By Yousuf K. Marikkar –
Due to the prejudiced defiance of the ruling regimes in the past, many dejected youths in the Tamil community of the Northern and Eastern provinces, converged towards a militant movement, called Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). They resorted to armed conflict to accomplish their inalienable rights without the support of their Muslim brethren and were annihilated at the end of thirty years old struggle. The LTTE in these provinces, also universally conveyed a wrong message and committed the ethnic cleansing with a misconception by forcibly evicting nearly 72,000 ethnic Muslims out of the Northern Province during the latter part of October, (black October) 1990 from their traditional homelands of many centuries. In the absence and persisting undue deferment of a sustainable solution, the forcibly evicted Northern Muslim IDPs (NMIDPs) are living in horrendous condition in and around Puttalam District for the past 27 years.
Challenges: This article explores the probability of challenges confronted in establishing a sustainable solution to the displaced Northern Muslims on truth, accountability, reparation, reconciliation and resettlement process and what the reasons for the persevering delay are. Contrary to the commonly spread belief that Sri Lankan Muslims float in wealth, the reality is that almost seventy percent of Muslims live below the poverty line, around ten percent live in IDPs camps in and around Puttalam in the North Western province in appalling conditions and almost five percent have been made IDPs in their own homes in the East, besides facing numerous other problems which strike the very root of their survival. Winning the war against LTTE and a few development activities alone will not win the hearts and minds of the minority communities in resolving the ethnic conflicts especially the displacement predicament and tardiness in ascertaining a sustainable solution for the resettlement of the NMIDPs with dignity. The core objective of this article is to investigate and evaluate the purviews and causes for the persisting delay and why still it remains unanswered for the past 27 years to resolve the forcible expulsion of NMIDPs. The unprecedented apathy in resolving this issue is the key highflier of this article.
Violation of Human Rights: The past human rights violations against the NMIDPs have not been adequately addressed with deep understanding of the nature of such violations. Settling alone them in their respective homelands would not bring out genuine and sustainable peace unless the root causes are looked into and addressed from a Human Rights perspective. The issue of the Muslim IDPs, particularly the NMIDPs should be considered from a different perception. Contributing factors of all stake holders the Government of Srilanka (GoSL), International community, NGOs, host communities, Tamil community, and NMIDPs to be scientifically analyzed. Reasons why the GoSL and the international community not supporting (or inadequate) a sustainable solution and reluctance of NMIDPs to return to their homeland are very important parameters. Also the extraneous and constant prototypes made them to behave in such manner and the forcible expulsion and persistent deferment of a dignified resettlement are purely due to religious based or civil, political, social and economic based aspects to be deduced.
Opportunities overlooked: Ending of the ethnic armed conflict in May 2009 opened a historical opportunity for the GoSL to bring about a just and lasting peace. Contrarily, majority of the forcibly expelled NMIDPs are still to be resettled. Why there is an unprecedented delay? Only 20 – 30 percent has been resettled for the past 27 years is an unquestionable truth. However, the critics argue that the government’s commitment in finding a Transitional Justice based process does not seem to go beyond infrastructure and economic development projects. The definitions given by the government and what these perceive as reconciliation and resettlement are different from how these are viewed by the international community and particularly the western liberal democracies beyond the purview of the protracted IDPs. Exploring the reason of these factors and any other related aspects which are major hindrances for the sluggishness in achieving a sustainable reconciliation and resettlement process centered solution is need of the hours.
Virtuous mechanism: Ascertaining a relevant political/legal frame work that secures a solution and exploring the existing conducive nature for making communal harmony are crucial at this moment. Emphasizing the need for moving in the right direction of truth, accountability, reparation, resettlement, and good governance on the strength of Transitional Justice Theory is essential. Similarly, analyzing the different roles played by state/non state actors in creating such (creative) situation is another trajectory subject. Beside the above objectives, producing a detailed study of Human Rights violations committed during the war including the forcible eviction of the ethnic Muslims from the Northern Province and identifying the reason for the persisting undue deferment of a sustainable solution are paramount factors. Ascertaining the reason for prolonging delay in achieving a sustainable solution to this protracted dilemma which has inspired over 27 years of excessive deferment is need of the hour. In this context, the aim is to identify reason for delaying strategies of a path to reconciliation and resettlement that is informed by the work of many visionary scholars and activists worldwide, together with reviewing theories of causation of reconciliation and resettlement, developing the pluralism based Transitional Justice Theory as a model that facilitates the understanding of it and suggesting this theory as a tool that assists decision making process of the realm.
