16 June, 2019

Blog

Peace And Reconciliation In Sri Lanka Require Consistent, Discernible & Sustained Momentum

By K. Mukunthan

Dr. K. Mukunthan

Sri Lanka’s moment of truth is fast approaching. The expectation is that significant initiatives will be taken this year towards addressing the two issues that are vitally important to the Tamil people – a political resolution and accountability for war-time violations.

What is equally important is to maintain a consistent, discernible and sustained momentum towards reconciliation, bolstered by actions that make practical difference to the day to day life of the people and on this aspect, a lot to be desired in terms of commitment and drive.

The stalled progress on demilitarisation and land and prisoner release; extra-ordinary delay in repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act; condoning actions that could distort the established demography and religious landscape of the predominantly Tamil speaking regions; lack of consultations with Tamil leaders on development initiatives affecting the North-East; and the apparent backtracking on the extent of international participation in the judicial mechanism counselled in the UN resolution – all these have undoubtedly caused a degree of concern and frustration in the minds of Tamil people, and ought to be addressed swiftly.

Sri Lanka has a long history of missed opportunities for resolving its national crisis. More often than not, calculated activities by hard-line elements on both sides escalated minor differences into unmanageable levels, leading to total failure at the end. It is therefore important that no scope is given to such possibilities by the present day political leadership of all communities.
In this context, it is vital that the Tamil political leadership, including those in the Diaspora, reach out to all communities in Sri Lanka in addressing their respective concerns and fears, and seek their support for accommodating the aspirations of the Tamil community.

Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera during his visit to Australia in April last year gave assurances regarding substantive changes envisioned for Sri Lanka and the government’s intention to arrive at a broad consensus, with a cornerstone being the consent of the elected Tamil political leadership. Such strong commitments were well-received by all stakeholders interested in the well-being of Sri Lanka.

The Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hosted a luncheon in honour of the visiting Sri Lankan Foreign Minister at the Kirribilli House (the Australian Prime Minister’s official residence in Sydney). I had the pleasure of attending the luncheon on behalf of the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC), and used that opportunity to reinforce our willingness to constructively contribute to positive developments in Sri Lanka. An abridged version of the following speech was delivered at the event. Though several months have passed, the contents of it are still relevant and worth reiterating.

Speech

This is the second time I am in the environs of the prestigious Kirribilli House. On the first occasion, in April 2009, I was one of the thousands of Tamils protesting outside this house, seeking Australian intervention to stop the dreadful war in Sri Lanka, a protest generally not acknowledged by the powers of the day. Today I am here inside this house, in this luncheon, in honour of the Foreign Minister Samaraweera. Undoubtedly the times have changed.

So, what is really different now? One, this reflects the political changes that have occurred in the context of Sri Lanka. More specifically, from a Tamil diaspora perspective, this is an outcome of the moderate, engagement-type of politics ardently followed by organisations such as ours. We are grateful for such recognition and trust bestowed upon us by the Australian government.
Despite such changed circumstances, the hard truth is that two important factors – political resolution of the Tamil problem and addressing the serious human rights violations committed by all sides – being the cause and outcome of the long drawn out conflict, remain unresolved seven years after the end of the war.

However, Sri Lanka for sure, appears to be a country in transition, and we are in the thrust of what seems to be a once in a generation opportunity, where a coalition government has taken steps – to democratise the state, to cooperate with the UNHRC, and to draft a new constitution – initiatives unthinkable just over an year ago.

But, I will not be honest if I don’t articulate the fact that there is a debate, sometimes intense, about how much this government can be trusted, and at times, it appears that a pessimistic point of view is the dominant narrative among our constituency, the Tamil diaspora. Nevertheless, there is also a strong counter point of view, an optimistic one that the Tamil community should do everything possible to consolidate the progressive changes so far, to solve this decades-old problem forever.

One common thread in this discourse is that Minister Samaraweera is the most prominent political leader in Sri Lanka, who is working with single-minded determination and dedication in all facets of the reconciliation process. His famous appeal and pledge, “Trust Us – Don’t Judge Us by the Past”, originally delivered at the UNHRC and later in Washington and Jaffna, hugely resonates with the Tamil community.

