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Now that the LLRC Action Plan is out, it has drawn the usual reactions. Those who find good things in it claim that these have been forced on government. Others claim that it does not go far enough. Kusal Perera does both. Interestingly we do not yet find criticism that it goes too far, though I suspect this viewpoint too will be expressed in time, for the usual reason. Meanwhile, predictably, we do not find credit given to government, and we certainly do not find expressions of regret that the government has indeed produced a plan, when the claims of the critics were that nothing would be done.

I can think of several instances of such failure to admit to unwarranted suspicions. Firstly, when the war ended, there were claims that we planned to use the army to occupy the North, that we would keep the displaced in camps for several years, and that we would incarcerate the former LTTE combatants. None of these things happened, but no one has granted that their predictions were wrong. Indeed hardly any credit has been given by the usual critics of government – though I should note that Mr Sumanthiran is an honourable exception with regard to the former combatants, for he has publicly granted that the government did well in that instance.

As part of this programme of predictions of doom, when the LLRC was appointed, it was claimed that they would produce nothing of consequence. I should note though that, when the Report appeared, we found some sort of exception to the rule, in that most critics of government welcomed it. I was at the farewell given by the then Australian High Commissioner on the evening of the Report being issued, and found general satisfaction, in some cases accompanied by disbelief, by most members of the diplomatic community present. Surprisingly, though the statements issued thereafter were more grudging than the immediate reactions, by and large they were very positive.

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Testimony before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission 

of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP 

Author of Declining Sri Lanka 

 Former Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process 

Former Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights 

Given on 23 August 2010 

I was not certain as to which aspects of the work of the Commission I should address, so I thought it best to prepare some points in writing, to be expanded on further as the Commission sees fit. It seems that the work of the Commission can be divided into three components as follows – 

a) Consideration of what should be done now to promote reconciliation 

b) Examination of the Peace Process and what led to negotiations proving  unsuccessful so that  other options had to be followed to achieve Peace 

c) Inquiry into incidents during the process which might prove barriers to reconciliation 

c) Investigation of incidents that might seem barriers to reconciliation

This is the area about which most concerns are expressed, though it seems to me less important than proactive measures to promote reconciliation, through ensuring the future well-being, prosperity and integration of those who suffered in the past. At the same time remedial measures are desirable in cases in which there is clear evidence of violation by the state of laws. Whilst it is not incumbent on the state to look for such evidence, it should certainly investigate instances in which a prima facie case seems to have been established. 

  

My own view is that in hardly any instance has such a case been established. However I believe there is at least one instance in which the state should have taken legal action, and our failure to do this has prompted blanket criticism which is not warranted, and distrust which, if not warranted, is understandable. I refer to the case of the killing of five youngsters in Trincomalee in 2006. I have long urged that indictments should be issued in that case. I respect the response of the Attorney General at the time, that a prosecution would not be successful because the evidence was incomplete, but my point was that there was need of a clear message that such conduct was not acceptable. Given the standards of proof required by our courts, there would have been no reflection on the Attorney General’s Department had the case failed, just as there has been no reflection on say British justice even though there was only one conviction in the Abu Ghraib case. The point is, the state has made its position clear, and indicated that individual aberrations will not be condoned. If the state does not do this, there is danger that such aberrations might appear systemic, and indeed become so. Fortunately there is no evidence of this occurring in Sri Lanka.  

I say this with some confidence, because I made it my business, as Head of the Peace Secretariat, to monitor events during the war, and to ask for explanations when there were reports, on TamilNet and elsewhere, of what might have seemed aberrations. I received prompt responses from the airforce on all occasions, and from the army on most, though obviously, with the field of action more widespread, these answers were less thorough. 

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Testimony before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission

of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

Author of Declining Sri Lanka

 Former Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

Former Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights

Given on 23 August 2010

I was not certain as to which aspects of the work of the Commission I should address, so I thought it best to prepare some points in writing, to be expanded on further as the Commission sees fit. It seems that the work of the Commission can be divided into three components as follows –

a) Consideration of what should be done now to promote reconciliation

b) Examination of the Peace Process and what led to negotiations proving  unsuccessful so that  other options had to be followed to achieve Peace

c) Inquiry into incidents during the process which might prove barriers to reconciliation

 

b) The failure of efforts at a negotiated peace

This area is of importance not only for the Sri Lankan state, so that it can prevent the recurrence of past mistakes, but also for the world since it is vital that international terrorism must be dealt with firmly even while attention is paid to the grievances of those who might be tempted into terror.

