When the country gained independence in 1948 the concept of social equality was unknown to the people. The patriotism of the Sinhala people was based on historical memory of past struggles in which their religious and political independence eroded and lost due to the destructions of different waves of foreign invaders. Sinhalese, being the majority saw it as an opportunity to govern the country. On the other hand Tamils being the minority on realizing they will be dominated by the majority Sinhalese found expression in the memory that three independent kingdoms existed before the colonial powers visited the island’s shores. British, the architect of the first constitution of the country understood the plight of the minorities in a democracy and provided sufficient safeguard for the minorities and it was on the basis of this safeguard that Tamils consented in the granting of independence in 1948. There after same constitution was used as the draft by the British when they granted independence to other colonies.
Under democracy the majority Sinhalese regained the eroded religious and political independence in no time and the safeguards in the constitution enabled the minorities to coexist with them. Then it was not an issue to sing the national anthem in the language of the singer. Tamil anthem was an exact translation of the Sinhala version and sung to the same tune at functions dominated by Tamils, mainly in north and east of Sri Lanka. Gradually, the religions and languages that were neglected during colonial rule all regained their pride of place in the country. In1956 to commemorate the 2500 years of Buddhism, Buddha Jayanthi was celebrated nationally in a grand scale.
But gradually greed for power took preference over democratic rule and discrimination by the majority took root that steered them to bad governance. Constitution was replaced and changes introduced. Due to the level of ignorance about other communities the nation got divided and had to face youth rebellions that led the country to the bloody civil war. The security forces liberated the people by bringing the brutal war to an end with military assistance from many countries and in the process human rights of people in the war zone were gravely violated, that was justified by the then government as the price paid to end the war.
After the war the state should have taken initiative to create an environment for reconciliation between communities. For only when the citizen recognize and find a balance between the two strong ethnic-based patriotisms national understanding will occur in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, the greed for power took control and more discriminatory policies were pursued by the government making mockery of democracy. Not surprisingly an internationally driven policy shift took place, which led the civil society to campaign against the government. The resulting wind of change blew the power throne from the rulers, when people voted against the rulers at the elections. Since the election of the National Unity Government formed took necessary steps to restore democracy and the responsibility to commence the process of reconciliation.
Today the breakaway opposition is spreading fears into the minds of the people that there would be international participation in the accountability mechanisms to be set up by the government to find out if any international crimes and gross human rights violations were committed by individuals on both sides on and off the battle field during the war. Their position at the end of the war was different for they were in power then and they said the security forces did not commit any international crimes nor violate any human rights during the war. But with mounting evidence to the contrary the unity government has co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution for proper investigation of the matter.
With economy stagnating and the investigations on corruptions related matters haunting the legislators it is an uphill task for the National Government to act on the resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council and at the same time get the reforms including the key reform on new constitution prepared and get it passed in Parliament. Though these subjects are all separate, they are interlinked to each other like a cob web and all matters need urgent attention, one cannot be left out in favor of the other or anything else.
In view of the nationalism that continues to be stoked by the breakaway opposition, it has become necessary for the government to take steps to communicate to the people the plans of action to find truth of human rights violations, damages to life and properties caused by to the war, restore justice for all, compensation for victims and provide guarantees of non-recurrence of conditions that led to the war. On the other hand it is necessary for the people to accept that it is not possible to accomplish all this is a short period of time. Because it is the ultimate success of the reconciliation process matters more than its speed.
There are some aspects of the appeasement that require urgent attention and requires some speedy actions, these includes but not limited to rehabilitating the members of the society, who were physically handicapped or made widow by the war, many of whom have dependent family members particularly children. They need to be taken care of and livelihood provisions made for these families. At present they are not under a comprehensive rehabilitation programme and the few help they have received is not total and they are unable to get on with life. The other aspect is that of people who continue to suffer from the consequences of repression and military occupation. The resolution of this to date has not received the urgency needed. A rapid resolution of this problem will also solve the displaced persons who are still in temporary homes. A plan should have been implemented immediately after the war to delist military personal; instead they were utilized to work on an agenda that contributed to the bad governance, much to the dismay of the people who were at the receiving end of the consequences of repression and military occupation. Last but not lease is to make known what has happened to the made disappeared persons and those who are detained in prisons under prevention of terrorism act, which should have been taken off the legal books with the end of war. It is all these matters needing urgent action by the state that greatly contributed to the change of wind that resulted in the formation of the National Unity Government, who has a moral obligation to give urgent attention to these matters.