21 July, 2019

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The State Of Reconciliation

By S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

Despite the intensity of the ethnic conflict, reconciliation always remained an attractive scheme or slogan for many civil society actors and political figures in Sri Lanka. With the end of the war in 2009, reconciliation transformed into an integral part of the political discourse. Many believed that the termination of the LTTE, bestowed an opportunity to bring the hitherto divided communities together through political means. The government headed by President Rajapaksa, who defeated the LTTE, was keen on bringing the land together rather than the people. Leaders of the former government chose to intensify security measures and the restrictions on the Tamil people to achieve the goal of territorial integration. The Rajapaksa government also ignored the international call for accountability as a means to reconciliation. This approach obviously dissatisfied the Tamil community, thus leading to further ethnic polarization.

Government and the Tamils

Consequently, the Tamil people collaborated with the predominantly Sinhala South, to bring the Rajapaksa government down in 2015. The main Tamil party, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), extended unconditional support to the coalition that opposed Rajapaksa and facilitated the election of President Maithripala Sirisena. Despite being the main opposition party, the TNA tacitly works with the present government. Therefore, the government and President Sirisena are viewed as sympathetic to the Tamil issues and are expected to address Tamil political concerns.
The government also co-sponsored the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on Sri Lanka, adopting the international view that alleged human rights violations should be investigated with international assistance. During and after the presidential election, Sirisena promised constitutional reform as a means to promote good governance and reconciliation. In other words, constitutional reform was conceived partly as a reconciliation project. On the other hand, the government to date has not done anything to investigate the alleged human rights violations, as promised. The investigative mechanism the government promised has been stagnated at the point of discussion whether international assistance is needed for an investigative mechanism.aaa-tamil-cvilians-nkl

Reconciliation through Reform

What is clear from the government attitude is that it believes more on constitutional reform to address minority concerns rather than the investigation. If this is true then there has been a philosophical similarity between the Rajapaksa government and the Sirisena government on this issue. Senior members of the Rajapaksa government, such as Gotabaya Rajapaksa, have constantly emphasized the importance of forgetting the past, i.e., the last phase of the war, and moving forward. They relied on national security to move forward and did not have a plan to structurally accommodate the minority communities. The former government promoted selective public amnesia as atrocities of the LTTE were remembered and the war victory was celebrated with the patronage of the state.

This government on the other hand, consistently stressed the need to resolve the ethnic conflict through constitutional reform and has introduced a few steps. For example, it converted the present parliament into a constitutional assembly and appointed an expert-panel to study public opinion on constitutional reform. The report of the panel was handed over to the government in May 2016.

Investigation Vs Reform

Promoting conflict resolution and reconciliation through constitutional reform is not a bad idea for several reasons. For example, true reconciliation could be achieved only when political issues that paved the way for the ethnic conflict are resolved. Truth commissions or similar institutions, which ignore the need to address socio-political needs of minority communities, cannot facilitate new relations between the formerly warring communities in Sri Lanka. Truth commission style institutions have the potential to exacerbate ethnic tension and there has been no concrete evidence to suggest that the truth will inevitably lead to reconciliation.

Moreover, given the mindset of the Sinhala majority community, an investigation that targets even partially the state armed forces is not feasible. Any attempt to investigate the armed forces would be violently resisted and it could lead to the erosion of the popular support for the government. This is exactly why there has been absolutely no progress on this front, despite the government promises to the international community and the United Nations. On the other hand, a meaningful constitutional reform scheme could accommodate aspirations of the minority communities and alter structures to create a more inclusive state. Hence, from a policy perspective, a reformed constitution could contribute immensely to the cause of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Hurdles

The problem however, is that chances for meaningful constitutional reform also remain bleak. The political environment in Sri Lanka today does not instill the confidence that a constitutional reform scheme that would benefit the minority communities is feasible. In Sri Lanka a two -thirds approval in the national legislation is necessary to change the constitution. Some changes require the approval of the people in a national referendum.

