Reconciliation in Sri Lanka


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Reconciliation in Sri Lanka - Presentation made to Univeristy of Queensland in 2005

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Reconciliation in Sri Lanka

  1. 1. Reconciliation in Sri Lanka Sanjana Hattotuwa
  2. 2. Sri Lanka
  3. 3. Country details <ul><li>Population – 19 million </li></ul><ul><li>Land area – 62, 705km 2 (QLD 1,722,000 km 2, or 27 times larger!) </li></ul><ul><li>Literacy – 91% </li></ul><ul><li>Life expectancy – 72 years </li></ul><ul><li>74% Sinhalese Buddhists, 12% Tamil Hindus, 5% Muslims and 7% Christians </li></ul>
  4. 5. Overview of conflict
  5. 6. Overview of conflict <ul><li>65,000 dead (+ around 31,000 from tsunami) </li></ul><ul><li>400,000 IDPs </li></ul><ul><li>Devastated the economy, livelihoods </li></ul><ul><li>Traumatised societies (Tamil, Muslim, Sinhala) </li></ul><ul><li>Religious violence (Buddhist / Evangelical Christian / Muslim extremism) </li></ul>
  6. 7. <ul><li>February 2002 – Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) </li></ul><ul><li>Six Rounds of Peace Talks (2002 – 2003) / Reconciliation never on agenda </li></ul><ul><li>LTTE pulls out of talks in May 2003 </li></ul><ul><li>Constitutional imbroglio – change of government in April 2004 </li></ul>Overview of conflict
  7. 8. The Stage
  8. 9. The Actors State Non- State Mediator Sinhala aristocracy / President LTTE ideologue & leader Norway
  9. 10. The roots <ul><li>In the first half of the 20th century, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was considered something of a model of political tranquility and social development. </li></ul><ul><li>At independence in 1948, power was transferred in very orderly fashion to a conservative, Anglicised native elite. </li></ul>
  10. 11. The roots <ul><li>1956 - The Official Language Act makes Sinhala the sole medium of state affairs. Communal violence kills an estimated 150 people, mostly Tamils. </li></ul><ul><li>1961 - The 1956 'Sinhala Only' Act is implemented. Disillusioned activists express secessionist aspirations. </li></ul><ul><li>1971 - Educational 'standardisation' leads to higher university entrance requirements for Tamil speakers. Many Tamil students are instantly radicalised. </li></ul><ul><li>1972 - The 'district quota' system is introduced for university entrance. </li></ul><ul><li>1978 - Buddhism enshrined as State religion in Art. 2 of the constitution </li></ul>
  11. 12. LTTE <ul><li>The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam is an armed group capable of sustainable guerrilla actions, terrorist attacks, and also fighting large conventional battles. It has a tight organizational structure (military and political) under the control of one person, and it is completely disciplined. </li></ul><ul><li>It has systematically eliminated other Tamil militant groups, controls territory in the north and east of Sri Lanka, and runs a parallel government (with a police force, judicial system, and other structures). </li></ul><ul><li>It has extensive international linkages and has created a worldwide business empire. For example, the LTTE has extensive shipping interests that are used for the delivery of weapons to the LTTE in Sri Lanka. </li></ul><ul><li>It has broad support from Tamil people living in Sri Lanka, and from the Tamil Diaspora. It has an effective publicity and propaganda program, which can rapidly mobilize political, economic, and financial support of the Tamil diaspora. </li></ul><ul><li>It is proscribed as a terrorist organization in Sri Lanka, and by a few other countries. </li></ul>
  12. 13. Pogrom - 1983
  13. 14. Pogrom - 1983 <ul><li>The riots, which began in Colombo, spread to other areas where Sri Lankan and Indian Tamils were concentrated. </li></ul><ul><li>Within Colombo alone, nearly 100,000 Tamils were displaced. The Government admitted to a death toll of 250, but reliable non-governmental sources estimated it at 2,000. </li></ul><ul><li>There was hardly any Tamil family in Colombo that escaped death, destruction or displacement. </li></ul><ul><li>The communal holocaust was an awful turning point in Sri Lanka's recent history. </li></ul>
  14. 15. Pogrom - 1983 <ul><li>Voters lists </li></ul><ul><li>Welikanda prison massacre </li></ul><ul><li>State complicity / catastrophic failure of political leadership </li></ul>
  15. 20. War and Insurgency <ul><li>Massive trauma, loss of life </li></ul><ul><li>Wider ethnic divide </li></ul><ul><li>No trust, polarised communities </li></ul><ul><li>Very little people to people contact </li></ul><ul><li>Media stereotypes </li></ul><ul><li>Zero sum politics, garrison nationalism </li></ul><ul><li>Familiar litany of issues… </li></ul>
  16. 21. So what then is reconciliation in Sri Lanka?
