25 September, 2018

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Government Takes Up Challenge Of Communicating Its Reconciliation Process 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

One of the areas in which the present government has been underperforming is in the area of communications. Previous governments have been conscious of the importance of communicating their messages to enable the general public to be informed of their achievements. They have also acted upon that very strong political impulse. There was a cartoon in the early 1990s showing former president Ranasinghe Premadasa emerging from out of multiple television sets. This was at a time when the government had ordered all television stations existing at that time in the country to carry the government news bulletin at the same time. The plethora of television stations of today did not exist at that time and it was easier for the government to compel the few independent television stations at that time to fall into line.

By way of contrast, the present government has been prepared to uphold the freedom of media to the extent that media institutions, including television stations, do not feel intimidated to be critical of the government and supportive of the opposition. The government has also not been fully utilizing the state-owned media to promote the government agenda. It is only in recent times that state media has begun to highlight the government’s achievements in a systematic manner. Nowadays the state media is giving emphasis to the economic development programmes of the government especially in the rural sector. What the government is doing in terms of development in different parts of the country are being communicated in a manner that gives people living in other parts of the country the hope that they too will be beneficiaries in the not-too-distant future. The communication of hope is a necessary one to sustain political support.

However, an area in which there continues to be a lacuna is that of national reconciliation. This continues to be an area of contestation due to the history of war, terrorism and war crimes committed during the campaign to carve out a separate state the country. Although the war has been over nearly a decade the wounds of war remain unhealed and the divided frames of mind continue to exist at all levels of society, and also within the mass media. The absence of a political solution that would address the roots of the ethnic conflict and the issues of accountability for human rights violations that occurred during the period of the war makes a for a potent mix that is being exploited by opposition political parties on both sides of the ethnic divide.

Ahanna Campaign 

Among the many election slogans of the opposition at the local government elections of February that saw it make significant gains, the issue of the threat posed to the country by separatist forces took a central place in the South of the country, whereas in the North it was the absence of a political solution to the grievances of the ethnic minorities. Addressing the concerns of the people regarding the implications of the reconciliation process requires constant communication with them to counter the polarizing messages of nationalist politicians on both sides of the ethnic divide.

So far the burden of explaining the need for a reconciliation process and the government’s plans in this regard has been left to civil society organisations. The experience of these groups is that the general population is receptive to the need for a reconciliation process. When the government’s plans in this regard are explained to them there is an appreciation of its positive features and their alignment to the national interest. However, the ability of civil society organisations to reach the scale of operations needed for countrywide impact is limited. There has been a need for government-led initiatives that set the tone, gives the necessary official seal of approval and obtains the degree of media publicity in order for the general population to believe that what is being explained to them is also what will happen. One such initiative is that undertaken by the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) headed by former president Chandrika Kumaratunga.

This month he government has commenced another awareness creation platform titled “Ahanna” in the Sinhala language (“listen” in English, “kelungal” in Tamil) which is presently engaging with the general population. The programme is being led by the government’s Secretariat to Coordinate Reconciliation Mechanisms in coordination with community police units. They are currently taking two routes from Colombo, one down the Galle Road and the other up the Kandy Road. The word “Ahanna” is more descriptive of what this awareness creation campaign stands for, as it suggests both listening and also asking questions and thereby promotes dialogue between those who are resource persons and the community. The resource persons are drawn from both the government and from civil society.

Continuing Lacuna 

The Ahanna campaign is an indicator that the government takes its mission of national reconciliation seriously and is seeking to mobilise community support for the reconciliation process. The need for the government to give leadership to reconciliation initiatives that bring people belonging to different communities closer to each other is that the answers to their differences cannot come from the communities themselves. The general population is divided on the issue of reconciliation as much as the political parties. There is a need for the government to transcend these ethnic and communal differences and propose those structures of governance in which a reconciled Sri Lankan polity and a Sri Lankan identity can best arise.

There are two important aspects to the reconciliation process that need to be conveyed to the general population. The first is the need for constitutional reform that would embody the principles on which constructive engagement and power sharing between the different ethnic communities will take place. The second is with regard to principles of transitional justice in which issues of past misgovernance and human rights violations are dealt with and reparations made. The recent establishment by the government of an Office of Missing Persons and the draft law on an Office for Reparations provide concrete material that can be shared with the general population at the present time. It is important to note that in taking the reconciliation message to the general population it is also important that a concrete framework for political and constitutional reform is placed before the people.

When the government of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga launched its “Sudu Nelum” campaign on a political solution, it had a concrete framework in terms of a “devolution package” that it had proposed and stood by. By way of contrast, the present government has not yet come out with its political framework for a political solution and constructive engagement between the ethnic communities. So far the government has only presented the different options that its constitutional expert committee has proposed without also stating the options that it will stand behind. Until the government does this, and its leaders champion those specific solutions, the message of Ahanna will necessarily have to be a general one rather than a passionate and committed one.

