Wednesday, February 29, 2012

For peace in Sri Lanka, government should learn from past failures, say Catholic bishops

In a press release, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri Lanka has called on the government to dismantle illegal armed groups, draft a list of people who went missing during the civil war and translate all official government documents in both Sinhalese and Tamil. 

This way, the report issued by the Lessons Learnt e Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to investigate the final phase of the war can be more effectively implemented. 

Released in December 2011 after a year's work, the report contains some proposals for national reconciliation.

Almost three years since the end of the civil war, the country is still licking its wounds. 

However, the government continues to borrow money to invest in mega tourist projects (taking a heavy toll on the environment and on thousands of farmers and fishermen) and build up the country's armed forces.

In the meantime, more than 200,000 people are languishing in refugee camps, unable to go home to their villages or move elsewhere. On Jaffna Peninsula alone, 39,000 war widows live without any kind of public help or job to earn a living. At the same time, some 12,000 people, mostly men, are still missing, vanished in thin air, with the authorities providing no account for their fate or whereabouts.

For many, the LLRC report is a response to a UN report released on 26 April 2011, which blamed the Sri Lankan government for the death of 40,000 civilians in air bombings or cold-blooded executions.

Two days ago, a resolution went before the United Nations Human Rights Council on alleged abuses by the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels during the civil war. On the same day, the government organised anti-UN protests across the island.

In their press release, signed by Card Malcolm Ranjith and Mgr Norbert Andradi, respectively the president and the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Sri lanka, the bishops say "another valuable opportunity" should not "to pass us by". 

In fact, "We believe that it is not incorrect to state that the most unfortunate experience of war was the result of thousands of missed opportunities. Hence, it is our great responsibility to clinch yet another vital opportunity God places before us."

For this reason, "The report needs to be disseminated to the masses. It would be necessary to have the report, particularly its recommendations, translated into the two official languages of the nation."

"Let all that concerns good governance be implemented. Illegal armed groups need to be disarmed. We also urge that the government to address the painful issue of missing persons and present a list of those who are still in custody as it always helps anyone to know if and when his or her loved ones are no more."

The bishops also called for a cultural renaissance through art, drama and music. 

"We need," they argue, "to identify the linguistic and cultural commonalities and affinities in establishing a Sri Lankan identify and be mindful of the fact Sinhalese and Tamil cultures have very rich roots".