The National Peace Council (NPC)

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Report on Civil Society Consultation on Strengthening Reconciliation Process held at the National Peace Council on March 10, 2016

NPC initiated a discussion with civil society organisations from several districts of the country on strengthening the reconciliation process on March 10, 2016. The government has taken an initiative to set up a public consultative process on the transitional framework for reconciliation. This is led by a 11 member National Consultation Task Force comprising civil society members set up by the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms based in the Prime Minister's Secretariat.

In addition, the government has appointed a 20 member Public Representations Committee (PRC) on Constitutional Reforms for the purpose of obtaining proposals from the public for the proposed constitutional reforms. Committee members were nominated by political parties while some were appointed to represent civil society.

While sections of civil society are full involved in the ongoing consultative processes, there is a need to bring in sections that have still to come into the process. The National Peace Council had a discussion on strengthening the transitional justice and reconciliation process especially at the community and grassroots level focusing on district and community-based organisations.

The consultations with civil society was intended to provide inputs to the Government as it develops its Transitional Justice (TJ), peace and reconciliation programme. Partnerships between the Government and development stakeholders are vital to the success of the process. The ideas and suggestions of the participants will be sent to the Task Force appointed to facilitate people’s participation in the reconciliation process.

INTRODUCTION
The main issue at the introductory session of the discussion was how to get people involved in the process and put message of TJ across to the grass roots. This consultation was intended to get their ideas on what is necessary to go into the future. At district level, provincial level and local level, it is necessary to know what people are saying about TJ, if they know about the government’s proposals and what they think about them.

When participants were given the opportunity to raise issues at the beginning of the discussion, the following points were brought up:

  • The courts move very slowly. With Constitutional changes, first thing must be a change in the judiciary to allow Tamil people to get their rights. Sinhala people must know that Tamil people’s rights must be addressed. Judiciary must be independent.
  • How can we have a hybrid court when the President is against it?
  • There is no confidence in the Government in Jaffna. Land was taken over by the military.
  • In Batticaloa are problems between people and the police. There are 40,000 widows. People don’t know about TJ or are bothered about it so there must be a change.
  • We have qualified judges who go abroad to hear cases. They can hear our cases. Therefore we cannot say we don’t have expertise.

INTERACTION WITH MINISTER
Minister for Minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganeshan said the Government was going ahead with TJ. The work was slow because there were two political parties involved. “We have given a promise to international community so we have to solve problems between Sinhalese and Tamils. We have to face difficult problems,” he said. He added that in the north and east police needed to improve their relations with civil society and the people. While the situation had changed ta the top, it should go down to the grassroots level.

During their interaction with the Minister, participants raised the following points and questions:

  • What sort of mechanism can be used?
  • How to solve differences between the parties?
  • There should be good relationship between ministries.
  • Disabled people living in interior can’t manage with government help given now.
  • Sinhalese people in Mannar badly off. No one takes notice of their problems such as that documents are in Tamil.

Findings of four working groups

The answers were based on the questions below:

Q 1:The public discourse at the district level on the government’s proposed transitional justice process
Q 2:How civil society groups at the district and community level can contribute to building consensus on the transitional justice process
Q 3:How best to engage the public on the issue of transitional justice for a positive outcome
Q 4:Any special themes of interest that might arise during the morning discussion for constitutional reform.

Group Work:

Group 1:

Q1: The public discourse at the district level on the government’s proposed transitional justice process

  1. It is a way to punish our soldiers. The military made sacrifices so we have to safeguard them. That is the thinking of the villagers.
  2. It is an international conspiracy
  3. It is all big words – it confuses people. At the grassroots level, people do not understand what it means. Simple language is most important for ordinary people.