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    Unfortunately ‘reconciliation’ has got the ‘Unpatriotic activity’ stigma. ‘Reconciliation’ has been strongly soaked in ‘separation’ and sold sold sold. The unscrupulous merchants have made this word repugnant but corruption/nepotism/impunity acceptable.

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      There is no reconciliation process at all. For reconciliation to begin, there must be justice meted out to Tamils. So far it is not happening. In South Africa reconciliation process started only when power and territory were transferred to blacks, for which they were struggling for years. without that there would not have been any chance of reconciliation. In Sri Lanka Tamils have been fighting for self rule either as part of a single state or as an independent state. Is there any progress on this front. Previous government ruled it out openly, while the present government is adopting delaying tactics. The problem is that except a handful of Sinhalese, the rest are not in favour of sharing power and territory with Tamils in a fair and meaningful manner. Whatever government comes into power will either be racist or pampering to Sinhala racism. No Sinhala government will dare to go against Sinhala ideology of supremacist racism that entire land belong to them only and others are usurpers. Sinhalese say that they have defeated Tamils and now Tamils have to accept what they are doing. Sinhalese feel that if Tamil economy is uplifted, that is what is needed and no political empowerment. They are trying to achieve this by some slip shod development of Tamils areas and offer of few job opportunities. Change of government had not made any change in Sinhala thinking. Without meeting the demand of self rule in their entire territory, on which subject there is hardy any advance, there is no point in talking of any reconciliation with Tamils. As I have been saying, justice to Tamils will only materialise with foreign intervention.

      • 1
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        Dr Gnana
        “Without meeting the demand of self rule in their entire territory, on which subject there is hardy any advance”
        The reason why it has not advanced an inch is:
        No one has yet produced a document for discussion detailing a “solution” encompassing at least 90% of the Tamils( All Tamil speaking people irrespective of their religion or the date of arrival scattered across the island)
        Please understand that the moment you define the boundaries of Tamil Homeland the rest of the island becomes Sinhala Homeland and the Tamils falling within Sinhala Homeland will be required to be relocated into the Tamil Homeland. No proposal should leave behind a potential Rohingya like situation.

        Soma

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          Soma, your racism is clouding your thinking. Look at other countries. There are over 100 million Muslims in India despite creation of a Muslim majority country. There are large amounts of Irish in UK, despite creation of an Irish country. In both there is no agitation to expel them. So your argument that Tamils in the south have to be relocated to Tamil homeland smacks of racism. You are trying to bring Tamils of recent Indian origin and Tamil speaking Muslims into the picture to complicate the matter and deny indigenous Tamils to have their sovereignty restored. Stop threatening about potential Rohingya like situation. Remember that a sword has two edges, and Sinhalese will be the ultimate losers.

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            Dr Gnana
            We differ on one fundamental issue. The definition of ‘Tamil’ as regards a ‘political solution’. Your definition excludes those who practise Islam as religion and those arrived during the British while mine includes them. What is the official position of TNA when they speak of ‘Tamil Nation’? Does your definition include those who practise Christianity? What is the percentage of Tamils as per your definition out of total population? Those who practise Islam and those arrived during the British are not entitled for political solutions? Once again what is the official position of TNA when they claim to represent ‘Tamil Nation’?

            Soma

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          somass

          Where is the father and sons Udathalawinna famed gang, General Anuruddha Ratwatte and his two great patriotic sons?

  • 3
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    Dr Gnana, which Sinhalese said that they defeated Tamils? You have to stop promoting this notion in your own head and in the heads of other Tamils that Tamils were defeated.
    No no no, LTTE was defeated, terrorism was defeated, all peace loving Sri Lankans, of all creeds, colors, religions, casts, ethnicity won.

    Reconciliation is not considered unpatriotic, what is unpatriotic is the implication that reconciliation equals reconciling between the winners and the losers. The losers are the LTTE, and there is no reconciliation offered to the LTTE, period. The war was won against the LTTE a ruthless terrorist outfit, not the Tamils. The lives of Tamils just as the lives of Muslims and Sinhalese improved in many orders of magnitude by the winning the war against the LTTE.
    Do you remember when the JVP went berserk enacting Khmer rouge and the government’s response that was even more ruthless, who re conciliated with whom afterwards? There we go, we have no answer there!
    What is wrong with the whole notion of reconciliation pushed through by the west is that the west assumes that the war was between Tamils and Sinhalese and Sinhalese won. That immediately drive a wedge between the Tamils and Sinhalese. So stop that, please, and get together to improve the livelihood of Tamils Sinhalese and Muslims affected by the war, Rebuild, that should be the key word

