Vision & Mission

Vision: A peaceful and just country in which freedom, human and democratic rights of all people are assured.

Mission:To work in partnership with different target groups to educate, mobilize and advocate to build a society of rights conscious citizens and a political culture that enables a political solution to the ethnic conflict and equal opportunities to all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Monday, 20 June 2011

The video footage of the last phase of Sri Lanka’s war by the British television broadcaster Channel 4 has been taken on by other international media channels such as Al Jazeera, giving it a global dimension.  It has also been shown at the margins of international forums such as the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, at the British Parliament and now also at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.  This is being denounced by members of the government as an ill-motivated and fabricated propaganda blitz by enemies of Sri Lanka.  Whether the deeds depicted in the video were committed by soldiers or by the LTTE or by a third party, they are awful, cruel and tragic

The only way to remain unmoved is to believe that these video images are not real, but have been acted out to discredit the government. The first part of the video focuses on the plight of the civilian population that was trapped along with and by the LTTE in an ever shrinking territory.  .  There is vivid imagery of artillery shells falling on the civilians.  There are the sounds of wailing children as their parents lie on top of them seeking to shield them with their bodies, and of people screaming in terror as the artillery fire rains on them. There are puddles of rain mixed with blood in the makeshift hospitals that were set up in abandoned schools and the bodies of victims who were being treated. 

However, as this clear video footage comes from the territory that the LTTE was controlling it does not show how the LTTE forcibly kept the people in.  Perhaps no one dared to take video images or photographs of what the LTTE was doing in the areas they were in charge of.  There is some limited satellite imagery that shows in a blurred manner how LTTE cadre shot at the ground in front of civilians to prevent them from fleeing.  This is one of the accusations leveled against the producers of the video, that they were biased, and produced a documentary that is weighted against the government.  The one or two incidents in which an LTTE atrocity is shown emphasizes the fact that the rest are by the government forces.

The second and shorter part of the video shows the very end of the war, after the fighting was over.  It shows bound and trussed prisoners, nearly naked, being shot at by military personnel.  It shows dozens of bodies lying in rows which persons said to be experts and interviewed by Channel 4 say were shot in the head, and so unlikely to be battlefield casualties.  There is also footage of bodies of women with their undergarments almost removed being dragged about and crude language in the background.  Unless these images were fakes, as argued by the government, they would have had to come from the cameras of soldiers on the ground at that time. 


In order to permit viewers throughout the world to watch the programme Channel 4 removed its geo-blocking devices for a week.  This meant that the video could be watched on internet in any part of the world instead of only in the UK as normal for Channel 4 news.  I watched the video the day after it was broadcast in the UK along with several of my colleagues, who were of all ethnic groups.  We wanted to see if we had different reactions so that we could come up with a more objective view, as this video is bound to be a very controversial and sensitive issue.  Our common thought after watching the video together was that the government needed to have an independent investigation into the video in order to substantiate its position that it was a fake, if that is the position those in the government wish to continue with.

It is common knowledge that in any war, atrocities occur and civilians die.  Over 60,000 are said to have died in Kashmir over the course of the past decades of anti government terrorism and counter terrorism.  Over 500,000 are said to have died in Iraq when the US invaded that country to get rid of President Saddam Hussein.  Much of Chechnya was flattened and large numbers of civilians were killed when the Russian army finally moved in to defeat the rebel forces. Many Sri Lankans are indignant and infuriated why the Sri Lankan government is being singled out for international censure and the Sri Lankan killing fields are being subjected to investigation when the killing fields elsewhere are not.

Perhaps a key reason is in the government’s consistent stance regardless of the mounting evidence, that it conducted a humanitarian operation to save the Tamil people from the LTTE, and had a policy of zero civilian casualties.  The denial of large scale civilian casualties involved in fighting the LTTE which had a civilian shield of more than 300,000 civilians is not one that the international community appears prepared to accept.  The video adds to the charges already leveled against the government by the Expert Panel appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon which argued for an independent international mechanism to probe the last phase of the war. 


