national reconciliation policyHaving gone through another spate of attacks on Sri Lanka and its government, I thought it would be helpful to set down systematically the charges that are made, and to suggest how we can best deal with them.

In the draft National Reconciliation Policy which was prepared in my office, we referred to three areas where action is needed. The first relates to what might be termed restorative justice, and is I believe the most important.

We have done reasonably well on that in ensuring swift resettlement and much better physical facilities than the areas concerned had previously. But we should do much more about human resource development. There is absolutely no reason not to move on this swiftly, and I fear it is only incompetence and lethargy that are stopping us. Remedying all that should be a priority.

The second area of concern is empowerment. Unfortunately that debate focuses on the balance of power between the Centre and Provinces. Differences there are difficult to resolve, but they should not inhibit movement with regard to empowerment of people rather than politicians. Allowing greater authority to local bodies while entrenching processes of consultation can be pursued swiftly, with no opposition by anyone. Similarly, we can immediately set up a second chamber which will affirm the role of the periphery in decision making at the Centre, since neglect of that has also contributed to problems.

The third area of concern relates to justice, and there too progress has been stymied by excessive concern with war crimes. We should make it clear that, by and large, the allegations are absurd, and the evidence for the general conformity of our forces to rules of engagement should be put forward. But we must also take action against any aberrations, as the LLRC has pointed out.

What is more important in this regard is the need to support the bereaved, through both finding out what happened in cases of uncertainty and also providing psycho-social support as needed. Resources for this latter are woefully inadequate, and we must set in place recruitment and training programmes to fill the gap. We should also realize that, in the modern world, trained counselors are increasingly important, for adolescents as well as in the workplace, so investment in this will be of permanent value.

Finally we must recognize that criticism will continue if we do nothing about problems that have little to do with the conflict, but which will be associated in the international consciousness with supposed aberrations of the conflict period. Along with many other countries, for instance, we have problems about torture, and we are committed to overcoming these. But failure to act some years back led to allegations that torture was also based on racist motives.

There is broad agreement with regard to expediting prison reform (including through adjustments to sentencing policy so as to limit remanding for relatively trivial offences), with regard to strengthening protection for women and children, with regard to enhancing freedom of information. But the confusion caused by different ministries being responsible for similar things, and the general failure to take on responsibility when lethargy is much easier, mean that nothing happens – and this is put down to policy rather than incompetence.

We should realize that, as criticisms mount, such incompetence is also culpable. The consequences for Sri Lanka could be dire.

Colombo Telegraph 9 Dec 2012