This brings Minister Samaraweera and us as partners in peace to a common future where our stakes are intimately linked.

For those of our constituents telling us “we are naive and overly trusting”, our reaction has been “we are not blindly trusting; our level of engagement is linked to real progress on the ground; but, we are keen to take initiatives ourselves (rather than waiting for events to take their own course), to build mutual trust and to increase the chances of success.”

And, for me personally, even if failure eventuates, taking a proactive approach towards peace and reconciliation is a more worthwhile and conscionable option, than remaining uninvolved, and contribute to the chances of letting this opportunity slip away.

For those pointing to us “we are not conscious of the history with litany of failures”, our response is “when an opportunity arises to change the course of history – that needs to be identified and grasped with both hands.” And in our mind, that is exactly the approach we are espousing.

But, we are acutely conscious that though political leadership often involves bravely marching along unchartered territory, if the majority of the people are left behind, failure can eventuate. And history has valuable lessons on several such failures.

With such concerns at the forefront of our mind, we are offering our hands of friendship to the Minister and in return seek his partnership for the difficult journey ahead. Any concrete actions from the government that will make our positions more acceptable to our people, and any initiatives from our side (the Tamil diaspora) that will make the government more appealing to its constituents, will tremendously help to consolidate the fragile path we are cautiously treading. Some of the initiatives we are working on, with immense help from Australia, are precisely aimed at this.

That brings me to my adopted country, Australia, to conclude this speech. There are times we were disappointed with Australian policies related to our issues, and I am sure it is bound to happen in the future too. But, beyond such policy positions and outcomes, the access we have had to our government – to the Foreign Ministers and to the Senior Officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – and not just the access but also the sympathetic hearing and importance that is given, the recognition that is bestowed, and the extent to which Australia is prepared to help Sri Lanka to march along this progressive path ….….. In me, it brings a feeling of awe.

I have often expressed my sentiments to my friends and colleagues, both Tamil and non-Tamil, “The more I am involved in Tamil advocacy, the more I feel an Australian.” This emotion is, obviously, not linked to my citizenship status or the type of passport I carry, but a feeling arises due to the way I am treated in this country, the way I am listened to and the way I am respected – even though the issues I raise with the government are not the most pressing issues this country faces. Obviously, there are several avenues to develop one’s sense of citizenship.

It is such feeling of belonging to one’s country that has been lacking in Sri Lanka for a significant segment of its population. As a child and later as a youth growing up in Jaffna, I was fully adapted to the thoughts that, “I will be discriminated in this country, opportunities will be denied to me in this country, and ultimately I don’t fully belong to this country.” Most fundamentally, it is this, such a narrative, such an emotion and such a feeling that needs to change. No doubt, it will be a long and hard process. But, this is a dream worth having and an ambition worth working towards.

So, let’s dream of a Sri Lanka, where a child born to Tamil parents will feel proud to be a Tamil and at the same time truly feel a Sri Lankan – not because this was the country he was born in, but because of the manner in which the country treats him, and the way he naturally feels about his citizenship.

Let’s commit ourselves to collaborate and work together, to make this dream a reality with the dedicated help of our international friends. And I have no doubt, Australia will be at the forefront doing more than its fair share.

*Dr. K. Mukunthan is one of the Executive Directors of the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC). He is also a Director of Global Tamil Forum (GTF) where he is a Senior Member of the Strategic Initiatives Team.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Reconciliation is stalled because of failure of international community and Colombo NGOs who are on the peace and reconciliation band wagon to address Corruption, Financial Crime, and STRUCTURAL VIOLENCE of INEQUALITY AND POVERTY the lack of ECONOMIC Justice and ECONOMIC RIGHTS in Sri Lanka.

    You folk, Amnesty and the Crisis groups only keep talking about political violence, not economic justice.

    The fact is that you Peace I/NGOs need to be smarter and connect with groups working for Economic Rights and justice. But western funded NGOs do not talk about Economic Justice and Rights, because the west has been systematically looting the global South and turning a blind eye on Financial Crime and off shore bank accounts that benefit western economies. This is why as OXFAM reports today, 8 individuals own half the world’s wealth and economic inequality and political violence go hand in hand.

