REASONS FOR THE FAILURE OF THE RECONCILIATION PROCESS IN SRI LANKA
Posted on July 6th, 2018

BY EDWARD THEOPHILUS

Since the beginning of human settlements in Sri Lanka, there had many conflicts between communities motivated by different elements.  The history of Sri Lanka affirms that Lord Buddha visited the country on one occasion to reconcile a conflict between Naga leader Chulodara and his uncle, Mahodara and the followers of both sides. The conflict was not associated with religious or ethnic elements but it was a combat between two guys and their followers on account of a gem set throne. This conflict cropped up before Vijaya and his associated arrived to Sri Lanka. This example points out that Sri Lanka obtained outside assistance for conflict resolutions in the history.  This experience recorded before Vijaya embarked and established a kingdom as a Sinhala state. The conflict was among indigenous people, who lived in Sri Lanka before the arrival of Vijaya. It would have been a large-scale fight (Tribal Fight) similar to the civil war has been experienced during 1983 – 2009.

Lord Buddha visited as a mediator who was recognized by two parties to the conflict and this historical example clearly indicates that a successful conflict resolution in Sri Lanka will be dependent on selecting a neutral mediator who is recognized by the parties to the conflict. The next vital characteristic of the mediating role of Lord Buddha was that Tathagata was not involved in a facilitating role, which generally focuses on financing for the negotiations.  The facilitating role for conflict resolution during the LTTE wartime denoted that it involved in many corrupt activities that were not acceptable to the general public, for example, conducting training programs in luxury hotels, offering travel opportunities for influential people in the government and opposition, providing motor vehicles for influential characters, making various supports to temples and many other bribery types supports for the parties involved in the conflict.  The role of facilitation also reflected that it has involved in making hidden influences to the parties, which were not expected from a mediator. The positive outcomes from the conflict resolution were expected by countrymen, but the behaviour of outsiders echoed that the reconciliation process has been involved in a double game more than the expectations of the country (Bandarage, A 2009, The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka, Terrorism, Ethnicity Political Economy, NY Bloomington, iUniverse Inc pp 176-200).

The mediating involvement of Lord Buddha had not involved in hidden functions or purposes with strings of hegemony over any party to the conflict.  The historical experience also clearly showed that for a successful conflict resolution and a reconciliation process should have some essential ingredients in the process similar to the practice used by the Lord Buddha. The conflict resolution and reconciliation process between Chulodara and Mahodara did not aimed at setting standards for the future conflict resolutions. However, when negotiations were going on between the government and the LTTE movement, it was not appeared that the negotiators really considered the historical example. As a result, people of the country had a doubt about the reconciliation process.

If the talks between the government and the LTTE movement were based on the pathway illustrated by the Lord Buddha, the civil war could have been ended in 1980 decade at a less damage. It seems that Sinhala Buddhist community had not agreed with the principles followed by the negotiators.  The history of conflict resolution in the world also evidence that a genuine reconciliation cannot be wielded by a forceful condition insistent of outside parties.  The best example was a conflict resolution eventuated under the leadership of Norway in the Middle East and African countries.

After the historical conflict for a gem set throne, there were many conflicts, which were mainly hinged on ethnic and religious issues and some instances castes and class struggles also contributed to bloodletting conflicts, unlike other conflicts, caste related clashes have considerably diminished in Sri Lanka as a result of the rapidly expanding education, which successfully effected in changing the attitudes of people. The education plays a significant role in the society and helps people to understand and evaluate a conflict whether it should be continued or abandoned on the basis of possible outcomes. This situation shows that broader understanding of a conflict by the community would be highly useful to a successful reconciliation. When people have a clear understanding of a conflict and its background, people can get out of the problem or continue with the problem or can suggest an alternative instead of a continuing conflict.

Humans are species with feelings and thinking power. The emerging of conflicts based on various reasons relating to human feeling, however, continuing differences within the community without respecting to the diversity of human will become a prime cause to create a crisis. The emanating conflicts in unpredictable instances would become concerned matters to the public and the international community.  The governing of a country in a conflict environment would be wasting of resources which should apply for much needed human developments. People have observed that Sri Lanka had been wasted a huge volume of human and physical resources during the 30 years of civil war. The conflict diverted a large sum of economic resources for military purposes and nobody has gained advantage from the war except personnel who dealt with military supplies.  This situation invites the development of permanent policies for conflict resolutions in the absence of constitutional and legal provisions for it.  As the government policymakers and the executive of the country did not make attention to this area, the conflicts resolution and the reconciliation have become an unsuccessful drive.

How can apply a successful reconciliation process when a conflict between ethnic, religious or any other groups are going on the basis of different philosophical matters?  The day to day operations of the country show that there are never-ending conflicts of trade unions, university students, farmers and many other groups. The negotiations are always unsuccessful due to the lack of common policy guidelines for negotiations as well as a reconciliation process on the basis of agree conditions of the outcomes of the negotiation. It appears that the major reason to unsuccess negotiations is the dishonesty of either party involved in a conflict or any other reasons, which are not acceptable to either party to a conflict.  This situation is not affordable to the country as it generates high costs, wastage of resources and unresolved disputes between individuals.

