When I was asked to write a regular column for an e-journal, I was not sure I had much more to offer than appeared in the regular newspaper columns I was writing. There were two a week on Human Rights for the ‘Daily News’ and one a week on Children for the ‘Island’. I thought therefore of dealing with Reconciliation, but not necessarily in terms of the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees that meet in the North and East. I cover those meetings in irregular columns in the ‘Daily News’, which is all that is possible since I can go to those areas only once or twice a month, to participate in 4 to 6 meetings on each visit. Instead I will look here at more general issues, including the impact of international interventions, while also considering what it means to be an Adviser on Reconciliation without any facilities to promote suggestions that are made.

I was thinking of this the more deeply during a workshop organized by group of foreign academics, introduced to me primarily because they had no official backing for the workshop, and hence could not apply for visas. Since the Ministry they had contacted had been unwilling to issue an invitation letter, it was clearly not appropriate for me to do this. Still, the initiative seemed a good one, and to be encouraged. Fortunately the group persuaded one of the most effective NGOs we have to invite them, and the meeting therefore went ahead.

I was reminded however of what yet another NGO leader had told me, about why I was not given greater responsibilities. One reason adduced was that I was too trusting. I was wondering about this during the event, since I noticed that the coordination that, at least out of courtesy, should have been engaged in with the NGO that had invited them had not occurred. But, while this means one should not repose blind faith in the organization, it would be a mistake therefore to assume that they are not trustworthy.

I would like to think that distinguishes me from many of my colleagues, who either blindly go along with what members of the international community suggest, without monitoring this in terms of Sri Lanka’s national interests, or who reject everything international on the grounds that some of it is in furtherance of external agendas. My point has always been that one must engage with everyone, find areas of agreement in which cooperation can further everyone’s interests, and develop systems that prevent abuse, by virtue of constant monitoring and collation of information.

Our failure to do this leads to many problems. Not least, we fail to benefit from positive suggestions. At the workshop I was struck by two points that emerged. One was the distinction between material assistance and support for attitudinal development. Interestingly, there seemed no problems with regard to the latter, which is both a tribute to what government has done in this area and a function of the relative ease with which others can supplement that through simple observation and collation of readily available information.

The other is more difficult, which is why our failure to devote sufficient attention to it has roused resentment now, and could well lead to major problems in the future. It was heartening therefore that much stress was laid on psycho-social support, and the need to train more and better counselors. But while this is essential to deal with individual loss, the social dimension should be in terms of economic and social empowerment, and this requires training for action.