This article is taken from the Reconciliation Website, www.peaceinsrilanka.org which subsumes the old site www.peaceinsrilanka.lk used by the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP).

Mass wedding of ex-LTTE combatants

While I was in Vavuniya last week at the Rehabilitation Centre where the Entrepreneurship Training Programme for Ex-Combatants was taking place, I was shown a video of the mass weddings of former combatants that had taken place a few months earlier. Vivek Oberoi had signed the register, and I had been told the occasion was one of great rejoicing. However, when we had a meeting with Civil Society regarding the Human Rights Action Plan, which our Ministry had formulated in 2009 and which is now being finalized by the Attorney General, it was alleged that the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation had forced youngsters into wedlock.

Questioning revealed that this was the usual type of loose statement indulged in by individuals who see themselves as operating protection agencies, or rackets, that depend on extorting money from frightened donors. The best way of frightening them is alleging untold horrors. Indignant allegations of rape had been for instance a favourite, soon after the welfare centres were established, though calls for evidence and careful sifting of allegations soon revealed that what had occurred was within the welfare centres, with no involvement by the security forces. Unfortunately, whether in extended families, or in crowded tents, unscrupulous elements had taken advantage of vulnerable women.

This was one reason we wanted much more concerted work in Protection, instead of the hit and miss system that the Common Humanitarian Action Plan had employed previously. I think we had some improvement, though there were still deficiencies. However, for the future, we certainly need, as suggested during discussions on the Plan, local committees, liaising with community leaders as well as Women’s Desks in police stations, to limit abuse and support victims.

I realized things were not too bad though when one of the protection racketeers raised the question of forced marriages, since it suggested there was nothing else for her to complain of. And, sure enough, she could not provide any evidence for her claim, except to declare that many youngsters, in seeking refuge from the Tigers, had come through to safety holding hands for protection, and claiming they were engaged.

It was pointed out to her that that association had been well over a year previously, and that since then the couples had been separated. It was only after their continuing commitment to each other had been ascertained that the weddings had taken place. I did ask for any information to the contrary, but needless to say, none has been received.

I checked again when seeing the video, and was informed that they had had records of over a hundred couples, but only 53 had been married. This was because not only had the young couple been asked for confirmation, but permission had been sought from parents of both bride and groom wherever possible. It was only when consent had been received from all that couples had been allowed to marry. This was certainly a far cry from the allegations the racketeers threw out so blandly, on no evidence whatsoever.

A similar allegation was made by another of them, a man who had ended up endorsing Sarath Fonseka’s candidature (publicly, since he was one of the few so-called human rights defenders who had the courage of his lack of convictions) while claiming that he was against majoritarianism. He justification later was that he wanted change, obviously at any cost, equally obviously, as Willy Loman said, out of pure spite. Now his claim, though he was sensible enough to say that this was what he had heard, and he offered no evidence for it, was that recent killings in Jaffna were of youngsters who had been released from rehabilitation centres, and then got rid of.

Since these claims are made by the same people who say that there is no proper record of those in rehabilitation centres, and that youngsters have been disappearing from them, it would seem odd that the government has developed yet another method of getting rid of people, namely discharging them and then bumping them off. But people not only believe what they want to believe, they propagate the myths they conjure up with indecent fervor. I have no doubt then that soon it will be reported internationally that human rights advocates have revealed that the Jaffna killings were planned by the rehabilitation bureau. This will lead to even greater funding for the advocates, not for the rehabilitees, ie the Protection Racket will continue to flourish through self-perpetuating myth-making.

The saddest part of all this is that those genuinely interested in the welfare of the youngsters being rehabilitated know nothing of the excellent and dedicated work done by the Bureau of the Commissioner General, but are influenced rather by the myths. In one sense this is the fault of government in not making known more systematically its positive work. But disseminating such information costs money, which is better spent on the youngsters – who would also benefit from the millions paid out now as Protection money to the purveyors of myths.

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