|After the War - What Next?
The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
July 22, 2009
Dr N. M. Perera commemoration Symposium 13th July 2009
(A modified version of the presentation)
[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] I’m not exactly sure as to why I was asked to be part of this event but I am extremely happy to be associated with it. My late father was a friend of and admired Dr. N.M. Perera and an Uncle was an active LSSP Trade Unionist. I recall vividly that when we were children, NM, Colvin, Leslie, Vivian and Bernard and so on were house hold names. Later on as I began to understand social realities better, my regard for Dr. N.M. Perera as well as for the LSSP grew. I particularly valued the wise and learned leadership of the Party, its passion for the rights of the working class and its refusal to exploit ethnicity for political gain.
One of our greatest political tragedies since then has however been the decline of the appeal of the LSSP. If not done already, a thorough analysis must be done on this issue by a competent Social Scientist; but I know one thing, if there were a few more leaders of the calibre of Dr. N.M. around we would not be addressing this topic today.
Our topic can be answered in one sentence; after the war, we must strive towards becoming an integrated, just, non-violent, united and reconciled Nation with space for all to live with dignity. But I have 25 minutes to expand on this and I shall try to do so under three crucial repercussions of the war.
1. The physical repercussions. This includes the loss of lives, displacement and destruction to property and livehoods.
In all our religious cultures people gather to mourn and offer solidarity when death occurs. Consequently we need a National event to remember all who died because of the war. Political or ethnic differences should not prevent this. Soon after the tsunami of 2004 that took the lives of thousands of our people there was such an event. On that occasion all political parties, religions and ethnic groups gathered at a National event to remember the dead of all communities. Just as that event demonstrated that we were one Nation, a post war event of remembrance can reduce our tensions and bring us a little closer together as one People.
* The situation in IDP Camps is a cause for concern. The need for IDPs to be held in Camps till security screening is completed is understandable, since LTTE cadres could well be hiding amongst the IDPs. But this screening must be done professionally and speedily and equally importantly, it should be accompanied with the concurrent resettlement of IDPs in batches. If not a hardship will soon become a grievance and we may well be sowing the seeds of another militant movement. We cannot forget that those who crossed over did so to be liberated.
* There is another dimension to the IDP crisis that we ought not to lose sight of. This is that those in the camps are resourceful Sri Lankans who have lived with dignity, though no doubt under much more trying circumstances. They possess resilience and skills and can contribute productively to the Nation’s economy. Early resettlement will mean that students get back to schooling and university; and Doctors, Teachers, Clerks, Administrators and so on get back to their posts, farmers return to their fields, fishermen to their nets and small-time traders to their shops . The Vanni population must be seen not only as a humanitarian crisis or security threat but as resourceful humans with much to offer the common good.
* Finally, all those Sri Lankans who carried arms for whatever cause or reason require our understanding and support to get on with their lives after the war. Our young Service personnel are entitled to opportunities to catch up with the loss of tertiary education or training that the war may have deprived them of. One of the reasons behind the Open University concept in the UK was to provide such opportunities for Service personnel in post second world war Britain. Any programme of decommissioning that follows our war will be most realistic if it facilitates a return to such a life of personal growth and fulfilment in which guns will not make the difference.
* Similarly there is a need for an early amnesty for deserters and LTTE cadres, backed up with programmes of rehabilitation. If planned well and implemented with sensitivity such initiatives prove immensely successful. To cite a small example; in the late 80s our Church participated in a rehabilitation programme that trained 20 JVP cadres, some of whom are gainfully employed as tailors in various parts of the Country, to this day. What was possible then with Sinhala youth is possible today with Tamil youth.
2. Psychological repercussions. This has much to do with the “Winner-Loser” syndrome leading to the “Insider-Outsider” complex.
* Today the Tamil community experiences a more subtle kind of insecurity and uncertainty. The real fear that LTTE cadres could still be surviving within the Tamil Community is likely to step up community surveillance. Consequently there is an urgent need for clarification of positions and the building of mutual trust. Recent public statements by some Tamil leaders that the Sovereignty and Unity of the country are not in dispute are welcome and help to allay the fears of the Sinhala community. Similarly initiatives such as the recruitment of Tamils to the Police Force in the Eastern Province, convey the right signals of Community trust and are timely.
* This welcome trend however needs to deepen and spread. Traces of discrimination at check points and in the requirement of householders lists should be eradicated. My Office is from time to time asked for details of Tamil members of Staff. We instead supply information on all Staff. An inclusive approach in such procedure reduces both discrimination and fear. The substantial provision of Tamil as a National language in Government Departments and Police Stations, as required by law, must be implemented. We should not forget that a large percentage of Muslims also speak Tamil as a first language. The establishment of integrated bi-lingual Schools will be an immense investment for trust building amongst future generations.
* Finally, the recent JVP request for a truth and reconciliation commission also requires serious consideration. If directed with maturity and commitment, such a process where people will receive information of their loved ones who have died or are missing in a forgiving way, will help us overcome the bitterness of the past and open a door to reconciliation for the future.
3. Repercussions on our understanding of conflict resolution and the democratic way.
* When a war ends with a convincing victory for one side, no matter the debate on who was more responsible etc., there is a possibility that the way of aggression may too easily be recognised as a problem solving device in other instances as well. Such a development will undoubtedly distance a Nation from the more democratic methods of conflict resolution through dialogue, negotiations and compromise. The antidote to this danger is the deliberate shift to a non-violent, democratic culture of continuing negotiations to resolve our differences.
* The core of our National conflict is our inability to contain our differences in such a way that we may to live together with mutual respect. Identifying a solution to this conflict, at least in theory, has never been the problem. At workshops when school children are taken through an exercise that asks for a solution, they usually get it right, quite quickly. Their solution will suggest that all in this country need to be treated equally, all should receive equal opportunities, all need to live with dignity, all need to be equally free before the law and that all should avoid violence and stay in right and reconciled relationships. Here then in essence is the solution; but it needs to be written into a political proposal and constitutional framework by the experts.
* What then is the problem ? The problem in my understanding is the process; the means of getting there. This is where different power struggles and agendas contend. And this is exactly where political will, prowess, integrity and wisdom makes all the difference. Wise and just governance is what political leaders are elected for. It is their business mostly, to make this happen.
I wish to end by referring to four universal values which have influenced this presentation. These are values that all our religions can identify with and which have potential to direct our shared Sri Lankan journey away from war and violence towards integration and reconciliation. I present them as our common calling.
1. The care and support of the vulnerable and the poor, always.
2. The condemnation of all types of violence, especially killings, always.
3. The affirmation of dialogue, negotiation, and compromise in our decision making, always.
4. The return to a healing of memories of hatred and revenge so that we may strive towards a future in which we will be free and reconciled, always.
I commend these values to our political leadership and the people of our beloved Lanka.
+ Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo