconciliation through a lasting political solution is not yet lost, although it has got much delayed and the best time for moving forward is now  gone. The government recently appointed the members of the Office of Missing Persons and is preparing to pass a new law on enforced disappearances. However, the time frames for visible action may change, with constitutional reform being pushed to the back.  The political vulnerability of the government will be greatest with regard to constitutional reform that changes the nature of the state, and brings into focus the long term apprehension regarding the devolution of power.

One of the key themes of the opposition’s campaign at the local government elections was the alleged weakening of the state by the proposed constitutional reforms that sought to replace the current unitary state with a fragmented one, as a federal solution demanded by the Tamil polity has been described. The decades-long claim of Sinhalese nationalists has been that the devolution of power will weaken the central government, and will pave the way for the division of the country. At this election, as at previous ones in which the character of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has loomed large, the clarion call has been for a strong leader who centralize powers once again.  In this context it will be politically costly, maybe too costly, for the government to wish to revitalize the constitutional reform process that has been steadily evolving over the past three years.

There is presently a draft framework, albeit one in which there are still alternatives and options given, and in which the answer is not a single given. The leaders of the government need to be willing and able to show a do-or-die type of commitment to resolve the ethnic conflict with its seventy plus years of grievance, trauma and mistrust. That is indeed the only way in which the problem can be solved.  But it is unlikely the government will wish to deal with constitutional reform regarding the ethnic conflict at this time given the internal and external travails it faces.  The next opportune time for constitutional reform will come after the next round of national elections in late 2019 and early 2020. The best that might be done until such time with regard to constitutional reform will be for the government and those committed to promoting and supporting such change, to continue with the challenging task of public education on controversial political matters.

OMP Task 

The strategy of the government at this time is likely to be more on issues pertaining to the UN Human Rights Council resolution where the focus is on human rights issues than on larger constitutional issues. The ability of the political opposition to prejudice the minds of the people will be less on human rights issues than on constitutional issues. Human rights violations tend to focus on the deeds of individuals whereas constitutional issues focus on matters that concern the country as a whole.  In going ahead and appointing the commissioners to the Office of Missing Persons, the government has shown it is prepared to deal with issues of human rights violations, and promoting national reconciliation through addressing the grievances of individuals.

The recent appointment of members of the Office of Missing Persons is a positive example of continuing governmental commitment to the national reconciliation process. The government’s continued commitment to the reconciliation process and meeting the concerns of the victims of human rights violations is also be seen in its bid to pass the legislation pertaining to the crime of enforced disappearances. Many of those who went missing, and continue to be missing, were abducted by armed personnel who came in white vans, which was a branding symbol that struck terror in to all and sundry. The general public has been at the receiving end of this type of human rights violation on several occasions, not only during the period of the LTTE war, but also during the two JVP insurrections. However, it can be expected that those in the opposition, and who fear they will be held accountable for the human rights violations of the past, will seek to conjure up negative images of these new institutions.

The opposition to the OMP came immediately from members of the former government. They did not dispute the fact that there are tens of thousands of missing persons. But they questioned the usefulness of this new body in the context of previous commissions of inquiry into missing persons having submitted their own reports. They sought to undermine the credibility of the OMP by questioning the appointment of NGO leaders who had already taken a stand against perpetrators of war crimes. With their charisma and formidable communication skills, these former government leaders can be extremely effective in taking their negative message to the general population and generating opposition in them too.

Positive Messaging 

It is therefore important that the negative messaging of the opposition leadership should be countered by positive messaging by government leaders. It is important that they mainstream this counter-messaging without being satisfied with a niche audience, as those who oppose the reconciliation process are catering to the mainstream. Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga is playing a central role in this through the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation that she heads.  Last week ONUR launched a national policy on reconciliation and also three short movies by three of Sri Lanka’s most prominent film producers. The film “Thundenek” (also titled Her, Him, the Other in the English language) co-directed by Prasanna Vithanage, Vimukthi Jayasundara, and Asoka Handagama is composed of three inter- connected short stories with three parts.  They deal with themes that all Sri Lankans can identify with—loss, memory and inter-connectivity (dependent origination).

The first story in the trilogy is that of a soldier’s fiancé who goes through the agony of awaiting news of her missing love’s fate. There are over 5000 soldiers still missing in action and there will be as many families with unhealed wounds.  It helps us to reflect on the plight of the 15000 plus families of the missing from the Tamil community. The second story is about the exploitation that a poor Sinhalese family is subjected to when an LTTE member is reborn to them. It shows us the vulnerability of those who are poor and defenceless. The third story is about a yearning of a Tamil mother who mistakenly sees her missing son in a disabled soldier. It is about the love of parents that never dies. These are sad themes, but each one of them is realistic and could be for real. They enable us to see the other side of life, and the other side of our country’s people and generate empathy within us, as great art would do.