First, it seems that the government would find it difficult to garner a two-thirds majority for meaningful constitutional reform. Although, the present government consists of the two major parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP), there has been a split within the SLFP. Former President and chairman of the SLFP, Mahinda Rajapaksa, currently leads a hardline faction consisting of about 50 members of parliament. The group calls itself the Joint Opposition (JO). Reports indicate that the group is in the process of forming a new political party. The joint opposition will not support changes that alter the prevailing unitary structure of the state. Any concessions in terms of political power could also be resisted. Moreover, the group has been planning to use schemes to change the constitution as a political issue against the government. It is possible that the JO would use any proposal to change the constitution as the launching pad of the proposed new political party. The new political party, if formed, could also attract more nationalist members of parliament. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is a part of the government now, may also oppose meaningful devolution of power for the minorities. The JHU has been founded on anti-minority philosophies. Therefore, the government is unlikely to garner a two-thirds majority in parliament for constitutional reform. This perhaps is the reason why progress on this front is painfully slow.

The referendum could also be a major hurdle. The Sinhala community which forms about 73 percent of the total population could unilaterally halt any concessions to the Tamils in the national referendum. They have the numbers to do this. They may also gain the assistance of the Muslim community in this endeavor. The Muslims of Sri Lanka have constantly opposed devolution of power to the Tamils. They prefer the status quo. Therefore, they may also vote against a scheme that devolves power targeting the Tamil community.

Stagnation

Hence, the two major schemes proposed to promote reconciliation face serious obstacles. Both seem unlikely to succeed. Hence, ethnic reconciliation has been stagnated. Meanwhile, there has been signs of re-radicalization of the Tamil community. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of the Tamil-dominated Northern Provincial Council leads a campaign, which wittingly or unwittingly hardens Tamil political sentiments. Wigneswaran erroneously believes that an international investigation is more important than accommodation through constitutional reform. The prevailing lethargy within the TNA leadership helps Wigneswaran to promote his own agendas. The lack of progress in regard to the investigation and constitutional reform has been used against the government by Vigneswaran and his allies. The ongoing trends within the Tamil community make the stagnation on this issue much more dangerous.

*Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan is Chair of the Conflict Resolution Department, Salisbury University, Maryland

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  • 7
    10

    Isn’t it interesting that Sambanthan, Sumanthiran and Vigneshwaran while living in the comforts of Colombo the entire lifetime wants for reconciliation a North cleansed with Sinhalese and Muslims, this guy while sitting in Maryland thinks that venture is progressing very slowly and Sira may go back on his word. Hmm

  • 8
    8

    I think Dr. Keethaponcalan misses a major angle.

    In 2002 the GoSL invited the International Community along with co-chairs Japan, USA, India and Norway to resolve the problem.

    It then signed a hugely asymmetrical pact that favored the Tamils. The Tamils for example were freely allowed to conduct political campaigns anywhere.

    The 3000:1 ceasefire violations tells the story how the Tamils abused the trust and the privilege afforded to them.

    That is where the story should have begun isn’t it? If that wasn’t enough, the Tamils break away from political discussions last held in Japan.

    Then they openly raise funds for the “final war”. Large amounts of gold is collected from Tamils for a massive assault on the Sri Lankan forces to create a separate state.

    The Tamils then militarily challenge the govt by blocking water to people in Trincomalee. When the army pursue the Tamils they surround themselves with civilians creating a shield between themselves and the army. That is how it all unfolded isn’t it?

    So the current predicament is completely due to actions of Tamils I feel. I have read a few lines here that blames Sinhala and Moslem people. I don’t think Tamils are in a position to blame any body.

    • 2
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      Silva, you said all in the most concise way.

      Soma

  • 3
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    Dr. S. I. Keethaponcalan

    Don’t you think that you are dihonest to yourself, and this article is crap except for politics.

    It is the overseas living LTTE – rump which makes up mostly by Christian Tami and Tribal – Tamil politicians who want reconciliation. Their theme for reconciliation is federal solution which will be traded for war crime investigations.

    On the other hand, United states is following the same thinking because they want some control over Srilanka because the stratigic location of Sri lanka in the Indian Ocean and importance of Indian Ocean as a war zone during a war with China.

    The major hurdle to anything is Tamil politicians exploiting “Tamilness” of Tamils and corrupt southern politicians. South proliferates VVIP thieves. It looks it is not going to stop in the recent future. If souther politician are honest to a greater extent, most problems will be manageable. Then the next question dumb voters who are willing to worship these thieves.

  • 6
    2

    Come on folks , if we call Sri Lanka a democracy people should be permitted to express their views freely.This is what the Colombo Telegraph is all about.Therefore ad hominem attacks on people with a particular point of view should be avoided and instead facts are debated if we are to make true reconciliation possible.Dr. Keeethaponcalan is an eminent academic and all who have met him would admit this for a fact.

