Members of the Christian clergy as well as a prominent lawyer emphasised before the Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) the need to win the hearts and minds of the people of the north and east, if the reconciliation process in the aftermath of the war is to succeed.
Rt. Rev Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo, Kumara Illangasinghe, Vicar-General of Kurunegala and lawyer Gomin Dayasiri who made presentations before the Commission last week, said that, along with economic development, measures must be taken to heal the scars left by three decades of war.
“Economic development alone is not adequate. There must be a professional, caring and speedy process of rehabilitation and reconstruction in a climate of trust and dignity,” Bishop De Chickera told the Commission.
He said that the military phase of the operations is now over and there should be a de-militarization of the north and east. “There must be a gradual but clearly visible move towards civilian administration in the north and east. The presence of military personnel must be reduced, and the maintenance of law and order be restored to the Police,” he said.
The Bishop also said there must be a mechanism for trust building among all communities, as well as healing of memories. “There is an urgent need to deal with the past. Some may say it is a good thing to forget the past, but a civilized society cannot do so. You have to remember the past, so that there will be no repetition of such things in the future,” he said.
The Bishop also recalled that a meeting had been called of Sinhala and Tamil worshippers by the church, to decide on whether they should come before the Commission or not. “There was much cynicism among many, but there were some who said that, if we can contribute even in a small way towards the reconciliation process, we should do so,” he added.
Kumara Illangasinghe, Vicar-General of Kurunegala, in his presentation said that the continuation of the emergency regulations needs to reviewed. “As long as such measures are in place, they will pose a threat to normalcy and national reconciliation,” he said.
He also said that, while the church recognizes the right of the people of the country to live in any area they wish to, there should be no State-sponsored colonization in the north and east. “This has been one of the causes for the ethnic conflict in the country, and should not be repeated,” he said.
Meanwhile, prominent lawyer Gomin Dayasiri said that, while there was economic advancement in the aftermath of the war, attempts at winning the hearts and minds of the people are not moving at the same pace.
For example, he said that, while a large number of Chinese nationals and people from the south were engaged in development work in the north and east, adequate numbers of ‘local’ people are not employed on the projects.
Mr. Dayasiri also said that, while high security zones were absolutely essential in the area, they may have to be reduced, while those whose lands cannot be returned should be compensated on the same basis as people living in other areas of the country are compensated, when the State takes over their land.
Among the other proposals made by Mr. Dayasiri to the LLRC, was the setting up of district Ombudsman to address the grievances of the people, strengthening and making the Human Rights Commission an independent body, formation of a multi ethnic police force on an urgent basis and an integrated school system where Sinhala and Tamil are taught on an equal basis to all. “It is too late for this generation, but we have to catch the next generation young, by breaking down the language barriers,” he said.
He also emphasized the need to create a judicious judiciary.” Our judiciary is not bad but needs to be strengthened,” he said. He said that, if this is to be done, granting of political appointments to members of the judiciary must be immediately stopped.
“The judiciary has to look beyond post-retirement benefits. Even if the executive offers them a post of governor or ambassador, they should know not to accept them,” he said, adding that such retired personnel had other ways of serving the country.
He also said that it is regrettable that most public officials today have become “yes minister” men, and urged the Commission to work with courage and strength.
Mr. Dayasiri also came down hard on the Norwegians for the role they played in the country’s failed peace process and said that Norwegian Minister Eric Solheim, a key player in the process should be declared persona non grata in the country.
”Norway must be severely censured, because it did not take any action to further the cause of human rights nor democracy during the ceasefire period. Solhiem is the chief culprit for the situation,” he told the Commission.