By Prof.Rajiva Wijesinha M.P
(Text of the presentation by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, MP at the Defence Seminar 2012 – ‘Towards Lasting Peace and Stability’ held on August 10, 2012)
I will begin with what might seem a paradox in the current context. I believe that much more must be done by the Armed Forces to promote reconciliation.
I know that much fuss is now being made about the role of the Armed Forces in the North, but while I can understand opposition to what might be termed militarization, which must be avoided, I sometimes feel that the formulaic approach of those opposed to the work of the armed forces is calculated almost to prevent reconciliation.
Nowhere was this more obvious than in the almost hysterical approach to the rehabilitation programme conducted by government. Whilst trenchant but honourable critics of government such as the TNA National List Member of Parliament, Sumanthiran, have gone on record as praising the rehabilitation programme, the diehards in the international community were adamant that there should be no support for the process.
Indeed even the UN Country Team, which used generally to understand the need to work with government, whilst continuing to remind us of our obligations (as far as its senior leadership was concerned, in the days when I had governmental responsibilities, so can testify to the excellent cooperation we enjoyed), seems later to have tried to prevent any of its members entering into the centres where rehabilitation was conducted.
Thankfully, the International Organization for Migration was made of sterner stuff, and worked effectively with the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation, whilst always, it should be noted, giving the CGR and his team credit for their achievements and acknowledging the need for programmes to be driven by government. But the contrast between them and others was so marked, that I sometimes wondered whether those extreme elements in the international community, who have made so much of the running in the last couple of years, were not deliberately trying to provide a rationale for the oft proclaimed criticism of the LTTE oriented diaspora, that the former combatants were held incommunicado.
IOM then, and the ICRC, provided a healthy contrast even to the United Nations team. The latter, according to Wikileaks, made it clear to the Americans in Geneva (though I must confess I thought it against the norms usually scrupulously observed by the ICRC to engage in private conversations with another country about matters on which it worked in terms of its relationship only with parties to conflict) that they had recorded most of those who had surrendered.
But perhaps one should not suspect deviousness, despite what inductive reasoning seems clearly to indicate, since prejudice too might provide an explanation. I recall one of the more sensible High Commissioners here criticizing the appointment of a military man as Commissioner General of Rehabilitation three years ago. I had to explain to her that we wanted results, and that we owed it to the former combatants to proceed swiftly with rehabilitation and reintegration, which had not been moving under the previous civilian CGR.
The plan our ministry had prepared, with heartening support from the ILO, was not being taken forward and, though ultimately the reintegration components were not systematically implemented, General Ratnayake when he was appointed CGR, and then his successors, all military men, did a wonderful job of the rehabilitation programme. I have dwelt on this element at some length, because it exemplifies what we should be doing to promote reconciliation, as well as highlighting the insidious impact of its enemies.
The Bureau of the CGR, whilst run with military efficiency, and the moving sympathy for those in one’s care that all those in a military chain of command must evince practically, was under civilian control.
It reported to a minister, and both the minister at the time it began its work, and then the remarkably idealistic D E W Gunasekara who took over, ensured that those conducting the Rehabilitation programmes were fully aware of the nation’s obligations to those who were more likely to have been victims of LTTE tyranny than supporters of terrorism. But, as Sumanthiran also observed, and as many of us have been pointing out for several months, the business of reintegration has not proceeded as smoothly as rehabilitation did.
The reason is that there is no clear responsibility for this, with monitoring of those who have gone back to their homes, and ensuring support for them to resume productive livelihoods, done by different agencies and authorities. There seems to have been inadequate planning for this difficult task, and implementation is haphazard. For instance, whereas more than a year ago I tried to use some of my decentralized budget – and I am happy to say the Commercial Bank pledged a matching figure – to set up a micro-credit scheme, this was delayed for months and then shot down.
Subsequently the government decided to set aside a healthy sum to provide credit, but implementation of this has not been systematic, as would have happened had the Commissioner General been entrusted with the task.
My argument then is that, while ensuring civilian controls and responsibility, we should make greater use of the military, with its capacity to plan clearsightedly and carry out operations through a coherent chain of command.
In the case of reintegration, whilst the responsibility should be given to the Rehabiliation Authority, which also functions under the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, the Bureau of the CGR could be combined with that authority to act as its implementing arm for work with former combatants.