At the launch of the movies the three leaders who led the movement for the change of government in 2015 were present together in a show of unity that has not been since the honeymoon days of their victory.  Former President Kumaratunga spoke about obtaining the unity of the three film producers who pooled their talents to create a unique story line. President Sirisena spoke of the fomenting of violence against sections of the people which would not be permitted. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe spoke of the Sri Lankan ideal of uniting the people and the country that has existed from the times of the ancient kings. The small number of national leaders who speak in this manner and inspire all Sri Lankans on public platforms is a matter of concern. This has been seen most recently in Ampara in the case of the mob attacks on Muslims.  The leaders of the Muslim and Tamil political parties have condemned these incidents and made calls to the government to take deterrent action.  However, the paucity of government and opposition leaders making similar calls is most disturbing. It is to be hoped that these three leaders will resolve to fight for national reconciliation with the same determination that they fought for election victory in 2015 while sorting out the power political problems that divide them. There is less than two years more for this to be done.

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Latest comments

  • 4
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    Dr Jehan Perera, You say “The leaders of the government need to be willing and able to show a do-or-die type of commitment to resolve the ethnic conflict with its seventy plus years of grievance, trauma and mistrust.” Well, the government has tried to ‘do’, and they have ‘died’. So you need to learn to give in to majority wish. THAT IS DEMOCRACY after all.

    • 1
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      Democracy is NOT SUPPRESSION of the minorities and is not committing GENOCIDE.
      Winning elections based on Racism should be banned

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        Naman

        Yeah, good one.
        Democracy is NOT PLEASING the minority at the expense of the majority and LTTE’s committing GENOCIDE should never be allowed to happen again.
        The last one is the best. I fully agree with you – TNA should be banned.

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          Champa,

          The LLRC Commission that was instituted by the GOSL concluded as to what needs to happen to rebuild confidence and reconciliation. What do you think that the Commission rested its findings on?

          Why do you feel that the majority will be expenses by empowering the Tamils? Are the English loosing out because of regional power devolution? What do you think that you will loose out?

      • 3
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        You have hit the nail on the head. These guys use big words without understanding the meaning.

    • 3
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      National Peace council has been around for 20 years and what are it’s achievements ? Jehan Perera having his own House.

    • 1
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      Umpire,

      “THAT IS DEMOCRACY after all.”

      Brilliant! What is your understanding of the concept “DEMOCRACY”.

      Please enlighten us….

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    “The ability of the political opposition to prejudice the minds of the people will be less on human rights issues than on constitutional issues. Human rights violations tend to focus on the deeds of individuals whereas constitutional issues focus on matters that concern the country as a whole.”
    Old Royals are trying to protect them from UNHRC not the country. Jehan PhD is cheating even the Old Royals by this statement.
    Though Old Royals are taking forward their steps cautiously with the vicotry, Jehan PhD is celebrating the victory of the LG election here. Jehan PhD has been writing essays to confuse and disorient the International forces working on the Tamils’ issue as Yahapalanaya had completed the packages for every problem of Minorities. Just before election he wrote the Yahapalanaya will accelerate the Secret Solution Making right after the LG elections. Now has issued his promise of (irrelevant of who is going to win the next election) a statement that Sampanthar Secret Solution is postponed for after the next election. But very sadly, Sampanthar Aiya is claiming it is Old King is giving him separate country. Jehan PhD and the gang have derailed Sampanthar’s Secret Solution by manipulative crooked writing. Now Jehan PhD, without any hesitancy or shame saying if Sampanthar wants, he always could get it from Old Royals when they come back in the next election, by supporting them. Jehan PhD and the gang did know that diaspora was so clear of the plans of the Ranil. He was nervous diaspora would be success in persuading TNA defecting UNP as working with UNP would only destroy the TNA and thaw any efforts of IC, who wants to resolve the Tamils problem. Now Jehan PhD has given a clear Sinhala Only Jury verdict to that Sampanthar that he can sing or dance, but the Secret Solution is not coming during the Yahapalanaya time.

  • 1
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    We had written in these pages that Old Royals has been talking about dividing country through power devolution, so Ranil led UNP, if it was on honest in devolving power, but not want to leave the Old Royals set up another 1977 -1983 pogroms after election, they need go opposing Old Royal and educate the Sinhalese that it is time to devolve the power or face the consequences. But foxy Ranil, who just had won his contract of harbor sales with China and rejected ETCA for India, to consolidate Sinhala hegemony, stayed out of it campaigning against Old Royals’ racism. He was concentrating on election manipulation of wiping out chances of any one party getting majority so, not just UNP, not even the Old Royals can devolve the power if they want.