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      Wannihamy, it is an undeniable fact that Sinhalese are equating defeat of LTTE to defeat of Tamils. Have you not heard Sinhala cry that Tamils are trying to get by legislative means what LTTE failed to get at the point of the gun, and are refusing to grant legitimate rights to Tamils to rule themselves in their lands which they have been living for so many centuries. You are concerned only about LTTE terrorism but refuse to acknowledge Sinhala terrorism which is being continued to be unleashed on Tamils. Did you hear about the incident at Mullaitivu yesterday, when Sinhala terrorists set fire to huts, boats and fishing nets belonging to Tamils. Finger is pointed at migrant Sinhala fishermen who want to drive native Tamil fishermen out of the area, with the connivance of those in power. This clearly indicates that time has come to eliminate Sinhala terrorism and save Tamils. Please remember though the war was between LTTE and government, it is a proxy war between Tamils and Sinhalese. Vaddukoddai resolution was not passed by LTTE, but Tamils, and due to the then government refusing to negotiate with Tamils for a solution, LTTE usurped this mandate and began an armed uprising to get it. If it was not a war between Tamils and Sinhalese, why is this inordinate delay in granting what Tamils had been struggling for all these years. If the war was not with Tamils, armed forces should have been withdrawn from Tamil areas moment LTTE was defeated not keeping large numbers of them back, and constitutional arrangement should have been in place. For your information, lives of Tamils have not improved as compared to Sinhalese and Muslims despite end of conflict.

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      Wannihami
      I also thought the same way until I started reading Colombo Telegraph when I realised that Tamils and LTTE are the same.

      Soma

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        Soma, LTTE and Tamils are not 100% same. Tamils want to get their legitimate rights restored in a democratic manner. It is because Sinhalese refused to see reason and to suppress unleashed state terror both by security forces and goon squads that Tamils started to support LTTE, as some felt that peaceful methods will not being result. The fault with LTTE is that they did not want to accept that without support of at least one international player, any chance of success is virtually nil, especially when India was standing against the creation of an independent Tamil state, purely for selfish reasons. Sinhalese were harping on intransigent of LTTE to tell the world that they are prepared to settle Tamil problem, but LTTE is not willing. Now that LTTE is no more, Sinhalese are being exposed as the intransigent factor, and to find an escape route, they are making a propaganda that there is resurgence of LTTE and Tamil Diaspora supporters of LTTE are creating trouble. At present international community are giving leverage to present government, but if the government continues to hoodwink them, this state will not go on indefinitely. The goal of right to self determination entrenched in UN charter which is the same for both LTTE and Tamils . It is acknowledged by international community that fair sharing of power and territory with Tamils is reasonable and want Sri Lanka government to deliver it. Unfortunately except a few Sinhalese, the rest are not willing to accede and a adopting a delaying tactics.

      • 0
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        Aha, Soma I see what you mean, it takes a great deal of self discipline not to become anti Tamil as one reads Colombo Telegraph. But we have to keep in mind that the authors and the most who comments here are a tiny minority of the island humanity, mostly they are expatriate and most have had not even an eyelash disturbed by the war, they are the people who drive a wedge between the ethnic groups, why? I don’t know, perhaps, Schadenfreude, it is not perfectly translated to English.

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        somass

        “I also thought the same way until I started reading Colombo Telegraph when I realised that Tamils and LTTE are the same.”

        I am sure you also would have thought the Monkey army of Aryan Rama and the Tamils are the same. There is no evidence of the monkey army returning to its homeland in Southern part of Akhand Bharat. Therefore the entire monkey army must have stayed back and eventually converted to Sinhala/Buddhism.

        Aren’t you one of the descendant?
        If it is possible for the monkey army to build a complex bridge across the sea it is also possible for the descendants to build hydraulic a civilisation. Leader of the Monkey army Hanuman set fire to the capital city so did its descendants to the Jaffna library, properties, businesses, ….

        I am not saying you are a direct descendant of the monkey army you are much worse.

  • 1
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    Jehan Perera

    Why ” ahanna” and all other titles of projects started by the govt, banks and other commercial institutions are only in Sinhala. Why can’t they give tamil and English version along with it? What prevents it ? How could you expect reconciliation when you thrust Sinhala into non Sinhalese throats ? Don’t you want the Tamils know the meaning of these titles ? Start with simple matters before you talk about big things, if you are really genuine in bringing reconciliation. Wipe the floor filled with Sinhala racial superiority and domination complex first. If not you will slip and fall again and again.

    Next time when you see a Tamil person, say vanakkam instead of ayubovan. Speak to a Tamil in Tamil language, to a Sinhalese in Sinhala language, and to a burgher in English. This will be a small step but to understand and develop friendship it will be the first step. For reconciliation, you need to follow up with thousands of steps in several fields.