Q2: How civil society groups at the district and community level can contribute to building consensus on the transitional justice process

  1. Conduct a survey to see how far people are aware of TJ. Awareness programmes should be conducted at the grass roots level. Carry out a Q & A at the grassroots level to understand what people at that level think.
  2. Have workshops enabling citizens to act – citizen movements hardly work now
  3. Work with religious leaders/ government servants (even retired ones) to speak on TJ to the people. Religious leaders are powerful in villages. Religious leaders are also not aware of TJ and sometimes preach against it. Create awareness among leaders and make presentations simple. Through religious leaders, engage people so we can have a good outcome. Local authority members also must be educated.
  4. Use artistic talents and literature for awareness programmes.
  5. Prepare information leaflets/ any forms of information sharing with simple and easy to understand words. Do not confuse the public with big words and theories

Q3: How best to engage the public on the issue of transitional justice for a positive outcome

  1. Through religious leaders/ local government level politicians – those have access to the grassroots level communities
  2. Use cultural activities – cultural shows/ television as a platform to share information
  3. Carry out exchange programmes between the north and south. They need to understand the problems faced by the other community
  4. By contributing to the consultations on the Constitution – the group pointed out that a majority of grassroots communities did not have access to fax/internet to send in their comments to the consultations. There is a lack of input towards this process from grassroots communities.

Q4: Any special themes of interest that might arise during the morning discussion for constitutional reform.

  1. At this meeting we must get ideas from the grassroots for Constitution making. Ordinary people’s ideas must be included. Many people cannot email or text so they cannot make submissions.
  2. Only known people come for consultations. There should be a broader group. Will take at least one year, not a month. The time not sufficient.

Group 2:
This group said that everything is underpinned by the need to know the truth. Without knowing the truth progress is not possible.

Q1: The public discourse at the district level on the government’s proposed transitional justice process

  1. Constitution must change but people are suspicious as to why the Government is rushing for change
  2. People believe that there needs to be changes to the Constitution – however they don’t have much faith in the current system of trying to get people’s participation in this process. (One participant from Kandy mentioned that her organisation, had submitted a list of 100 recommendations to the Government in this regard, but nothing had come out of it)
  3. On the birth certificate it is asked about your ethnicity. The important thing is to be Sri Lankan so this should be changed. Sri Lankan is the identity we have to stress. We need to move on from being identified as different ethnic groups to become part of the greater Sri Lankan citizenry/ identity.
  4. Most of the Sinhalese feel they won the war and independence. They feel the military should not be taken to court. Many grassroots level communities identify the army as having liberated this country from terrorism and are therefore unwilling to support a process that seeks to punish them.
  5. People want to know the truth – but everything that leads to this is still stuck in the Parliament. The Information bill was not passed. As citizens we want the bill passed.
  6. People have no faith in systems - they do not believe that the correct people will get punished. And they feel that punishment will not be just and equitable looking at what has happened in the recent past (certain female MP was released by Court in less than half an hour with just a warning for abduction and assault of a youth).
  7. The process is very slow – main parties support each other so they probably don’t want to institute anything that will incriminate them

Q2: How civil society groups at the district and community level can contribute to building consensus on the transitional justice process

  1. Sharing of information using all available sources – websites, social media, informative documents, media articles with support from youth, govt servants, public etc.
  2. Use this to show the public that they have a right to expect good governance from the politicians in power.
  3. NGOs/ CSOs have role to play in getting this response from the public/ politicians
  4. Religious leaders, social media, media and social organisations should be empowered to support and participate in the transition process. Someone who gives evidence to the Truth Commission that is to be set up must be safeguarded. Methodology must be simple.

Q3: How best to engage the public on the issue of transitional justice for a positive outcome

  1. Build trust among people – people need to know that they are secure. A stable government/ economy are important aspects to create this trust.
  2. To build trust we need to share information with the people. That has to be done using simple methods/ simple information – don’t use big words and big theories.
  3. We need to know the truth to implement anything. For payment of compensation or anything else, acceptance is importance. People must be made aware about the TJ process so that they accept it.

Q4: Any special themes of interest that might arise during the morning discussion for constitutional reform

  1. Judicial efforts in the country are very slow. They need to be fast paced. Work of all commissions, committees established/ or to be established needs to be made active.
    a. No action by Police Commission/ Police continues to behave badly
  2. Stop religious clergy i.e. Buddhist monks, from doing politics
  3. Institutions are politicised and that must stop.

