Colombo Telegraph

International Community Can Learn From Sri Lankan Experience 

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

In October the final consultation of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) took place in Geneva and brought together nearly one thousand humanitarian workers from all parts of the globe. The holding of the consultation came with the severe crisis that the world faces due to humanitarian catastrophes taking place today which has seen millions of people displaced and on the move. The most violent manifestations of this crisis have come primarily from the Middle East, where a group that uses terror and operates outside of international law, the ISIS is causing havoc and taking over large chunks of territory of formerly sovereign countries and is establishing state-like structures in them.

The consequences of these conflicts in the Middle East have led to a massive wave of migration last seen over seven decades ago during the Second World War with people from formerly prosperous countries such as Iraq, Libya and Syria fleeing their countries by the millions. The media images of people who never thought that their ordered lives would be turned upside down on the run to safety are haunting ones, and have prompted many countries, especially in Europe which had restrictive immigration policies to open up their borders to cope with the humanitarian crisis.

One of the Sri Lankan humanitarian workers at the consultation, Raga Alphonsus, who worked during the war years in Mannar made a presentation that drew much commendation from those who engage directly with refugee populations on the ground. He pointed to the importance of ensuring the dignity of those who had become refugees. He called for sanctions against those organizations that engaged in violating the dignity of people who had been displaced by imposing solutions on them without consulting them. Drawing on his experience in working in the Sri Lankan situation, he said that those who had become refugees needed to be treated with respect, their views obtained, and their solutions taken into consideration.

This aspect of inclusion needs also to be extended to the international community’s efforts to grapple with the world humanitarian crisis. At the consultation in Geneva there was great emphasis given to the need to empower people to cope and recover with dignity through humanitarian action that puts people at its heart and makes them the primary agents of their recovery. This dignifying of people also needs to be promoted through an educational process that is introspective and self-critical. This is especially needed where refugees are resettled in places outside of their home areas where other populations live. There is a need for anti-racism education and campaigns to enable their inclusion in the societies that will need to accommodate them. \

Human Dignity 

However, it was evident at the consultation of the World Humanitarian Summit that the greater emphasis was on the mobilization of financial resources at the level of states and multilateral donor agencies to cope with the refugee crisis. The shortage of finances is a major cause of the stress. Representatives from Pakistan said that their country had been hosting up to 4 million refugees from neighbouring countries including Afghanistan for many years without international attention being focused on their plight and on the need to obtain more financial assistance to support them and ensure their dignity, safety and opportunity to rebuild their lives in a resilient manner.

One of the main issues to be taken up at the World Humanitarian Summit is the issue of mobilizing adequate financial resources. While financial assistance has increased it is not adequate due to the enormity of the need. In 2014, for instance, more financial resources for humanitarian purposes were obtained than ever before in history. But the deficit in the UN’s budget for humanitarian purposes was also the greatest ever. Unfortunately, with tens of thousands of refugees being taken into Western countries which have traditionally been donors to third world countries, the funds allocated to those third world countries, including Sri Lanka, to cope with their own humanitarian problems is likely to get reduced.

This has negative consequences for those countries which have been depending on international support to successfully resolve their own humanitarian problems. It will also make it more difficult to respond to the targets set by the international community, as evidenced in the resolution on Sri Lanka of the UN Human Rights Council. Sri Lanka is particularly unfortunate in this regard, as at the very time it is making the turn to ethnic reconciliation and good governance the externally given financial resources to ease the path of transition are drying up or likely to be withdrawn. This will also make it harder for the government to counter the mounting propaganda by the political opposition that it is on the wrong track in having responded positively to international pressures, such as the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka.

Root Causes 

The importance of addressing the root causes of conflicts that give rise to humanitarian crises was stressed at the World Humanitarian Summit consultation in Geneva. Although many speakers referred to the need for political solutions that would address the humanitarian crises, there was no clear analysis of the political problems that had given rise to the humanitarian crises. The outcome of Western powers seeking to impose their notions of good governance and democracy on societies that are not yet ready for it can be seen in the breakdown of the state and tragedies that have unfolded in the Middle East. At the same time it is necessary to be critical of the violent terror of the ISIS that has been born in the womb of those Middle Eastern societies.

Sri Lanka has an important lesson to offer the international community in regard to the need for self-criticism and introspection. Today it is generally accepted in Sri Lanka that the prolonged ethnic conflict and war, and failure of the former government headed by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, were due to ignoring the root cause of the ethnic conflict and believing that economic development would suffice to pave the way for reconciliation and sustainable peace. By ignoring the need to politically resolve the conflict, the Rajapaksa government alienated the ethnic minorities and totally lost their electoral support.

The recent statement of the TNA leadership which has replaced the LTTE as the representatives of the Tamil people in the negotiation process is an example for Sri Lanka and the international community. The TNA statement has been oft cited, and it is useful to cite again. It said “We also accept and undertake to carry out our responsibility to lead the Tamil people in reflecting on the past, and use this moment as a moment of introspection into our own community’s failures and the unspeakable crimes committed in our name, so as to create an enabling culture and atmosphere in which we could live with dignity and self-respect, as equal citizens of Sri Lanka.”

Any reform that addresses the roots of conflict requires that the people, victims, perpetrators and outside supporters, are brought into the process of change. If they are not brought in, it is more likely than not that they will reject those reforms even though they are in the larger interests of all. The solutions to problems best comes when all sides becomes aware of their contribution to both the problem and its solution. This requires much education work at all levels of society, both national and international, that promotes self criticism and introspection.

Back to Home page