Transitional Justice: A fully armed Investigating Commission formed by South African Act No: 34 on July 26th, 1995 and declared by Nelson Mandela including commissions on Truth and Reconciliation, Human Rights Violations, Amnesty, Reparation and Rehabilitation, Investigating Unit and Other independent commissions. There are a number of solutions in the well-known Pinheiro Principles (UN Report on International Rights Law) and Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as how to resolve the issue of IDPs. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions formed in Rwandan (31.12.1997, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Peru, Canada, Honduras, Timor, Nepal, Uganda, Iraq and Afghanistan also emanate the road maps for this process. Ethnic, color discrimination, political victimization and other conflicts have been unanalyzed with the view to find out a sustainable solution to this issue. The context related to NMIDPs and the hypothesis of “years of internal armed conflicts are due to the control of land” should be challenged and critically analyzed.
Mistaken Hypothesis: We may firmly believe the hypothesis of no permanent solution would be possible to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka without addressing the reason for the prolonging sluggishness to resolve the issues of Human Rights violations of the NMIDPs. And when resolving, the civil, political, social, economic and cultural aspirations of the Northern Muslims should form as an integral part of the final solution for them to agree upon. Confronting the premise of existing Cessation Theory “land distribution is the root of the conflict”, this article is to prove not only the land distribution but other important contexts. Mainly religion, ethnicity, emergence of SLMC formed by its late leader M.H.M. Ashraff, retribution against the atrocities committed by the Muslims in the Eastern Province to the area Tamils, involvement of GoSL, MOSAD, RAW and liquidity shortage of the militant group were also made a substantial contribution to the ethnic cleansing and valid reasons for the cause of deferment of a sustainable solution.
Interrogating the following specific issues would determine the scope and the extent of the paradox:
- Despite all strategies instigated by the GoSL, the International Community and the NGOs, why the issues of NMIDPs still remaining unresolved? Is their (not) support inadequate? What made them to reluctant to return: Tamils, host community or other civil, political, social or economic causes?
- Does internal displacement constitute human rights violations and why do reactions of the society is so indifference and lethargic?
- What are the Fundamental Rights, Human Rights and Humanitarian Rights have been violated?
- To what extent the international human rights standards would help to restore peace and harmony in a plural society like that of Sri Lanka?
- Can the past human rights violations be addressed without adopting a truth and reconciliation approach?
- Does the current situation is conducive to rethinking of initiating afresh start?
Sustainable resettlement: It must be seen as a process that leads to the production of socio-political and economic conditions for all communities to anticipate a ‘shared future’. As shared history is the most secured foundation to build a shared future and finding shared value and a shared future based on Theory of Transitional Justice beyond Theory of Pluralism. Such shared values and goals can only find their rightful places in a democratic setting where there is individual freedom, good governance and equality or what we might call a situation of ‘universalist political emancipation’. The ethical and political contours of this article are shared by the future vision of achieving such a just society to identify the precise reason for the persisting deferment of a dignified solution in resettling the NMIDPs.
Discourse of shared future means respecting historically shared values of a community on the basis of transitional justice and absence of which may be implicated as reason for the undue deferment of a long-term solution for the quandaries NMIDPs. Abuse and infringement of woman’s rights, child rights, fundamental rights and other related human rights of the NMIDPs are the social problems of an ill-treated community, the NMIDPs in this case.
Some initiatives engaged in resolving the IDPs issues, but these are inadequate as their ordeals still continue unabated because of the delinquent attitudes of the state and the international community. The contemporary adverse situation that prevails in the north is a major social predicament. The formation of REPPIA, Resettlement Authority and Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services are some of the inefficient institutional arrangements and stakeholder mechanisms in the arena, but there is a long way to go.
