The government has made several promises with regards to the accountability issue and is in the process of taking steps to ensure justice is served for the victims of the war.However concerns have been raised over the pace of the process and if members of the former government will also be held accountable. Speaking to The Sunday Leader, the Minister of National Dialogue Mano Ganeshan insisted that whoever violated the law by engaging in acts of state and non-state terrorism and abuses will be held accountable.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
Q: What role is the Ministry of National Dialogue playing to ensure reconciliation takes place?
A: The Title of my ministry has been changed as per my request by president Sirisena in consultation with Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. The official gazette notification is being done now. It’s no more ‘Ministry of National Dialogue’. The new title is, “Ministry of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages”. I trust the new title has more expressive sense in describing the subjects handled by me.
I have the Department of Official Languages, Official Languages Commission, National Institute of Language Education and Training and the Secretariat for Non-Governmental Organizations. And I have transformed the former social integration unit in my ministry into a more meaningful national coexistence entity. I am developing a national authority for coexistence and preparing to provide legality to it through the cabinet.
Therefore, I have two prime subjects. One is the implementation of the trilingual language policy of the state. Two is, carrying forward the policy of coexistence between diverse segments and removing the blockades on peace and equality.
Q: What steps will your Ministry take to bridge the gap between all communities?
A: May I begin by talking on the historical necessity? In 2001, the government of Sri Lanka held talks with the LTTE under the ceasefire accord. The discussion was between the top leaderships brokered by Norway representing the world community. I trust we as the government failed to educate the common public on the necessities for peace and equality. There were some efforts but they were inadequate. It gave room for the hardliners of both of the north and south to misdirect the people. Tamils were taught to believe peace efforts were nothing but a trap. Sinhalese were taught to consider it as a sellout. The end result was that then Ranil Wickremesinghe government was dissolved. This time we are not going to give chances to extremisms, north or south.
Hence I am planning to take steps to educate people at the bottom level. My personal history adds value to this. Speaking all three languages and been a civil activist at very risky difficult period in the past, I am prepared to take the message of peace and equality to common public at any cost. I plan to establish dialogue centers at every district as per the LLRC recommendations. These centers will be run in collaboration with local civil societies where all segments, such as religious leaders, local government legislators, women and youth will be considered as stake holders. I plan to accommodate war widows of both north and south and all vulnerable marginalised groups too.
Q: Is this Government limiting most of its promises to words than action when addressing issues of the past, particularly human rights abuses?
A: I trust that you are representing the civilian queries. No.., there are actions. May be the phase is slow for obvious reasons. But I assure you of the forward movements. We are preparing the responses to the Geneva resolutions. The resolution is not alien but it’s our own. As you know the four pillars of our response are the truth commission entity, reparations, judicial process and non-recurrence.
The prime minister has just sought the cabinet approval for the establishment of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) in the office of the Prime Minister with immediate effect. All relevant agencies national and international will be coordinated through this secretariat particularly on the Geneva resolutions. My ministry is also involved in the secretariat.
Apart from this we have cabinet subcommittees on the subjects of “Sri Lankan identity’ and “Constitutional Reform’. I am in both cabinet subcommittees. We are working together putting all acts together steadily. Please give us some time. It is only near three months since we stared this government of national unity.
Q: When we talk of accountability, will the Government ensure top members of the former Government are held accountable for abuses said to have taken place during the war, be it the former President, former Defense Secretary or even the former Army Commander?
A: Whoever violated the law by engaging in acts of state and non-state terrorism and abuses will be held accountable. The truth is sacred. It has to surface. It is the universal principle. Look at Bangladesh for the recent example. The former army commander during the war Fld. Mrsl. Sarath Fonseka has already volunteered to speak. My combustion is that nothing should end the current march forward of the state of Sri Lanka. The answers for yesterday cannot be destroying our common tomorrows. The nation should outlaw abusers of any side who acted indiscriminately against humanity.
Q: The release of civilian owned property in the North is still an issue and was spoken of by the Tamil National Alliance in Parliament during the budget debate. Is this issue a barricade to getting the full support of Tamils in the North to the reconciliation process?
A: Yes, it’s one of the barricades in getting the confidence of the Tamils in general. A sizable land area has been already released. It is a fact. TNA leader is working with the government on the release of remaining land. There can’t be high security zones now since there is no war now. The military cannot be engaging in commercial activities such as running roadside boutiques and farming. It is neither good for the civilians or in the good interests of the military. Civilian owners of the land should get them back. There can’t be a debate on this.
Q: How can we ensure no-recurrence?
A: Non-recurrence is one of the pillars of Sri Lanka’s response to UNHRC resolution. My ministry is gearing up-to adopt this subject. The dark history will not re occur only if we identify and address the root causes. The cause of the war is the national ethnic question. It is the real issue. We can’t keep shying away from the real issues. My ministry has set some principles on which we plan to conduct dialogue with the people.
As a nation we have to accept this country as a multi ethnic nation and realise our strength in diversity. And realise that violence and separatist tendencies will not bring solutions but disaster. And the concept of power sharing is not necessarily an ethnic issue but a necessity within the republican democracy thus power need be decentralised from Colombo to Jaffna as much it is to Mahiyangana.
These are the minimum bottom lines. If we as a nation fail to accept these we will end up as a failed state and doomed. I, as the minister of National Coexistence, Dialogue and Official Languages looking forward to the support and assistance of the Sri Lanka support group within the international community. I am already in the process of holding discussions with number of diplomats and also looking forward to meet others.
Q: What role do you see for the Diaspora in the entire reconciliation and truth seeking process?
A: Diaspora community is a necessary part. They needed to be accommodated in the process of dialogue. I as the minister responsible for coexistence plan to visit the countries where our Diaspora is concentrated in the new-year. I will go with the principles stated in my answer to the above question. I am also aware of the fact that the Tamil Diaspora community is not just Mr. Suren Surendran and Fr. Emmanuel and BTF but beyond.
Q: Can we learn from the South African process when seeking the truth or should it be totally a domestic process?
A: South Africa is a catholic country. The “confession” and subsequent “forgiveness” is a tradition in such societies. Sri Lankan society is mostly Buddhist-Hindu and this conflict is too. We have no such tradition.
We have noble teachings and tendencies here in our religions but this practice is not explicit here as in any other catholic nation. Therefore we will adopt South African experiences doctored to suit our local conditions.
Q: How does the Government look to ensure justice for the Sinhalese and Muslims killed by the LTTE during the war?
A: Justice to Sinhalese and Muslims killed and suffered due to LTTE actions is a must. It is similar to the Tamil anticipation for justice for what they suffered under the state terrorism. And the Muslims too suffered under the terror with state patronage, lately. And Tamils too suffered under the Muslim terror at times. Therefore these are interlinked.
We have to accept the fact all of us at various times made mistakes in the past. Let us gear ourselves to look back at the history and learn lessons. I think there is a sense of general realisation within the Sri Lankan society today. I may look a dreamer.
Yes, it is my Sri Lankan dream. I don’t want to remain in power politics for a long time. I will exit from politics sooner than expected.
But before long, I will ensure my best in this Maithri-Ranil government to make this dream come true with the support of our national and international friends. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)