By Jeanne Samuel
‘Living Reconciliation’ is a wonderful book. There is such a wealth of personal experience that made me think about my own country and its reconciliation process or lack of it after a protracted war. The 30 year conflict in Sri Lanka came to a bloody end in 2009 when the government of Sri Lanka militarily defeated the Tamil Tigers, the militant group seeking a separate state.
The Government of Sri Lanka was the victor and we have what is called the ‘victor’s peace’. Just like it says in Chapter 5 of the ‘Living Reconciliation’ book – peace was declared without reconciliation. One side won. It was a case of the victor and the vanquished. There was no leadership in the likes of Mandela or Tutu. There was no necessity in the eyes of the government for a peace process because it won the war. There were alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed. Military excesses, rape, plunder and land grab have been recorded. The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a resolution on reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. We have a negative peace – no war, no peace.
Six years have passed and no genuine and sincere process is in place. No process of truth telling and accountability. In the six years after the war atrocities continue. Rape, plunder, land grab, extra judicial killings, disappearances, illegal detentions; hundreds of people are held in detention without trial. The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is still in force six years after the war, giving sweeping powers to the armed forces and police. In addition, religious tensions and violence continue. Mosques and churches have been destroyed largely by the Sinhala Buddhist extremists, led by Buddhist monks, much like in Myanmar.
Many of the processes mentioned in ‘Living Reconciliation’ book are of great value. We have been involved in small initiatives by organizing exchange programmes with people from the North and South of Sri Lanka, especially children. But we must start this process in Church. We have the unique opportunity that Tamils and Sinhalese worship together.
What was striking for me personally was that I realised that reconciliation should start with me first. Being an ethnic Tamil, I struggled a lot, and also having worked in the humanitarian sector, I saw so much pain and suffering that it changed me as a person. When I read that Revd Rana Khan prayed among Muslims, I realised what an enormous step that was. I realised my inadequacies of being a Christian reconciler. I realised the importance of transforming rather than resolving.
I saw that the drumbeats have to be the new ones that involve Indaba. We are guilty of beating the loud drumbeat demanding justice and our pound of flesh as it were. We ask for closure. How can we do it when we are not prepared to go through the process of reconciliation so that we can live again as brothers and sisters of one nation?
The Church is involved in interfaith dialogue, congress of religions etc., but I have not seen any real reconciliation in action.
I did my post graduate Studies at the University of Bradford in Yorkshire where I studied Peace and conflict studies. Bradford City had troubled race riots and the Church of England and the university were involved in making Bradford a safe city through dialogue and activities among the communities.
I want to be a part of ‘Living Reconciliation’ and I have as a first step introduced the book to our Bishops and selected clergy who are working for reconciliation. I said we need to start some conversations!
Jeanne Samuel is International Anglican Women Network’s Provincial Link for the Church of Ceylon. Over the past 30 years she has worked in the field of humanitarian aid and development in Sri Lanka and Vietnam, with local and international NGOs, bilateral aid agency and the United Nations. She graduated at the London South Bank University in applied biology and has a master’s degree in conflict, security and development from the University of Bradford, UK. She has spent her working life with people affected by armed conflict, internally displaced persons, women headed-households in addition to community development, livelihood initiatives and building capacities of local grass roots organizations.