The long drawn conflict was addressed by Government, religious bodies and NGOs towards rendering humanitarian services and respect for human rights alongside peace negotiations. At the end of the conflict last year, these efforts need to be transformed to a larger process of reconciliation and its underpinnings for continuation of the logical process.
Simply stated, reconciliation is a process of restoring parties to a conflict through the previous situation. It goes beyond forgetting, forgiving, or repentance to new and stronger relationships within affected parties perhaps with new information and insights that invariably developed in reconciliation. There is a need for overall reconciliation which could be one of the most valuable and important ‘Lessons Learnt’ for an acceptable, lasting and fulfilling way forward.
Reconciliation is not a new concept or discovery. From the dawn of mankind, reconciliation has been a community experience in settling disputes and conflicts among tribes, races and groups through discussion, compromise and agreement ending in reconciliation over previous events and to prevent recurrence. Thus, it has been found that all other ways sooner or later, end ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD)
In our country, mediation and dialogue have been a hallowed silent tradition in local decision-making at various levels of local authorities (Gamsabhawa) eccliastical process which have been adopted in civil disputes, inter-organizational settlements, employer-employee relationships and eventually being recognized by law.
The model among the Buddhist clergy is indeed exemplary where differences in views are addressed by rounds of discussions and eventually a compromise is accepted and they depart in peace.
Reconciliation is a cardinal concept and principle in all major religions but with one goal namely, reconciling man with a Supreme Being and with each other.
However, reconciliation cannot be forced but allowed to flower in their own pace perhaps with encouragement. To quote an adoption from Shakespeare; “Reconciliation is like mercy. It blesses both, the giver and receiver.” It is self-fulfilling and self-sustaining. Moreover, it blesses both as well as those who observed silently and are inspired to join in and practice on their own.
If we reflect on the past, reconciliation has been well established in items of national disasters, the major Tsunami of 2004 and local disasters.
Another more recent national experience was at the end of the conflict in April/May 2009 when thousands of IDPs were liberated in the North and cared for in hastily elected and provisioned welfare camps. However, small groups of volunteers, NGOs and religious groups organized relief and visited the camps for distribution establishing goodwill and rapport within all communities. Another similar response was the offer from the South to repair major railway stations destroyed in the North and helping in rehousing.
At other times, the emergence of basic community feeling is seen in sports, religious, cultural festivals and national events. In the area of sports, which has no barrier except excellence, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has recently recognized the contribution of Muralitharan and the distinction he brought to the country by his prowess in cricket.
He could thus be an icon in sports for reconciliation. There could similarly be icons in other areas. In cultural activities too e.g. music, drama and dance, there could be vast avenues for inter-mingling and building relationships.
The wealth of religious and cultural festivals throughout the year in various districts offer numerous occasions for visits by all communities to the festivals and participate in the cultural activities, mela and pola that accompanies them. It is a strange but happy coincidence that in many cities and towns, places of worship of different religions are sited close to each other. A supreme example is the city of Kandy. Further, a noteworthy observation is that often the festivals of different religions fall on the same day or close to each other.
Malaysia, which has a multi-cultural community has developed a community practice of an ‘open-house’ to friends and relations during religious festivals and offer them hospitality. This has been described as “community core of common religious values.”
In larger national events, such as New Year festivals, Independence Day celebrations and even humble sowing and harvesting festivals, it would be well, wherever possible for other communities to be invited for participation.
Post-World War I
Reconciliation is flexible and has been found applicable not only within a country but also between nations and internationally. In Post-World War I, the defeated nations were subject to recovery of war reparations to the victors for which national assets, factories had to be broken-up causing much bitterness to the defeated.
In contrast, after World War II, the prevailing mood was towards reconstruction and reconciliation through the operation of the Marshal Plan wherein both victors and vanquished benefitted, in speedy reconstruction, rehabilitation and promotion of reconciliation.
The prevailing spirit of reconciliation spread its wings beyond the combatants. Reconciliation was extended towards millions of victims of the Holocaust and those who perished in prisoners’ camps, concentration camps and crematoria.
In the East, at the San Francisco Peace Treaty, defeated Japan was confronted with a host of demands for reparations. At this conference, the stirring speech and espousal of Buddhism in his speech; “hatred does not cease by hatred but by loving-kindness” changed the mood of the conference and earned Sri Lanka the eternal gratitude of the Japanese nation.
Eventually, the spirit of reconciliation spread to victims of war and prisoners who fell under the Japanese invasion in the East and were afforded redress and compensation over time.
At the end of Apartheid, when Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk came together on the first ever reconciliation, the process was raised to new heights in the world forum.
The outstanding values in turning from revenge and recrimination to peace and progress captured the hearts and minds universally and both Mandela and De Klerk were awarded jointly the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.
Following on the experience, procedures of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were developed in dealing with past crimes in a just, fair and rational manner.
The model was followed with some adoption by no less than 20 other nations globally and their experiences researched in the standard text 'Unspeakable Trusth 2001' by Priscilla Hayner and subsequently by other international NGOs.
Reconciliation has been successfully applied in several country situations e.g. Northern Ireland Peace Process, Timor Leste, Philippines, and approaches being made in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Indeed, from the emerging incessant intra and inter-national conflicts of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the 21st Century maybe hailed as a Century of Reconciliation where the tired, tested and challenging process of reconciliation is being applied with increasing success. In the same strain of the above experiences, Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission could consider establishing a National Council for peace, reconciliation and unity in diversity, drawing on the numerous on-going experiences in the country.