    Having said that, I must state that the pessimism that Dr.K reflects shows the gravity of the problem, Its failed cycles of promises and then utter failures since 1956 are far to many.However there is cause for confidence too.

    First,in my view the extremist forces in the South are much fewer than at any time before.Secondlly, this is the first time in our history that a government in SL has taken reconciliation so sincerely and seriously.The passage of the OMP into law was an unthinkable feat and it was done anyway.Thirdly, people of all communities have voted overwhelmingly for peace as the results of the 2 election results of 2015 show.Fourthly, this time around the international community is firmly behind the reconciliation process that is based very importantly on the basis of ensuring Transisitional Justice, which enables the past to be investigated, punishment of any perpetrators of inhuman acts to be handed out and the path to look to the future to be opened.SL’s irrevocable commitment at the UNHCR, again a unprecedented development, cannot be reneged on by whoever comes to power.It will be a case of only going forward.Sixtthly, the new pluralistic Constitution due this November will be the icing on the reconciliation process.Taken together, all these unprecedented and in fact unthinkable developments is cause for confidence and not pessimism.

    However as Dr K. passingly mentions the stand of CM Wiggy is inexplicable.he is certainly happy to derail the process in a way seen only in the South.He is hell bent on putting the Tamil people in an irrevocable state of misery, that was adopted by Prabhakaran where the North is concerned.Wiggy is planting seeds of suspicion,and even hate.His Provincial Council has hardly done any solid work,judging by reports that millions of rupees are been returned to the Treasury without been utilized.At best Wiggy’s attitude is that of a dog in the manger at worst he is thriving on his people’s misery and denying their future well being.Anyway, the West has put him on notice, judging from the UNSG refusing to meet him separately except as part of the TNA delegation and then giving only a brief one on one.So,if old Wiggy does not mend his ways he is going to be isolated by the international community and eventually by his people.

    Sri Lanka has played communal politics for far too long.It has shed much blood in the process.It is only the poor and vulnerable on both sides that paid dearly for the policies of their politicians.This is our last chance.Lets grab and support the reconciliation process with both hands and if possible with our legs and march to the promised land as one people.We can do it , with or without extremists like the inexplicably divisive Wiggy and that miserable Rajapaksa gang.

  • 5
    1

    Tamils do not worry too much about what Sinhalese leadership is going to do to achieve political solution to the ethnic problem or about accountability issues related to war crimes. If the current government cannot achieve this then automatically they loose the power and Mahinda & Co will come back. If they come to power then automatically there won’t be any law & order, Justice system will come under their control, freedom of speeach and all other democratic sytem will fall apart.More than that Mahinda will take revenge against not only Tamils and Muslims but also most of the Sinhala leadership and the Sinhalese people who supported the formation of this government. The outcome could be unimaginable and blood bath is inevitable. What would be the position of the international community and what would be the position of neighboring India?
    Therefore, Southern people should be educated the real danger ahead for them if they bring back Mahinda & Co to the power.

  • 2
    2

    De Silva
    “The 3000:1 ceasefire violations tells the story how the Tamils abused the trust and the privilege afforded to them.”

    This is absolutely wrong in every sense. To start with “Tamils” must be replaced by “LTTE” throughout the imaginative story written by him. Second fact is that LTTE collected gold and handed over to Gota to help the latter to buy a mansion in US.

    • 1
      1

      There is NO conceivable solution to the Tamil ethnic problem.

      It is a catch-22 situation.

      If the “TAMILS” for whom a ‘political solution’ is sought means only the Tamil speaking Hindu and Christian people in the North EXCLUDING those who practise Islam and those arrived during the British then the numbers are insignificant amounting less than 5% of the total population. Moreover they live within a stone’s throw from Tamilnadu, they have turned their radio and TV antennas northwards.

      If the “TAMILS” for whom a ‘political solution’ is sought means ALL the Tamil speaking people in the Island INCLUDING those who practise Islam and those arrived during the British then the numbers are significant but they are all distributed across the island. No political Einstein can think of a practical devolution model which can satisfy at least 90% of them.

      This is the great puzzle why Tamil political masters living in Colombo have been attempting to bamboozle us for over 60 years with various permutations and combinations of ‘Tamils’, Tamil Nation’, Tamil Speaking People’ Ealam Tamils, Eazam Tamils and what not.

