TNA report to Parliament exposes negative peace


M. A. Sumanthiran

by Jehan Perera

The government has laid much emphasis on the behaviour of the LTTE over the course of the past three decades in justifying its conduct during the war to the international community. Much of what the LTTE did was indefensible from a human rights perspective. Although there was a high level of destruction of life and property in the course of eliminating the LTTE, this cost has been justified on the basis that it ended the war restored peace to the country. All societies have found ways and arguments to justify the wars they wage and win. However, the absence of military battles and the ravages of terrorism alone is not peace.

 The world renowned peace scholar Johan Galtung has said that peace is not only the absence of war. According to him, peace that is limited to the absence of war is only negative peace. Negative peace refers to the absence of violence. When, for example, a ceasefire is enacted, a negative peace will ensue. It is negative because something undesirable stopped happening, such as the violence stopped. Positive peace is filled with positive content such as restoration of relationships, the creation of government systems that serve the needs of the whole population and the constructive resolution of conflict. Positive peace therefore exists where people are interacting non-violently and are managing their conflict positively, with sympathetic attention to the legitimate needs and interest of all concerned.

 After a protracted and very costly war as occurred in Sri Lanka it is absolutely necessary to start with political reconciliation between the different ethnic communities and also between the government and the minorities. Such reconciliation is a pre-condition to strengthen social relationships and economic development. It is not easy to heal the wounds of war inflicted on the people especially the loss of lives caused during the war. This cannot be achieved unless there is healing action among the people of different communities, the government and political parties. The political and civil society leaderships need to consciously undertake to change the systems and patterns of thought that existed during war and work towards an era of peace and justice in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, there is growing skepticism today whether these conditions that make for positive peace actually exist in Sri Lanka.


Sumanthiran report 

A statement tabled in Parliament by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran can be taken as a serious indictment of the treatment of Tamil citizens especially those living in the North and East of the country where the war for separation was fought. There is nothing healing about this type of behaviour that is reported. As the MP is also a leading lawyer and unlikely to put his name to a document he cannot stand by without facts, and also since the TNA, which he represents, is the country’s third largest political party in Parliament, it is necessary for the government to take this report seriously. At the present time a TNA delegation is holding talks with top US officials in Washington and its travel itinerary includes visits to Canada and Britain. The report is likely to be a topic for discussion at these meetings.

The charges in the report relate primarily to the difficult circumstances of the people’s lives and uncaring treatment inflicted upon them that could not be anticipated with the passage of over two and half years from the end of the war. The continuing militarization of the Northern and Eastern provinces demonstrates that the situation is not peaceful in its positive sense. Social hardships include special registration of people, having to keep the security forces informed of guests to their homes, requiring even religious communities to inform the authorities in advance of the meetings they propose to have, and the practice of impunity where there is wrongdoing by government or military officials. With regard to economic hardships, there is the continuing keeping of large tracts of land as high security zones, giving land away to former military personnel and 200,000 people still remaining in transit camps or with relatives and not resettled, although they are out of the main welfare centers. 

Some of the charges leveled against the government in the Sumanthiran report are not new ones. An earlier report by the MP was tabled in Parliament in July. But this time there is more detail that gives an indication of the scale of the problem. The report states that "out of a total land mass of 65,619 sq km, Tamil people inhabited 18,880 sq km of land in the North and East, but after May 2009, the defence forces have occupied more than 7,000 sq km of land owned by Tamil people. There is one member of the armed forces for approximately every ten civilians in the Jaffna Peninsula. The heavy presence of the military continues to be the most serious concern in the North and East."


Larger danger

Another serious concern relates to the continuing military control over people’s lives, apart from their physical presence. The report states that "families must inform the army of the guests they receive, their relationship, and the reason and duration of their visit. Any family gathering to celebrate the birth or naming of a child, attainment of puberty of a girl, a wedding or even a death, requires prior permission from the nearest police post. Every village has a "Civilian Affairs Counter" managed by the armed forces where anyone entering a village is required to register themselves." This is akin to life under a totalitarian regime, not in a democracy that is trying to heal the wounds of war and restore normalcy to the lives of war victims.

 The report also makes a serious charge that "most disturbing are the increasing number of sexual assaults carried out against women and girls in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts, often by government officials and the military. The brutality with which these assaults are carried out is especially disturbing. Women and girls also face a serious threat due to the labour force from the South being brought in for work on projects taking place in the North. Incidents are reported of women being raped by soldiers, and the victims and their families being too ashamed and afraid to make complaints or file charges. Doctors are being forced by the army to record that perpetrators are ‘unknown’ or ‘unidentified’ persons even though complainants have identified perpetrators, often where the involvement of army personnel is alleged."

 There needs to be a break with the past. Unless people are treated with respect and the rule of law prevails, and unless positive peace with justice is made real, there is the danger of resentments spilling over into renewed conflict. What happened during war has no place in a time of peace. Unless investigated and remedies found, there is also the danger of an expansion of abuse of power into other parts of the country also. Totalitarian practices in one part of the country are bound to spread to other parts, which is why effective systems of checks and balances are of primary importance. Preserving Sri Lanka’s gains, within the country and internationally, require the rule of law in the present and political will for reform, whatever might have been the past.---------

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