by Rt.Rev.Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
It is now a year since the civil war has ended in our beloved Sri Lanka and sadly national reconciliation continues to elude us. In these circumstances the CR de Silva Commission on "lessons learnt and reconciliation" is timely and welcome. It is yet another chance to learn from mistakes of the past and to humbly declare the truth that brings reconciliation.
The mere end of war does not simply bring reconciliation. It rather offers a promise of reconciliation by bringing an end to fighting as a problem solving device. It is when the pause after war drives a nation to its senses and the realisation that the highest purpose of life is to protect and enhance life, that national reconciliation begins.
Reconciliation eludes us today because the immediate wounds of war have not been substantially addressed. State policy on resettlement and development in the previous war zone has not yet been adequately clarified; and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the people to hold Government Ministries and Departments accountable for clear information, incompetence or delay.
Much more serious is the growing militarization of the previous war zone. This trend sends counter-productive signals to a people, crushed for years; first under the LTTE and then the ravages of a fierce war. It suggests that an armed presence is still necessary in these areas since the winners distrust the losers; and stands in contrast to a visibly indifferent resettlement policy.
Reconciliation in a poor country also demands economic reconciliation. In-spite of lapses which require attention, state sponsored health care and education for all, are exceptionally commendable welfare measures that need to be appreciated. However, given today’s economic realities which trap and dehumanise the poorest, we need to move beyond these measures. More realistic economic opportunities for the poor should be accompanied with welfare measures for the most vulnerable in our society.
A concerted war on a sub-human quality of life requires the attention of our economists. Politicians will contribute best if they initiate such policies; and opt voluntarily for a simple life style. Such a response mostly, will counter the peoples perception that in many instances the quest for political power today is also a quest for personal financial gain.
The crux of the reconciliation crisis however is the inability or refusal to substantially draw the minorities into the task of governance and nation building. For this to happen there should be a shift in attitude. The minorities cannot continue to be sidelined as peripheral communities dependent on goodwill decisions taken at the centre or with little to offer the nation.
The alarmingly conspicuous absence of all national languages and cultures at national events as well as the fast diminishing number of minority community representatives as national advisers, consultants and senior bureaucrats, apart from tokenism, makes the point. The sooner that competent persons from minority communities are included in all departments of national life, very specially our shared political future, the sooner reconciliation will be within our reach.
The investigation of disappearances and deaths of a large number of civilians, including media personnel, is another step that will enhance reconciliation. The identification of sites of death or burial, so that last rites can be performed should be part of this work. This will help relatives come to terms with the truth, the past and grief. It is when the deepest longings of those who grieve have been heard, that reconciliation spreads.
Another obstacle to reconciliation is the delay in declaring a Day of National mourning to commemorate all Sri Lankans who died as a result of the war. This should be done to concurrently demonstrate that war must never be repeated; and that those who died gave their lives to end all wars. Such a national opportunity to mourn will no doubt release a vibrant collective national energy towards national integration.
With peace and blessings to all.