So long as the government is adamant in holding to its position of a humanitarian operation in which there were zero civilian casualties, there will be mounting international pressure on it to investigate the past.  In addition, in the absence of an inclusive and participatory investigation, the space for further allegations is to be expected from different pressure groups that will polarize the Sri Lankan society and hinder the process of reconciliation for sustainable peace for years to come. A credible mechanism involving the domestic legal apparatus in which there is multi partisan political consensus, including participation from opposition Tamil parties is now the best option for the government.  This was suggested by several Sri Lankan civil society organizations as their response to the UN Expert Panel report that called for an independent international mechanism.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has announced that it will investigate the video.  Although the appointment of this commission was done unilaterally by the President, and not in consultation with other stakeholders, the LLRC has a plural composition.  Its commissioners are also distinguished and respected within the country.  They have already obtained the services of a university academic in Sri Lanka who is an expert in video technology to make his assessment of the authenticity of the video, which he has done in camera and not in public due to the controversial nature of the issue. The finding of the LLRC can do much to convince the international community that Sri Lanka will deal with the issue in a responsible and legitimate manner that can quell international concerns.

The government is also having the advantage of political support from powerful countries such as Russia and China, whose presidents have assured their Sri Lankan counterpart that they will not permit Sri Lankan sovereignty to be infringed and an international inquiry being imposed upon Sri Lanka.  The Indian government too does not appear to be keen on imposing an international inquiry on Sri Lanka and is seeking other forms of accommodation with the government. On the other hand, there are Western countries such as the UK which have stated that they will re-visit all options unless the Sri Lankan government comes up with a satisfactory response to the questions opened by the Channel 4 video in the aftermath of the UN Expert Panel report.  It is still possible for the government to develop an internal mechanism with credibility, if it ensures there is multi-partisan political backing for it, including from Tamil political parties.


                           The forthcoming local government elections on July 23 will be a critically important testing time for the government.  When the date for local government elections came earlier this year in March, the government postponed several of them especially those in the urban areas such as Colombo, Kandy and Matara. At that time there were anxieties about erosion in the government’s support base.   The inability of the government to even fulfill its promises of a salary increase in the face of an inflationary rise in the cost of living was believed to have shaken the confidence of the people in the government.  These doubts motivated the government to take maximum precautions to ensure victory with measures that included postponing elections in the urban areas most affected by cost of living issues.

Another set of elections where elections got postponed were in the north of the country.  Due to a slight inaccuracy in the translation of the name of the ruling alliance into the Tamil language, most of its candidate lists were rejected by the Election Commissioner.  The postponement of the local government elections has enabled the government to deal with this situation.  However, the challenge to the government still remains.  While the government virtually swept the board in electorates where the Sinhalese majority was dominant at the March elections, it failed to win in the north of the country where the Tamil minority is dominant.   The Tamil National Alliance, which has traditionally stood for the political rights of the Tamil people in relation to the devolution of power was the most successful.

At the forthcoming elections the government will face a major challenge to win the elections in the urban areas, whether in the north or south of the country due to its continuing inability to deliver an economic peace dividend to the middle and working classes. The stark reality is that the high rates of economic growth produced by the Central Bank have failed to cushion the adverse impact that inflation has had on the urban people.  The recent labour agitation that has been taking different forms, such as the protests by the workers of the Free Trade Zone and the protracted strike by university teachers is an indicator of urban discontent that the government will be hard put to overcome. 


The north of the country poses an especially complex challenge for the government to obtain electoral success.  The last phase of the war was fought almost entirely in the north and was a no-holds barred effort that led to the massive destruction of economic and social infrastructure and to consequent loss of life.  The report submitted by the Expert Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General and the UK-based Channel 4 video have both especially highlighted the human costs of the war.  Although the government has made some effort to address the problems in the north they have fallen well short of meeting the expectations of the people living there.

When the war ended there was a general expectation in the north, as there was in the south of the country, that there would be a peace dividend in the form of a comprehensive resettlement and reconstruction effort.  The pathetic conditions under which the war-affected people continue to live would be a scandal to those who have been personally witness to this reality.  However, the government has been insisting that its programmes, such as Northern Spring are much appreciated by the people.  The forthcoming elections in the north would offer the government an opportunity to disprove its critics, and demonstrate that it enjoys substantial popular support from the people of the north. 

