Letters to the Editor

19th October 1997

Mirror Magazine


Helping children: step towards peace

The government and the LTTE should be lauded for heeding the cessation of hostilities requested by UNICEF. To succeed in the fight to eradicate polio, immunization must take place for all children in a country on the same days. Both government personnel and rebels provided material and staff support to carry out the immunization. Incredibly, over the last three years the warring factions have actually "joined forces" on twelve days to fight this dreaded disease. It is a tangible indication that they have compassion for all the children of the country, and that they can come to an agreement to do something for everyone's benefit.

This agreement is an example of how a third party can facilitate what is generally in the interest of the government and the LTTE. The UN is not imposing nor mandating this action. It is appealing to the common sense and interests of the two parties. The decision to act rests solely with the leaders of the government and the LTTE. Foreign governments and organizations offering to facilitate a peace dialogue are not under any illusion that they can push or even force the two parties to agree to progressive steps towards a settlement. As demonstrated by the immunization agreement, progress can only be made with the willful and thoughtful commitment of government and rebel leaders. An outsider's role can only assist in the identification of common interests and options for fulfilment.

Having spent some time working with leaders in civil society, government administrations, and militant organizations in Sri Lanka, it is apparent that there is no dearth of qualified, committed, and courageous individuals willing to define, refine, and facilitate a process by which the interests of all the children of the country can be adequately addressed in a peace settlement. A major obstacle to progress, however, is the lack of willingness by leaders to focus on and discuss common interests. To find the "common ground" that Dr. Martin Luther King so eloquently and peacefully sought in my country, dialogue is a pre-requisite. Although the UNlCEF-facilitated cessation of hostilities it did not involve direct dialogue. Indirect communication allowed the two parties to find some common ground.

Sri Lanka's strong democratic traditions have allowed for ongoing debate and dialogue over the design of liberal democracy in the country. It has included most members of the formal political institutions that represent various regions, social sectors and interests. In addition, participation by the press through its efforts to inform the public and enrich the diversity of views from civil society adds to the democratic dialogue. Regrettably, this open discussion is not happening to any great degree in the LTTE or military controlled areas of the North. Nor is there any hint at direct discussion between northern rebel leaders and the government and people in the south. This cuts against the strong desire and traditions of Sri Lankan democracy and assists in the entrenchment of the conflict. In lieu of direct dialogue, other ways of communication among groups, not included in the search for resolution should be sought. It seems only fitting, given the practices and traditions of the country. Again, UNlCEF's neutral role for children points to one acceptable way of facilitating dialogue.

Although most Sri Lankans do not accept certain restrictions on the freedom of speech, and they are justifiably concerned about ongoing human rights violations that threaten the democratic institutions the people so cherish, it is clear that no other country in a similar situation is either willing or able to afford so much democracy. However, this democracy must have a purpose. In the United States, it is simply to promote life, liberty, and happiness of all citizens. I suspect that the Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, and Burgher have similar aspirations for Sri Lankan democracy.

Here is the common ground, the middle ground, or perhaps the middle path that unites the great majority of Sri Lankans. Yet, we see no democratic space for these common aspirations to manifest themselves. Restrictions by both parties eliminate the opportunity for it to emerge publicly. Yet in places all over the country one can observe such emergence in group meetings, usually organized by NGO leaders and enlightened public officials, where people of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions are able to work together to resolve local problems and even agree on issues of national importance. In social science jargon, these are examples of "positive deviants". They ought to be nurtured and reinforced as they embody the foundations of Sri Lanka's democratic political culture. But what is the vehicle for them to emerge and aggregate into a meaningful and acceptable expression of the middle ground. Again, it may have something to do with the children of the island.

If UNICEF can move from its efforts against polio (a problem which may have been eliminated in Sri Lanka with a successful campaign this year) towards encouraging the government and rebels to eliminate other more immanent conflict-related threats to the children of Sri Lanka, it will certainly demonstrate UNlCEF's commitment to its anti-war agenda. UNlCEF's neutral and non-interventionist approach can facilitate dialogue, however indirect. UNlCEF's good offices will also create space for civil society to express its views and suggest solutions for children affected by the conflict. More democratic space will help groups from all over the country and will create zones of peaceful expression. For example, would it be too much to suggest to the government and LTTE to eliminate all armed threats to the children of this country? For four days this year, children will be able to play outside without the fear of a bombing, either by a plane or a suicide bomber. A prohibition can be extended to the elimination of targets such as schools and religious institutions.

Steve Claborne


We can make a difference

From the earliest recorded days, people have placed themselves apart from and superior to other living things. We can adapt to the jungle, the desert, or even the ice cap. We have changed the land surface to suit our needs. We have dealt with the worst diseases and raised the average life expectancy. We have the genetic inheritance of plants and other animals for our food requirements and we face no serious challenge from any other animal species. In short, as supreme predators, we have enjoyed the luxurious opportunities of the species in rapid expansion.

But this has created a predicament. We have enormously multiplied our numbers and we have greatly affected the environment of which we are a part. The main problem is that the main polluting nations are not prepared to take action to reduce pollution. Powerful countries like the United States which produce 20 percent of the green house gases in the world are not prepared to cut down on pollution. Even the U.N.E.P. and other powerful organisations are unable to raise their voice against these countries as the funding of these organisations is done by these countries no longer.

We people from Third World Countries feel our voices can never make a difference. But united in action we can make a difference. After all, we do live on the same planet. Securing our common future is our duty.

Statistics show 25,000 people die each day due to consuming polluted water and most of the victims are from the developing countries.

Only safe production methods and eco friendly disposal methods could save us from certain disaster. It is left to the decision makers of our country to develop our country without destroying its future.

Jonathan Rasiah


The best will always be rewarded

I am an old boy of Royal College and my children are also studying in the same school. It is very sad to note the plight of the college today due to bullish and unwanted interference of parents. I am sure this must be a terrible headache for the Principal and his staff. This situation is very much prevalent in the primary section.

From getting a place in the western band to winning an award for an academic achievement it is the clout of the parent which matters. The other day I witnessed military personnel painting some school buildings. Here the country is at war and the govt. is begging the citizens to send their sons and daughters to the battlefront. Alas! the senior officers send men under them to do work in their sons' school, deliberately inducing the teacher into favouring his son. Also there are parents who frequently indulge in the (sad) habit of visiting teachers in their (teachers') residences. Also there are teachers (definitely not all) who encourage such things.

Should these things happen? And should they be tolerated? I would like to draw the attention of the Principal to the selection of prefects from year 5 students. Short of going at each others' throats every thing else is taking place. In fact I watched with amusement how one parent desperately tried to change the shape and size of the badge given to the head prefect. How can a parent openly challenge a teacher saying that his or her child is extraordinarily brilliant at this tender age? Also why are the parents going round collecting signatures from various teachers/coaches in charge of games? Should it be the practice? This was definitely not the case during my days in college. The best were rewarded and the selection was done by the teachers solely based on merit. I am sure the present Principal will look into this and rectify the situation. The college motto DISCE AUT DISCEDE (LEARN OR DEPART) clearly tells anyone what his or her son is expected to do after joining this school. Also a word for the concerned parents; please understand that all our children are equal and the system will automatically reward the best. .

A concerned parent


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