Monday, January 5, 2009

Peace in the new context

According to the census in 1921, the total population in Sri Lanka was 4.5 million whereas the population today is just over 20 million people. Therefore, migration from densely populated areas to more suburban areas has become a mandatory phenomenon. Though 54% of the Tamils live among the Sinhalese in the South, Sinhalese migration to North and the East of Sri Lanka has been felt as a threat by the LTTE. Tragically, entire Sinhalese villages have been annihilated by LTTE in certain parts of the North and the East as a hostile gesture. Despite such ethnic tensions, the need for a distributed development of infrastructure and freedom for migration within Sri Lanka is felt with more vigor than ever before. Furthermore, the demand for a traditional homeland of 2/3 of the coast and 1/3 of the total landmass of Sri Lanka for 46% of the Tamils who live in the North and the East (6% of the total population) is increasingly felt as an unfair demand in a country with so much pressure for internal migration and co-existence of multiple ethnic groups.Therefore, the historical arguments based on conditions prevailed a quarter century ago are no longer relevant to a dialog for peace today. The war itself has transformed both ethnic communities from who they were in 1983 to who they are today with dramatic changes in the fundamentals in their thinking. For instance, soon after the Government captured Kilinochchi, two bomb blasts took place in Colombo targeting civilians. However, the celebrating communities did not use their unity and upbeat mood to harm a single Tamil civilian in Colombo. However, it would have been different in 1983. Therefore, the process of dialog should provide room for all Tamil and Sinhalese views and concerns to interact among each other without threats from LTTE or the Government armed forces.

It is my personal belief that the emergence of greater National goals centered around respect for human life will be the basis for a solution. A healthy dialog among different communities could evolve that if they speak out their hearts. At least during the 2004 Tsunami disaster, it was seen that such powerful National goals have helped to bring peace to Aceh province in Indonesia, whereas the LTTE's hard stand on the petty political objective for an Interim Self Governing Authority (ISGA) shattered all hopes of a collective effort to serve the Tsunami affected communities in the East. A National dream that transcends such rudimentary political goals should emerge providing room for all ethnic groups to find opportunities to achieve their individual religious, cultural, economic, philosophical, and ethnic aspirations with dignity. Therefore, this dialog should happen with wider participation of the general public free from political pressure from armed groups. Ideally, new political leaders should emerge whose vision transcend tribalism and racism.

More specifically, my personal suggestion is to decentralize power to local authorities to set regional development priorities, collect Taxes, and law enforcement to uphold basic human rights such as language rights, religious belief rights, etc. Full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the constitution could be an immediate step towards this direction. Moreover, private sector leadership should be allowed to serve community aspirations. This can be accommodated if the Government monopolies are dissolved in areas such as aviation, ports and shipping, energy, etc. Instead, the central Government should give high priority to improve access to education. Nearly 97% of the Sri Lankans today can not have a university education even if they have financial resources to secure a paid education, due to Government restrictions on private sector involvement in University education. Youth should get wider opportunities for higher education either through state universities or private universities, for any sensible distributed economic growth. This would also help eliminate some of the root causes of this conflict. Furthermore, the central Government should allocate more resources to strengthen the legal bodies and law enforcement infrastructure to uphold human rights. It is my belief that an important part of sustained peace is the perception of the people of a country that the Government has enough regulations and mechanisms to protect their human rights as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. All Sri Lankan police officers should be trained to genuinely appreciate the importance of upholding human rights of people regardless of their social status, ethnic or religious background, or Nationality. Finally, Democratic institutions and traditions should be strengthened to make sure a healthy political dialog will continue to shape up the Sri Lankan Government to serve the aspirations of all its c itizens.

However, if Sri Lankan Tamils continue to be victims of world Tamil Movements to create a Tamil Homeland in Sri Lanka, no Government will be able to quench their thirst for they will never be allowed to settle down for anything less than a Tamil state. They will be forced to find some fault in the system and interpret it as a deliberate discrimination against the minority Tamils, when the truth is they are just a victimized tip of the 100 million Tamils in the iceberg. This dimension of the problem can not be addressed without effective regional cooperation. Therefore, the Government of Sri Lanka should always pay due care to maintain healthy regional cooperation and a dialog with our own Tamils to prevent them from becoming prey to Global predators.

Thrishantha Nanayakkara

Thrishantha is a Radclifffe Fellow at Harvard University, USA.
Email: thrishantha@gmail.com

1 comment:

Lloyd said...

Well said!