Indeed, a convincing victory at the local government elections especially in the north can assist the government to strengthen its case that the allegations contained in the UN panel report and the Channel 4 video are exaggerated.  One element of the government strategy has to engage in infrastructure development that is visible to all people, even if it does not immediately provide them with livelihood opportunities.  The opening of the communication tower in Kokavil was described by the government as providing for job opportunities and economic development in the near future.  On the other hand, economic and infrastructure development are not the only requirements when it comes to winning the political allegiance of the people.  There are also issues of governance that will weigh heavily in the voting decisions of the northern electorate.


The physical attack of those attending a TNA election meeting in Jaffna a fortnight ago by army personnel in uniform needs to be viewed in the context of the forthcoming local government elections.  Government spokespersons have argued that the meeting was unauthorized apparently to justify the storming of the meeting.  On the other hand, the TNA has pointed out that it was not a public meeting and hence did not require the approval of the Police.  The use of force against citizens engaging in lawful political activity is unacceptable.  It violates the Sri Lankan constitution and contradicts the claims of the government that it is doing its best for the people of the North without any discrimination. It is also detrimental to restoring normalcy in the North, whose people would wish for peace and reconciliation, as would right-thinking people anywhere, based on a mutual recognition of human dignity and equal human rights.  

Recently on a visit to the north, people there including schoolteachers reported that they believed that any meeting, including a school meeting, had to be authorized by the military.  They said that they also feel obliged to invite military officers to their functions for fear of offending the military authorities, as occurred in the case of the TNA meeting, which included several Parliamentarians.  At the same time the government affirms that it has restored normalcy and peace throughout the country. A strong military presence in the north following the war may be deemed to be a necessary security precaution by those who view national security through traditional modes of thinking.   However, the intervention of the armed force in daily civil life cannot foster reconciliation or give a sense of security to the people. 

Indeed, the threat of interference in civic meetings will tend to increase fear and sense of alienation, hindering the government’s vision of a reunited and peaceful land. This is not the way to win the hearts and minds of the Tamil people for reconciliation with the rest of the people. This incident in which elected representatives of the Tamil people were not permitted to conduct a peaceful private political meeting reinforces the political marginalization of the country’s minority groups and erodes their democratic rights, a practice that has had dangerous consequences in the past. Electoral success in the north would require the government to provide the people of the north with the same political rights available in the rest of the country.  It is such uniformity of political rights without discrimination that can generate the electoral support that the government is looking to confound its critics.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Beginning With A Hello! – A Route to Reconciliation

The National Peace Council recently organized a tour for several religious and civil society members from the northern districts of Mannar, Jaffna and Vavuniya  as well Puttalam to visit their counterparts in the Southern cities of Galle and Matara. The five day visit was conceptualized with the intention of bridging the divide between the communities in the North and South of Sri Lanka. The three decade long military conflict perpetuated and entrenched this divide, forcing the Tamils and the Sinhalese to perceive each other through the actions of military entities.
The itinerary for the group from the North included a variety of activities that contributed to their understanding of the history, culture and traditions of the people of the South which they never had the opportunity of experiencing or getting to know of. Daphne, one of the participating DIRC members from the North, who had just completed her A/Ls and visiting the South for the first time in her life, had this to say:

“Initially I was extremely scared of visiting the South since I have heard that the Sinhalese people are extremely dangerous. However when I came here I was surprised with the warm welcome that I received. While I was disappointed that I could not cultivate any friendships because of the language barrier, I did try my best to communicate with my Sinhalese counterparts. While I have changed my opinions about the ordinary Sinhalese people, I can’t say that is the case with the opinions that I have of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces.”

Daphne was not the only individual to air such sentiments, even members from the predominantly Sinhalese Buddhist groups that were receiving them had similar views to share. Sheila Dissanayaka, working at the Senani Elder’s Organization and a member of the DIRC in the historical Buddhist capital of Anuradhapura stated:

“The war distanced us Sinhalese and Tamils. When we get involved in such initiatives we get to meet Tamil people and have discussions with them. Unfortunately, we rarely get this opportunity as individuals. We know very little about their religion, culture and traditions.”

