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An alternative path to peace

Although the war against terrorism has come to a successful end, it is universally accepted that ultimate peace can be achieved only if we could find a solution acceptable to all parties of the conflict, the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and other communities who reside in our country.

It is most unfortunate that in spite of years of deliberation we have not been able to arrive at such a formula. Why we have been bogged down in our deliberations is because of our inability to reach an agreement on the most contentious issue of devolution of power to the Provincial Councils.


All citizens of the country should be treated as equals. Picture by Saman Sri Wedage.

The Provincial Council concept itself was thrust upon us by foreign powers which lacked understanding of the historic background of our country.

Rather than devoting our time to solve this most contentious issue immediately, we should first try to identify a foundation on which an agreement acceptable to all parties could be reached. There are so many aspects where any reasonable person could agree on the type of society we should aspire to achieve in our search for a durable solution to the crisis, within a unified Sri Lanka. Some examples of such basic principles are enumerated below;

1. All citizens of the country should be treated as equals, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, language or other such considerations.

2. Sri Lanka is a multi-racial country and as such it is the homeland to all its citizens irrespective of the differences referred to above.

3. No person should be discriminated against in any manner on account of their ethnic or other differences.

4. Basic human rights of all people should be guaranteed.

5. Freedom to livelihood in any part of the country for all citizens irrespective of the community they belong to should be guaranteed.

Any other factors which are required to ensure a society devoid of discrimination could be added. Once these factors are identified and agreed upon, these could adopted as the fundamentals upon which further deliberations are made.

These should be internationally accepted fundamentals upon which just and equitable societies are established. Most of these are already enshrined in our Constitution and as such it is unlikely that any party desirous of achieving lasting peace would oppose them. Any opposing party will be exposed to the world community as those standing in way to resolving the conflict in a manner acceptable to internationally accepted norms.

Once these fundamentals are accepted, they can be adopted as the framework under which further deliberations are made. They should be enshrined in our Constitution as binding principles or criteria which should not be violated by any party. All decisions or actions taken thereafter should conform to the framework agreed upon.

The second step should be to identify impediments in the way of achieving fundamentals established above.

The third step should be to determine a plan of action with definite and realistic timeframes to eliminate these impediments.

The fourth should be to establish suitable politically independent authorities with legal clout, to oversee the implementation of these plans with powers even to dissolve those political entities which fail to implement them as determined.

Another step which could be taken concurrently is to obtain declarations to uphold the basic principles referred at step one, from all contesting for political offices and those applying to join the Government service. Upon election or appointment to their respective offices, they should be required to take an oath of allegiance to uphold these principles.

Let us now examine how this process could be applied to the issue of devolution of power to the Provincial Councils. The major concern of the majority of people, particularly the Sinhalese and the Muslims is that Tamil dominated Provincial Councils would try to shut out non Tamils from living in those areas and thereby deny them access to benefits from resources therein.

This is a very justifiable fear they harbour particularly after their most traumatizing experiences during the era where Tiger domination prevailed. With the checks and balances referred to in place, no one would be able to engage in acts of discrimination against any community or group of people in any part of the country.

Attempts to shut out people from any territory on the basis of ethnicity or other such factors would be deemed as discriminatory and consequently corrective action could be taken.

This principle would apply to areas dominated by Sinhalese, Tamils as well as Muslims. Thus the apprehensions harboured against devolution of power could be greatly mitigated or even eliminated.

The same process could be applied to the language issue as well.

Although both Sinhala and Tamil have been accepted as official as well as national languages by the 1978 Constitution, the benefits have not fully filtered down to the Tamil speaking people yet. Hence the guidelines set forth could be followed in working out plans of action for the full implementation of the language policy, within a stipulated timeframe.

Such a plan of action with a commitment to redress the concerns of the Tamil speaking people on the language issue, will contribute much towards earning their trust in the Government. Other grievances too could be dealt within a similar manner, whether they emanate from Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim or other communities.

The expectation of an overwhelming majority of the population of all communities in Sri Lanka is to live in a peaceful society where all citizens could live in harmony with each other as equals.

Probably an approach outlined above could be a means of achieving that cherished dream.

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