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    Awareness building on Reconciliation

    August 30, 2019

    Awareness building on Reconciliation

    Ethno-religious animosity and extremism have led to continued violence and conflict in Sri Lanka. A united nation assuredly requires a strong reconciliation programme.In order to successfully implement a reconciliation programme, communication and outreach as well as public ownership and participation in the overall process is essential. In other words, the people of our country at every level must believe in reconciliation and work towards achieving it. “Public understanding and awareness [are] a starting point for meaningful reconciliation” (CTF, 435) Therefore, Sri Lankans must first be aware and have a thorough understand of

    Sri Lanka’s history of ethnic division (resulting in repeated conflict)The need for reconciliation even today (the end of the war does not mean the end of suffering)
    The programmes/ projects being carried out by the Government and
    The role of individuals in promoting reconciliation and building unity

    What has been done?A taskforce carrying out consultations with victims’ island-wide found that “widespread disappointment with revious processes [has] bred cynicism with regard to the sincerity of any State initiative” (CTF, 3). The taskforce itself was a remedy to “the lack of public awareness of the reconciliation process [and] the mechanisms proposed by the Government in this regard” (CTF, 3). The final report of the CTF (containing observations and recommendations) was made available to the public in all three languages as a means of showing victims and the public that the Government was initiating an open and transparent reconciliation programme.

    The SCRM and other institutions

    The Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) for one, is an institution that plays a vital role in this process. Having been set up in 2015, the SCRM carries out projects for awareness raising, outreach and communications, promoting reconciliation and transitional justice together with state and non-state entities, disseminating information, etc.

    The SCRM website serves as a source of information for vital Transitional Justice and Reconciliation (TJR) related resources including the series of UNHRC resolutions, the reports of a number of commissions set up for consultations and inquiries, informative articles etc.

    Other TJR offices such as the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) and the Office for Reparations too carry out their own communication campaigns regarding information urgently required by victims seeking assistance and relief from the state.

    The regional offices set up by the OMP in Matara, Mannar and Jaffna are examples of how victims islandwide are getting better access to the TJR processes through these institutions.

    Public awareness

    An awareness raising campaign titled Ahanna (to listen) launched on August 8, 2018, under the initiative of the Ministry of Finance. It is a grassroots based discussion platform that facilitated discourse on the need for reconciliation.

    The programme designed to highlight the idea that “Development begins with reconciliation” travelled across the island along two routes, visiting 44 towns, as a street-theatre performance promoting communal harmony among the public.

    Following the success of phase 1, the “Ahanna for schools” programme was launched in October 2018 covering 10 main schools in the Colombo District, with the aim of promoting the same message among schoolchildren whose ideas and perceptions will one day be pivotal in forming the future of our country.

    The Ahanna programme was also carried out at the “Yowunpura” leadership training camp in Weerawila, Hambantota earlier this year with the participation of more than 800 youth. This programme targeted the youth of Sri Lanka who play a vital role in curbing ethnic tensions and initiating peaceful dialogue within their communities.

    The Ahanna agenda was also carried out and concluded at the Enterprise Sri Lanka programme in Anuradhapura from July 24 to 27, 2019. The highlight of the programme held in July was the performance by veteran musician Jayatilake Bandara whose music brought out the element of reconciliation through creative art.

    Sensitizing Government Officials

    The lack of awareness and sensitivity among government officials regarding the transitional justice and reconciliation (TJR) process highlighted the need to sensitize state officials to the issues faced by victims and to inform them of their responsibility in supporting and implementing the TJR process.

    For this purpose, the SCRM in collaboration with the OMP organised a series of awareness building workshops covering nine key districts islandwide.

    Training of Community Policing Officers

    A TOT programme focusing on TJR for Community Policing Officers was conducted successfully in 7 districts with the participation of more than 500 CPC officials in 2019. The aim of the workshops was to build a pool of Community Policing Officers with the capacity to promote national unity and coexistence at the communal level in Sri Lanka.

    Sensitizing media personnel

    In order to share information on Government-led TJR initiatives, to counter misinformation and to bridge knowledge gaps among media personalities and journalists, the SCRM is in the process of conducting sensitization workshops for Provincial journalists and reporters who represent popular state and private media organisations. Nine workshops have been scheduled with an expected participation of over 3,000 media personnel.

    While significant effort has been made by the government to create public awareness on reconciliation related matters, evidently there is much more that needs to be done in this regard.

    Every citizen too has a right to seek and search for information on why reconciliation is still important to Sri Lanka and work towards playing their part in achieving it.




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