« Returning after an emotional day in Mullivaikkal, nine years after the end of the war, I struggle to keep faith that the few exceptional voices and initiatives will prevail and Sri Lanka will overcome the May 18 disconnect. Reconciliation will remain elusive till then. »
Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera est décédé à Singapour des suites d’une intervention chirurgicale. Né en 1942, ce moine bouddhiste influent, supérieur du monastère de Kotte, s’était imposé sur la scène politique de Sri Lanka dans les années 1980-1990 en défendant avec virulence la cause nationaliste cingalaise contre le mouvement séparatiste tamoul. Après la défaite des LTTE en 2009, il avait pris ses distances vis à vis de la politique triomphaliste menée par le Président Mahinda Rajapaksa, puis avait mené campagne contre la corruption du régime, fédérant les mécontentements au point d’envisager de se présenter aux élections présidentielles. Il avait finalement soutenu la candidature de Maithripala Sirisena, contribuant à son succès, et avait infléchi ses positions dans le sens d’une ouverture aux revendications des minorités et d’un dialogue interreligieux constructif. Sa disparition prive le nouveau régime d’un important appui symbolique.
Dans un important discours prononcé à l’occasion de la commémoration du 25ème anniversaire de l’expulsion des Musulmans de la province Nord par les LTTE (Tigres de Libération du Tamil Eelam), le Ministre des Affaires Etrangères de Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera, analyse les causes profondes des conflits intercommunautaires qui ont déchiré le pays, et pose les bases d’un processus endogène de réconciliation nationale.
» I would like to thank the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress for organizing this commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Expulsion of Muslims from the North. At this historic juncture, when Sri Lanka is grappling with its past and creating a constitutional framework for true peace, this tragic episode in our history, and the anguish that persists to this day, needs to be remembered and addressed.
I would like to particularly thank Minister Rauff Hakeem for his vision and leadership in organizing this event – it is a privilege to be invited here to speak a few words. The SLMC has a long and chequered history of advocating on behalf their community’s rights. Both the late Mr. Ashraff and Minister Hakeem have boldly voiced the grievances and concerns of the Muslim community in Cabinet, in Parliament, in the press and in their travels abroad. The SLMC’s fact-finding and reporting efforts during the Aluthgama Pogrom and surrounding attacks were particularly bold.
The history and suffering of Sri Lanka’s Northern Muslims is a microcosm of our post-Independence history. In October 1990 the LTTE gave 75,000 Muslims under forty-eight hours to leave their ancestral homes across the North and take nothing more than their clothes and 500 rupees to live in IDP camps – where an estimated 80 percent remain 25 years later.
They had peacefully lived, farmed and traded with their Tamil brethren for centuries. In fact, some Muslims initially helped the LTTE and many more were sympathetic to their cause. The bonds between the communities were close. Therefore, the LTTE’s sudden order came as a surprise to many. It was a crime that shocked the conscience of the entire country.
The LTTE’s justification echoed the age-old line of majorities towards minorities: they, the majority, had been lenient, generous and considerate, while the minorities have been treacherous and ungrateful. In this case, the Tigers alleged that the Muslims’ specific crime was colluding with the state and the Indian Peacekeeping Forces.
But underlying the arguments about Muslims being a fifth column and a security threat to the LTTE was something more pernicious. It was a belief that the power of numerical majority was a justification for violating the rights of individuals and minority groups.
The North of Sri Lanka was as much home for its Muslim population as it was for its Tamil population. Both communities had as much claim as the other to live there and these claims were not contested. The two communities had lived together for centuries in peace.
But the LTTE believed that the Tamil population’s numerical majority gave it the right to expel the entire Muslim population. It was not just the LTTE, few Tamils criticized the LTTE while many justified their actions; even today Muslims returning to their homes face majoritarian resistance from Tamil bureaucrats.
The story is of course many-sided. Numerous Tamils weeped when their Muslim neighbors left, hiding valuables on their behalf and helping them in what little way they could. But as a whole, the majority community, failed to stand in solidarity and protect the rights of the minority community in their midst.
The expulsion occurred because the LTTE was unable to accept a society based on equality and freedom; they were unable to accept that North was multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious. They were unable to celebrate diversity. They were even unable to have the basic decency to give the community they exiled a few extra days or weeks to leave and to take their heirlooms and title deeds with them.
The racism and majoritarianism undergirding the LTTE’s expulsion of Muslims from the North is not something isolated to the Tamil community. It prevails to this day among all communities in our society. Just as the LTTE was unable to accept a multi-ethnic North, extremists in the South are unable to celebrate our country’s diversity – much the less accept that Tamils, Muslims, Burghers and Malays are as much a part of Sri Lanka as the Sinhalese.
