14 June, 2024


Reconciliation Does Not Come Through Institutions Alone But Through Sincerity

By Jehan Perera

Jehan Perera

The government is proceeding at speed on its course of legislative activism with regard to economic, reconciliation and security matters. Its ability to do so comes from its majority in parliament. Due to this majority in parliament won at the general elections of 2020, the government is in a position to get its way. However, the government’s legitimacy and moral right to rule and make such reforms has been in question after the economy was brought to its knees in 2021 by the misguided policies of the previous government, and government leaders had to resign from office or flee their homes. In the context of the second world war, the Soviet leader Josef Stalin was said to have asked how many divisions did the Pope have. The reality is that the power of the present government depends on its legal power, not moral power. The present tendencies nearly everywhere in the world is that the sword is mightier than the pen.

These days it seems that morality and power are often taken to be opposites, with morality grounded in the common good, and power located in self-interest. The government’s legal power to rule will remain unchallenged so long as elections are postponed as they have been or not held at all as quite often speculated. Among the new laws that the government is rushing through parliament are ones that will strengthen the coercive arms of the state and make it costly for people to protest against it. Heading this list of laws is the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which makes a wide range of actions, including media freedom and economic strike actions, liable to fall within the domain of terrorism. Not far behind are repressive laws such as the Online Safety Bill, which is being justified by government leaders as intended to protect women and children from intrusive social media, but which will impact on freedom of speech and expression on social media.

The case of another new law that has been gazetted and will be taken up in parliament in the coming weeks is the Truth, Unity and Reconciliation Commission. The objective of this institution would be to promote reconciliation. The participation of opposition political parties, especially the ethnic and religious minority parties is extremely important when it comes to reconciliation. Or else it is like clapping with one hand. It is also a matter for concern that the draft law with respect to the Truth, Unity and Reconciliation Commission (TURC) has been prepared and gazetted even before the submission of the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate the findings of preceding Commissions and Committees headed by Justice A H M D Nawaz.

Minimal Consultations 

In the synopsis of the Nawaz Commission report issued in February last year, the Commissioners referred to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka and stated that the contours of the commission would be set out in due course when the Final Report was submitted. The government’s urgency in rushing through with the law pertaining to the TURC, without even waiting for the Nawaz Commission to submit its report, and with only minimal consultation with opposition political parties and civil society suggests a motivation that goes beyond reconciliation. There seems to be a desire to obtain the support of the international community by producing the TURC law, even though it may not have the support from the aggrieved ethnic and religious minorities for whom it is meant.

This week the government will be taking up the ONUR bill for debate after which it will be enacted as law. The bill proposes to establish an Office for National Unity and Reconciliation which can play a role in coordinating all reconciliation matters taken up by the government. There are commendable objectives outlined in the ONUR bill, such as promoting national unity and peaceful coexistence, which require dialogue and negotiation among representatives of diverse communities in Sri Lanka, both in civil and political societies. Unfortunately, as in the case of the Truth, Unity and Reconciliation Commission (TURC) there has been little or no effort to engage in public discussion on it regarding its content or to educate the general public about the need for it.

There are three problem areas that need to be addressed in the ONUR bill. Appointments to the ONUR Board would be appointments by the Minister under whose purview the institution comes. The minister is empowered to recommend the appointment of 11 members who will have terms of 3 years, while the chairperson has no time limit, which is inadvisable. There is a need for a more multi-partisan method of appointments to ensure that those appointed represent the diversity of ethnic and religious groups and socio-cultural interests. It is reported that a committee stage amendment has been proposed for appointment of these members to be done by the Constitutional Council which is to be welcomed.

