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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2963

Recognising Sri Lankas’ Strenghts

Protect Lanka believes that Sri Lanka has entered a critical milestone in the history of its war against terrorism. For the first time, there is a well focused, planned strategy with adequate resources to dilute and eventually eliminate the forces of terrorism which has maintained a stranglehold on our nation. We are able to exercise our right to protection from terrorism.

Protect Lanka believes that this is also an opportune moment to reflect on the strengths and positive aspects over the past 25 years, giving credit to our achievements as a nation which has not allowed terrorism to destroy our social networks and commitments to development. Unfortunately it is the negatives which have been constantly highlighted by the media both local and international. This has been focusing only on loss of lives, displacement, human rights violations, ethnic discrimination and the destruction created by war.

However a more balanced view of the country’s situation reveals quite a different picture, in fact a paradox. Sri Lanka is probably the only country in the world which has managed to maintain a parallel between coping with the tragedies, heightened security and waste of valuable resources to overcome terrorism with development programmes including the social welfare of its people, particularly the poor.

Sri Lanka’s remarkable degree of resilience and coping capacities has not been sufficiently emphasized as most media have their vested interests, particularly those at international level and others which promote intervention. It is only by highlighting weaknesses and Sri Lanka’s inadequacies that western power groups can promote Peace Keeping Missions and greater international presence including the support to expand INGOs and NGOs who pretend to be human rights defenders.

Protect Lanka believes that it because of many strengths and positives that the nation has managed to still continue the path to development, even if it has occurred at a slower pace because of terrorism.

Protect Lanka would like to draw greater attention to one of Lanka’s strongest accomplishments. This has been the preservation of democracy, even in those areas most seriously affected by the conflict areas. Doing so notwithstanding the LTTE which has constantly been against the freedom to vote is a significant accomplishment. Holding elections in the east with an over 60 per cent voter turn out and supporting the TMVP and including their participation in political processes was no mean feat. Another has been the sustained support to the social and economic advancement of all Sri Lankan people irrespective of ethnic or gender discrimination. This is very different to many African States affected by prolonged violence, where war and insurgencies have led to a deterioration of democratic norms, wide scale hunger, famine, spread of communicable diseases and a progressive decline in the quality of life of the majority of people.

The tendency by the western powers and international media to label Sri Lanka as a “failed” state is a clear indicator of their wish to justify a role for them to interfere with the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, protect the LTTE and so influence our methods of governance, changing it to suit them. The sole indicator they use to brand the country is the indicator of human rights violations. The information they use for the labeling is mainly based and determined by INGO and NGO human rights defenders, self appointed and funded by western powers.

Treating development as the most important building block for the peace process is a sensible policy. We Sri Lankans know better, that, it is only through equitable development and economic progress that it will be possible for Sri Lanka to establish a strong and peaceful nation, with all races living in harmony as their basic needs are met in an equitable fashion. The roots of conflicts and violence lie in deprivation and poverty, but vested groups exploit such disadvantaged people for their own purpose.

Protect Lanka believes that it is important for all Sri Lankans to recognize our core strengths and the positive aspects of our people and our country. This will give us courage to forge ahead and become a successful nation. Further emphasis and support for such activities will make it possible to eventually overcome terrorism once our military strategies have been successful. Giving the positive factors due recognition will restore our self confidence and pride and influence all Sri Lankan citizens to join in accelerating development. The predominant negative image created because of terrorism through local and international media must be changed to one of hope and optimism.

Protect Lanka would like to draw attention to the millennium development goals reflect global challenges to humanity. Such goals capture the universal aspirations of all countries for peace, cooperation and development. These goals are particularly relevant and important to developing nations such as Sri Lanka. It is remarkable how Sri Lanka performed in this context giving due consideration to the 2 decades of fighting terrorism. Sri Lanka in fact did so much better than other nations in South Asia, none of whom suffered the degree of violence Sri Lanka did.

Protect Lanka believes that an assessment of how Sri Lankans fared in terms of a wide range of social indicators is revealing and quite extraordinary. Education levels for example have continued to improve slowly but steadily during this period of time. The net enrollment ratio and retention rates in primary education and literacy rates have all risen to levels above 95%.

The government continued to invest in education and did not reduce the finances for the provision of free primary, secondary and tertiary education. Gross enrollment at grade one is over 93% of children irrespective of gender and ethnicity. Access to education continued even in areas of the north and East where violence has been the most severe, although inequalities are higher as is so in some other areas such as the plantations, remote rural areas and urban slums and shanties. Human Rights defenders rarely acknowledge this achievement. Such an accomplishment has been the outcome of the heavy investment made by consecutive governments to maintain and sustain a network of schools with teachers paid with government funds the provision of free textbooks and uniforms.

The literacy rate is 92 among males and 89 in females, an unusual feature in most developing countries, particularly South Asia. Thus Sri Lanka has created an educated pool of human capital, both men and women. Sri Lanka in 1997 went further and introduced a major reform of the education system to improve the Quality of education. This is ongoing. Other significant developments include the introduction of information communication technology so that Sri Lankan boys and girls can keep pace with such developments in the rest of the world.

Protect Lanka would like to draw attention to another important aspect of development which has withstood the impact of terrorism has been access of all citizens to free healthcare, both preventive and curative. This is manifested by a consistent decline in infant mortality, as well as an increasing life expectancy for both men and women. This pattern of improvement has remained unchanged and consistent over the past decades since independence. Free healthcare includes both curative and preventive. It is rarely mentioned by human rights defenders that Sri Lankans in all parts of the Island irrespective of gender and ethnicity have access to such free healthcare. There has also been a steady decline in maternal mortality. Financial investments have continued to be made in the country’s healthcare system inspite of rising costs and increases in defence spending.