The “Exposure Visit”, as its name suggests was the second of its kind, where the National Peace Council (NPC) had organized visits for members from the 12 District Inter Religious Committees (DIRC) to visit each other with the intention of promoting mutual understanding between communities and thereby creating a conducive environment for reconciliation in this war ravaged nation. The DIRCs are committees that were created with the intention of promoting inter religious collaboration in catering to the humanitarian needs of women and children affected by the war in their respective districts. The DIRCs already comprise of an impressive total membership of 747 active members.

One of the reasons for conceptualizing this program from a religious dimension is because of the significant influence that religious leaders have within their local communities. Hence, it was believed that this unique leverage which they possess should be harnessed in the advancement of the reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. These “exposure visits” conducted by the NPC were meant to facilitate this objective. While the objective of a larger peace remains distant, it was clear from the observations of this particular visit, that such tours indeed were a step in the right direction.

It did not take long to realize the latter. The first stop off for the members from the North in their visit to the South was at the scenic and ancient city of Anuradhapura inhabited by a large Sinhalese majority. Mariamma Anthony Croos, a History teacher from Mannar summed up her appreciation of the hospitality that her counterparts in Anuradhapura showed to her:

“I was extremely touched by the offering of “Bulath Kola (Betel Leaves”) by Anuradhapura DRC members to welcome us to the Anuradhapura DRC Meeting and the replica of a “Sandakada Pahana” (Moon Stone), which was given to us as a souvenir. Reconciliation begins with a hello.”

In Sinhalese and Tamil culture the offering of a “betel leaf” to welcome a guest is a symbol of great respect. While the “Sandakada Pahana” (Moon Stone) is a historical artifact symbolic of the great monarchial era of Sri Lanka stretching back thousands of years.

 Having been divided by a gruesome war for nearly three decades, it truly was remarkable to witness each Sinhalese person from the Anuradhapura DIRCs taking one of their Northern counterparts by hand and leading them to a seat and then engaging in a conversation using a mixture of broken Sinhalese, Tamil and some even resorting desperately to gesticulations when the latter two attempts at interaction failed.

After an hour long ceremony in Anuradhapura the group travelled to Puttalam, where they had lunch and then set off to Colombo stopping on the way at the Don Bosco Training Center in Negombo, one of eight training centers in the country. The Don Bosco initiative was geared at providing valuable vocational programs to youth from all backgrounds who had failed in their secondary educational pursuits, let alone those who couldn’t secure admission into the local university system. One of the admirable features of this program was that unlike many of the private tertiary educational institutes that had popped up in Sri Lanka, the Don Bosco Institute made an active effort to provide their students with employment opportunities upon completion of their courses. It truly was a remarkable initiative that gave a second chance to youth to make a valuable contribution to society. Many of the members from the North concurred that the Don Bosco Model was one which should be worth considering.  Another impressive reason to duplicate the Don Bosco model was that despite being run by the Catholic Church, youth from all religious backgrounds were welcome to enroll in the courses offered, by the organization. We were informed that the Catholic Church took special measures to provide facilities for Non Catholics to observe their respective faiths. 

After spending the night in Colombo the group then took off to Galle. One of the procedures used by the NPC to challenge the negative stereotypes of the Sinhalese South that many from the North harbored was to show examples of inter ethnic harmony in the South. One such example was the recent activities that were taking place in the “Divithura Tea Estate”, where the predominantly Sinhalese supervisors in collaboration with members from the Galle DIRC had taken measures to provide the predominantly Tamil estate workers with national documentation. The members from the North claimed that they realized two things. Firstly that their belief of being the only community being targeted by the government sanctioned hardship was indeed false and secondly that contrary to the messages spread by organizations such as the LTTE accusing the Sinhalese for their supposedly repressive actions against the Tamil community were not fair assessments. Mariamma Anthony Croos once again was one of the first to point this out:

 “We thought we were the only people who had problems. People in other areas suffer similar problems. Such an understanding of mutual grievances contributes to an environment conducive for peace.”