    In Sri Lanka Attacks on minorities are routinely organized by corrupt politicians to distract people from their corruption. Once the corrupt who are also MOST RACIST are put behind bars reconciliation and peace will be easier in Sri Lanka.

    Peace NGOs should protest against the clown WIjedasa Jarapassa must be removed from the Ministry of Justice so that past and present corruption cases that he is blocking can proceeed.

    • 4
      1

      Yes, Dodo, No one has been held accountable for Financial Crimes or War Crimes because of Corruption. In fact, culture of impunity for Financial Crimes has in fact become worse in the last 2 years as Transparency International Report shows.

      Sri Lanka diaspora should sequence their work and first ask for the Rajapakasa Family and cronies to be prosecuted for Financial Crimes and put behind bars, then war crimes trials should be held.

      Instead Sirisena and Wickramasinghe have been protecting and bribing the racist politicians of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, rather than holding them ACCOUNTABLE and educating people against racism. This is because Ranil and Sirisena have also committed corruption and Financial Crimes and are deep in corruption in order to stay in power.

  • 3
    1

    Mr. Mukuthan, Good speech, Minister Mangala is doing a fine job but bond scam Ranil Wickramasinghe has betrayed him and Yahapalanaya.

    Political exclusion of Tamils today part of the larger problem of entrenched CORRUPTION, Economic INEQUALITY and Structural Violence in In Sri Lanka.

    Corrupt politicians use Racism and hate speech against minorities to DISTRACT the masses from their corruption and crimes, and DIVIDE and RULE the masses.

    Sri Lanka diaspora, Peace and Reconciliation i NGOS and Civil society need to rethink their strategy and push for ACCOUNTABILITY FOR Financial Crimes and Corruption in Sri Lanka, FIRST, because this is at the root of the Political Violence and hate speech against minorities which is used by politicians to distract people from the corruption of the politicians.

    I am sorry to say that THE BUCK STOPS AT RANIL Wickramasinghe.
    The Bond scam and Ranil’s attempt to block investigation has cost so much time and energy of Govt. civil society, and PROFESSIONALS, that should have been spent on Development Policy, implementation and DUE DILIGENCE to uplift Lanka and build PEACE and reconciliation.

    But today RECONCILIATION and development process is driven by external parties, IMF, US, China, while public debate and energy in Lanka is hostage to Ranil’s bond scam and his corrupt Cabinet, with Swaminathan and Wijedasa Rajapassa among the worst thieves and scoundrels.

    We need to name and shame Ranil Wickramasinghe as the fountainhead of corruption in the Parliament of corrupt clowns who are only interested in protecting their Parliamentary PRIVILEGES and their Right to loot Sri Lankan people, Tamil and Sinhala, while blocking corruption investigations.

    Majority of UNP and SLFP politicians are Parasites on the body politic and sad to say Ranil Wickramasinghe is accountable for the culture of corruption and impunity. He protects Mahinda Rajapaksa because he, Ranil, himself is corrupt.

    At a future date Ranil and Mahinda Jarapassa must share the same Prison Cell for Economic Crimes against the people of Lanka and the China-IMF Debt Trap the county is in. They are accountable for the Culture of impunity for Corruption that is endemic and entrenched among politicians and their cronies.

    The failure to hold anyone accountable for FINANCIAL CRIMES is also due to the IMF and US led global economic system which benefits the global 1 percent and the United States and Europe.

  • 1
    2

    Dr. K!
    This is how the general public sarcastically look at the ways in which our leaders handle the issues related to Tamils in Sri Lanka:
    Rajapaksa did the right thing, but for the Tamils, he was wrong, so the Tamils did not support him.
    Sirisena did the wrong thing, but for the Tamils it was the right thing and the Tamils supported him.
    Wickremasinghe did everything wrong but the Tamils support him anyway except when he contests the Presidential election.

  • 1
    1

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
    6

    My contribution towards reconciliation is to:

    1) Agree to the demand that all LTTE suspects be released on bail.

    2) Agree to the payment of Financial compensation on the market value or alternative land to be provided for the private land held by the security forces.

