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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

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Government Gazette

Call for Week of Reconciliation



A LLRC sitting in Jaffna. Pic. courtesy: Google

I propose that President Mahinda Rajapaksa calls for a ‘Week of Reconciliation’ under his patronage to mobilize the whole country to sustain peace, harmony and goodwill among all citizens and communities. This Week could coincide with the planned submission of the report by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on November 15, 2011.

Sri Lanka is ripe for reconciliation whatever the adverse propaganda by some disgruntled elements outside the country. The holding of elections for the Local Government councils in March and July particularly in the North and the East after over two decades of war and destruction has demonstrated not only the President’s commitment to reconciliation but also the great potential that the political parties and the people have shown in strengthening democracy and utilizing the existing formal democratic structures in achieving their demands or aspirations. Democracy and peace are two cornerstones of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is about coming together, understanding each other, admitting and forgiving for the past mistakes or atrocities and working towards a united, democratic, peaceful and a prosperous Sri Lanka irrespective of ethnic, religious, language, regional, political, social or other distinctions.

Conflict areas

There are obviously ‘wounds of conflict’ coming from the past from all sides. Undoubtedly the major victims of the past conflicts are the Tamils, the Muslims and the Sinhalese living in the conflict areas. The internally displaced people (IDP) should be mentioned particularly. Among the over 20 million people in the country, there is no one without a story to tell about a lost mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son or at least a friend. Grieving however is not the only way to go about reconciliation or a conflict free future. Reconciliation should be more positive and more constructive.

The proposed Week of Reconciliation should not be a propaganda event just to conduct some activities and then to forget about them altogether thereafter. It should be a springboard for an ‘action plan’ or a ‘road map’ for actual reconciliation with a realistic time frame. The Week could be utilized to make the whole nation and perhaps the international community aware of the findings or the recommendations of the LLRC but should not be limited to that task. For this purpose, a summary of the LLRC recommendations in lucid form could be available in all three languages by the time of the proposed Week.

Political leaders

The most important aspect of the Week should be to allow all the participating organizations and sectors to have their own activities without trying to straitjacket them on a given agenda. The Week should be conducted without politics as much as possible while inviting all religious and political leaders to participate.

The political parties should not display their symbols or colours during the Week. White dress, white flags and white flowers could be the symbols of the Week of Reconciliation. The Week should be above politics. Nevertheless, the political actors are important in national reconciliation.

With that objective in mind, discussions could be conducted with all political parties and leaders within and outside Parliament to agree upon the Week of Reconciliation to be launched on a plural basis without any other pre-conditions or barriers. Let thousand white flowers bloom for national reconciliation.

Working hours

There are different sectors and actors who could positively and constructively contribute to national reconciliation in the country. They are: religious leaders and organizations, political leaders and party organizations, business enterprises and business leaders, trade unions and union leaders, civil society organizations, women’s organizations, media organizations, any other organization or sector willing to participate.

Women’s organizations might be invited to play a special role during the Week of Reconciliation. There are several focal points where activities of the Week could be conducted. First and foremost are the temples, kovils, mosques and churches. Equally important are the schools and universities. All workplaces both in the public and the private sector could at least set aside a working hour and perhaps half of the lunch hour without much disruption to the work routines or productivity. There is no reconciliation if the development is hampered.

The Week does not necessarily mean week-long activities in all sectors. A Week is necessary to give flexibility to conduct appropriate activities on suitable days in a given sector, place or locality. But the launching day and the closing day may be important to give the national message of reconciliation a momentum.

Foreign missions

I also propose that Parliament should set aside at least three days of the Week to discuss, but ‘not debate,’ the issues of reconciliation in a sober and a congenial manner. All parliamentarians may wear only white dress.

Equally important is to have sessions of all Provincial Councils and recently elected Local Governments to discuss what they could practically do to sustain peace and reconciliation in the country.

It is of paramount importance that all the armed forces - the Army, the Navy and the Air Force - and the Police (including STF) participate in the Reconciliation Week most appropriately in the civilian dress.

Both the government and private media could play a major role during the Week and in the reconciliation process. This could include newspaper supplements and special programmes on TV and radio. Also important is to mobilize the public and private websites to promote reconciliation. All three languages - Sinhalese, Tamil and English - should be utilized to promote the activities and reconciliation.

It is important to solicit the support and active participation of all the UN organizations present in the country and all the foreign missions, East and West, particularly the US, India and China.

The Week of Reconciliation could also be utilized to announce the holding of the elections to the Northern Provincial Council in 2012 and the institution of the proposed Senate. These two measures will go a long way in national reconciliation in the country.

The Week of Reconciliation could truly be exemplary with simple ceremonies and activities without much expense. If a voluntary contribution of Rs 10 could be collected from each participant, it could go a long way in assisting the internally displaced persons as a gesture of goodwill and reconciliation.

(The writer is a former Senior Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Colombo University and currently a visiting scholar at Sydney University)

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