It was also worth noting that a former JVP Minister of the Local Council, who attended a similar occasion in Pittabadara claimed: 

“I sincerely hope that one day we can do away with the requirement to mention our ethnicity in our birth certificate. I look forward to a day when we can replace that requirement with the label “Sri Lankan.”

Having been treated with a cup of tea and traditional “halapa” (Sinhalese Sweet) the group then set off to embark on a 45 minute boat ride from Karandeniya to Balapitiya on the picturesque Madhu Oya. Sister Rita, one of the members from the Vavuniya DIRC who had never visited the South remarked at the absolute beauty of the physical environment in the region. She also had much to say about the hospitality rendered to them, “I have never received a warmer reception in my life.” The treatment that they were meted out with in Balapitiya on a conference hall located on a floating raft by several distinguished dignitaries had much to do with this.
Having received small replicas of Sri Lankan Masks, which the region was famous for producing the group set off to the Wakkwala Training Center where they were to spend the night.

The next morning the group was taken to the Hikkaduwa Coastline to witness some of the corals that managed to survive the onslaught of the 2004 Tsunami. Upon viewing these corals, Sister Rita remarked:

“Human beings are very much like the Hikkaduwa coast. On the surface just like the waves at sea, humans were tumultuous creatures while deep within just like the beautiful corals they too were capable of doing a great deal of good.”

After a quick visit to the Galle Fort the group then took off to Matara, stopping at Pittabaddara, where members of the Matara DIRC had helped in the securing of marriage certificates to 20 couples, while some of them were newlyweds, there were also those who had been married for over 30 years but had not acquired the appropriate documentation.

After spending the night at the Matara, Sarvodya Center, the group visited the temple at “Paravi Doopatha” (Pigeon Island) where all of the members from the North engaged in Buddhist Pirith rituals despite, a majority of them being Hindus. The group was also welcomed by the Deputy Inspector General of the Police in the Southern Province. Let alone meeting the group, the DIG Niel Daluwatta also arranged a special VIP Police escort during their stay in Matara. This was meant to be a symbol of utmost respect from the Matara people. Government officials from the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration facilitated the event and encouraged the government officials from the Matara district to participate. The Matara district G.A. MS W. K. K. Athukorale, participated and gave a gracious welcome speech.  After a visit back to the Sarvodya Center, the group then was given the opportunity of taking a dip in the famous scenic Polhena Beach. It truly was astounding to find grown Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslim adults to find themselves splashing around like children in the water. For that period of two hours it seemed that the scene unfolding at the Polhena Beach was the epitome of what a reconciled and united Sri Lanka should be.

In the final evening, the group was treated to an extremely colorful display of Sri Lankan Low Country Traditional Dances. While the item was occasionally punctuated by speeches given by politicians, it was clear that the group from the North was in absolute awe. Having consumed a traditional Sri Lankan Dinner consisting of the infamous “Ambul Thiyal” (Sour Fish), the group retired for the day.

Upon the conclusion of the visit, the attitudinal change towards the South in the Northern participants was quite palpable. Sister Rita who had witnessed the worst that the Sri Lankan war had to offer claimed:

“It was only when I attended this trip that my perception of Sinhalese Buddhist monks changed after having met Rev. Chandrarathana.”

Before this particular visit she had always perceived the Buddhist clergy as being another face of the alleged Sinhalese chauvinistic attitude towards the Tamil people. It was not only the attitudes of the Tamil participants that had changed, it was also a similar case with the one or two Sinhalese participants who came from the South. Priynaka Priyadarshani, a “Daham Pasal” (Buddhist Religious School) said that:

“Initially I was extremely reluctant to take part this visits because I was not sure how I would be able to get along with a predominantly Tamil group of people for a period of five days. However now I can safely say that I enjoyed it very much and I had no problems whatsoever in getting along with my Tamil colleagues. I hope they organize similar programs for youth in Daham Pasals and their Hindu Equivalent.”