White Elephants 

ONUR is expected to play a central role in the national reconciliation process that brings together all the independent reconciliation mechanisms. Therefore, it would be advisable that appointments to the ONUR board should include ex-officio representatives from the Office of Missing Persons, Office of Reparations, NGO Secretariat and the Truth, Unity and Reconciliation Commission which is soon to be established. This will ensure that all the reconciliation institutions share a common vision and are informed of the work that is being done by each of them. There is also a need to ensure representation from civil society to ensure that the perspectives of affected communities and victims are considered and acted upon.

The role given to ONUR to be prescriptive vis a vis civil society by virtue of the power “to guide and facilitate peace and reconciliation programmes conducted by local organisations including community based organisations” is a third concern. This authority to monitor and review the work of civil society raises concerns about the prospect of government heavy-handedness in the context of the possible politicization for narrow and partisan purposes of national reconciliation policy and actions. The new law needs to be clear that the government will not direct civil society to follow its guidelines, but can “assist and facilitate” them to do so. National reconciliation cannot be enforced from the top down. It needs to be a voluntary process involving all ethnic and religious communities.

There is a need to draw civil society and elected political representatives into the discussion about the new institutions on reconciliation. Prior to the passage of the new laws, the government needs to sincerely engage with opposition political parties, particularly those representing minority ethnic and religious communities, as well as civil society, to establish a multi-partisan consensus, encompassing pluralistic values on the path to make this a true reconciliation process for national unity. Unless the new reconciliation institutions are based on consensus rather than set up by a majority vote in parliament, they will end up as being akin to white elephants, non-functional, adding burdens on the government’s finances and further eroding faith in the reconciliation process.

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Latest comments

  • 15

    “Reconciliation Does Not Come Through Institutions Alone But Through Sincerity”
    At last, you have said something profound!

  • 12

    Reconciliation comes from genuinely sincere hearts to reach the best for all, but not with the type of robbing the nation as is going on at the moment. Greedy Robbing and eliminating has to stop

  • 11

    We should put an end to the political dramas such as truth, unity and reconciliations played by USA sponsored or some other countries cheating bills, commissions again and again by the major political parties. If you need real reconciliation first and foremost remove all the barriers that block the entry of the affected parties such as LTTE and the diaspora in the process.

    • 4

      “USA sponsored…cheating bills,”
      Am I dreaming?
      No it all concerns the poor affected party the LTTE!
      Any thought to parties affected by the LTTE?

  • 5

    Not only reconciliation nothing comes through institutions alone. Democracy, justice, human rights etc., all depends on the behaviour and actions of the individuals that occcupy the positions of the institutions set up to mediate them. Institutions are mere tools, instruments through which humans exert their agency. They would be meaning and functionless if not for the humans that occupy them – and their sincerety always matter. An obvious fact.

  • 7


    Good ol’ Gunduvindu has realized the errors of his ways …….. and is making sincere efforts to make amends!

    When are you going to be sincere ……. about your boy Ranil and his crooked ways? :)) ………….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QC3zfOdLnsw ……… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtr1Q7THM3s

    • 7

      nimal fernando

      Thanks for the link
      Gevindu is a disgrace to his grandfather Munidasa who at least tried to save Sinhala language from Sanskritisation.

      What is this man up to?

      What would you tell this man if you happened to meet him?

      Beware he would beat you up with his constitutional amendments.

  • 8

    “ Unless the new reconciliation institutions are based on consensus rather than set up by a majority vote in parliament, they will end up as being akin to white elephants, non-functional, adding burdens on the government’s finances and further eroding faith in the reconciliation process.”
    The above summarises the article.
    We don’t want more and more Commissions/Inquiries. We want to see in ACTIONS
    1) GoSL and the rest of the majority race saying their regrets to the Tamil speaking citizens of SL for their sufferings over the last 75 years.
    2) we want to see Justice being served the relatives of those people who had been made to disappear due to state Terrorism
    Those who brought down the Economy of SL punished and they should not continue to be PARASIES of the country.
    4) Meriocracy should be their in appointments to Judiciary /foreign services( Ambassadors/High commissioners
    (Don’t want to see retired defence officers or ex-politicians

  • 7

    Reconciliation starts with formal apologies for past actions such as July 1983 and the Jaffna Library.

