Pursuing Peace Rehabilitation without Reintegration
Posted on July 14th, 2018

By Prof Rajiva Wijesinha Courtesy Ceylon Today

There was another area in which we did much vital work in the period before the war ended, but that too in the end fell prey to rival ministerial ambitions. This was the question of Rehabilitation of former combatants, for which we formulated a policy with the assistance of the International Labour Organization. When it became clear that plans needed to be formulated without waiting for the war to end, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe took the lead in setting up the Consultancy.

But the Ministry had no staff with expertise in the field, so it was my Director Policy from the Peace Secretariat, Dayani Panagoda, who provided support to the Consultant whom the ILO Head, Tina Staermose, got down from Portugal. He had done much work in South America and working together with our staff, he produced an excellent Policy document for both Rehabilitation and Reintegration.

But Rehabilitation in theory belonged with the Justice Ministry, and the Minister at the time, Milinda Moragoda, and mine, would not communicate. I spoke to both, but both wanted the other to make the first approach for coordination. I tried then, to work with the Secretary to that Ministry but I believe he was not too pleased that we had undertaken the task, since he enjoyed the title of Commissioner General of Rehabilitation.

But as a lawyer his principal concern had been the legal problems connected with the child soldier issue, and he worked only in that area, with no thought for the vast number of adult LTTE cadres we would have to deal with. While perfectly polite, he did nothing to support the Consultant. That perhaps did not matter too much, since he knew little of the subject, but I could see trouble ahead since the Plan envisaged an agency with greater involvement in the field than he would be able, given his other responsibilities as Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, to provide.

With nothing happening, and a total of over 11,000 former combatants having handed themselves in at the conclusion of the war, the Secretary of Defence took matters into his own hands, and appointed a new Commissioner General of Rehabilitation in the form of General Daya Ratnayake. I was pleased about this, for I knew him as one of the most competent and also humane officers in the Army, who had been responsible for the strategy that led to the East being liberated with hardly any loss of civilian life. As he explained this to me (when I called him in following the allegations made by Human Rights Watch in 2007), I realized that he was well aware of the humanitarian and human rights obligations of the forces.

war effort

I recall telling the Australian High Commissioner, who had generally been supportive of our war effort, but questioned the appointment of a military man as Commissioner General Rehabilitation, that this was the best way to get things done. So it proved for Daya set in place an excellent system, which was then taken forward by Sudantha Ranasinghe who succeeded him, when, a couple of months after the war ended, he became Chief of Staff.

I worked well with both of them, for both had been Commanding Officers at the Sri Lanka Military Academy in Diyatalawa when I had been Academic Coordinator of the Degree Programme we supervised from Sabaragamuwa University. But they could not do a thorough job because they had no responsibility for reintegration.

The Defence Secretary had not studied our document, which indeed was launched only on the day that Daya’s appointment was announced, and he completely ignored the need for a reintegration strategy too. The gazetted responsibilities of the CGR extended only to rehabilitation and, though the Secretary told me, when I pointed out the deficiency, that they should look after reintegration too, without a clear mandate they found this difficult to do.

It was also difficult to raise funds, as I found in discussing the matter with the International Organization for Migration, which proved extremely helpful with regard to the rehabilitation programme. With no clear policy with regard to reintegration, they were unable to formulate project proposals for this element. With that aspect a hit and miss affair, there was continuing uncertainty about the long-term future of former combatants, and hence worries about a possible resurgence of tensions.

After the war ended I paid regular visits to the Rehabilitation Centres, anxious to see what the youngsters we had fought against for so long were like. Most of them were happy at the contact, and once indeed I played some games that we used to use as ice-breakers at workshops, and found them delightfully responsive. I should note that the forces allowed them visitors, though as usual government lost the propaganda war in that, having forbidden the ICRC contact because of some irregularities they had engaged in during the last period of the war, they failed to make it clear that International Office of Migration was actively involved. And they did not monitor and publicize the fact that almost all those in rehabilitation received regular visits from family members.

