In our reflections last year on the commemoration of independence we emphasised with much concern that the sixty third commemoration of our Independence can be meaningful only by creating an environment where all people alike will be able to live without fear or suspicion and without any hesitation, they will have to feel and believe that they are a valuable and a useful part of this country.
Further that they need to have the freedom of expression and movement, together with all necessary background to live peacefully and independently in our country. It is now for us to evaluate our performance in the past year.
In South Africa in the struggle for freedom, Nelson Mandela in the Charter for Freedom advocated that, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people, that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities and that only a democratic state, based on the will of the people, can secure to all, their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief”. Sri Lanka as a nation is yet to see the creative and progressive signs of a prospective developing nation towards a free, independent and a sovereign society, far short of being the wonder of Asia. The fundamental need for such an environment is the credible functioning of the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary in serving the interests of the people of the nation. It is appropriate for us to compare our own situation on the 64th commemoration of our Independence and at a time almost three years after the end of the arms struggle, the civil war.
In many democracies, with no exception in Sri Lanka, it appears that the will of the people is tested at the time of the elections and the winners take on the authority of all decision making without any consultation or reference to those who elected them, even to the extent of violating the mandate received on the declared policies. The last year has seen a number of legislation that had to be withdrawn as they did not have the will of the people. In such situations we have observed responses in the form of some aggressive steps taken, leading even to loss of lives.
It is very much a doubt whether our people are living in brotherhood or sisterhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities. Opportunities are restricted to all those who enjoy the favour of those who matter, rather than the ones to whom they are due, irrespective of where you live in the country. The rights of minorities are still a basic shortcoming which is expressed well and truly in the failure of those in authority to make any attempts of moving towards a political solution to the causes that led to the war. As a nation we have failed to alleviate the fear, the suspicion, the mistrust and the bitterness of the war victims, who have suffered enormously.
Resettlement process is still not complete after many years, not only of those who were affected by the war, but the ones who have been displaced even before. Claims of resettlement are not authentic at all. It does not mean only the process of taking the victims away from the camps and putting them in their own land, as claimed and with some limited initial material support. It is true to say that concerns of rebuilding the lives of the displaced like livelihood, education, health, shelter and all other causes that led to the war, have not been dealt with. It is an urgent need for us to have a clear and an authentic understanding and a definition as a nation, about what it means to be resettled.
Freedom of expression and the right to information is extremely restricted as increasingly there are controls on dissent and information channels are blocked. Providing authentic information regarding the dead and those who have disappeared, to their relatives, continues to be an urgent humanitarian need. There is a misrepresentation of such action, as not taken in the interest of national security and it is unfortunate that in many occasions, those who speak the truth, probably contrary to the official position are branded as national traitors. This also links with the operation of para-military groups, either with or without the knowledge of those responsible for security of our country. It is shameful to observe that they appear to be ignorant of these groups. Urgent remedial action is needed in this regard to protect the freedom of our armless and probably defenseless people.
As we celebrate independence day this year, we need to be conscious that large numbers of media personnel are still living abroad as their lives are in danger in their own country. We appeal to all those responsible to create the necessary free environment, so that such persons can return to their country with their lives secured.
There are many political prisoners who are yet to be charged. The draconian laws that provide for such prolonged detention continue to tarnish the image of the independent and sovereign Sri Lanka. It will be meaningful if these laws can be repealed and withdrawn before independence is celebrated. It is an urgent need to legally charge all political prisoners and to take immediate steps to release all those against whom charges will not be framed. This will certainly help in rebuilding their lives and creating trust and confidence in their minds and in the minds of their loved ones.
Freedom of the wild Ass has been displayed by a substantial number of those who use our road ways. Utter irresponsibility on their part has led to many accidents and loss of lives. We believe that there is an urgent need for law abiding citizens, not only on our roads, but also in all spheres of life in our society.
Corruption and theft has reached unprecedented proportions and the greed for money of some powerful persons is unbelievable. It appears that there is a highly discriminated sharing of resources and disproportionate access to the limited resources, is a common factor. This reality has arisen in the recent years more than ever in the history of independent Sri Lanka and we appeal to the authorities to arrest this deteriorating situation, before the voiceless in our society go starving and resort to undesirable ways of regaining and securing their basic needs. We continue to hear about wide scale financial scandals, while the people are suffering with heavy economic pressures. In the recent weeks we have observed the sentiments expressed in the line of protests, strikes and forceful action taken by some sections of the working sectors. Suppression of such feelings and actions can be done with might, but in the long run it will do a lot of good if such grievances are addressed with care and creativity.
We do appreciate the LLRC report but not surprised at all that we received a somewhat useful report of this nature. This probably is the need of the hour, taking into consideration the challenges and pressures faced by the government from within and outside the country. However the credibility of this report does not depend on the words and sentences in it or on those who drafted the same. We are aware of the plight and the fate of many of the reports that our country has seen, since independence. It remains the boundan duty and responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka, to ensure the implementation of the recommendations in it at least, even though they fall far short of the expectations and the aspirations of the victims of the war and all those belonging to all communities of our country, who long for true and authentic reconciliation.
We wish all Sri Lankans a blessed future with peace and prosperity and an environment of authentic and genuine freedom, and to that end we offer our prayers as we move forward to the 65th year after Independence. Shalom and with every blessing.
+ Kumara Illangasinghe
The Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe
Bishop Emeritus - Diocese of Kurunagala
Church of Ceylon - Anglican
52 B 2 Circular Road 2
Kandy, Sri Lanka
00 94 (0) 812 218822 (R), 00 94 (0) 773 512533 (M)