Group 3

Q1: The public discourse at the district level on the government’s proposed transitional justice process

  1. TJ propaganda is not popular among people. Civil society must organise itself to disseminate knowledge to ordinary people. First of all create acceptance through street drama and other activities. Participation of people is important. People, especially grassroots communities, in all parts of the country hardly know about these concepts.
  2. Some persons in society, who have a certain level of education, seem to know about it. Find out how many people understand TJ. The majority are not aware of what TJ is. Rural or urban people do not understand.
  3. Educated people can discuss this. They have basic idea of social justice. But they do not know about hybrid courts, international courts, electric chairs even if they are educated. However, this knowledge seems very superficial and is limited to areas as hybrid court, electric chair.

Q2: How civil society groups at the district and community level can contribute to building consensus on the transitional justice process

  1. Civil society uses various methodology for explaining TJ but it should use simple language and have an agenda to take the message to people.
  2. CSOs must work together, their efforts are not coordinated.
  3. A government led TRC will not be adequate as the public will not have much faith in one. A civil society led TRC is important for this. Could include retired members of the judiciary, government servants and school principals etc. [this group believed that the GOSL is not going to do anything concretized regarding a TJ process – they had zero belief in any government led efforts]

Q3: How best to engage the public on the issue of transitional justice for a positive outcome

  1. CSOs must lead efforts to share information with the community relating to TJ.
  2. A TJ process in the country cannot be successful if you don’t get people’s participation. Use street drama, other simple methods of sharing

Q4: Any special themes of interest that might arise during the morning discussion for constitutional reform.

  1. The Constitution should have a provision to address demographic imbalances that are created artificially to affect the number of a certain ethnic minority in a certain area through resettlement. This affects their representation in Parliament.
  2. Provisions of the 13 Amendment to the Constitution should be fully implemented. The 13th amendment must be fully implemented and Provincial Councils should be given police powers. These are aspirations of people in the North and East.
  3. Tamils feel they need Federal not unitary system. TNA’s election manifesto calls for a Federal system. Federal system of power should be introduced and police powers etc should be given to these areas.
  4. Truth Commission can have local retired judges and senior people can formulate it.
  5. The new Constitution must establish minority rights. In the North and East there is a change in population. Settlements by the Government are changing the population rate.

Group 4

Q1: The public discourse at the district level on the government’s proposed transitional justice process

  1. CSOs know very little about TJ and related concepts. The people know a bit about Constitutional Changes. This knowledge relates primarily to war crimes and punishment for soldiers.
  2. We need to look at what happened to civilians during the last stages of the war. People in the south don’t know much about it. Ordinary people are not told extent of the destruction caused by the war. They are told there were no casualties. When they hear about rapes and that IDPs do not have homes, it is news to them.
  3. People are more worried about their livelihoods and living conditions over TJ mechanisms – their priorities are different because these aspects seem to hardly affect them [this was told by a partner working in 4 villages in Kurunegala)
  4. People at rural level are not aware of TJ. Sometimes they speak of hybrid courts. They worry that the armed forces will be produced before international courts. They do not like that and they want to protect the forces.

Q2: How civil society groups at the district and community level can contribute to building consensus on the transitional justice process

  1. Information sharing at grassroots level – Sanasa, pensioner’s orgs in villages, DIRC all have a role to play
  2. Religious leaders have a major role to play in this. They should use their sermons to take the message to the public.
  3. Civil society leaders should also be included in this process.
  4. Carry out cultural exchanges between communities
  5. We must be sensitive. Awareness is importance. Leaders who can influence people must come forward. At the village level there is Sanasa. Can do it through these organisations. In religious places there mustbe talk of reconciliation by religious leaders. Civil society can influence the leaders to do this. Cultural exchange programmes can take place between ethnic groups.
  6. Community leaders must take the lead in district level truth commissions. All people have suffered from war.

Q3: How best to engage the public on the issue of transitional justice for a positive outcome

  1. District level truth commissions headed by people of good standing in the respective areas.
  2. All people suffered from the war – we need to look at the grievances from all points of view and not limit it only one community
  3. Government has taken a forward step to sing national anthem in Tamil. Most of Sinhala people are not for Federalism. So you have to listen to and respect the majority. If you do not respect it you are trying to create Eelam.
  4. We have to pressurise the Government to bring about TJ.
  5. We have to strengthen democracy then we can find solutions. Allocate one day to discuss problems of Constitution.