  17. 22. Within and between <ul><li>Sinhala / Tamil </li></ul><ul><li>Buddhist / non-Buddhist </li></ul><ul><li>South / North-East </li></ul><ul><li>Local / diaspora </li></ul><ul><li>Youth / ancienne regime </li></ul>
  18. 23. Voices / dialogues / debates / discussions within & between these sections of polity and society Grassroots Sinhala / Tamil / Muslim Urban / Rural / South / NE Buddhist / Christian / Muslim Youth / older generation
  19. 24. Should Sri Lanka remember? <ul><li>There are many arguments as to why the past should not be explored, investigated or uncovered. </li></ul><ul><li>It is argued that uncovering past can de-rail peace initiatives and cause further violence. </li></ul><ul><li>If unmanaged, the realisation of uncovering the past can be more psychologically painful than leaving it undisturbed. </li></ul><ul><li>Youth bear no responsibility for past violence </li></ul>
  20. 25. ¿Nunca Mas? <ul><li>Sustainable and just peace in Sri Lanka is not possible without reconciliation. </li></ul><ul><li>Infusing a relationship / reconciliation focus to the negotiations process will reap enormous tactical and strategic benefits. </li></ul><ul><li>Help build trust and respect. </li></ul><ul><li>Trickle down effect, improving relations among and between different communities. </li></ul>
  21. 26. The problems Key parties to the conflict Internal divisions Top heavy peace process Christian notion Buddhist clergy – The Sangha Impasse
  22. 27. Key parties to the conflict <ul><li>Govt. not interested in cross-sectoral & holistic dialogues with commitment to addressing structural inequality </li></ul><ul><li>LTTE not interested – maintaining political hegemony more important </li></ul><ul><li>Incumbent coalition partner not interested </li></ul><ul><li>Opposition not interested </li></ul><ul><li>Civil society divided </li></ul><ul><li>Lack of awareness and support for grassroots initiatives </li></ul><ul><li>Donor disinterest </li></ul>
  23. 28. The Sangha
  24. 29. The Sangha <ul><li>Heavily influenced by Sinhalese nationalist ideology – a past with a unified Sinhala-speaking people, who were egalitarian in their social relations, farmed their paddy fields, and lived in austere simplicity and in accordance with Buddhist morality. </li></ul><ul><li>After independence, time to go back to this past and cure the ravages of colonialism, Christian influence and western immorality. </li></ul>
  25. 30. The Sangha <ul><li>Anti-conversion bill vs. secular Buddhism </li></ul><ul><li>Militant Sangha – “over my dead body” rhetoric </li></ul><ul><li>Voice in parliament </li></ul><ul><li>Plural / multifaceted </li></ul><ul><li>Core values of non-violence & compassion exist with just war </li></ul>
  26. 31. Temple of Tooth bombing 1998
  27. 32. The Sangha <ul><li>High support for peace </li></ul><ul><li>Very low support for federalism (which is equated with secession) </li></ul><ul><li>Highly symbolic in Sinhalese politics & society </li></ul><ul><li>No peace process will last without engaging them </li></ul><ul><li>No peace agreement can be signed without their majority consent </li></ul>
  28. 33. Christian / Western imperialism <ul><li>Reconciliation as Christian / Western construct </li></ul><ul><li>Destroying Buddhist social fabric of Sri Lanka </li></ul><ul><li>Linked to anti-NGO rhetoric </li></ul><ul><li>Turning the page vs. reconciliation </li></ul><ul><li>Reconciliation as Western conspiracy to create ethnic conflict </li></ul>
  29. 34. Internal divisions <ul><li>Too early </li></ul><ul><li>Too late </li></ul><ul><li>Too much </li></ul><ul><li>Too little </li></ul><ul><li>Post-conflict vs. mainstream in the peace process </li></ul><ul><li>South vs. North-East vs. Diaspora </li></ul>
