A timely request | Daily News

A timely request

The conflict in the North and the East of Sri Lanka ended nine years ago and many issues affecting the people in the two provinces have been addressed satisfactorily in the post-conflict scenario. But we are yet to find solutions to many outstanding issues as well, including forging a truly Sri Lankan identity sans man-made differences.

But this is by no means unique to Sri Lanka. Some countries where similar conflicts ended as many as three or four decades back are still struggling to find peace. Indeed, some of the issues are very complex and require a great deal of foresight, consensus and compromise. But in every such case, it is the rulers and people of a given country who should evolve that solution. It cannot be foisted upon by external forces. While the peace processes and advice of other countries can be drawn upon to some extent, any solution must be home-grown and acceptable to all communities.

This was the crux of President Maithripala Sirisena’s message to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, where he urged the International Community to give room for Sri Lankans themselves to resolve the problems facing the country without any undue foreign influence.

“Look at Sri Lanka from a fresh perspective and consider the tremendous progress made by the Government towards reconciliation, restoration of democratic freedoms, human rights and the rule of law and extend your fullest support to build a progressive, democratic, free and equal society in Sri Lanka,” President Sirisena told world leaders.

This was a timely message – and appeal - to the world. To the credit of this Government, it has successfully managed to uplift the country’s image in the eyes of the International Community, totally reversing the previous Government’s antagonistic attitude towards the rest of the world. It had an extremely belligerent attitude towards human rights, which was despised by other countries. On the other hand, this Government has strengthened human rights and engaged with the international community from a higher moral pedestal. It is only when our domestic mechanisms and processes are strong that we can ward off any undue foreign influence or interference.

This was reflected in President Sirisena’s well-received speech. “As an independent country we do not want any foreign power to exert influence on us. Sri Lanka is taking action to consolidate peace and forge ahead to develop the economy, and deserves the support and understanding of the international community. We want to appeal to the international community that the right of the Sri Lankan people to find solutions to their problems should be respected.”

This is indeed what Sri Lanka has argued before the UN Human Rights Council – that Sri Lanka needs the time and space to evolve its own solutions to some of the vexed problems. In this exercise, there would be no need for foreign mechanisms or personnel, as Sri Lanka’s domestic judicial and other mechanisms are adequate to deal with any situation. The Government has already established an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and other accountability and investigative mechanisms are being set up.

All these steps have the ultimate goal of peace and reconciliation, but these do not and cannot work in isolation. Many other factors have to fall into place to make them possible. Hence, the Government’s steps to consolidate vital pillars such as democracy, personal freedom, good governance, media freedom and independence of the judiciary. In the words of the President such “transformative steps” have laid the foundation to forge national reconciliation, communal harmony and ensure non-recurrence of conflict in our country.

There is a saying that the past is a different country, but the converse is that we cannot think of a bright future without coming to terms with the past. We have to study where we went wrong in the post-independence era. Extremist politicians inflamed the passions of communalism for their own benefit, which resulted in a massive ethnic conflagration later on. We should strive to prevent a repetition of those tragic times. The President alluded to this in his wide-ranging speech: “As a country that has suffered from violent conflict for 30 years, we are drawing from experience and lessons learned to strengthen national reconciliation, and are determined to prevent the recurrence of conflict.”

The one common thread that runs through our collective conscience is our ability to forgive and forget. This is perhaps a legacy of our Buddhism-centred civilization. This is indeed why the Sri Lankan State has rehabilitated thousands of LTTE cadres. Their reintegration to society is part of the Government’s reconciliation plans. During his speech, the President quoted from Buddhist Scriptures on the importance of mental healing to explain his point about reconciliation.

Sri Lanka is undertaking a difficult journey. There need not be any illusions about the depth and the gravity of the task in hand. It is a task that requires all Sri Lankans here and abroad to join hands, eschewing all differences for the sake of the Nation. The International Community must unconditionally support these home-grown initiatives that seek to foster harmony among the various communities.


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