    What is holding back the settlement of above two issues are:

    1) Reference to LTTE terrorist suspects as ‘political prisoners’ by the Tamil political class.

    2) Demand the release of SAME land where camps are located. Any government has the right to acquire any private land for public purposes provided adequate compensation is paid.

    And Tamil political masters must in turn must provide the Sinhalese a plan for resettlement of all Tamils into the proposed Tamil homeland without which there will never be any reconciliation – on the contrary the situation will be worse.

    THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY RECONCILIATION IF MAJORITY OF TAMILS CONTINUE TO OCCUPY AREAS OUTSIDE THE ‘TAMIL HOMELAND’.

    Soma

  • 2
    0

    “Australia will be at the forefront doing more than its fair share”

    We do not have very short memories I suppose!

  • 3
    8

    I think the writer is confusing Sri Lanka with Tamil Nadu.

    • 7
      0

      Sour Grapes!!!

      This writer has nothing what so ever to do with Tamil Nadu. He is a product of Tamil Eelam and he is very clearly talking about Sri Lanka. DJ has turned insane, may be getting old.

    • 1
      0

      Like you are confused with Marxism, Maoism and Leninism.

      Write until Rajapaksa becomes as the Executive President and fire you.

    • 0
      0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
    3

    THERE WILL NEVER BE ANY RECONCILIATION IF MAJORITY OF TAMILS CONTINUE TO OCCUPY AREAS OUTSIDE THE ‘TAMIL HOMELAND’.

    Reconciliation is a political word, and it is for politicians.

    It is not to make harigens in vanni and are suffering. IT is for thise who escape but don’t have their own country and to politicians who wants power.

    • 0
      0

      Hear,hear the admission that a Tamil homeland exists in the island has been finally conceded.
      Now let that reality take it’s natural process and progress to culmination in to the future with support by the people who inhabit the island and not their politicians.

  • 0
    3

    what a horrible article and what a horrible speech.

    let me quote few statements;

    “Sri Lanka’s moment of truth is fast approaching.” – really? we had this before!

    “On the first occasion.. I was protesting outside this house…Today I am here inside this house…”. Undoubtedly the times have changed.”

    may be times have changed for you but not for Tamils back in Sri Lanka

    “So, let’s dream …”

    I thought the idea is to stop dreaming and put in action…

    you will keep on dreaming…

  • 2
    2

    Mukunthan

    Sorry to remark that you have also fallen in line with government of SL, especially with Mangala Samaraweera. “Trust Us – Don’t Judge Us by the Past”.

    It’s real shame that one by one you and other VIPs of the GTF try to justify government excuses!

    Have you ever gone into the activities of Managala Samaraweera?

    He was one of the Sinhala chauvinists who branded the armed struggle as a terrorist problem.

    He openly claims that he was one who got EU and other countries to ban the LTTE.

    You are brain-washed by group of name & fame people like SJ Emmanuel and Suren.

    Before you write articles, do go though the history of Sinhala chauvinists.

    People like you will regret sooner or later. You had obvious U turn!

    Good luck with Mangala Samaraweera.

  • 0
    1

    First it was the Vellala Party leader Mr Sampanthar.

    Now this dude, who seems to be a heavy hitter from Australian Tamils and the GTF

    Be patient mate,

    Mangalan may say even more things to please the West and you lot.

    But Batalanada Ranil, the buddy of your ex Boss Mr Pirahaparan seems to have bigger priorities.

    Haven’t you seen how Batalanada Ranil rigged the Yahapalana Economy to let his Diaspora buddy from Singapore make Eleven Billion in just 12 months.

    Even in Yahapalana Ruppiah, it is a hell of lot dosh.. Don’t you think?.

    Batalanada Ranil has been ably supported by the good buddy of your other well known Diaspora investor Galleon Raja from NYC..

    Your mates in the West or the ATF, GTF , BTF or CTF didn’t show the same haste to do Reconciliation, Accountability or even stop the Butchering for thirty years.

    Did you?..

  • 1
    1

    A good speech. Truth can hurt sometimes.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 300 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically shut off on articles after 10 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.