      For they know either way they are talking nonsense.

      Trying to fool others is one thing, fooling oneself is quite another.

      Striking back room horse deals with cut throat Sinhala politicians before elections is no way to solve a ‘national question’. So we hear wailing and chest beating ‘they deceived us for sixty long years.’ blah,blah. With what authority did those Sinhala politician ******** give you those promises? Don’t blame us the people.

      Every Tamil worth his soul should understand that there is no way to punish the Sinhalese without facing a devastating reaction. Reason: The Sinhalese are 70% AND it is an island.

      We all are in the same boat floating in the Indian ocean.
      We Sinhalese can only extend our hand of friendship in reconciliation after 60 years of confrontation, conflict and bloodshed. It is up to the Tamils to Take it. It is their choice to live in psychological gloom and misery. In the absence of a reciprocal gesture we have no option but manage our daily lives regardless.

      Soma

      • 0
        2

        There is a solution to the problem. A Tamil “Moses” will descent in the north and lead them all to their promised land across the Palk Strait.Want to join them in their squalid TN?

    • 0
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      Sora

      Until the end of war in 2009 I used to argue with my Sinhala friends till my throat bled that LTTE is not the same as Tamils. Later developments since the conclusion of the war demonstrated in no uncertain terms that I probably was wrong. Without exception every Tamil political writer refers to the episode as ‘civil war’ while for the Sinhalese it was nothing but a victory over terrorism. So logically if you were to replace ‘Tamil’ with ‘LTTE’ we have the right to feel triumphant and you are saying that the Sinhala version is right.

      Soma

  • 6
    2

    Wigi is a Timely gift for the Tamils. Keeth Do you want the Tamils to be cowards and slaves. Even the slaves are treated according to some human ethics. But you look at tamils History it is not treated even respective of slave rights. The errors if not war crimes should be found recognize and acknowledged . Prevention of recurrence is vital. Anything without the truth and acknowledgement the reconciliation is nothing but further encouragement for wrong doing. If you don’t want an investigation and truth you open all the prisons of the world. Set free all the wrong doers and reconcile with them

  • 3
    1

    Dear r. Keethaponcalan,
    “Meanwhile, there has been signs of re-radicalization of the Tamil community. Wigneswaran, Chief Minister of the Tamil-dominated Northern Provincial Council leads a campaign, which wittingly or unwittingly hardens Tamil political sentiments. Wigneswaran erroneously believes that an international investigation is more important than accommodation through constitutional reform. The prevailing lethargy within the TNA leadership helps Wigneswaran to promote his own agendas. The lack of progress in regard to the investigation and constitutional reform has been used against the government by Vigneswaran and his allies. The ongoing trends within the Tamil community make the stagnation on this issue much more dangerous”.

    Do you mean to say the NPC CM is doing anything different from what the new Regime is committed to by cosigning the UNHRC resolution? The reality is not conceived by you in the positive sense. Whatever the Tamil parties say in agreement or disagreement is not going to change anything that can be done or implemented by the Government. The Government always from the time of independence habitually blame the Tamil parties for every bad decision taken and implemented to suit their agenda. Don’t you know there was no Tamil or any Tamil party supporting any of the bad change made to legislation that politicized even the Judiciary? These changes are purposely made to promote genocide of Tamils that is taking place in the North and East even today.
    How do you think a powerless TNA representing the war affected victims do anything if the new Government promised to protect all the war criminals and refuse to allow international judges to inquire war crimes? It is customary the successive majoritarian Sri Lankan Governments to always cheat Tamils and it was the Tamil parties that want to forge an agreement with the Government for a peaceful existence. Always the trend was to put the blame on some leader who is powerless and do everything possible to promote genocide. Some ambitious Tamil leaders are always taken into confidence to support their machinery to roll down the Country and implementing legislation suited for the purpose of the majoritarian Regime which is a Sinhala Buddhist Nation. If they are doing this with their commitment for reconciliation to the international community, the consequences will bring down all communities together and not just the community holding the power. If the UN too fails who is going to make Sri Lankan do the right for the love of their own Country?

  • 1
    2

    Federalism will create provinces divided along ethnic lines. It would cause much conflict, of course I am not talking about assymetric devolution which is unfair.

    Why not patience? Wait until 2020 and then change the constitution, but carry out promises made so far by the government. Develop the country. Have the local judges.