Especially since the end of the war, which should have ushered introspection, magnanimity and healing, majoritarianism in the South raised its ugly head. The government indulged in an orgy of triumphalism based on equating Sri Lanka’s identity with the Sinhala-Buddhist community, and relegated the minority communities to the place of unwanted guests.
They ignored the grievances of those in the North and the South and trampled on their rights. The Aluthgama Pogrom and the hundreds of smaller attacks surrounding it were a clear signal to minorities that they were not only second-class citizens but that the state had abdicated from discharging its basic responsibilities towards them, including safeguarding their person and property.
In fact, it is this scourge of majoritarianism that is at the very centre of our post-Independence failure to build a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka that is united and undivided both on the map and in its citizens’ hearts and minds. Each and every ethnic, religious, class and caste group discriminates and oppresses in areas where they form a majority whether it be in the North, South, East or West.
At this critical moment in Sri Lanka’s history the lessons of the expulsion have much to teach us. Since Independence we have failed to establish a society where all citizens feel equal and free and, as a result, instead of peace, conflict has prevailed.
The end of the war presented a historic opportunity for all our communities and leaders to demonstrate true leadership by breaking away from the past and beginning the task of building a truly united Sri Lanka. Just as Muslims and Tamils lived together as brothers and sisters in the North for centuries; prior to Independence in 1948, Sri Lanka had many centuries of ethnic amity and peace.
Of course, there were disturbances, like the 1915 riots, but they were isolated and rare. Even before the colonial era, Sri Lanka enjoyed a highly syncretic culture – there is evidence that Buddhism was widely practiced by the Tamils of Jaffna, Tamil was spoken by the kings of Kandy and there are some indications that the language of court was Tamil; Muslims generally speak both Sinhalese and Tamil and thus it could be argued that they are the most Sri Lankan of all the ethnic groups. They were also functionaries at the Dalada Maligawa and participated in the Kandy Esala Perahera. The religious and cultural practices of Sri Lanka’s many communities indicate a high degree of tolerance and borrowing.
We need to understand why that amity broke down, and why it broke down to the extent that war and violence followed.
The challenge for us today is to learn from our past failures, remedy mistakes and move forward. This is a rare opportunity we cannot miss. Speaking in Parliament last Friday I said, “Sri Lanka has yet another window of opportunity to come to terms with its past and move on. Extremists in the North and in the South have been defeated in the recent elections, two of the most liberal minded leaders since independence are leading the country and the two main parties, for the first time in history, have formed a national unity government. This is a moment we cannot afford to lose.”
But it will not be an easy or a pleasant process: we will have to look critically at our own faults and strive hard to hear the voices of others. It will require courage and commitment. But I am confident it can be done.
The TNA recently announced that it would be leading its own community in a process of introspection. The SLMC, welcoming this statement, indicated that it would do so as well. The National Government comprising of both the United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party have committed themselves to guiding the entire country in this difficult process of dealing with the past.
As for the Government of Sri Lanka – as you are aware- we are now beginning to lay the foundations for peace and reconciliation through truth-seeking, accountability, reparations and non-recurrence. Already the Office of National Unity and Reconciliation, the Ministry of Resettlement and other government agencies are taking steps to assist in this process, and just yesterday I met with civil society, including representatives of the Muslim community, to discuss the consultations process necessary to design the mechanisms to implement this process.
Muslims will be an integral part of the truth, justice, reparations and non-recurrence process.
Muslims’ grievances and concerns will be a part of the consultations, design and operationalization of the domestic mechanisms; including the Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, the Judicial Mechanism, the Office of Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations. Together with the Ministries and government agencies, these mechanisms, will provide much needed relief to the daily struggle of the thousands of Muslims who remain in IDP camps, are struggling to return to their homes or are dealing with the losses of loved ones.
These mechanisms will not only address the suffering and grievances of members of the Muslim community, they will also address the grievances and concerns of members of the Sinhala and Tamil communities and the concerns of other minority groups.
At this historic moment, let us not be afraid to engage in meaningful dialogue aimed at finding solutions to problems as opposed to pointing fingers, heaping blame and scoring political points at the expense of future generations. Let us design, define and create our future by our hopes and aspirations, and not be held back by the fears and prejudices of the past. Let us not be afraid to dream. »
« A half year after Maithripala Sirisena’s stunning defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa raised hopes for democratic renaissance, the complexities of partisan politics, and Rajapaksa himself, have returned to centre stage. Sirisena’s initial months with a minority government led by the United National Party (UNP) have opened important political space: robust debate and criticism have replaced the fear under Rajapaksa, and important governance reforms have been made, but much remains undone. By initial steps on reconciliation, the government set a more accommodating tone on the legacy of the civil war and the ethnic conflict that drove it. But divisions within government and Sirisena’s failure to take control of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) prevented deeper reform and allowed Rajapaksa and his supporters to mount a comeback. With Sirisena opposing Rajapaksa’s return, the 17 August parliamentary elections will test the continued appeal of the ex-president’s hardline Sinhala nationalism and give a chance for the fresh start that lasting solutions to the country’s social divisions require. »
Keynote address delivered at the opening night of ‘Watch this space‘ exhibition at the Park Street Mews. The exhibition runs till the 16th of August. Details of the event and the associated public talks, keynotes and theatre here.