Sadly, some of the enemies of Reconciliation have tried to prevent government implementing programmes of support for the former combatants once they have gone back to their homes.
They argue that government should not be monitoring those who have been resettled, which ignores the fundamental responsibility to ensure that livelihood activities can be resumed. This cannot be done if there is no monitoring mechanism, but dogma trumps common sense, perhaps because the primacy of such a dogma will limit support for reintegration and thus contribute to further conflict.
Conversely, there seems sometimes an effort to deny all credit for the resettlement programme to government, despite the massive amounts spent by government for the purpose, and instead to claim international responsibility for this.
Interestingly, the donors who have contributed the most for resettlement, the Indian and Japanese governments, are not part of this insidious effort to cut the government out of the equation. Sometimes I suspect this has to do with cultural factors, an Asian tendency to modesty, whereas others feel obliged to claim whatever credit is available.
I should note though that part of the blame for the success in some quarters of this propaganda exercise should lie with government, which has not made clear the magnitude of its own contribution. Whilst reports of activity on the large scale are available, these would not be as effective as a breakdown by Divisional Secretariats, noting how much government has contributed to resettlement and livelihood development, through the provision of utilities and services and enabling the resumption of agriculture through irrigation and the supply of materials.
In the process the contribution of the armed forces, both in demining and in repair work, should also be recorded. I should note in this regard that, in the Vanni, the population in general are full of gratitude to the forces, for assistance in activities ranging from rebuilding kovils and orphanages to support with transport in emergencies.
However the running seems to be made by the more politically conscious in the Jaffna Peninsula, who had less need of basic services. Whilst I have argued that the approach in Jaffna should have been different, with much more consultation and rapid responses to social needs, the failure to record systematically what has been done, and use this as a tool for targeting further assistance, has contributed to the adverse propaganda against both the forces and the government.
What more can be done then, not only to advance Reconciliation, but to make it clear that this is a government driven process? And thus, I should add, overcome the caviling that seems designed, at least on the part of the LTTE diaspora, to fuel resentment and thus engender further conflict? In answering this question I shall draw upon the input of some of the officers who were sent to my office for discussions on the subject by the Ministry of Defence.
Sadly the Ministry of External Affairs, which I had also invited, did not send anyone, doubtless because they have other more important concerns than liasing with bodies inside Sri Lanka.
It was suggested then that, as a contribution to the reconciliation process as well as national needs, Security Forces personnel could be utilized in the fields of education, sports, medicine, transportation, entertainment, agriculture and training. An important rationale for this that was advanced was that they can work under difficult circumstances and build up teams. Ideas advanced were as follows –
a. Education and training
At the simplest level, this could include basic support, ie
(1) Use of the volunteer officers who enlisted as teachers to teach English for the rural schools.
(2) Use of Physical Training Instructors (PTIs) to educate school children on games and sports.
(3) Improve Leadership training in schools (could extend to youth clubs).
(4) Introduce/train cadets (Army, Navy, Air Force) in schools.
(5) Support the establishment of scout and guide troupes in schools
At more advanced levels, forces personnel could
(6) Establish vocational training centres for youths in coordination with GAs.
(7) Introduce diploma and certificate programmes through the KDU (working together with other universities if required).
Courses that would be useful to the nation whilst promoting integration could include;
(i) Diploma in Languages and Translation (Expertise in two languages plus speaking skills in the third)
(ii) Diploma in Nursing and Disability Support
(iii) Diploma in Environmental Awareness and Sustainable Agriculture
(iv) Diploma in Maths/Accounts and Computing
(v) Certificates in Motor Mechanics/Electrical Engineering with Computing and English (would enhance employment prospects, including overseas)
(vi) Certificate in Physiotherapy and Physical Training
The above courses could be conducted for youngsters from the North together with servicemen
(1) Coaching camps for various sports.
(2) Organize tournaments (Cricket, Volleyball, Football) in coordination with sports officers in AGA officers. (Service personnel in areas could play together with civilians against other areas)
(3) Organize friendly matches with schools/sports clubs in Colombo and other areas.
(1) Allow the civilians to use the military medical centres.
(2) Organize medical camps in rural areas.
(3) Organize/donations of artificial limbs/wheelchairs for disabled.
(1) Support private bus services to introduce a school bus system for rural areas.