The cardinal mistake in the process in Sri Lanka was the confusion of those who had grievances which needed to be addressed with those who had turned to terrorism to redress those grievances and refused to move away from terrorist practices and absolute aims.

Though it is essential to combat terrorism, any state must be sensitive to what might have made people turn to terrorism. Therefore it must be ready and willing to engage in discussions. Remedial action with regard to grievances should however be on the basis of general principles and should benefit all those affected, not just the proponents of terror.

Sri Lanka removed the institutional reasons for grievances in 1987 with the Indo-Lankan Accord. Much practical work however remained to be done to restore a sense of equity. This is not the place to discuss whether inadequacies were due to lethargy on the part of the state or distractions arising from the continuation of terrorism on the part of the LTTE. What is important is that, following the destruction of the LTTE in Sri Lanka, practical work should proceed apace. It should also be noted that this government actually began some practical work that should have occurred long ago, through for instance measures instituted by the Ministry of Constitutional Reform and National Integration to ensure bilingualism amongst new recruits to the public service. The targeted recruiting of Tamil policemen is also an example of the positive approach of this government.

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Testimony before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission

of Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP

Author of Declining Sri Lanka

 Former Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process

Former Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights

Given on 23 August 2010

 

I was not certain as to which aspects of the work of the Commission I should address, so I thought it best to prepare some points in writing, to be expanded on further as the Commission sees fit. It seems that the work of the Commission can be divided into three components as follows –

a) Consideration of what should be done now to promote reconciliation

 

b) Examination of the Peace Process and what led to negotiations proving  unsuccessful so that  other options had to be followed to achieve Peace

 

c) Inquiry into incidents during the process which might prove barriers to reconciliation

 

a) Reconciliation

 

I believe the first of these is the most important. It is also the easiest to achieve. In fact we have done much in this respect already, inasmuch as inequitable development in the country was one of the principal reasons for resentment and the gradual move to separatism. Rapid infrastructural development, accompanied by strategies for targeted investment, has made clear the commitment of government to ensuring better opportunities for all.

At the same time we need to ensure that human resource development parallels the tremendous achievements with regard to physical development. We need also to ensure greater integration of people in the context of equity. Finally we need to develop confidence in government through ensuring constant consultation and respect for different perspectives. I have already proposed some simple initiatives that will help in this respect, viz

  1. Establishment of 6th form colleges functioning in the English medium for talented students of all races and religions (Ministry of Education)
  2. Encouragement of a culture of synergy and entrepreneurship, through fine tuning curricula at Vocational Training and other educational Institutes (Ministries of Youth Affairs, Education and Higher Education)
  3. Institutionalization of mechanisms to ensure that talented young people not only meet regularly, but also learn and create together in the fields of culture and sports (Ministries of Cultural Affairs and Sports)
  4. Expansion of recruitment of minorities to government positions, in particular to the police and the armed forces (Ministries of Public Administration and of Defence)
  5. Enhancing training for officials, including language training, to ensure sensitivity to the needs of particular groups (Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration)
  6. Improvement of non-formal mechanisms for redress of grievances, in particular for the vulnerable, through Consultation Committees, Women and Children’s Desks at police stations, School-based local welfare associations etc (Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs)

Coordination of such initiatives and others should be done through the Presidential Secretariat. The Peace Secretariat had begun some work in this regard, but this had been overshadowed by its other work in the last couple of years of its existence, which led to the view that it had fulfilled its role and could be closed down in 2009. No single Ministry however can provide the overall conceptualization that a long-term programme of reconciliation needs.

It should be noted that the importance of this aspect of reconciliation, which is forward looking, has been comparatively ignored, given the pressures to dwell on the past. These pressures are understandable on the part of the remaining supporters of the LTTE, so as to revive tensions, but all those truly concerned with peace and reconciliation should remember that the future must take precedence over the past.

Rajiva Wijesinha

December 2014
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