7 Years After War, Sri Lanka on Path to Peace

7 Years After War, Sri Lanka on Path to Peace7 Years After War, Sri Lanka on Path to Peace

For seven years, the ethnic Tamil housewife has waited for news of a son who vanished near the frenzied end of Sri Lanka’s quarter-century-long civil war.

 After so much time, she has little faith that the Sinhalese-majority government will help solve such mysteries and heal old wounds.

“The government just talks about good governance, but no good seems to be coming,” she said, weeping, AP reported.

For the hundreds of thousands of minority ethnic Tamils like Shantha, the government’s repeated promises of postwar reconciliation ring false, even as authorities take tentative steps toward fulfilling some of them.

Tamil rebels demanding self-rule fought the government from 1983 to 2009 before being crushed by Sri Lanka’s Army. While the UN counts some 100,000 people killed in the fighting, rights groups believe the number was much higher, including some 40,000 civilians believed to have been killed in the war’s final months.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa led the military in crushing the rebellion and continued to rule until last year, when he lost an election to Maithripala Sirisena.

  Building Reconciliation

Many expected a new era of national healing and atonement, but more than a year later, there has only been slow progress as Sirisena cautiously balances the anguished demands of the Tamils with the persistent fears of the Sinhalese majority.

“It’s very difficult. It’s very challenging,” Sirisena said during last month’s ceremony in Colombo honoring soldiers on the seventh anniversary of their victory over separatist rebels.

His government has handed back some of the property seized by the army, discontinued the military’s involvement in civil administration and policing, and lifted bans on some Tamil expatriate groups that had previously supported the rebels’ separatist cause, with the aim of opening communications with them. Sinhalese nationalist groups are already rallying against these moves.

“Building reconciliation aimed at non-recurrence of violence can never be done with bricks, cement, iron, sand or any other material,” Sirisena said. “It’s about bringing people’s minds together; uniting hurting minds; uniting minds full of hatred.”

  War Crimes

In the next UN Human Rights Council sessions starting June 13, the High Commissioner for Human Rights is set to brief on Sri Lanka’s progress toward reconciliation.

Sri Lanka won praise last year for finally promising a war-crimes investigation with international participation. The government also set up a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution likely to grant Tamils more political power, rights and protections against discrimination. The Cabinet created an office to find missing people, though rights groups say it is being set up without consulting victims’ families as promised. The government has also promised various reforms intended to prevent a return of hostilities, but several have yet to be implemented.

The delays feed frustrations among Tamils waiting for the return of their land, for justice for war abuses or for knowledge of what happened to missing loved ones.