    • 10

      Sincerity ??? Never before, not now ………. in future. On his visit to North, Ranil sincerely told Tamils to built a larger temple than Nallur 1) So that Archeology can unearth artefacts 2 ) Buddha Sassana can demolish temples else where 3) government can call it a development 4 election propaganda . Instead, why not release those still.held by war heroes or repair the ones demolished by government???

      • 7

        See how sincerely Kaputa and team are inspecting newly constructed port terminal. Wait and watch, those sincere SB voters reelecting Kaputas. Not just silly , stupid and sorry, but Sincere Lanka.

  • 10


  • 2

    The author touches upon many facets but I would like to confine to the heading of the article, the key word being sincerity. How do you measure or grade sincerity? There must be a track record of the same. Deeds reckoned as sincerity must be demonstrated. Appeasing words promising the moon are neither here nor there. A person known to me was warded in the General Hospital and the patient in the next bed pointed out to him an error. The label, printed in all three languages, in which it notifies the items that can go into bin below had the Tamil translation wrong. It hurt the patient in the next bed. The person known to me had some influence and informed parties to correct the same and made his neighbor happy. These are little things to bring about amity and that cannot be interpreted as appeasement. On the contrary, when those in authority promise the moon to politicians in the North the latter understands it as a gimmick. No wonder one earns the accolade “Cunning Fox”. It is important to reach the heart of the people and make them confident that they are equal citizens of Sri Lanka.

  • 8

    Ranil Wickremesinghe is a hoax, a charlatan, a war monger.
    He came to Jaffna this week and said (Valampuri Report) that Jaffna is a Sivabumi even as he is planting Buddhist temples and colonists all over the North-East and passed the ONUR bill yesterday for reconciliation.
    I am a Christian. Is this not my land? What of the Muslims who were chased off by the LTTE? Are they not welcome back without conversion to Siva’s religion?
    Ranil has jailed Pastor Jerome Fernando on the charge of hurting Buddhists. I say that Ranil Wickremesinghe should be thrown into jail for hurting the sensibilities of the Christians and Muslims of Jaffna

    • 6

      Jaffna man, give some credit, he is sincerely playing the good old election game. “Hindu versus Christian versus Muslims” .Just mentioning , is good enough for skin heads to run amok in the South. 75 years “win win strategy”.

    • 2

      JM – This is starkly at odds with sentiments of RW you have expressed elsewhere in a different article here on CT. I thought RW was always your ‘go-to man’ to resolve the Tamil problem. But I am glad that somebody from the Tamil community is cognizant of the facts that you are aware of, viz intra ethnic diversities.

      • 3

        J-Man, who claimed elsewhere to have landed on CT with a bang declaring his identity, perhaps in the same style as a Man of another identity, but without his NIC number, is very about matters of a religious nature.
        Ranil has shocked him beyond belief by his little piece of cheap politicking far more severely than any blow delivered to the Ordinary Man.

        • 1

          SJ – I did notice his religious inclinations but one can not find fault with them, can they? But yeah it looks like this rebuttal is not necessarily a result of realising who and what Ranil actually is, which I am sure he would have known for a long time, but a result of the realisation that Ranil isn’t going to deliver what he hoped and expected he would. Either way it is good for him to have come to proper senses and face the reality.

  • 0

    Ruchira, Chiv,
    Your faith in Ranil is misplaced
    Ask him to explain why he publicly declared that Jaffna is Sivabumi.
    That is playing to the gallery

    • 1

      Jaffna Man – Not sure about Chiv. But my comment, it looks like you misunderstood. It wasn’t made out of faith in Ranil but with the idea, having read some of your previous writings here, that it was you who had faith in him to deliver, things that now seems like he is not going to! See also my comment to SJ above under your first comment.

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