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National reconciliation – the need of the hour

Prof. Savithri Goonesekera, Prof. Kumar David and Dr Dayan Jayatillake who were the resource persons at a panel discussion arranged by Caritas Sri Lanka at the SEDEC auditorium on 25th February came out strongly on the urgent need for national reconciliation in Sri Lanka.

Welcoming the participants to this event, Rev Fr George Sigamoney, National Director of Caritas Sri Lanka said that right from  start of the ethnic conflict, the Catholic Church had always worked towards dialogue, negotiation, peace, reconciliation and healing even despite the fact that the military conflict ended up in a brutal war.

The panelists, while highlighting the different dimensions of the reconciliation process itself, enunciated their own perspectives on the current socio-political realities both within and outside the country.

Focusing on the issue mainly from an international standpoint, Dr Jayatileke questioned whether accountability alone, combined with the proposed international investigation on Sri Lanka, will bring about reconciliation?  Such an investigation on the alleged war crimes committed in the last stages of the ethnic war in Sri Lanka will only widen the gap between the communities and accelerate the tendencies towards political confrontation, Dr Jayatileke said. Echoing the sentiments of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who had opposed all forms of foreign interventions in the internal affairs of this country, Dr Jayatileke noted  that His Eminence the Cardinal had also asked for speedy implementation of the LLRC Recommendations relating to national reconciliation.

Prof. Goonesekera chose to address the issue of reconciliation from a domestic outlook and said that reconciliation requires a synergy with reconstruction, where reconstruction would be understood as a sustainable, people-centred development and not merely as infrastructural improvements. She noted that political reconciliation is also of paramount importance.  Where the people are concerned, there is already a lot of goodwill and generosity among members of the different communities, she said, adding therefore that Sri Lanka may not have to be spoken of as a divided nation. On the other hand, the State has failed to play a leadership role in taking forward the work of reconciliation and in promoting interreligious dialogue, Prof. Goonesekera pointed out. Rather, what we have seen is a decline in the areas of governance and this has made reconciliation more difficult to achieve, she said.

Prof. Kumar David spoke of the need to persuade the Sinhalese and Tamil people to understand and accept pluralism. Referring to the period that would follow the UNHRC meeting in Geneva in March, he said that it raises some worries about possible international sanctions as well as the possible eruption of extreme nationalism within the country. On the local political scene, he said that the Government must grasp the opportunity of working with the newly-elected Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) and implementing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It will be unfortunate if the Tamil people of the North begin to feel that the Government is obstructing the NPC, Prof. David noted. He added that presently there is a bad relationship between these two structures and this could only be remedied through negotiations and compromises.

The panel discussion concluded with a synthesis by Fr George Sigamoney who moderated the sessions, followed by a Vote of Thanks by Mr Newman Fernando, Senior Executive Manager of Caritas Sri Lanka.