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Government Gazette

Draft national policy on reconciliation - Part II:

National integration as a prime need

With regard to specific grievances of Sinhalese in villages adjacent to former conflict areas, the LLRC Commission notes that the government has tended to overlook those who lived in villages such as Weli Oya, Moneragala and Kebethigollawa, who survived the terror perpetrated by the LTTE. The people in these villages continued to live under tremendous threats to their lives without migrating to safe areas in the South.

They faced security risks, hardships in education, disrupted and fractured livelihoods, paucity of health care and transport facilities. Moreover, the Sinhalese who resided in the Eastern Province faced inadequacies of the administrative system. For instance, Weli Oya is categorized under a number of districts, a section under the Mullaitivu district, a section under the Vavuniya district and another under the Trincomalee district. As a result numerous difficulties were faced by people in the areas where work is done in Tamil, whereas people living in Weli Oya are predominantly Sinhalese.


Education facilities for brighter future. Picture by Chaminda Hittatiya

Tamil community

The perception of discrimination and unequal treatment within the Tamil population arose from a series of administrative changes, such as discrimination against the use of the Tamil language in a context where education was segregated by language. This contributed to deprivation in regard to jobs, which was exacerbated by the state being the predominant employer in the context of statist economic policies. Positive discrimination policies in education struck hardest at the well educated Tamils in the North. The perceived discrimination was seen as arising from the fact that central government and its decision making processes were far removed from the needs and aspirations of the Tamil people. The many youth rebellions all over the country testify to the sense of alienation felt generally by the rural population, but in the North and East this sense was increased by the absence of representation at decision-making levels in government. In addition, there arose resentment over total state control of lands and colonization schemes which seemed disproportionately beneficial to the majority community.

Muslim community

The Muslims, though not direct protagonists in the armed conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan state, have undergone considerable suffering during the years of fighting in the North and East. The forcible eviction of the entire Muslim community from the Northern Province by the LTTE, the massacre of hundreds of Muslims while worshipping in mosques in Kattankudy and Eravur, the takeover of lands belonging to the Muslims in the Eastern Province, the deprivation of the livelihoods of Muslims in the conflict areas and the lack of adequate security to the Muslims were a few of the phenomena that contributed greatly to the sense of insecurity and unease that Muslims faced because of the conflict.

Unlike the Tamil community which challenged state structures as a means of addressing grievances, the Muslims took a separate political path and preferred to engage with the state and work within the mainstream of Sri Lankan politics. This created a great deal of misunderstanding between the Tamil and Muslim communities and caused a strain in their relationship.

Problem analysis

Discrimination against the Tamil population which is seen to lie at the root of the three-decade conflict has been attributed to the struggle between a majority community and a minority community, where the latter seeks space to operate within a larger polity. The notion of democracy dictates that a balance must be achieved for this in a manner that is not at the expense of any community.


More employment avenues for Northern youths. Picture by Nissanka Wijeratne

The balance to be found would need to be premised upon the common need for integration. In negotiating such a balance, trust is a prerequisite. There currently exists a trust deficit which has contributed to the view that, as the minority moves towards advocating geographical separation, any concession by the state will be detrimental to the majority community. Conversely, the Tamil minority is labouring under a lack of confidence and trust as a result of failed aspirations and expectations.

The challenge

As a result of the long-standing strife and struggle, two key challenges remain to be addressed so as to propel the country towards enduring and sustainable peace and prosperity. First, the root causes of the conflict need solutions which are satisfactory to all the communities and peoples of Sri Lanka. Second, there is a need to dispel suspicions and weld all communities into and within the fabric of one nation. The LLRC report of November 2011 states that '...despite the lapse of two years since the ending of the conflict, the violence, suspicion and sense of discrimination are still prevalent in social and political life. Delay in the implementation of a clearly focused post conflict peace building agenda may have contributed to this situation.'

The vision

* To build a shared future for the people of Sri Lanka based upon equality, justice and dignity.

* To ensure that all citizens have equal opportunities without alienation and discrimination of any kind.

* To wholeheartedly accept individual identity and respect cultural diversity within a united Sri Lanka

* To acknowledge and address the needs and aspirations of all communities residing in the country

* To encourage a sense of caring to be shown by the state to all citizens and communities and acknowledge and address fears and insecurities of all communities residing in the country.

* To foster a sense of belonging in all peoples and communities irrespective of language, ethnicity, race or religion.

The goal

Harmony and reconciliation for sustainable peace and prosperity through improved inter-communal relationships based on trust, equality, confidence and mutual benefit.

The opportunity

The end of the armed conflict has opened up space to address the task of nation building unhindered by pre-occupation with a debilitating armed struggle which was a drain on the nation's resources. The decimation of the LTTE has created a vacuum that long dormant economic forces have moved in to fill. With the Sri Lankan government's efforts to ensure large infrastructure development in the past two years, healthy growth rates have been achieved. There remains a need to take further steps so that economic achievements may be translated into meaningful and equitable benefits that will impact on the life of every Sri Lankan. In this context, there remains a need for political reforms that entrench empowerment and a willingness to bring closure for the suffering of individuals and communities as a whole. The LLRC report of November 2011 states that 'people from all corners of the country who came before the Commission gave an almost palpable impression that this is Sri Lanka's moment of opportunity for Sri Lankans to chart a vision for a harmonious future for our nation and a wholesome Sri Lankan identity.'