(2) Transportation of patients by military ambulances.
(1) Organize Tamil musical shows in collaboration with government agents in the area.
(2) Organize Tamil films to be shown outdoors.
(1) Coordinate agriculture expertise to educate the farmers.
(2) Provision of seeds in coordination with Agriculture Department.
(3) Provision of water/water pumps wherever needed.
(4) Support to clear/prepare the lands for agriculture.
This paper was prepared several months ago, and I must confess that I had forgotten some of what it contained when I drew it out again to help in preparing this paper. I was astonished then to find how well it fitted with the concerns raised time and again in the Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committees that we have established in the last few months.
As those who read my columns on the meetings of these Committees will realize – though I should add that I realize hardly anyone does read anything positive – the main concerns raised by the Grama Niladharis and the Rural Development Societies relate to Transport and Agricultural problems (including Irrigation requirements), and the need to improve Medical and Educational facilities.
Some concerns not addressed in the above suggestions could easily be met by expansion of the services proposed, through high level vocational training. I was asked for training in marketing, given the age old practice otherwise in rural Sri Lanka of farmers being exploited in times of abundant harvest, while requests for expertise in value addition plus micro-credit to set up agri-business projects were also advanced.
The latter I have adverted to already, while the training, and support to establish cooperatives, could easily be provided, not necessarily by the military, but through organizations promoted by the military.
This would not amount to militarization, for there exists a civilian institute which could readily set up appropriate mechanisms, under civilian administration and pedagogical leadership. I refer to the Kotelawala Defence University, which has in the last few years begun a number of academic courses, which are more professionally run than in other universities which suffer from both political upheavals and political interference.
There is no reason whatsoever why the KDU should not pioneer that higher level vocational and technical training, leading even to degrees if sufficient soft skills are included, that our system of tertiary training so badly needs.
Traditional education systems
I was delighted, for instance, to find that the Police in the Vanni had instituted, with German support, training in Counselling, stepping in to fill a breach that our traditional education systems have ignored. This too, along with physiotheraphy as noted in the initial proposal, could be provided through Diploma Courses conducted by civilians but under KDU administration.
Certainly I see no other way of responding swiftly to the psycho-social needs that have not been properly addressed in the last few years – and I should note that this will necessarily apply also to servicemen in the South, as they adjust to civilian conditions throughout the country.
Areas that were not seen as problematic, but which were of great interest when the subject was broached at Reconciliation meetings, were those of sports and entertainment, since facilities for these are poor in areas recently resettled.
The input of the forces, and the Police in particular, to sports training is appreciated, but it would be immensely beneficial if assistance in setting up structures to promote these were made available, including support in building sports grounds and cultural centres.
We have advocated setting up Committees for Social and Cultural Activities in Grama Niladhari Divisions, and while these civilian committees should make the decisions, in the early stages they will be benefited immensely by organizational support as well as advice from those with greater familiarity with activities in these areas.
The military could also contribute to physical needs, and I am sorry that this has not been done coherently, as opposed to immediately after the end of the conflict when they helped with water supplies and basic road construction. When a more structured approach was instituted, concentration was necessarily on the bigger projects.
Though the impact of these is understood and appreciated, more attention could also have been paid to small scale works through local organizations, assisted for both engineering and construction by military expertise. I should note that such programmes should be undertaken in collaboration with local authorities and under their supervision, though the military structure will help to make the work more efficient and more swiftly responsive to particular needs.
All this would be even more appreciated if we worked more swiftly to making the forces multi-ethnic. Much has been done in this respect as regards the Police. The complaints that were common two years ago, about there being no one who understood Tamil in police stations, are now forgotten, with the rapid recruitment of Tamil speaking police. But more could be done, and also efforts to ensure that many more Sinhala speaking policemen became functionally bilingual.
This has happened, as the more enterprising learn from their colleagues, but not to a sufficient extent. At the very least, to help things along, conversation classes could be set up in schools so that the Police can learn Tamil while teaching Sinhala to anyone who wants it.
With the army, recruitment has been slower, and this is an area in which much more needs to be done. Cadet battalions have now been set up in many Northern Schools, but this should have been done earlier, and should be promoted on a larger scale, in the East too. And there should be more careful planning to promote integration, perhaps through twinning of schools for this purpose, and competitions which ensure regional mixing in the teams that participate.