When we look back at this visit, it’s clear that as the name suggests, that for reconciliation to take place, the conflicting parties should first be exposed to each other and provided an opportunity to get to know each other at a personal level. The positive responses of many of the participants are a testament to what could be achieved at the national level if indeed it was possible within this small group of 22 people. Mariamma Anthony Croos describes it best when she says that “Reconciliation begins with a Hello.”

 A Paragraph on the EU DIRC Project implemented by NPC:
 The EU funded project named “Enabling humanitarian solutions through multi-religious and cohesive community response in Sri Lanka” will cover a period of 24 months focusing on a specific objective of “Promoting multi-religious community responsiveness of groups who have been divided by the conflict and enable them to find appropriate humanitarian solutions to care for conflict –affected women and children. To achieve the objective, the project has panned out to 12 districts, covering the North, East and the South of Sri Lanka and currently 747 active members actively participate in the project. The National Peace Council is working towards achieving four main results that will pave the way to peace and reconciliation in the island and will create peaceful relations between all communities in Sri Lanka’s diverse population contributing to a healing society in a post war context.

The Article was written by Yohan Senerath, An Intern June 2010- August 2010. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fostering not one but many Mandelas By Kishali Pinto Jayawardene

Atrocities happen during war. This is a disturbingly cynical one-liner that we hear all too often these days. At one level of understanding, this reminder is quite true. This is precisely why, at the end of a long period of conflict and bitterness, enlightened people try to recognize historical atrocities and make reparations for them so as to move forward, not as a fractured nation but as a collective whole.

Political dilemmas and blatant selectiveness

Insofar as Sri Lanka is concerned, atrocities by governments, past and present, have been equally matched by the atrocities of non-state actors, and in the current context, by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The frequent lamentation of this government has been that normal standards of national or international law cannot be utilized when dealing with terrorist non-state entities. The opposing rationale is that a government cannot be expected to behave like terrorists. These arguments and counter-arguments, if one recalls, were pursued not only during the war between the government and the LTTE but also during the insurrections of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) particularly during the 1980's. They are therefore disconcertingly old in their intellectual logic but are nonetheless quite unresolved in the political dilemmas that they pose.

So what we see is blatant selectiveness in dealing with these difficult issues. On the one hand, the government refuses to critically review its own actions particularly post war, in dealing with complex questions of reconciliation. On the other hand, those bent on castigating the country for war crimes internationally refuse to see the complicity and singularly brutal contribution of the LTTE in bringing about a situation in which the worst elements of nationalist consciousness now hold sway. This best illustrates the myopic shortsightedness of extremists on both sides of the ethnic divide.

Comparative illustrations of a different response

Let us look at other comparative illustrations. South Africa is a classic example of a nation once rift by intense hatred and saved by the humanity and vision of a Mandela. But the South African people must also be credited for creating an environment that allowed a Mandela to rise up from the ashes. It was not that Nelson Mandela did not have opponents when many in his own party argued that post apartheid policy must concentrate on punishing those who had raped, tortured and killed. For those in any doubt about the opposition that he faced, viewing 'Invictus' in all its profoundly moving glory should put their doubts to rest. Yet the South African people had the wisdom to listen to the voice of reason rather than be swayed by racism that would have been as indefensible as white supremacist polices.

Does Sri Lanka have that same sagacity and that courage to allow not one but many Mandelas to rise up from our towns and our villages, Tamil, Sinhala, Muslim and other? This is a difficult question but is nonetheless a question that should be asked. When towns like Omanthai on the A-9 road to Jaffna are renamed with Sinhalese name boards in the context of the heightened militarization of the peninsula, are we helping the minorities to feel equally at home as the majority?

When pristine Buddhist festivals such as Vesak which have a special place in all our hearts, are paraded by the government in a way that speaks more to its own political ideology rather than the incomparable message of the Gautama Buddha, are we agreeing with this ideology? When ordinary meetings of scholars and community leaders in Jaffna are rudely interrupted or when political meetings are disrupted and those participating are assaulted, what message are we passing to the people?

Confronting the sins of the past

To be quite clear, this is to challenge official policies taken by the government and not to put in issue, the actions of individual solders. Barring a minority, these ordinary soldiers attempt to understand peoples' problems and assist in whatever way that they can. Unfortunately these efforts are completely undermined by government actions that are shortsighted in the extreme.