The strategic approach to this situation is that the country has to develop conflict resolution and reconciliation policies with the approval of the government and the opposition.  The current practice reflects that a bipartisan approach of political parties in relation to nationally vital issues is not working in the country.  As people of the country are fully aware, the reconciliation process with the international assistance began after ending the Civil War in 2009, but the process has already failed without any meaningful result. What were the contributing factors to the failure?  Although there may be different opinion, the major reason seems that there are no conflict resolution and reconciliation policies in the country.  This situation leads to an anarchic environment.

After the presidential election in 2015, a yahapalana government was established with a view to forming a stronger government with the support of majority of voters. The majority of citizens has been divided as UNP and SLFP by the party politics since the independence. The majority of voters in the country (75%) consists of Sinhala community, however, they divided to two major parties and this division created problems to implement a successful reconciliation process but some international advisors considered that a unity government of Sinhala people would be supported to an effective reconciliation process and making acceptable solution to the ethnic crisis in the country.  However, the formulation of a unity government has displayed lacking transparency to the general public.  As there was not a common program accepted by the public and underhand elements against the political process of the country has been growing during the past several years. The unity government has lost its confidence and the provincial government election in 2008 clearly displayed that there is clear the opposition of the majority of people to the misleading policy actions of the unity government.

The presidential election results in 2015 did not reflect that the majority of Sinhala voters in the country were with Mr. Maithripala Sirisena and many UNP, JVP, Muslim, Tamil political parties wrongfully assumed that election results were to punish Rajapaksa family and catching embezzlers without provable evidence. As a result, within a short period after the elections in 2015, a new political force under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa emerged and Sinhala power divided to three parties and the major promise of the Yahapalana government has blotted disabling performance what they have promised to do.

People of the country or the political representatives in the parliament have not endorsed the process of reconciliation as the government did not disclose what would be really going on in the reconciliation process and what would be the expected outcomes from the process.  For example, the introduction of a new constitution to the country with a federal system was not an outcome expected by the majority of people from the reconciliation process, but the yahapalana government attempted to hide the expected outcomes during the presidential and parliament election as the yahapalana government clearly knew that they cannot attract the majority support. Nearly 76% of Sri Lanka’s population consists of Sinhala people. It is natural that when there is an attempt to draw a conclusion through a reconciliation process that is against the will of the majority of the population would not be successful.

Why the Yahapalana government which was formed to be transparent and was openly talking about transparency before the election attempted to conceal the significant matters in relation to the reconciliation process?  The independent points of views show that the yahapalana government has attempted to mislead to the general public of the country as well as the international community and as a result of the lacking transparency, the reconciliation process has come to grief.   Now a democratic process of review with all political parties would be required to take successful initiatives for concrete policy developments with a view to resolving future conflicts as well as the past conflict.

What were the contributing factors for the failure of the reconciliation process initiated after the civil war in 2009?  We need to critically look at such factors, otherwise, Sri Lanka would be a failed state as well as subject to a playground of international power players with different motives. Ten years after the independence, Sri Lanka would have developed policy guidelines and initiated a reconciliation process in 1958 after the first ethnic conflict.  At that time there was a good environment for a genuine reconciliation process because India was supportive to Sri Lanka and China was not a country where concerning on the policy developments in Sri Lanka. However, nobody was interested in the developing guidelines for conflict resolution policy.  During the British rule, there was a serious crisis between Sinhala and Muslim people, but as the sole administrators of the country, Britain had no interest in such a policy development, perhaps divided ruling was the underhand objective of the British rule, which prevented successful policy development for ethnic and religious harmony.

After the rule of Nehru and his colleague Shastri, Indira Gandhi entered to the political leadership of the Congress Party and won the election in the 1960s. The foreign policy of India strongly aligned to Russian bloc, which expected India to play a police role in the Indian ocean. As a result of the new role, the government of India got away from America and turned to Russia for military purchases and had to face a conflict with China.  In that environment, Sri Lanka genuinely helped India without creating any problem with China.  Sri Lanka has been depending on India for the reconciliation with Tamil community. The support of India to Sri Lankan government visibly ignored the fact that there should be policy guidelines for conflict resolution and reconciliation process for ethnic and religious conflicts.

The elected government in 1970 strongly stressed on making a new constitution and the next major conflict after 1958 was JVP insurrection in 1971, which was militarily defeated by the government with a strong support of India and Pakistan. The history of conflicts in Sri Lanka clearly indicates that the mentality of rulers in respect of conflicts was to apply military power to resolve the conflicts. It is common to other countries too, because there is a strong belief that if the ruling government can successfully control a conflict by using military power, it would be supported to eliminate rebellion and to stabilize the authority of the government.  This principle has positively applied many countries and some countries failed to create an environment that supports long-lasting peace and unity.

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