Skip to Content

Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2706

Winning The Peace

By Kumar Rupesinghe.

The territorial battle between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE is at an end. The entire leadership is no more, killed or has taken their lives. . Over two hundred and eighty thousand people have come into government controlled areas with fear and anxiety in their eyes, some maimed and injured and some separated from their kith and kin. The mass exodus of the people held by the LTTE is a humanitarian catastrophe. They seem like a defeated people without hope. Ending the war, required enormous human sacrifice and costs for future generations and now the task before is to win the peace. It is to this task that all of us should devote ourselves. The nature of the crisis is best addressed by: I quote from a report by the UNHCR.

"As the fighting in north-east Sri Lanka comes to an end, the scale of the challenges facing the government and other humanitarian agencies on the ground become more apparent. It is now estimated that up to 80,000 people have left the former fighting zone in the last three days, which brings the total who have fled the fighting in the last several months to 280,000. Some 230,000 have been screened and registered and are currently accommodated in 41 sites spread across four districts. Another 50,000 people are undergoing screening and registration at various points and awaiting transportation to the sites. The Government of Sri Lanka is facing great challenges in providing assistance to the internally displaced population." (UNHCR)

Sri Lanka is polarized in many ways. Today with the end of the war there is once again the opportunity to rebuild the country, and reconcile the many divisions which has beset us all. This opportunity was with us with the Tsunami but our political elites wasted this opportunity. Winning the peace after a deadly war requires statesmanship and commitment from all of us for when wars have ended human civilization and peoples have rebuilt their lives and built their societies. This challenge now faces Sri Lanka again in all its manifestations. We have to avoid triumphalism and the politics of humiliation.

Since Sri Lanka reached independence the country has gone through numerous episodes of violence and terror. It has had it share of ethnic pogroms, insurgencies, two in the South and one in the North which has robbed the country of its full potential. The two insurgencies waged by the JVP in the South took the lives of thousands of people. The Northern insurgency led by Tamil militants, and eventually by the LTTE has taken nearly thirty years and has caused untold havoc and mayhem in the country. The war has created a refugee flow of over one million people who now reside in foreign countries. It has also dislocated the lives of large numbers of Tamils living in the North and the East. Muslims has also been the victims of the war where over one hundred thousand were forcibly removed from their places of residence in the North by the LTTE and where over 60000 acres of agricultural land has been seized by the LTTE and handed over to Tamils in the East. The Sinhalese have also suffered by the expulsion of over 50,000 in the North 21 years ago. LTTE terrorism has been devastating, with assassinations, killings, suicide bombs exploding in the cities and many other forms of terrorism.. State terrorism also took its toll with killings, abductions, disappearances and aerial bombardments of civilians. Deep divisions amongst the Sinhalese continue to this very day.

The war not only divided the country ethnically between Sinhalese and Tamils and Muslims and Burghers but also divided people within each community and polarized relationships amongst them. Political parties are deeply divided, civil society and even village life experience deep divisions. Within the Diaspora the divisions and polarization are at its extreme. In spite of all the violence and terror Sri Lanka has been able to retain its democratic traditions and even today the people in large measure live in co-existence. Colombo is a multi ethnic city where the majority of the people are Tamil so it is also in the Hill country and in the East.

Collective trauma and the treatment of victims

What we are experiencing is collective trauma of an entire people. Collective trauma is that all perhaps have gone through the drama of collective violence for the last sixty years. It would be a mistake to single out one group for all have suffered. It is important that we study and research on the work of collective trauma and treatment of victims within an environment of humiliation and anger there is a considerable body of knowledge on the ways and means of rehabilitation and best practice internationally.

The mindset of the people, their sense of humiliation and despair have to be addressed in multi faceted ways. The entire country has the opportunity to reflect on the human folly of violence and its costs for all the peoples. There has to be a genuine reconciliation process and we have to learn from international experiences. There is a large pool of experiences and resources available internationally. We have to research and learn from the experiences of transforming collective trauma. In many countries there was Truth Commission which undertook the task of reflection. South Africa, Guatemala, El Salvador, to name a few but there has been over 26 Truth Commissions. In Northern Ireland there have been other mechanisms in place and these have to be documented and studied.

Whilst in the initial stages returnees will be placed in large camps I am sure the government is aware of dispersing the population into smaller centers. The problem of the returnees is compounded by the fact that they will not be able to return to their villages as these areas have been filled with mines and booby traps and the recent floods in the Vanni has spread the dangerous weapons to a larger areas. In the short term then the camps should be dispersed and that they should come under the care of a civilian administration. There are reports that a large number of the returnees will be provided land in Mannar so as to build village clusters so that they would be able to take care of their livelihood. In no way should they become dependent on the food and material doled out to them by well meaning organizations. In the Tsunami period many who lived in camps received gifts in clothing and food which were not fit for the cultural traditions of the people. The people should not be made to feel that they are beggars living on handouts. .