« The time will come in the near future where we in Sri Lanka will have to think of memorialization in greater depth. The armed forces would have to find a way of commemorating those who died and communities have to find a way to remember those who were killed, whether at the national or local level. To do this we must go back to Daniel, Nietzsche and Peirce; we must remember the important role of art in this whole process. If we are to have any reconciliation, the artistic community must be fully involved and if I may say so, perhaps take the lead. It is up to all of you to remind us of our humanity, in a way that only you can, and to help take this country forward. I hope this talk will inspire you in that direction. »
« The road blocks and military checkpoints are gone, and the restrictions on foreign tourists and journalists visiting the area have been lifted.
But the mostly Tamil residents of Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna peninsula say much more still needs to be done to heal the wounds of a long civil war — and they are pinning their hopes on an upcoming general election.
Jaffna voted overwhelmingly in January’s presidential election to oust the strongman incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse, who maintained de facto martial law in the region. »
Sri Lanka, a palm-fringed island in the Indian Ocean, is in the sixth year of peace. But as the country prepares for elections in August, the legacy of its long civil war still casts a shadow.
The intervening years have been especially painful for the families of the thousands who disappeared in three decades of conflict and remain unaccounted for.
The trauma endures in the fishing village of Mannar in the Northern Province, where most of the fighting unfolded between the Tamil rebels and the government forces. Residents say men were snatched off the streets « in broad daylight, » bundled into vans, and never seen again.
Addressing reporters in the capital of Colombo during the conclusion of his four-day visit to the Asian country, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, applauded Sri Lanka for its democratic elections and peaceful transition and reiterated Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s claim that the island nation was entering a “moment of historic opportunity.”
A U.N. envoy urged Sri Lanka’s new government on Tuesday to address skepticism among ethnic Tamils about its efforts to promote post-war reconciliation, saying there should be more progress in accountability and in human rights issues
The ‘Declaration of Peace’ by the Government of Sri Lanka at the 67th Independence Day Celebrations held on 4th February 2015 is a notable shift in its recognition of the past and the need for healing and unity. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) made a similar recommendation, as did the United Nations Secretary General’s Panel of Experts (PoE). Recognizing the past is the first in a process needed to address past violations, provide answers regarding missing persons, initiate independent mechanisms to hold alleged perpetrators to account and end the culture of impunity.
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday morning, beginning the first leg of a week-long visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Below, please find the full text and audio of the Holy Father’s remarks at the arrival ceremony at the international airport of the Sri Lankan capital.
It would be important for the Pope not to be carried away too much with election celebrations, which is predominantly Sinhalese feeling. I hope the Pope will be able to address key issues related Tamils and Muslims, which have not been addressed by the President Sirisena’s manifesto. This will include processes towards power sharing and addressing serious violations of human rights and humanitarian laws. President Sirisena’s past conduct and that of some of his allies, which have been very nationalist and pro-war, anti-minority, doesn’t give Tamils and Muslims much confidence and hope even in the new government. Clearly, it was their desperate need to get rid of Rajapakse family rule that led them to vote for Sirisena.
« The new Sri Lankan president, Maithripala Sirisena, has a chance to make some changes, but only if he can keep an uncertain coalition together. Resetting relations with Delhi and Washington will be an important part of this – and his country’s friends need to give him some space. »
« The vote is an indication that the campaign for democracy, reconciliation and demilitarisation has emerged victorious. But we have a tremendous challenge. I am compelled to say that the North has voted for change. It is our duty to deliver the freedom for the people. The women in the North who are tillers of the land want their rights. Their faces and tears once again reminded me of the difference between my reality and their life experiences. The massive difference of votes between the swan and the beetle leaf in the Tamil homeland has to be understood properly. Sinhala political leader who are going to lead this country towards changhe has been trusted by them to take them towards this new future. I hope and pray we will not let them down.
I salute the citizen’s of Sri Lanka for igniting their conscience after several years. »
Sonali Samarasinghe to Mahinda Rajapaksa:
« The irony of the presidential election being fixed for the sixth anniversary of the day on which my husband and your ‘friend’, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated, may have escaped you. It has not escaped me. »