But it was clear that little was being done to ensure that those who were sent back home after rehabilitation would be provided with satisfactory occupations. Though it was a tiny initiative, I tried to help by using some of my decentralized budget in the first two years to arrange entrepreneurship workshops in the centres, hoping that the idea would catch on and the Rehabilitation Authority would do something similar.

Sarath Buddhadasa of Business Consultancy Services ran workshops over two years, and I was delighted at the responses of the youngsters, girls as well as boys. They were able to identify business opportunities in the areas they would be returning to, and work out plans for setting up both individual and cooperative ventures.

Establishing a Trust

But how were they to do this? The type of revolving fund we had talked about in formulating the disarmament demobilization reintegration programme had not got off the ground, with initiatives in the North divided up between Basil and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. No one seemed interested in actually counselling these youngsters and setting them up for the future.

I thought then of using some of my decentralized budget to set up a loan scheme, working together with banks, and got very positive responses from a couple, which agreed to provide matching funds and administer a credit programme. But I made the fatal mistake, still trusting as I did in his goodwill, of asking Mohan Peiris, who was Attorney General at the time, to formulate a trust deed. The request I sent him on 22 November 2011 suggested ‘a Trust for the following purposes.

To provide collateral on the basis of which micro-credit could be provided to former combatants.
The sum of Rs 1,500,000 shall be lodged in a selected Bank which shall also contribute a similar amount to the Fund.

Additional sums may be contributed by donors and well-wishers.
The Fund will be administered by the manager of the Bank under the guidance of a Board of Trustees to include the Government Agent, Vavuniya, the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Mohan Pieris, Prof Rajiva Wijesinha and a Representative of the Bank. The administration will provide a quarterly report to the Trustees who will forward it to all donors and the Ministry of Economic Development.

Loans shall be granted on terms and conditions devised by the Bank with the concurrence of at least two other Trustees. The Trustees may consult with advisors and make recommendations in this regard. The Bank will be responsible for ensuring loan performance and for drawing from collateral if required, subject to the concurrence of at least two other Trustees.

At the conclusion of a 5-year period, the sum shall be used for an educational purpose decided on by the Trustees with the concurrence of the Ministry of Economic Development.

I made the request during the regular monthly meetings Jeevan Thiagarajah and I had with him, to check on progress with regard to the Interim Recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. This was because he was supposed to chair an Inter-Ministerial Committee set up to implement those recommendations.

Though the President had wanted me put on the Committee after the Darusman Report came out, Mohan had prevented this by claiming that it was inappropriate since I was a Member of Parliament. He agreed however to keep me informed about progress, though he also admitted that the Committee had never met. His idea of how to proceed was through consultation with the Secretary of Defence alone, which meant he only concentrated on Defence related issues. Given this obsession, he ignored the excellent recommendations of the LLRC with regard for instance to land issues, of burning importance to the people of the area.

And even with regard to defence matters, his approach was limited and defensive. Though as usual he sounded very positive about the idea I put forward regarding funding entrepreneurship by the former combatants, and promised to have a trust deed drafted, just as he promised to convene a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee, nothing moved.

And then finally he said the Secretary of Defence did not think this would be a good idea. It was around the time that he also admitted that Gota did not want the Inter-Ministerial Committee to meet.

It is possible that Gota was indeed intransigent about these matters. But I also suspect that Mohan did not try to put forward a contrary view, or tell Gota that some positive measures were essential if peace and reconciliation were priorities

One Response to “Pursuing Peace Rehabilitation without Reintegration”

  1. Christie Says:

    I feel sorry for people like the writer of this article. Are these the people who supposed to be educated and lead us Sinhalese to hell.

    First of all these so called combatants are Indian terrorists financed, managed, trained. armed and branded Tamil Tigers by India.

    It is the responsibility of India. India should take them and rehabilitate them or do whatever they want with them.

    The so called Darusman Report is in fact report by Yasmin Sooka an Indian Colonial Parasite from South Africa.

    She has not given up her anti Sinhala work and still working in her “Human Rights” buslness against Sinhalese.

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