Life expectancy for Sri Lankan men has risen to 72 years while it is 77 for women. Sri Lanka during this period has achieved universal child immunization and eliminated polio, is regarded as a low prevalence country where HIV/AIDS is concerned, has taken consistent action to reduce tobacco consumption and control malaria and TB. Therefore Sri Lanka has continued to implement policies to build a healthy Sri Lankan population and workforce. Sri Lanka’s migrant labour has been generating income for several decades. The huge Sri Lankan diaspora of all communities particularly highly skilled professionals are successful today because of the free education they obtained from the government.

Protect Lanka would like to emphasize that Sri Lanka ranks high in the Human Development Index in 2004. This is considered an important and internationally recognized measure of Human Development. Sri Lanka compares well with the rest of Asia. Although 25% of the population is below the poverty line, it is still the lowest in South Asia. Measures are ongoing to reduce this further. Sri Lanka’s per capita income has grown to US$ 1,353 with a growth of the GDP in real terms to 7.4%. Most of this has been in the services sector 56.2%, less so in the industrial sector 27.0% and agriculture 16.8%. Unemployment as a percentage of the labour force remains at 6.5%. These are all areas which could have been much more successful in the absence of terrorism. Other indicators which have consistently improved during the conflict period are indicators such as daily per capita calorie intake, availabilities of daily news papers, television sets per 1000 population, radios per 1000 persons, land telephones and mobile phones.

Sri Lankan women have a relatively better status than women in many other developing countries. This is manifested in indicators such as the high literacy among women, lowered maternal mortality and access to emergency obstetric care for over 93% of pregnant women, a higher life expectancy for women (77) compared to the men.

When highlighting the strengths in Sri Lanka, other areas which have continued to be supported by successive governments during the period of conflict are agriculture and industry, money and capital markets and financial institutions. Others include the infrastructure and facilities such as access to electricity, telecommunications and port services and transportation which have all grown during these past two decades. It is however obvious that Sri Lankan’s growth of its infrastructure was heavily curtailed by the forces of terrorism. With the cessation of violence, these are all sectors which could grow and develop.

Sri Lanka has a need to balance between improving its current strengths while identifying and addressing its weaknesses. This includes over coming disparities and reducing inequalities. It also includes paying greater attention to local action and use of local resources. Obviously, areas affected by the conflict need more attention in terms of development, and this is already taking place in the eastern province.

Protect Lanka recognizes that improving governance is important. It is a relatively more difficult goal to achieve in the context of terrorism and heightened security. This includes strengthening the rule of law, access to justice, and safety from violence and physical abuse. An accountable and efficient public administration, greater transparency, open and accurate availability of information to the public, and strong economic policies, increased government private sector partnerships and the elimination of corruption are all areas which need to be further strengthened. The systems are in place but areas of weakness exist. What Sri Lanka needs is support to build strength and support already existing systems rather than the development of parallel structures by INGOs and NGOs which are dependant on western funding and are not sustainable.

Protect Lanka believes that overcoming terrorism through security measures will eventually provide the necessary impetus to strengthen and expand development which in turn can prevent terrorism in the future. In addition Sri Lanka does not need Colombo based elite groups of INGO/NGO networks, funded by western nations with vested interests, who highlight negatives and deficiencies to demoralize our peop0le and pave the way for intervention and foreign influences through strategies such as R2P. We need independent mechanisms with patriotic local Sri Lankan groups who have no vested interests but the welfare of their people at heart. It is they who can serve the best interest of the nation. It is also important that such groups representing civil society

work in tandem with the government instead of wasting resources on unproductive criticism of state institutions. Sri Lanka needs the support of the civil society, but only those who are will to really help. They should exercise their legal rights and obligations in a genuine manner.

Protect Lanka Sri Lanka inspite of such development and progress has paid a huge price because of terrorism.

Protect Lanka> would like to emphasize that if the LTTE had not resorted to such violence, Sri Lanka would have been way ahead in development and prosperity. Even when terrorism is reduced, the social political and economic costs will remain high for some time.

But since the democratic institutions have remained, the infrastructure for service delivery has grown, the investments in human capital have remained, and the development dividend in the absence of war will be high. Our current strengths will definitely enable to expedite development, initiate rapid economic revival, and eventually attain sustainable peace. Reviving economic growth in itself will be an important factor in reducing future conflicts.

The roots of terrorism lie in deprivation and marginalization. But the legacy of destruction left behind by terrorism must be overcome and all citizens need to join in the rebuilding process. Bonds between ethnic communities need to be strengthened, reconciliation must occur and a Sri Lankan identity for all citizens established.

Protect Lanka believes that every Sri Lankan must remind themselves of our rich heritage, and the country’s achievements. We must be proud of our brave soldiers, who have battled and overcome one of the most ruthless terror organisations the world has ever known. This must never ever be allowed to be forgotten. It is what will give us hope for a bright future in a troubled world full of financial uncertainties. It is unfortunate that when there are so many problems to deal with such as poverty, illiteracy, environmental degradation, emerging diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and new challenges due to aging, global economic crises, that Sri Lanka has to battle against false propaganda, international moves which promote intervention and separatism. INGO and NGO networks should focus on development rather than insidiously trying to destroy the social fabric of our people, and worst of all, support LTTE terrorism, destroy democratic institutions and bring Sri Lanka’s morale down.

Protect Lanka believes that the hard won battle against both the LTTE and their supporters here and abroad is an achievement we must all take pride in. But such achievements must be further consolidated, so that the integrity of the unitary state of Sri Lanka will continue to be protected and preserved. It is the very least we can do in memory of our brave security forces and innocent civilians of all ethnic communities who lost their lives because of the curse of terrorism.

- Asian Tribune -

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