Power-sharing for political settlement to address grievances and aspirations of all communities Clear-cut perspectives on human rights, inclusivity, diversity, multiculturalism, gender equality and judicial independence Former President Rajapaksa scoffs at new policy as “inappropriate”; focus on October 8 anti-Govt. rally By Our Political Editor Just after his successful visit to the United Nations General Assembly sessions in [...]


President presents 11-page draft for lasting national reconciliation


  • Power-sharing for political settlement to address grievances and aspirations of all communities
  • Clear-cut perspectives on human rights, inclusivity, diversity, multiculturalism, gender equality and judicial independence
  • Former President Rajapaksa scoffs at new policy as “inappropriate”; focus on October 8 anti-Govt. rally

By Our Political Editor
Just after his successful visit to the United Nations General Assembly sessions in New York, President Maithripala Sirisena went before his ministers on Tuesday to try to win approval for a National Policy on Reconciliation.

This policy, spelt out in an eleven-page document, acknowledges “the principle of power-sharing as the means of reaching a political settlement, which would address the grievances and aspirations of all communities as a necessary constituent for reconciliation.” However, ministers will make a further study of this policy. This was after objections were raised by National Dialogue Minister Mano Ganeshan. He complained that though he was the minister in charge, neither he nor his officials had been consulted on the formulation of this national policy. The postponement of a detailed discussion will now afford them the opportunity to examine details of the policy and make suggestions if they so wish.

Thousands of people took part in a protest march headed by Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran. As President Sirisena unveiled a comprehensive policy on national reconciliation this week, most analysts saw the Wigneswaran march as counterproductive to the moves for reconciliation.

The policy has been drafted jointly by the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation and the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation. , President Sirisena notes that reconciliation “involves addressing the broad areas of truth seeking and healing; justice; reparation and non-recurrence including institutional reform as components of transitional justice.” He adds; “The State should make every endeavour to achieve these imperatives through independent, objective, credible, adequately resourced mechanisms that are established through wide consultative process and operate with continuous consultation and participation of victims and victim organisations for the duration of its function.”

In an accompanying note, President Sirisena said that the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) had drafted the National Policy in a “manner that reflects that reconciliation is a whole-of-government effort and a multi-stakeholder endeavour.” The ONUR is headed by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. President Sirisena has said that public awareness and education campaigns would be carried out on the national policy to develop a ‘co-ordinated mechanism for the implementation of all reconciliation programmes.’

The introduction to the National Policy on Reconciliation notes that a three-decade “conflict including a protracted armed conflict has caused suffering and damage to all communities and peoples in the country.” It acknowledges that the “armed struggle concluded in 2009, leaving behind a breakdown in relations and trust, intolerance and prejudice between and within communities in the country.” It adds that there remains a national need for an expressly stated and comprehensive national policy.

The Tiger guerrillas were militarily defeated by the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa administration in May 2009. Former President Rajapaksa and his backers appear to be holding a different view. He told the Sunday Times, “This is not the way to go about with reconciliation. They are making it more and more difficult. Take for example the recent protests in Jaffna. Those involved were trying to inflame communal passions. They were also condemning our brave armed forces. They are promoting communalism (Jaathiwadaya). Naturally, the majority community becomes suspicious of the conduct of those protestors and those giving leadership to such campaigns. We should not do anything that will make our communities become distanced from with each other. There should be a way out. We cannot force something down the throats of the people. We also stood for reconciliation. We rehabilitated 12,000 guerrilla cadres. We did not shut down military camps.”

‘Joint Opposition’ Leader Dinesh Gunawardena that the Government was yet to discuss the national policy with the ‘JO’. “Without an exchange of views, we cannot move forward. How can the Government go ahead with such a policy when Northern Province Chief MinistercC.V. Wigneswaran is provoking the people through protests and challenging that very unity? He is disregarding the rights of other communities. We will wait until the Government chooses to discuss issues with us. At that stage we will point out the shortcomings.”

Here are some significant highlights of the “National Policy on Reconciliation Sri Lanka – 2016” recommended by President Sirisena.

