From ‘Transition’ to ‘Transformation’ – A New Approach to Post-Conflict Justice

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of countries considered ‘in transition’, however of nearly hundred of those countries only a handful can be considered to be moving towards successful, well-functioning democracies.  It is not a surprise considering that transitional justice is founded on westen-liberal peace theories, and promotes a one-size fits all solution to redress violations committed during conflicts or authoritarian regimes – and does not look much further than that.

Over the years Sri Lanka too has been grappling with ‘transitional justice’; trying to set up mechanisms in order to adhere to the standards of the international community, however, nothing constructive has come out of it. I have been studying this concept in the context of Sri Lanka, possibly for the past 6 years, and what has dawned on me time and time again is that the focus needs to change from a process that is run by the politicians and elites of the country (and outside the country) to one that is completely embedded in the grassroots.

A fundamental weakness of transitional justice is that it takes place at the top (i.e the process is run by governments, international and national bodies)¹.  This prevents the results expected to reach deep into the soil of the society². This explains, at least partly, why there seems to be little or no effect from the transitional justice process thus far. Therefore, it seems timely that an emerging concept – Transformative Justice – be introduced to the Sri Lankan post-conflict context. Continue reading “From ‘Transition’ to ‘Transformation’ – A New Approach to Post-Conflict Justice”

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Arousing Compassion

The events that took place in Sri Lanka in the past few days truly left me confounded – mostly sad, angry and helpless. Watching from a distance it felt surreal, all I could think of was why this keeps happening to us again and again. There was chaos on the streets of Kandy, a state of emergency, innocent people been attacked because of their race/religion.  I was then inclined to write a blog post out of that disappointment, about the reasons we keep going back to communal conflicts,  but of course the reasons are many. One explanation that is simple, yet complex at the same time, and which I keep coming back to in my readings again and again is the need for justice for what happened in the past. Conflicts have the potential to play itself out in different ways in the future. The violence and conflict that appear to be new is often historically informed and rooted in ongoing experiences of social marginalisation, political exclusion and economic exploitation.

Whilst this needs to be discussed, today I would like to specifically focus on the unity and solidarity of our people in the aftermath of this violence. Because right now I’m not writing from a place of disappointment, I’m writing from a place of deep appreciation for my country men and women. Continue reading “Arousing Compassion”

Is a Hybrid Court Really a Win-Win Option for Sri Lanka?

A debate that is prevalent among the actors involved in the Sri Lankan post-conflict setting is the issue of which tribunals should be used in the transitional justice process. Whether it be the use of an international tribunal, which those among the Tamil diaspora and international community are mainly in favour of, or the use of a purely domestic mechanism, which is a strong opinion among the Sinhala majority, and leadership in Sri Lanka, or as the UN Human Rights Council recommended in September 2015 – the use of a hybrid court to try perpetrators of war crimes. So, I decided to write this blog in the hopes that an academic exploration of the different tribunals will help us understand the crux of this debate. Continue reading “Is a Hybrid Court Really a Win-Win Option for Sri Lanka?”

Day of Solemn Remembrance

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Image Credit: telecoms.com

On a day like today, on the 7th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, I ask you:

 

“Who counts as human? Whose lives counts as lives? And finally, what makes for a grievable life?”

– Butler, 2004

This should be a day of solemn remembrance, not a day of celebrations. For how do we celebrate the many thousands of lives, all lives, that were lost during the 30 years of the conflict?

Yes we can remember the day we could breathe a sigh of relief that it was all over, but we should remember this day solemnly, not for the messy politics of the war, but for those lives that were lost, and for those families that carry that pain to this day.

I condone the move made by the government of Sri Lanka to call off ‘victory day celebrations’ and instead have a day of remembrance where we will remember this day respectfully. One more step towards reconciliation.

 

Voices of Jaffna

So I finally made my way to Jaffna. It has been something I wanted to do ever since the end of the war in 2009. The best part of my trip was talking to the locals about how their lives have changed since the end of the war – their stories moved me, so I wanted to share it with you.

 

IMG_6624“We have been travelling since Sunday to all the temples in the North because of Shivaratri (Hindu religious festival), and we return home to Batticaloa tomorrow morning. Things have changed quite a bit since the end of the war. We don’t have to fear war anymore, but we lost our houses so we now live in rented houses. Before the war we could sit at our own home and eat peacefully, we had our own money, but life is hard now. I live with my daughter and son-in-law. He is a farmer so they take care of me. And in return I do all the household work. I pray to God to get younger”
Paramsothi at Nallur Temple 

Continue reading “Voices of Jaffna”

Starting from the Personal

Been on my fieldwork in Sri Lanka has inspired me to write a blog post about why I’m so interested in pursuing the topic of transitional justice and reconciliation for my PhD research project. In academia we seldom get to talk about our personal views, so this defining moment for me always gets stored at the back of my mind where the cobwebs live. But, so many people I met on a professional level have asked me, why? why reconciliation?

When I first moved to London, in 2012, and started my new job, a colleague, a young Sri Lankan Tamil gentleman (H) approached me and we started getting to know each other, moving on to the ‘where are you from originally’, we were both stunned to realise that we have something else in common; Sri Lanka. But there was also something else that could have stopped our friendship from growing; our perception of each others identities*.

As much as meeting a Tamil was not a big deal for me, for H it was the first time meeting someone Sinhalese at all; let alone having a proper conversation. However, what struck me was that, he had already created this image of a ‘Sinhala’ person from what he has heard all his life. This is common for most second generation Tamil’s living abroad (or broadly using the term Tamil diaspora). For him the Sinhalese were his enemy, they committed many atrocities to his family that forced them leave their motherland – and go through a dangerous journey to get to where they are now. Everything he learnt about the Sinhalese and Sri Lanka was still censored by LTTE propaganda. And whilst most of what he heard might be true, he had no idea about the horrific stories from the other side. This is also true for most of us who lived safely in the big city; we seldom heard the horrific stories from the conflict zones committed by this side.

H and I are now great friends, our friendship was coloured by the stories we told each other, and the knowledge we shed on each other, and the excitement in discovering the common things our cultures share. This may not be the case for everyone, there have certainly been people I encountered that was not open as H, and those that denied their Sri Lankan identity to me. However, the realisation I got was that, maybe this is where reconciliation starts. And I acknowledge that it might be easy for me to sit here and say let’s start from the personal when I did not have to see my family butchered in front of my eyes, or when I’m not the one still looking for answers. It may not be the same for a victim to personally reconcile with the perpetrator. I am completely aware of this. But this is where reconciliation has different levels – and these different levels need to come together at some point. But for now, shall we start here? 

 

 *When I use the term identities here, I mean both cultural and political; because in a context like Sri Lanka the political tends to be embedded in the cultural.

Should We Be Optimistic about Reconciliation in Sri Lanka?

I was at the Public Dialogue on Peace and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka, today at SOAS University. I was interested in attending not only because it is on the topic I study, but because I was curious to hear what the two different parties expected from reconciliation, and what their vision of reconciliation is. The two parties that were represented was the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), who was represented by Mr. Kandia Sarveswaran and the government who was represented by Mr. Shiral Lakthilaka, who is the coordinating secretary to the President of Sri Lanka, and also a member of the United National Party (UNP).

I was hard hit by the fact that six years after the end of the war we are still at a premature stage of reconciliation. Reconciliation… a beautiful word, but one that hold so much of ambiguity in the context of Sri Lanka. So what does reconciliation mean to the two different parties?

Continue reading “Should We Be Optimistic about Reconciliation in Sri Lanka?”