1. You are the presidential advisor on reconciliation. Can you tell me, the importance of reconciliation in post war Sri Lanka?

It is extremely important because, unless we live together in goodwill and with sympathy and understanding, tensions can develop and be exploited so that the mutual suspicions and violence of the last few decades will recur.

2. What are the programs you have launched to achieve the objective of reconciliation?

I have no executive role so cannot launch programs as required. However we have set up several committees to exchange information and make recommendations, and the commitment we have received, from local and international NGOs, leading schools, foreign diplomatic missions, government institutions with particular responsibilities for children or former combatants, has been very heartening.

We have also set up or developed several websites. The old Peace Secretariat website, www.peaceinsrilanka.org, has been revitalized, with a home page devoted to reconciliation efforts, a ‘Development‘ section which records progress in the North, and a ‘For the Record‘ section which refutes allegations that may derail the Reconciliation process. This includes a detailed refutation of the Darusman Report as well as ‘The Road to Reconciliation‘ which deals with Channel 4 and other allegations. Both are available as books at International Book House, 151 A Dharmapala Mawata.

Other sites are www.reconciliationyouthforum.org which has short accounts of particular initiatives with particular reference to youth, and www.youtube.com/reconcilesrilanka which highlights positive attitudes and efforts amongst those who were victims of the conflict, whilst dealing also with disinformation abroad. My own sites, www.rajivawijesinha.wordpress.com and www.youtube.com/rajivawijesinha both continue with some relevant material.

3. Other than the government efforts, what is the role of the civil society towards achieving reconciliation?

Civil Society should develop and implement programmes within a coherent framework. This requires close liaison with government, and sometimes the absence of this is because government does not communicated effectively nor plan inclusively. On the other hand some organizations set themselves up in opposition to government and governmental initiatives, which was a destructive approach. I hope my office will be able to bring people together and make it clear that, while there may be differences of opinion, what we all have in common is much more important.

I am also trying to set up committees in the various districts to bring people together. The Governor, who is extremely efficient, along with his staff – the Northern Province website is the best provincial website in the country – has been very positive about this, and the District Secretaries, who have heaps of experience, will be able to provide ideas that can be taken forward, allowing for civil society initiatives that will contribute to the whole picture rather than happening in isolation. The work of organizations such as Diaspora Sri Lanka can provide models in this regard, but we need to monitor and produce schedules of achievements as well as of needs.

4. Reconciliation has a lot to do with the attitudes of the people. What is the role that schools play in promoting reconciliation?

Extremely important. We are trying to promote educational exchanges, and activities that will bring students together, for instance joint agricultural projects through Rotary Interact Clubs. The aim is not only to bring people together but also to get them to remain in contact with a purpose.

We also need to ensure better understanding, for which there should be some changes in school syllabuses. Many years ago we tried to ensure that, in the teaching of religion in schools, a very small percentage of time should be allocated to teaching of the principles of other religions, so that a sense of what is common to us all could develop. This was shot down, but I was delighted to find that colleagues in Parliament of all shades of opinion concur, and that some even brought up the subject with me independently.

We must also encourage joint classes where students of different linguistic backgrounds study in the English medium, and set up centres of excellence in each district where this can be done as a policy.

5. Religious leaders are very important in this society. Do you think that an interfaith dialogue should be commenced ?

This already happens, but should be encouraged. We have established a discussion group called Religion, Education and Peace where distinguished leaders of all communities meet, and I hope they will be able to develop joint projects. They should also work together, not to discuss religious issues, but to develop common moral frameworks where the teachings of all religions can be seen to converge.

6. There is a vast gap, between the North and the South. What kind of bridges can we build to achieve reconciliation?

I think government has worked very effectively on the key priority which is better communications. What has been done with roads by this government is fantastic, and I hope that will be followed by equally quick work on the railways, and also the opening of a few small hubs for air traffic. Telecommunications too has developed apace, but we should also concentrate on developing trade links and joint ventures, with emphasis on agri-business and value addition, where synergies of the various skills and capacities can develop.

7. How can we reconcile child combatants, because the LTTE brainwashed children into believing Sinhalese are evil?

I believe the Bureau of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation has already done a very good job, and the reintegration of these former child combatants has been successful. However we must ensure regular psycho-social monitoring, and I am glad that training of counselors is going ahead – last year the CGR used some of my Decentralized Budget funds for an initial programme, and this year he took it much further. Some former combatants were also trained, and I hope the relevant Government Departments will make use of them to fill the many vacancies that now exist.

8. There were 300,000 IDPs soon after the war. Now most of them have been resettled. what are the programs aimed at reconciliation with regard to IDPs?

We are trying to develop micro-credit facilities so as to encourage entrepreneurship and productive employment. I think it is vital to give them decent occupations and a sense of dignity, and I hope we get over the culture of dependence that years of conflict engendered, and which I fear some members of the aid community perpetuate. Our purpose should be to make such aid redundant, by given those who have been resettled opportunities and encouragement to become economically productive and socially creative members of society.

To end on a very positive note, the Commercial Bank has agreed to match funds I provide through my decentralized budget for a micro-credit scheme for former combatants, and I hope we can move on this very soon, with input from the District Secretary and the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, so that the initiatives with most potential can be taken forward.

Daily News 18 November 2011 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2011/11/18/fea01.asp

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