This is also not to minimize the intransigence of the Tamil political elite who, quite in the way of the Sinhala political elite, try to use political rhetoric to further their own agendas. This has been the way of history in Sri Lanka and will, quite probably continue to be the case. In the meantime, it is the common people who suffer. It is between the common people that the distrust and the mistrust increase. Politicians, irrespective of their ethnicity, should own up to their distinct historical responsibilities in this regard.

Defending Sri Lanka with more finesse

At a more general level, to say that not one but many Mandelas should arise from post war Sri Lanka is certainly not to agree with those, not necessarily only from the government ranks, who take the line that confronting the sins of the past would only inhibit post war development.

In an echoing query posed during the 13th Kanchana Abeyapala Memorial Lecture, former Attorney General of Sri Lanka, the late Mr K.C. Kamalasabeyson P.C. asked succinctly whether it was more important to build roads rather than to have a peaceful and law abiding society where the Rule of Law prevails?

This was one rare example of an Attorney General who, within the most difficult confines of his office, attempted to do his best to preserve his constitutional role, not as defender of the government but as defender of the state. It is a pity that state law officers, since then, have not shown similar sensitivity to this most crucial distinction or indeed, to issues of paramount concern to the Rule of Law. If so, perhaps, Sri Lanka's brief may have been defended with far more finesse at international fora and far more successfully against propaganda tactics of separatist advocates than what we have (generally) seen so far.

Equally, if we had preserved the integrity of our police, our prosecutors and our judiciary, we could have justifiably told any outside interventionists, regional or international as the case may be, to direct their well intentioned or ill intentioned lectures, as the case may be, elsewhere, with far more credibility than the hysterical outpourings that we hear now.

What is the future that we want?

So is meant by restorative justice? When we argue that it is best to forget the bitterness of the past and focus on the future, what do we exactly mean? Is this the future that we want for our country, where young female factory workers of the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) protesting against a proposed pensions bill are stamped on, dragged by their hair and subjected to unspeakable brutalities by policemen and policewomen gone wild or when a young boy dies as a result of this?

Where is the report of the Commission of Inquiry appointed by the government to look into this incident? Where is the cry of civil society, (the media and the ordinary public along with non-governmental organizations), asking for the report of this most recent Commission to be made public?

Is it to go by the way of the Udalagama Commission of Inquiry report which still remains unpublished except for certain 'planted' reports in some newspapers? Can we hope for any credibility regarding the forthcoming report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in the background of a dismal history regarding past such bodies, whatever may be the intentions of the Commissioners?

Again, these are good questions that we must ask ourselves as literate and 'patriotic' citizens and not merely direct them towards our politicians who are beyond redemption in every sense of the word. It is only then that the emphasis on restorative justice in Sri Lanka will have any meaning other than the sad jargon of government rhetoric.

Taken from the Sunday Times Sunday, June 19, 2011

Linking North and South to Build Peace and Reconciliation For All.

Day 5

On the way to Kurunegalla, the group stopped by the Rumassalla area. In ancient mythology, it is rumored that the Hindu God Hanumantha had dropped a patch of soil which had clung to some medicinal herbs he had uprooted from the Himalayan mountain range, which he needed to treat his troops who were waging a battle against evil demon king Ravana. Interestingly enough, geologists and botanical experts have claimed that some of the special medicinal plants in the region are similar to the ones found in the Himalayan region. The group also toured the Buddhist Dagoba by the name of “Peace Pagoda.” The “Peace Pagoda” was strategically positioned in an area which offered a breath taking, panoramic view of the Galle Coast.

After having witnessed the beauty of Rumussalla, the group took off to Jaffna via Kurunegala. In Kurunegala, the group from Puttalam and the organizers split up with the members from the other DIRC’s to return to their respective homes. This break away at the Warakapola Foodland was indeed one for a Hindi movie, with nearly all the religious leaders breaking down into tears and expressing their sadness at having to part with each other and the members from civil society organizations wept with sadness. It truly was remarkable to witness the bonds of friendship that were sown, by getting people from different backgrounds to live with each other for a period of time. My thoughts wandered, surely if friendships between Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslims could have been built as evidences by this initiative within a short span of 5 days, surely then reconciliation at the national level is indeed possible.