    Since we are listening to the Americans, here is one:

    “If you persist in your purpose of secession, there will be war – a bloody and cruel war. Not only will the North fight, but she will also triumph. The experiment of secession will fail, and the South, in ruin and desolation, will bitterly repent the day when she attempted to overthrow a wise and beneficent government. Ambrose Burnside
    Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/search_results.html?q=secessation

    • 1
      0

      It is the “unitary system” that divided along ethnic lines. Under the unitary system we had discrimination, violence against smaller ethnic communities, continuous bloodbath, dictatorship and complete deestruction of law and order and justice sytem. Federalism can unite ethnically divided country.

  • 2
    0

    There is NO conceivable solution to the Tamil ethnic problem.

    It is a catch-22 situation.

    If the “TAMILS” for whom a ‘political solution’ is sought means only the Tamil speaking Hindu and Christian people in the North EXCLUDING those who practise Islam and those arrived during the British then the numbers are insignificant amounting less than 5% of the total population. Moreover they live within a stone’s throw from Tamilnadu, they have turned their radio and TV antennas northwards.

    If the “TAMILS” for whom a ‘political solution’ is sought means ALL the Tamil speaking people in the Island INCLUDING those who practise Islam and those arrived during the British then the numbers are significant but they are all distributed across the island. No political Einstein can think of a practical devolution model which can satisfy at least 90% of them.

    This is the great puzzle why Tamil political masters living in Colombo have been attempting to bamboozle us for over 60 years with various permutations and combinations of ‘Tamils’, Tamil Nation’, Tamil Speaking People’ Ealam Tamils, Eazam Tamils and what not.

    For they know either way they are talking nonsense.

    Trying to fool others is one thing, fooling oneself is quite another.

    Striking back room horse deals with cut throat Sinhala politicians before elections is no way to solve a ‘national question’. So we hear wailing and chest beating ‘they deceived us for sixty long years.’ blah,blah. With what authority did those Sinhala politician ******** give you those promises? Don’t blame us the people.

    Every Tamil worth his soul should understand that there is no way to punish the Sinhalese without facing a devastating reaction. Reason: The Sinhalese are 70% AND it is an island.

    We all are in the same boat floating in the Indian ocean.
    We Sinhalese can only extend our hand of friendship in reconciliation after 60 years of confrontation, conflict and bloodshed. It is up to the Tamils to Take it. It is their choice to live in psychological gloom and misery. In the absence of a reciprocal gesture we have no option but manage our daily lives regardless.

    Soma

    • 0
      0

      Definitely Mr. Soma, Tamils all the time from the forties wanted to hold your hands. It was very unfortunate they got cheated every time by the majority Governments the UNP and SLFP after getting their support. I am not aware if you heard, the majoritarian Governments started on a Tamil genocide spree that increased the Sinhala vote base after sending all Tamils from the South first and later from all the cities around the Country. With violence against Tamils and simultaneously implementing laws, changing Constitution for easy genocide of Tamils got you to this situation today. At the time of independence all the forces, Departments, Corporations, Finance, Education and all important institutions were manned by both Sinhalese and Tamils and Ceylon was prospering and was the envy of all Asian Countries. The successive Governments gradually changed the demography of the Tamil dominated Provinces, never expected the violence created turned the multiracial Ceylon into a Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka to the state it is in today!
      Now the international community believes with their help Sri Lanka can do what is good for the Country and is trying you will reign in good Governance and keep to your commitment in bringing the well known criminals to pay for their crimes and stop further similar crimes from taking place not only in Sri Lanka but also in many other similar Countries. Now the victims, mainly Tamils in the North and East are powerless and they have no way changing any Law or Constitution for the good of the Country. Still the Majoritarian Government of the new Regime that undertook the change is keeping the victims oppressed and antagonized. In this situation will they take your hand and accept their plight. If you are in their situation will you accept to continue with an oppressed and victimized life?

  • 0
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    [Edited out]

  • 0
    0

    Why are we surprised the Sri Lankan state is letting down its Tamil citizens again? Do we expect any different behaviour? Will the new constitution end decades of Sinhala majoritarianism and truly devolve power to the Tamil provinces? Of course not!

    In the minds of the Sinhala elite, even the current lot in power, rights of Tamils are irrelevant, Tamils are there to be managed whilst the others benefit from the defeat of both the LTTE and the Rajapaksas.

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