  30. 35. Reconciliation as ‘soft’ issue <ul><li>Lack of Track 1 interest </li></ul><ul><li>Relegated to Track 3 </li></ul><ul><li>Post-conflict activity vs. mainstreaming in the peace process </li></ul><ul><li>Of lesser important than ‘hard’ issues of power sharing, development, demilitarisation, constitutional reform etc. </li></ul>
  31. 36. Restorative justice <ul><li>Restorative justice focuses on transforming wrongdoing by healing the harm, particularly to relationships, that is created by harmful behavior. </li></ul><ul><li>The primary stakeholders in restorative justice processes are the person(s) who caused the harm (offender), the person(s) harmed (victim), and the affected community. By collectively identifying and addressing harms, needs, and obligations resulting from wrongdoing, we are able to create healing and put things right again. </li></ul><ul><li>Emphasis on social relationships and restoration of order under-girded by a strong sense of social justice </li></ul>
  32. 37. Moving forward
  33. 38. President’s Apology - 2004 <ul><li>“ Every citizen in this country should collectively accept the blame and make an apology to the tens of thousands who suffered. I would like to assign to myself that task on behalf of the State of Sri Lanka, the government and on behalf of all of us; all the citizens of Sri Lanka to extend that apology.” </li></ul><ul><li>First apology for incidents of ‘Black July’ in 1983 </li></ul>
  34. 39. Politics of apology <ul><li>Why? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Breakdown of talks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Political instability / deadlock </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Addressing structural issues or political pawn? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Timing </li></ul><ul><ul><li>At the beginning of peace talks / peace process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Mainstreamed into peace talks vs. single apology </li></ul></ul>
  35. 40. Politics of apology <ul><li>Does blame on all citizens negate justice for the real architects of the pogrom? </li></ul><ul><li>Process vs. speech </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Partisan nature of Presidential Truth Commission </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Follow up </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Progressive political will </li></ul></ul>
  36. 41. Past attempts <ul><li>Presidential Truth Commission </li></ul><ul><li>Disappearances Commission </li></ul><ul><li>RRR National Plan for Reconciliation </li></ul><ul><li>Government of Reconciliation </li></ul>
  37. 42. Tsunami for reconciliation? 31,000+ dead Over a million displaced
  38. 43. Ways forward? <ul><li>How do you move forward with reconciliation in the face of political impasse? (Lit. concentrates on post-conflict reconciliation) </li></ul><ul><li>How do you integrate reconciliation into the peace process and interim institutional structures? </li></ul><ul><li>How does one address: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Knowledge and acknowledgement </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Justice and redress </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Reparation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Healing </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Memory </li></ul></ul>
  39. 44. Reconciliation + <ul><li>Our understanding of reconciliation must not be limited to improving relations between the Sinhala and Tamil communities </li></ul><ul><li>Extend to all communities, religions, identity groups </li></ul><ul><li>Socio-political relations </li></ul><ul><li>Intra-ethnic relations (the JVP pogrom) </li></ul><ul><li>Gender relations </li></ul>
  40. 47. Thank you!