Linking North and South to Build Peace and Reconciliation For All.

Day 4

After a scrumptious breakfast the group was then taken to the picturesque “Paravidevi Dupatha” (Pigeon Island) via a bridge that had to be walked on foot. The group from the North was warmly welcomed by the Head Priest of the Temple. Much to the surprise of the members from the Northern DIRCs, the Deputy Inspector General of the Southern Province was present to welcome the gathering along with high ranking government officials. This I felt was one of the highest marks of respect that could have been offered to a visiting delegation into Matara. After a charismatic speech from the DIG who emphasized the importance of unity and a home grown solution to the ethnic conflict, the group observed Buddhist “pirith.” It was a truly remarkable spectacle to see Moulavis, Buddhist Monks and a Nun being present in an environment where Buddhist rituals were being practiced. Most of the members from the North expressed their sincere joy at being able to visit a Buddhist place of worship since they never had before.

After climbing down the steep slope that led to the temple, the group walked on foot to the nearby “Our Lady of Matara” Church. The Head Priest at the Church enthralled the gathering with some fascinating stories, out of which the most notable one being of the famous statue of the deity of “The Lady of Matara” being washed away into Sea during the tsunami and several days later it being washed back ashore. He also spoke vividly about the tragic events that took place on the 26th of December 2004, when the South Asian Tsunami swept away scores of worshippers in front of his own eyes, during his morning sermon.

The group then were taken to witness the infamous Dutch fort in Matara, constructed in the shape of a star and surrounded by a particularly impressive moat which is now home to a number of fish and amphibians. The inside the Fort, which had been turned into a museum, offered a variety of information on Matara, even the remains of a two thousand five hundred year old human being. After a quick look around the sturdy buildings, the group boarded the bus once again to return to the Sarvodya Center. Surprisingly enough the DIG we had met before arranged for us a police escort. While some of the members perceived this as being pre-emptive action to thwart a potential attack on the group, it was meant to symbolize the highest levels of respect being rendered to the group visiting from the North. I was told only VIPs received this kind of treatment.  

After lunch, the Matara DIRC had their welcoming ceremony for the group from the North.
This particular ceremony was extremely well attended, with the Executive Director of the National Peace Council, Dr. Jehan Perera being in attendance as well. Upon its conclusion, the moderator informed the group that they would have to choose two options, either between going to the Martin Wickramasinghe museum or a sea bath at the “Polhena Beach”. While there were initially a few murmurs of agreement to the option of attending the museum, a notable personality remarked that it would be better if we could do both. To this unsurprisingly, there was a strong applause.

With much excitement, the group took off to the beach. After warnings of not to stray too far into the sea, the participants dived into the water. There were even a few who turned a deaf ear to the warnings and decided to swim several hundred meters into the ocean. After days of travelling and speeches that provoked one to think about the dynamics surrounding the conflict, the participants seemed to use this opportunity to let off some steam. Having told that an extremely impressive cultural ceremony had been organized on their behalf, the participants reluctantly emerged from the water. The term “impressive” to describe the cultural ceremony that took place would have been quite an understatement. The ceremony consisted of a variety of different Sri Lankan dances. These weren’t your typical ubiquitous “Natum Bera Karayos” that graced Colombo 7 functions but rather I was told they were “Low Country Traditional Sinhalese Dancers.” In between the dances, several notable politicians and the DIG (despite their being an incident between the police and a group of protestors) who had earlier been at Pigeon Island, made a repeat appearance to convey their appreciation of the visit by these members from the North. Even Sanath Jayasiruya’s brother was present in his absence.

The event was made more memorable for the participants, with a sumptuous dinner which consisted of fine Southern Sri Lankan dishes like “Ambul Thiyal.” Day 4 marked the end of the visit to the south by the Northern DIRC’s and the teams set out to their last resting place before setting off to Jaffna via Kurunegala.