    The Paranagama Commission II has been created with the name of OMP, right at the moment to fool IC countries at the time of UNHRC conducting of its 37th sitting. The one and only person who had supported with government on this Paranagama Commission II , Sumanthiran too has said this commission has no Tamils faith.
    Working with China and selling many local assets, including Thambuttegama reservoir, Ranil has been very successful in neutralizing if any trade sanction come from UNHRC’s effort. Even from Old Royals time, it has been explored if West unitarily bring sanctions, then exports of Lankawe products like cloth and tea through Chinese labelling and facilitate Oil and other imports though Chinese Yuan. Thus National Unity government of SLFP-UNP, working with Old Royal on this election has defeated the UNHRC sitting 37th on Lankawe issue before it started last month in Geneva. Only one more chance left for Tamils, that is in the coming March, 2019 UNHRC refer Lankawe to UN Security Council before Yahapalanaya leave. Imposing sanctions as strong as like North Korea is important in Yahapalanaya time to stop other countries taking example from Lankawe and cheat UNHRC.

  • 2
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    Jehan Perera: where is democracy or the importance of Universal Franchise in your writing. YOu say 69% sinhala people are equal to 11% of Tamils, and I know where you are. IS your girl friend Tamil or Sinhala ?. I hered your pay master is bankrupt and they want NGOs to find their money on their own. IT looks you are writing for Tamils living in PVerseas. As you are prasing Ranil wickrmasinghe – well kniwn bank robber who is hanging to his position – may be he is supported by INGOs. He is fulfilling the INGOs needs. IF not I cannot understand why Ranil is behaving this naked, shameless and pathetic. WHy he doe snot know the meaning of SELF RESPECT. Peoole like position wealth and everything to promote their self worth. Now Ranil should be just a pauper. that is not like a two piece suit gentleman.

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    ‘Reconciliation’ has been pushed into ‘unpatriotic territory’. Unfortunately the meaning of ‘reconciliation’ is not being explained by our leaders.
    ‘Reconciliation’ is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition to get out of e state we are in presently.

  • 2
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    Unity government’s mammoth slogan “reconciliation” is no longer valid with the fall out of the “unity” among them. That is good in a way. At least we got rid of a word utterly abused and misused by the government against Sinhalese.

    • 1
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      Champa,

      The Sinhala need to deal with their own demons first before they can think about Reconciliation! They have not finished with dealing with the minorities yet; now is the turn of the Muslims. Once that is over, they will start on the Christians!

      You are the cheerleaders and foot solders are the poor deluded peasants!

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  • 1
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    Dear Jehan thank you.
    When we obtained Independence
    -We had one country.
    -We had 2 languages + education/admin in english.
    -We have changed this to two, one and then we are back to nearly being three again?.
    -We have one country with Buddhism/Hinduism/Muslim and Christian religions amongst few other ….except the God’s have changing fortunes in my country.
    -We were fortunate in post colonial times we had educated people who would have educated/empowered the fellow citizens redressing issues for a prosperous country insted they were hated/tagged as “minority” and treated/savaged as alliens with immunity.
    -We justified this by referring to some few thousand years old history as a reference point in the 21st century? while we went on praying the same god(s) of “love and peace”hoping for liberation of minds?
    -Ever since we have been spending time figuring out a way to justify the crimes….and the crimes leading to more crimes….then we invented the word terrorists and selectively applied this as required for more crimes??.
    – Having created the problem we never had now been looking at solutions in federalism/separatism/federalism/communalism/devolution of power? Even with the “constitutional assmbly” made up with the “oppressed/minority” representation for a “referendum after this is passed in the Parliment” we talk about “Politically Costly/Pushing back the constitutional reforms” etc???
    -I have not heard any valid intellectual argument to date “for” or “against” ie the pros and cons for public scrutiny/national interest the facts except more accusations of “devolution now and separation later” fed to the same masses as a kind of a drug?
    -This has brought me to think – the above is only possible if we have plans to remove/eradicate the armed forces of Sri Lanka correct?
    -Even for a person like me who never believed/believe in federalism/separatism… as a solution to the national problem (except “one country with Westminster setup” and all the criminals put away for good) the whole drama is beyond comprehension…….
    – After all the 70 years of killing fields who could possibly save my people and my nation I wonder?? I will settle down for a “movie” too please.

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