The strategy

Interdependence between the three communities and the role of the state

The three communities must also work hard to create governance, administrative and social structures that create and foster interdependence among themselves. This will help create the feeling in each of the communities that their progress or downfall is inextricably linked with the progress or downfall of the other communities and thus help to inculcate a strong sense of nationhood among Sri Lankans.

The addressing and resolution of political issues affecting the minorities is an important part of a strategy to achieve national reconciliation leading to nation building. In this task the Sri Lankan state must play a critical if not a lead role. It must be realized that although the majority of the Tamils did not support and or approve the LTTEs resort to an armed struggle, as a result of the defeat of the LTTE and the fallout of the military campaign to achieve that end result, the Tamils are a demoralized and wounded community.

The LLRC report of November 2011 states that 'Many who appeared before the Commission emphasized that what had been achieved by the Security Forces should be invested in a political process...The Commission again found significant common ground among a broad spectrum of persons who made representations that this task can and should be achieved whilst upholding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation and safeguarding the long cherished Sri Lankan values of democracy, tolerance and power sharing.'

The strategy

A. Recovery and equitable development

It is acknowledged that a sense of grievance that led later to separatism arose through perceptions of discrimination and inequitable treatment. Government schemes to promote infrastructure and employment opportunities seemed confined to Sinhala majority areas. Whilst this may have been due to populist policies based on electoral considerations, it created a strong sense of deprivation. Most upsetting perhaps was the introduction of a language policy that, whilst maintaining segregation in education on the basis of language, privileged those who knew Sinhala with regard to state employment as well as dealings with officials. This extended later to restrictions on educational opportunities based on language distinctions. Though initially intended as a means of positive discrimination, implementation was callous, and in one instance the system was changed after unfair allegations with regard to Tamil language examiners, who were cleared following inquiry.

Though measures have been taken to promote equity in development, and language policies have been revised, there is still need of greater committed concern to ensure equity.

For this purpose;

* The state shall work towards inculcating a culture where each citizen becomes an active participant in society and feels a sense of belonging and of being Sri Lankan. To this end, the state shall make every effort to identify and address the social, economic and political structures which caused dissension between communities.

* The government shall undertake an in-depth study to identify the needs of the people in the North and East to address the question of improving their livelihoods

* The government will commit to making every effort to ensure equitable resource allocation and development of villages, bearing in mind that the reverse could lead to frustration and communal tension in clusters of villages dominated by different ethnic communities, particularly in the Eastern province.

* The government will make every effort to ensure that all future development activities are carried out in consultation and with the participation of the local people, so as to, build ownership to the development activities, as well as, give them a sense of participation in nation building.

* Cognizant of the sense of marginalization expressed by Tamil people due to long-standing language policies, and deficiencies in the implementation thus far of changes, and further being sensitive to the perception prevailing among the Tamil people of being second class citizens, the government shall adopt urgent measures to ensure that the current language policy is satisfactorily implemented, and developed to promote equity as well as mutual understanding.

* Measures shall be taken to take further current measures for recruitment of Tamil speaking Police officers, recruitment to the Police and armed services of Tamils and Tamil speaking citizens, with particular attention to officer cadres, should be fast forwarded.

* Recognizing that an independent permanent Police Commission is a pre-requisite to guarantee the effective functioning of the Police and to generate public confidence, the government shall make every effort to empower such a Police Commission to monitor the performance of the Police service and ensure that all Police officers act independently and maintain a high degree of professional conduct. This will also increase the confidence of the minorities in the impartiality of the Police. Police training shall be given the highest priority, with a change of culture required to emphasize the legal and moral responsibilities of the force and its accountability to citizens.

* The government will make every effort to promote professional skills training and activities that bring about the necessary attitudinal changes in the public service. Public servants should be guided by criteria, norms and conduct sensitized to the concerns and apprehensions of all citizens, particularly the minorities.

* Bearing in mind the significant lapse of time since the introduction of standardisation as a means of affirmative action by the state to mitigate the imbalance in educational opportunities afforded to different communities, the state shall in the best interests of future generations undertake a careful review of this quota system and work towards the introduction of a merit based admission system.

* The government shall pursue actively a programme of equitable distribution of educational facilities and make a concerted effort to minimize any feeling of discrimination felt by the minorities. Further, the government shall make every effort to ensure that the inequality in the availability of educational facilities in different areas of the country is reduced and eventually eliminated.

* The government strongly discourages disqualifying students on ethnic or religious grounds, in respect of admission to schools, as being a significant impediment to reconciliation. The government strongly declares its commitment to developing a pro-active policy to encourage mixed schools serving children from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Such a policy will be implemented, so as to, facilitate the admission of children from different ethnic and religious groups to these schools.

To be continued

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