Q4: Any special themes of interest that might arise during the morning discussion for constitutional reform.

  • CSOs must push government efforts at reform.
  • On Constitutional reforms and TJ, the Government is moving slowly but must move faster. Government is not actively participating.
  • Article 126 of the Constitution makes it difficult for ordinary people to go before the Supreme Court. This must be amended.
  • In Puttalam only 11 people came before Constitutional Committee. Ordinary people’s ideas should be included in process.
  • Government must get better unified so that it speaks through one leader. Not having one leader is why process is so slow.
  • Federalism is not Tamil Eelam but a form of government. Identify that it is a different concept. Can have Federalism within a unitary state so people who live in a district can manage their affairs. TNA wants to amalgamate the North and East.
  • Sinhala people will be against it if you try to give self government to north. But if the South says they want a new system, other Sinhala people will also want it. This is because there is no talk of division. There is no mistrust. Talk of ethnicity has no meaning.
  • Religious leaders have a big task. They can say there is no difference between us so the people in the South will agree. Buddha said people have only one kind so cannot divide them. If we can come to this view we can live as relatives. I propose that we get together with temples, churches, mosques and kovils.

Concluding Observations from participants:

  • Article 126 of Constitution does not give people enough ability to reach out for help for their grievances. It is ad hoc and a normal person cannot get help through its provisions. It needs to be amended in order to allow people to get support and help from the judiciary etc.
  • Puttlam: only 58 persons were consulted during consultations for constitutional amendments in Puttlam. There needs to be a mechanism through which their ideas too can be included.
  • A country cannot have 2 leaders at the same level and progress. Can a school manage with 2 principals?
  • When leaders of parties, i.e. the TNA make statements saying that they will not stop their quest for Eelam, and the UNP and SLFP endorses these ideas, directly and indirectly, people in the south feels that nothing has changed and that this government too is oblivious to the problems of the people in the South. We are ok to sing the national anthem in Tamil but the people in the south think that this too is a conspiracy. This is because they do not know about these issues or are fed wrong information.
  • Strengthen democracy and institutions that work for democracy.
  • NPC should share today’s finding with the government
  • Federalism and separate state are different concepts – people mistake the two for the same.
  • India/ USA have federal systems that work fairly well.
  • TNA wants Federalism? People in Jaffna prefers a federal system (Monk from Kurunegala)
  • What will happen if Sinhalese in the South wants a Federal system? Other Sinhalese won’t mind it.
  • Ethnicity is a concept of the mind. Citizenry/ citizen is not.
  • We need to change the mind-set of the people – shift from ethnicity based to citizen/ country based. If this happens, a federal system in Jaffna is not a problem.
  • Fast track processes especially legal processes as they are exceptionally slow.

Main ideas:

  • Information sharing is necessary for people to understand TJ concepts
  • Public ideas, especially concerns of grassroots communities are not included in the constitutional reform process
  • Federalism – Sinhala community will not mind it for their own community as they are not worried about separatism with other Sinhalese, but will not want to give it to the Tamil community due to the absence of trust.
  • All people are born equal – we are all not that different and hence must look at a political solution to our problems based on fair decisions
  • Need to take our ideas to the larger community
  • These findings need to be shared with the Constitutional Reforms council.

NPC Concluding Observations
At the consultation on the transitional justice and reconciliation process conducted with civil society representatives from all parts of the country, two key messages got highlighted. The first was the limited information available to the general population regarding these issues. There was an absence of strong and systematic messaging by the government. Participants pointed out that the National Unity Government is composed of two leaders and two parties, and this is leading to an absence of clear messaging. Second, the message from the Tamil-speaking participants from the North and East was their scepticism about the ultimate outcome of the ongoing transitional justice process. This was not voiced during the plenary discussions, but in the small group discussions amongst themselves. This highlights the need for greater inclusion of such groups into the process and for trust building with them. The role of civil society in these circumstances in taking the message to the people and in ensuring a sense of participation is extremely important.

 

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