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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.
I have often been critical of the Sri Lankan police, so much so that, when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights and chaired a committee to make suggestions as to police reform, senior police officers would accuse me of being biased about the army. Certainly I made no bones about the fact that I felt the human rights record of the forces was generally admirable, whereas I could not say the same about the police.
The senior officers who served on the committee however explained to me that one of the reasons for this was the enormous demands made in recent years on the police, without adequate resources being made available. They too felt that the service they had been proud to join had declined over the years, not through its own fault but because of pressures that had mounted, for political as well as social reasons. They talked of the professional training they had received, the various courses they had followed that had honed their skills, and the systems that had been in place to ensure merit based career development. As a simple example of what they had suffered, they noted that the training period for Sub-Inspectors, the rank at which officers joined, had been ruthlessly cut, and was down to just a few months. Contrariwise, even in the midst of the war, the training period for officer cadets had been increased from two to two and a half years.
Listening to the speeches of the British Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, following on the recent riots in Britain, I was struck by a few principles that should be enunciated again and again. However we should also note the way in which any country, any politician, will pick the principles that are most convenient to them at any moment. This is eminently understandable when a country faces a crisis, so we should not for a moment marvel at David Cameron’s stress on maintaining law and order when violence breaks out that threatens the innocent. Even though the BBC showed scenes, while telecasting the Prime Minister’s speech, of what seemed frightening police brutality in dealing with suspects, we must suppress our distaste – provided of course that no permanent damage is done, a proviso that will need to be considered carefully – in recognizing the need to protect the innocent and make it clear that violence will not be tolerated.
While a crisis continues, and it concerns one’s own country, it is the principles relating to the restoration of law and order that will be paramount. However, when other countries are concerned, it will be other principles that are stressed. This may seem hypocrisy to those who are adversely affected, but we have to recognize that this is simply a facet of human nature, and few people bother to discipline their natures when they see no benefits to be gained from doing so. On the contrary, when there seem to be gains to be made from sanctimonious pronouncements, they will be made insistently, with a ruthless eye to what might be termed the balance sheet.
To digress for a moment, the British capacity to pontificate while guarding their own interests came home to me vividly a few years back when I was helping to edit Derrick Nugawela’s excellent autobiography, ‘Tea and Sympathy’. In describing his work as a leading tea planter, he noted how he had tried to improve things for his Tamil estate workers, only to be told by his Managing Director from London that funds could not be available for this.