Concerned by the suffering, damage and detriment caused to the lives, dignity and security of all citizens of Sri Lanka due to the prolonged period of social and political tension, including the protracted armed conflict that spanned three decades;
Acknowledging that since the conflict ended there remains a breakdown of trust, intolerance and prejudice between and within communities;

Mindful of the fact that at the heart of the problem is the lack of an acceptable arrangement of shared political authority satisfactory to all communities in the country and that this has manifested itself in discontent and violence at different periods in the history of the country;

Knowing that a lack of equal access to opportunities ranging from, but not limited to, education, livelihood, employment and justice remains the major cause of discontent in the country;

Aspiring to re-establish the good relationship between the State and the citizenry through a range of measures including but not limited to, through strengthening civil administration and, return of property and lands to rightful owners; promoting media freedom, generating livelihood opportunities, and protecting the right and interest of missing and disappeared persons and their relatives;

Determined to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all citizens equally, including civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other, while continuing to combat impunity and uphold the rule of law;
Recognising that it is essential to build a shared Sri Lankan identity that embraces diversity and multiculturalism;
Affirming that a process of healing has to take place in a holistic manner both individually for victims of conflict and violence, and collectively at the level of communities and societies that have suffered;

Considering the importance of developing a national narrative of the past that resonates with all communities in Sri Lanka;
Committed to creating an inclusive society, a sense of belonging, and an environment conducive to the full realisation of the potential of every Sri Lankan citizen;

Calling for a whole-of-government effort and a multi-stakeholder process that combines a two-pronged approach, namely preventive through ensuring non-recurrence of past events, and through futuristic initiatives for reconciliation.
This National Policy on Reconciliation is founded on the imperatives of Democracy, Good Governance, Human Rights, Rule of Law and National Unity.

“To function as state policy on reconciliation.
“To provide direction to national reconciliation by addressing past violence and conflict, and through envisioning of a shared future that fosters national unity and peaceful co-existence among all peoples and communities in the country.
“To provide a guiding framework to all stakeholders working on reconciliation in order to achieve coherence in reconciliation initiatives.

“Policy Principles
“A set of actionable principles and long-term goals that will form the basis for making rules and guidelines, and to provide overall direction to planning and development for national reconciliation.

“Acknowledge the principle of power-sharing as the means of reaching a political settlement, which would address the grievances and aspirations of all communities as a necessary constituent for reconciliation.

“Ensure gender equality in all national initiatives; develop protection mechanisms for vulnerable women around the country; redress and provide reparations to women who have endured violations; and promote agency of women as partners in decision-making and as agents of change in reconciliation process and activities.

“Ensure that all citizens have equal access to their substantive freedoms and promote unequivocal non-discrimination, transparency, accountability and fairness in all legal, social, political and administrative mechanism and proceedings at national, provincial and local level.

“The State shall make every endeavour to ensure that the full range of civil and political rights are equally upheld for all citizens and groups in the country in a non-discriminatory manner. The State should provide a mechanism to enforce civil and political rights and an enabling system for its implementation, which includes the rule of law, administrative justice, educational measures to promote a rights culture and democratic structures with checks and balances. The judiciary should play an important role in ensuring the implementation of these rights.

Proactively cultivate a sense of belonging, responsibility and solidarity towards strengthening a shared Sri Lankan identity and values enriched by the nation’s diverse ethnic and cultural heritage, and to explore the notion of active citizenship in Sri Lanka and what it means to be a Sri Lankan.

“Ensure the right of every citizen to use and demand services in Sinhala and Tamil, the National and Official languages of Sri Lanka as enshrined in the Constitution and collectively work towards achieving trilingual competencies in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages.

“The State shall endeavour to create an inclusive society by setting up mechanisms to actively encourage the participation of formerly marginalised groups in decision making as well as their access to opportunities and services.

“Ensure representation within the public service and judicial system that reflects the diversity of the Sri Lankan population.
“Design specific mechanisms and programmes that within State and public sector institutions to mainstream policies and practices that uphold the principles of multiculturalism.

“Address the needs, empower, and engage with vulnerable groups affected by the conflict, including but not limited to, female heads of households, war widows, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, children and youth, internally displaced communities, families of missing and disappeared, ex combatants, differently-abled, resettled communities.

Strengthen, and reform where necessary, the judicial system so as to adequately deliver, and provide access to, swift and expeditious justice.

“Actively work towards ensuring equal and informed access to justice, maintenance of law and order and the equitable, impartial, competent, and swift dispensation of justice by way of an impartial and competent judiciary.

“Make every endeavour to provide reparations to victims who have been identified to have suffered loss as a result of the conflict and to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses during and after their quest for justice and redress.

“To amend and repeal laws which are discriminatory and are not in compliance with normative standards; and to introduce laws that are necessary to foster reconciliation.

“Proactively examine the obstacles faced by respective sectors, including but not limited to, female-heads of households, war widows, children & youth, internally displaced communities, families of the missing and disappeared, ex-combatants, differently-abled, resettled communities, and Sri Lankans living overseas and persons of Sri Lankan origin living overseas belonging to all communities, in participating and exercising their rights and define and implement actions to address these obstacles.