  • 2
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    Jehan Perera: for proper reconciliation, well wishers should build or renovate buddhist temples near every Kovil, NAllur Kovil, Venkatheswar kovil etc., Tamils should be sinhalzed by converting to Sinhala buddhism. the others should be asked to migrate to the West or australia if not to Tamilnadu. “I heard even those Easwar, Murugan Gods would like it.

    • 2
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      JD forcible Sinhalization or conversion to Buddhism and forcing Tamils to leave Sri Lanka is not permitted in the modern world. Expulsion of entire Tamil race from Sri Lanka was the dream of Sinhalese since independence which was told to us by our Sinhala classmates and neighbours. unfortunately this has not happened as half of Tamils of recent Indian origin and majority of indigenous Tamils still remain. The best method to bring proper reconciliation without violating international laws is to settle large amounts of Tamils from Tamil Nadu in Sri Lanka so that there will be no Sinhala majority in any part of the island. No one can find fault with this as it is now proved that Sri Lanka was once part of Tamil homeland of Kumarikandam and that except Veddhas all others had south Indian ancestry. Also Sinhalese can re-convert to Hinduism, the religion of their ancestors before people became Buddhists to curry favour with the Kings. For your information there are several Buddhist temples such as Abhayagiri, Isurumuniya and Dondra devale were built over demolished Hindu temples, which status need to be reversed.

  • 1
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    Last time Jehan PhD promoted War Crime accused Old Brother Prince’s murderous brutality as strong leadership and wanted him as the EP. This time it seems somebody has told him “Man you are late. He is gone to USA on another Master Plan”. Jehan PhD is selling his New Heroine Chandrika. She has a dormant office called ONUR, doing nothing for four years. Old Brother Prince said he is going develop North East like the way his brother did it (, his brother paved roads for Rapist Army trucks, increased Army soldiers number after the war, opened hotels and farms, and businesses for Army to manage). Now Jehan PhD promoting Chandrika as ” the government of former president Chandrika Kumaratunga launched its “Sudu Nelum” campaign on a political solution, it had a concrete framework in terms of a “devolution package ” That is the typical ” Koolukkum Paadi Kanchikkum Paadi ” conduct. Jehan PhD has been forced by an incident, which the PhD goofed to note on, to take leap frog jump from the man people perceived as most dangerous to people perceived as the least dangerous Chandrika. In PhD’s reconciliation campaign, they both are strong and firm.

    The incident or incents was just missed by Jehan PhD but had hit the whole Lankawe media. Even Thero wrote that associating with an Afghan Donkey Maha Viyath, Rear Admirable is very dangerous. That was one of the reasons why Thero let go Old Brother Prince. The Donkey’s call for revenge on Deepika prompted even Deepika’s enemies to condemn it and sign a common report. The media is describing Old Brother Prince’s USA visit is to take time off to let automatic cooling to take place the chaos created by that Donkey.

  • 1
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    nly one in Lankawe missed this fireworks display in the open sky of Lankawe was Jehan PhD and that is why he was calling in his reconciliation message for strong leader with an Economic development, no talk of solution. Now he is asking for money to him to spread his message of “Strong Leader”. The Lacuna in Jehan PhD’s writing is common sense!
    If Ranil, unlike Richard .P, followed the democratic norms and told during the LG election time in reply to Old King “ No we are not dividing the country. That criminal is a liar. Instead, we, with the support of that guy in 2015, formed a committee to devolve the power”. If Ranil had said that word in Sinhala during LG election time, Hiru, Sirasa, Derana & all others might have repeated a million times on Ranil’s name. Just for this simple deed why would somebody has to coerce TVs the way Richard. P did? Is there a need to buy the TVs the way Old Royals do? Just be honest and plain, talk your heart to people and then they will hear you! Then the entire Sinhala Community might have heard what Yahapalanaya wanted to say and the LG campaign might have turned into as debate between Ranil and Old Royals, instead as it was between Ranil and New King on PCoI. That would have been real election campaign, instead Ranil and New King was playing spoiled brats game of cutting the branches they were sitting.

  • 1
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    Dear Author and all Participants,
    Who is new to Sri Lanka? Why all the politicians, all the Journalists, all the Academicians, all responsible citizens fail to fill in what is good promptly and get motivated and give motivation to all communities to live together with peace and goodwill. Why do the leaders fail in showing goodwill and spread racism?
    “However, an area in which there continues to be a lacuna is that of national reconciliation. This continues to be an area of contestation due to the history of war, terrorism and war crimes committed during the campaign to carve out a separate state the country”
    What more knowledge and how long will it take for common sense to prevail in Sri Lankan Leadership? First of all is there nobody to understand why the Country went down and how?

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