I should add that the scheme instituted some years back by the Secretary of Defence, to recruit potential English teachers of all communities as cadet masters, was an excellent method of achieving two objectives together, but I believe that, with its customary opposition to good initiatives, the Ministry of Education has not allowed this to continue.
Not only to overcome this problem, it would also make sense, given the complaint one hears that insufficient qualified students apply for the forces, including the police, to establish feeder academies, as the British for instance did in the 19th century when they needed to broadbase their army and in particular their officer cadre. It is vital after all for Tamils and Tamil speaking youngsters to be represented adequately in the officer cadre too, and for this systematic preparation is needed.
While former combatants should also be considered for such careers, it is vital to develop amongst youngsters in schools now a sense that the forces belong to the nation, and not to any particular community, and that they can aspire to join without diffidence. I should add that, were such academies to concentrate on the three languages, plus IT and sports and vocational subjects, they would give to a large number, not necessarily only to those keen to join the forces, the paper qualifications needed for productive employment in government, as well as abroad.
I have dealt hitherto with those aspects which, in the Draft National Reconciliation Policy prepared in my office, were referred to as Recovery and Equitable Development, getting right the balance that had been upset, first by measures that seemed to hijack the state for the benefit of the majority, and then the damage to land and body and soul resulting from the need to eliminate terrorism. But, as we have noted there, we must also increase political participation and administrative accountability, while also seeking justice and truth and understanding.
The role of the forces is less important here, but I believe it is necessary to combat a myth that is propagated by those who are opposed to reconciliation and still pursue a separatist agenda, that reconciliation is impossible without retribution. The term used is accountability but, while the uncertainty of those on all sides who have lost their loved ones must be appreciated and assuaged as possible, this cannot be accompanied by witch- hunts.
I believe the government has moved in the right direction in this respect, in changing its earlier view that three of the seven categories into which former LTTE combatants were divided might be prosecuted. Only those in the first category, I believe, still remain for further investigation and possible indictment. Similarly, many of those held in detention during the course of the war have been released, while others are undergoing Rehabilitation.
Some members of the TNA indeed have complained about this, on the grounds that former combatants are being treated better than comparatively innocent victims of the war, but I believe such criticisms are wrong-headed, given that we must accept that the brutalization many of them underwent was not their fault.
All those who connived at conscription, the active apologists for the LTTE, the international agencies working in the Vanni who did not denounce conscription or indeed even inform government of this (until the Norwegian ambassador wearily described to us the actual situation), even UNICEF which lamely sought to excuse conscription of those aged 17 on the grounds that LTTE legislation, as the Head of UNICEF termed the authoritarianism of terrorists, allowed it, seem to me more culpable than the poor youngsters who were turned into killing machines.
I would certainly be against protracted investigation of these former combatants to try to charge them, though of course we cannot ignore deliberate terrorist acts.
In the case of our own Armed Forces, of course, we must have higher standards, and that is why where prima facie cases are made, we must investigate and indict when evidence is available. But to assume that Reconciliation depends on this is to fly in the face of all international experience, with regard to countries recovering from internal conflict, as well as justice. Conversely, we must move forward quickly on certification, and on ensuring that claims with regard to lands and inheritance are swiftly dealt with.
We know that there will be conflicting claims about land, which is why indeed the Law Commission was asked several years ago to recommend mechanisms to avoid injustice as a result of prescriptive rights that could be asserted. Unfortunately the required amendments have taken time, but I hope these will be passed quickly, and allocations made, with due compensation too for those who have reason based on long occupation for their claims.
At the same time the suffering of those driven out many years ago, in particular the Muslims of the North, must be addressed expeditiously.
Finally, while this is not the place to discuss political reforms, I should note again the principles that should govern these, namely empowerment of the people, and accountability towards them. For this we must make sure that our systems of government are more coherent.
I have written about this at length in a paper on Emerging Challenges of Governance to be presented next week at a Conference arranged by an Indian and a Sri Lankan think tank, and I hope this will be the precursor to more seriousness on the part of Sri Lankan purported think tanks, which are nothing like as constructive as their Indian counterparts – or indeed counterparts anywhere else in the world.
It is ultimately on the manner in which we govern ourselves that the pluralistic prosperity of this country will depend. For that we need better organization and training, and I believe the manner in which the forces have developed those aspects can be a model for us all.