“Design and implement reconciliation interventions in consultation and with the participation of relevant stakeholders, and listening to respective stakeholders including civil society, direct and indirect victims of conflict and violence, and other affected groups; while the State should proactively release information on progress towards reconciliation in the country and such information must be communicated with responsibility and remain accessible, open and transparent to citizens.

“The State should make a concerted effort to engage the general public, through mobilising traditional and non-traditional media, in order to bring about positive attitudinal change that will in turn facilitate the readiness and preparedness of citizens to receive and accept solutions to the root-causes of conflict. Government and non-government actors must go beyond using media as a mere tool for communication; rather they must proactively leverage the media as a strategically powerful tool to promote reconciliation through carefully designed interventions.”

Even before the National Policy on Reconciliation has been launched, Opposition political parties are veering towards anti-Government campaigns. Besides, what they call an ‘inappropriate policy on reconciliation,’ the campaign is also to focus on the re-introduction of the enhanced Value Added Tax (VAT), the economic and trade co-operation agreement with India and the recent Jaffna protests which the opposition groups claim was a threat to the country’s national security. The first such meeting will be held in Ratnapura on October 8. Contrary to reports that the launch of a new political party will take place on this day, its convenor and former Minister Basil Rajapaksa told the Sunday Times, it will not be on this day.

He said that it has already been decided to form a new political party. This is because most people have lost confidence in the two major political parties, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP), he said. Since they were now in a coalition, the policy they were implementing was contrary to the pledges made to the people and had caused disillusionment, he said. “We have already formed a political party. We have thought of a flag, colour and have asked artistes to design a flag. We will make it public in due course.” Basil Rajapaksa declined to divulge the name except to say he had told supporters also to suggest names. The new party will be in alliance with other like-minded political parties. “Some of those who are backing the Government now will also join us,” he claimed. He said the aim of the new party would be to fill the void created by the SLFP and the UNP by going into a coalition government. He projected that the new party would be in place by January next year and would be ready when there would be a referendum on the new Constitution and when local government elections were held.

The campaign by the Opposition groups over the enhanced VAT comes as the imposition of the new tax has been still further delayed. Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake had wanted to introduce the enhanced rates to be effective from October 1 i.e. yesterday. Karunanayake told the Sunday Times the Vat Bill would now be debated in Parliament on October 26. It would be implemented immediately thereafter, he said. Karunanayake also revealed that a new Appropriation Bill which would incorporate amendments would be introduced in Parliament on Tuesday. “It will be printed on the same day by the Government Printer,” he said. The changes in this Bill, it is learnt, are to ensure that the debt servicing ratio is less than five per cent of the GDP. The move, a Government source said yesterday, was to fall in line with requirements of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and qualify for its second tranche of US$ 1.5 billion from its extended fund facility. This is expected to be released in April 2017.

Government sources said yesterday that President Sirisena was awaiting the return of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to have a top level discussion on the November 10 budget. The Premier is now on a visit to New Zealand and is expected to travel to New Delhi for an economic forum. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera who returned from the United States of America on Thursday is expected to join him. Also due to take part in the meeting are Finance Minister Karunanayake and other senior ministers. The idea of President Sirisena summoning the meeting is to obtain a general idea of the budget proposals and thus obviate the need for any changes after they are announced, like what happened the last time. A Government source said it would also ensure that the proposed measures would not be opposed by the SLFP faction in the Government. Though the budget debate is due to end on December 10, Government sources said yesterday, it was likely to be extended at least by another week.

Without doubt, the upcoming budget has become a subject of top priority for the Government. This is particularly in the light of the local government elections planned for the early part of next year. Efforts at reconciliation have also become an important issue in view of the interest shown by the international community. However, such an enormous task, there is no gainsaying, is more difficult than winning the separatist war militarily. It involves winning the hearts and minds of all stakeholders, something which the United National Front Government has not been able to achieve to a considerable extent. The once guerrilla-dominated North and the LTTE presence in the East are no more realities. The North has turned out to be the fastest developing region in Sri Lanka. Yet, neither the Government nor the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), one of its undeclared appendages, are allowing the situation to slip by. The recent ‘Rise Tamil’ uprising by the hardline elements of the North with the Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran thrust as the leader thereof has caused more than a stir within the Government and also the TNA that disowned the move. This has helped others sow the seeds of communalism, disparage the armed forces and create serious suspicious in the minds of other communities. It proves that erasing communalism is easier said than done. A national policy alone will be of no use if it is limited to a document. There also should be the national will from all parties to act and make it a reality. Therein lies the problem.

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