It is important therefore that we study ways and means of ensuring livelihoods for the displaced who will not return to their own homes for many years. We therefore have to study how in other countries resettlement has been achieved where the people can have quick incomes. Building large wells for agriculture, vocational training for young people, small scale industries, teaching of English and other languages, teaching of computers, are only a few of the ideas that come to mind. Young children and women will be most vulnerable. Special attention should be given to the education of the children. Volunteers from Jaffna and other outlying areas speaking Tamil should be mobilized for the task of teaching and education.

The challenge for the rehabilitation of young people

The rehabilitation of the Tamil people in the camps is a major challenge, for they look a defeated people, undoubtedly brainwashed by the LTTE and shell shocked and emaciated. The security imperative, of screening the people for possible LTTE cadres, is paramount in the Governments thinking. But what I am concerned about is the bad press that we are receiving for we may win the war and lose the peace. The challenge before is how we make the Tamil people, especially its youth a stakeholder and equal partners in building the peace. We cannot treat all Tamils in the camps as potential terrorists. There are the ones who are old, pregnant women, young children, and the injured who should be allowed at the earliest possible time to go back to their villages. There are many who were school teachers, accountants, and who belong to many professions. They all had land to cultivate and were gainfully occupied. We should also be conscious of caste in the way we distribute them. Then the problem gets easier to handle, and the younger ones, between the ages of 15 to 30 should be given special attention whether it is trauma counseling, to vocational training so that they feel that they have a future to look forward to.

This is why I am keen to ensure these young people obtain English training and training in information technology. Once this program gets going then other vocational training skills can be imparted to them. In the East alone there are over 6000 LTTE cadres to be rehabilitated still. In the North I should think the figures would be something like over 100.0000. Needless to say this 1000000 could be differentiated between those who were combatants, sympathizers, those forcibly recruited and others. The young people should not be allowed to be idle for 24 hours is a very long time in a camp. Therefore they should be given reading material in Tamil and the books, magazines and journals should be carefully whetted. The kids should be provided with toys and educational material. Unlike during the 1971 insurgency, the people in the camps speak Tamil and Tamil speaking officers should be entrusted with their care. Police officers in plain clothes and even military officers in plain clothes should be visible to the refugee population.

A strategic plan must be created with a long term vision. We owe this to a desperate and troubled mind of a future younger generation in the camps. Int4rnational experiences in the rehabilitation of Islamic militants failed and these young people returned to the ranks of the insurgent movement. We must not let history repeat itself.

The search for a dignified political solution
The search for a dignified political solution has to be high on the Agenda. There will be forces activated to say that nothing should be given to the Tamil people. But this would only create the basis for another insurgency in the future. The President in many of his recent speeches has announced that he will take measures to implement the 13th Amendment. A national campaign has to be launched with others for the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.

Now with the LTTE in certain defeat, it has created a leadership vacuum among the Tamil people. Naturally, it will take time to have faith and confidence in the current alternate leadership or to build up a future headship. Thus it is left to the Sinhalese leadership to look after and protect Tamil interests until such time they build their own trusted guidance. It is true that there are significant rights which should be bestowed on the Tamils, but what has been guaranteed by the constitution but yet not been vigorously implemented can now take precedence.

Such regulations could be passed by a majority vote. Statutes could be passed which makes discrimination of race, cast, religion or spoken language a punishable offense. Derogatory and defamatory acts spoken or written against any group too, could be punishable.

This would eliminate the rivalry among cast and creed. Preferential treatment due to race, cast, religion or spoken language should be abolished. A position of an Ombudsman could be created to inquire into and address all grievances. All Government office sign boards, road names, bus destination sign boards could carry all there languages. It could be made mandatory that all the forms and statutes issued by the Government be in all three languages. To guarantee language rights of the Tamil speaking people and to fulfill their needs, Government could recruit Tamil fluent persons to work in such areas. Having understood and streamlined the bottlenecks that impede the efficiency of Provincial Councils, powers imbibed in the 13th amendment could be vested.

Towards a marshal plan

During any war terminations, people pick up the pieces and rebuild their societies. In Sri Lanka too such a moment has arisen. There are many examples where plans for economic and social regeneration have been laid out. To achieve this objective, we must use of the excellent documents, manifestos and policy prescriptions that have been offered by the collective intellectual strengths of Sri Lanka here and abroad.

- Asian Tribune -

Share this