Conducive background: To provide a broad view on the current condition of a long awaited solution, the challenge which is overdue for quarter of a century, focusing on effective reason for such undue delay to fulfill the future aspirations of communities living in IDP camps and elsewhere are peripheral aspects. It endeavors to understand how they feel and see their lives transforming to normalcy as democratic citizens in the country without further deferment. How do they regard their physical security, economic security, resettlements, access to opportunities and what could be the reasons for the undue delay of a sustainable solution model? How they assess development projects in their areas and to what degree are they directly involved in those projects encouraging them to resettle in their areas instantaneously? Do they think that all ethnic communities could aspire to have a shared future, peaceful and dignified resettlement without any further deferment? And finally a speedy way forward for a sustainable solution to the protracted displacement.
However, due to the prevailing hatred, coercion and desperations amongst the minorities if delaying tactics continued unabated, a remaining, daunting and dangerous reincarnation risk of Liberation Cheetahs of Tamil Eelam, Liberation Fighters of Upcountry Tamils, Mujahedeen, Jihad, Al-Qaeda and Liberation Camels of Sri Lankan Muslims would be inevitable in the future. Sooner or later, an appropriate accomplishment may generate a patriotic feeling of a unitary state while decorously identifying the explanation of pause for challenges of a permanent solution based on transitional justice.
Action required: One way or another, identifying the challenges for truth, reconciliation, resettlement and consensus building are the main weapons to eradicate the root causes of the ethnic conflict without much holdup. Rational feelings of the minority communities displaced from their homelands, inequality, suppression and oppression should be adequately delved without further delay. Deferment incurred on developing and implementing a comprehensive resettlement policy and reconciliation process framework to resolve the mutual hate and the deep rifts created during the last 27 years are crucial. Sri Lanka is popularly known to ill-treating the minorities and sub-minorities. The long term ill treatment confronted by Muslims in the Tamils dominated Northern Province is due to the fact that they did not support the terrorist groups. A change in such prevailing mindset is a necessity to expedite the resettlement process on transitional justice basis, since peace is fully established in the region.
Conclusion: Thus, prompting diversity in the regional level amongst the multiple ethnicities is another important factor when considering the affairs of the NMIDPs and by which measures, feelings of fundamentalism, racism and regionalism should be promptly eradicated. Patriotism should be spread across the country. Government and the citizen should respect and adopt the international fundamental rights and human rights standard. International human rights law particularly, in strengthening pluralism will contribute a major role in this context. Espying reason of prolonging adjournment of a durable solution to the problems of 100,000 NMIDPs will improve the democratic norms, values and good governance in Sri Lanka and it will be the first step to commence reconciliation process enhancing a secular unitary state. Inevitably, appropriate consideration must be given on finding reason for deterrent deferment in restitution efforts to alleviate the calamities of NMIDPs to strengthen the democratic norms, values and good governance, thereby the affected would trust the political system, by which the confidence in democracy would prevail and give thought to a sense of belonging to the country and expedite resettling in their traditional homelands. Such system would promote the patriotic feelings and feeling for a unitary State.
Historical experience is the master of all lessons and those who disregard its lessons cannot evade retributions. Muslim community was betrayed as they extensively believed in cooperating with the majority community to resolve their grievances while entirely breaching the trust with the Tamil community who coexisted over centuries in their homelands and the Tamil language. Tamils and Muslims never cooperated and struggled together for their democratic rights in the history of Sri Lanka. Both communities worked against each other in the past which may perhaps be one of the vital reasons for a permanent solution getting dragged for so long. The root cause of the ethnic conflict is the fleeing of the minorities from their habitual residences, inequality, suppression and oppression. Sri Lanka is popularly known to ill-treating the minorities and sub-minorities. Ill treatment of the sub minority in long run in the Tamils dominated north is due to the fact that Muslims did not support the terrorist groups for different reasons and at times, these groups looked suspiciously at Muslims with the perception that they were spying on rebel groups for the Government.
Initially, pluralism based Transitional Justice system suggests that forming an organization or a pressure group among the minority communities is indispensable, while civil society and intellectuals should unanimously pressurize the politicians of the respective communities forcing them to move forward in constructive recourse to avoid further delay in accomplishing a sustainable solution. Such organization or group should also get together with similar groups in the majority community and identify the truth to commence reconciliation process. Regrettably, there was neither such attempt nor association among the three communities in the history of Sri Lanka. However, instantaneous action would bring prosperity than plunging further, the challenge that the country confronts at this instant.