Setting the Context
The Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) released the Consultation Task Force (CTF) final report on reconciliation mechanisms. The SCRM falls within the purview of the Prime Minister’s office, however operate independent to the state.
A press conference was held on the 06th of December 2016 at the Department of Government Information. The purpose of the report compiled by the CTF was not to impose any mechanisms, rather to collect information from people and gauge which mechanisms if implemented would be successful. The CTF has engaged with 7306 participants via written submissions, focus group discussions and public forums.
Government – SCRM Disconnect
The CTF proposals as outlined within the final report would require thorough government backing to be implemented. However, the SCRM report was presented to former President Chandrika Bandaranaike instead of either President Sirisena or PM Wickramasinghe.
The most glaring issue lies within the recommendations to include international judges and experts within the reconciliation process. Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu outlined the reasons for recommending to be two pronged. To increase trust and confidence within due process and to ensure competent people are appointed within the reconciliation mechanisms. An interesting fact to fathom should be to take into account a large number of Sinhalese too have requested the CTF that including international experts within the transitional justice system is important. This is amidst multiple statements by President Sirisena that the mechanism would remain 100% domestic. Could the issue of international experts become the straw that broke the SCRM’s back?
What further enhances this disconnect is the fact the government has absolutely no obligation to enact any of the recommendations mentioned within this report. Essentially, the government could decide to simply chuck this report without even taking a look at it. Quoting Dr. Saravanamuttu: “We don’t know what happened to the information collected by the many commissions that came before. Hence we will make our findings available to the public in an effort to pressure the government through public opinion”.
Jaffna Reluctant to take part
Off the 7306 submissions the CTF received a bulk of it was from the southern and eastern provinces. Relative to the two, the northern province is significantly low. When questioned by the intca reporter at the press conference, professor Sitralega Maunaguru justified the CTF obtained data by making the claim that despite Jaffna district having a severely low turnout, Mullativu and other districts within the northern province covered this up to provide a representative sample of the northern province. Have the Jaffna citizens absolutely lost trust within the government’s ability to bring about lasting reconciliation? The CTF claims the reason is the assigned Zonal Task Force (ZTF) for the region did not conduct sufficient public forums and focus group discussions relative to other zones, however, taking into account Jaffna is a key location where reconciliation is absolutely needed, this argument just isn’t good enough.
Demilitarisation, Education and Access to Reconciliation Mechanisms
Demilitarisation has been a crucial component within the report. Clearly, the strong presence of a military is completely unnecessary and ensuring this process is fast tracked would greatly increase public trust and confidence in due process. Rapid demilitarisation of civilian areas could possibly tip trust to a point where a purely domestic transitional justice system is sufficient. Once again it needs to be noted that the request for demilitarisation is not a purely tamil request as portrayed by certain racist elements within the joint opposition. Particularly in Ampara district, a very large number of Singhalese citizens had made identical request.
The CTF recommends including an accurate account of the Sri Lankan civil war in history text books. The CTF did not elaborate on how it should be portrayed. Venturing a guess as a private citizen, it should NOT be portrayed as a war between the Sinhala Government and Tamil Tigers. It wasn’t! The words Sinhala and Tamil should be completely eliminated from the story, since it wasn’t a war between two races. It was a war between a united sovereign government and a terrorist organisation. If our history books refer to it as the Sinhala – Tamil war, it will further strain the racial tensions and alienate our minorities.
As expected, the participants had mentioned it’s of utmost importance that these reconciliation mechanisms (if implemented) must be easily accessible. Both geographically and linguistically. A Sri Lankan citizen, regardless of their mother-tongue should be able to take part within the due process. Interrupting with my opinion, a positive long-term step in bringing about linguistic access would be to first make it compulsory to sit the ordinary level examination with both Sinhala and Tamil language, where one could be as a second language. The next would be to make it compulsory for all state employees to be reasonably proficient in all state languages, particularly within sectors like the police force and department of motor vehicles. It would take a couple of decades for these changes to begin affecting positive change, however, reconciliation should be done right. Not fast.
As outlined by Gamini Viyangoda, what the government decides to do with this report is entirely up to them. The disagreements between the CTF and state on transitional justice coupled with the absence of either state leader at the handing over of the report make it seem that the informed opinion of the CTF could possibly be dis-regarded. In the event the current government is toppled, chances are, this report will be chucked out like yesterday’s news. Taking into account that extreme sinhala nationalist forces have already begun attacking this document in an effort to prevent long term reconciliation, it matters more than ever that civil societies, media and the public actively take part and begin pressuring the government to implement these reconciliation mechanisms.
“Imagine a man that has been hit by a car and left unattended on the side of a road for five years. Imagine the pain and suffering he has been through. That man represents the parties affected by this thirty year civil strife.”