Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Renowned Lankan diplomat recognises SLU at Reconciliation Commission hearings

In his formal representation to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) today, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala (a former UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs and former Foreign Secretary) mentioned the work of Sri Lanka Unites, and touted the movement as a "great example on how to move forward" from the 30 year long war in Sri Lanka that ended last May. Here are some exerpts from his representation, obtained from the official transcript recorded by the Commission.

The following question was raised by a Commissioner, Mr. C. Chanmugam:

"Mr. Dhanapala you made some very pertinent remarks on youth organizations and their possible contribution towards improving the reconciliation process as well as improving the base of our societal reforms. Is it possible for you to expand a little bit more on your experiences? Thank you"

Exerpt from Amb. Dhanapala's response:

"I was invited by a group of young persons at the level of university to be on the Board of Trustees along with several others of a group called Sri Lanka Unites and we were able to participate in a major conference that took place last year where over 350 schools were represented by prefects and head prefects of these various schools speaking in 3 different languages – in English, Sinhala and Tamil – with simultaneous translations. They participated firstly very hesitantly because they had never met each other[...]they were meeting people of other ethnic groups for the first time. There were of course mutual suspicions inevitably. But over a period of time with the various activities that were organized for them by this group and by listening to a number of adult speakers from different parts of the country we had a breaking down of their traditional attitudes and the bonding of all these young people together and these bonds survived well beyond the conference. They had visits organized bilaterally between schools in Jaffna and schools in Colombo as well as other schools in different parts of the country. They were encouraged to form reconciliation clubs in their own areas so that they could continue the message of reconciliation that was so vital. Some of them had lost members of their own family in the conflict and therefore there were feelings of bitterness and anger which did not evaporate overnight but over a period of time diminished."
He went on to add:

"And this year a similar conference was held with also a large number of people; again people coming in from different parts of the world and establishing links as citizens of Sri Lanka 15 and as young people being able to adopt common aspirations for the country. And it was a very moving experience for me. I was there only for a day to speak to them but from the reports I have been getting from the youth leaders – these are called future leaders conferences – and I think it is a nucleus of a very important mass movement that can take place. Of course funding is a problem. They have to get sponsorship from various private sector organizations but if there is more of this I think we can spread the message of reconciliation amongst the youth because they are the future of our country and while our generation may have said to have failed the country that generation I think has a unique opportunity of doing some good for our country."

The Sri Lankan Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa commenced sittings at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKIIRSS), Colombo, from August 11. It comprises of respected personalities like C.R. de Silva (head of the Commission), C. Chanmugam, Manohari Ramanathan, H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, Rohan Perera, Karu Hangawatte, M.T.M.Jiffry and M.P.P. Paranagama.
It is yet unclear as to the full mandate of the Commission, and whether it's narrow scope will be able to fully address issues of national reconciliation, race and religious relations, restorative justice, and have mechanisms to openly hear and address grievances of those affected, from all communities. However, several key current and former decision-makers and eminent personalities have been summoned to make representations at the Commission's public hearings. They include:
  • Gotabaya Rajapakse (Defence Secretary)
  • Bernard Goonetilleke (fmr. head of the Peace Secretariat)
  • V. Anandasangaree (MP, and leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front - TULF)
  • Godfrey Goonetilleke (Director of the Marga Institute)
  • Hiranthi Wijemanne (fmr. Head of the National Child Protection Authority)
  • Austin Fernando (fmr. Defence Secretary)
  • Rajiva Wijesinha (MP, and fmr. head of the Peace Secretariat)
  • Rajan Asiriwathan (a leading accounting professional and fmr. Bank of Ceylon chief )

The Commission hearings are ongoing, as this post is published. Many others are expected to make verbal representations, following which, the public will be able to send in written submissions.

Some news coverage of the LLRC hearings, and analysis:

'Official transcript of LLRC oral submission by Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala'

'Lanka's Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission sessions begin tomorrow'

'Sri Lanka's Reconciliation Commission to hear from people in conflict-affected areas'

'Why the lessons learnt and reconciliation commission must deliver'

'International community should take Sri Lanka as an example - Defence secretary tells LLRC '

'Sri Lankan war inquiry commission opens amid criticism'

[post updated on 02nd Sept. 2010]

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