The United Kingdom-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) has embarked on the task of ethnic reconciliation through the Buddhist clergy in an initiative backed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The project had its origin in the Nepalese town of Nagarkot, known the world over for the sunrise view of the Himalayas including Mount Everest and other peaks. On April 27, seven members of the Buddhist clergy representing various sects and two Chief Sanghanayakes signed what was termed the Himalaya Declaration – a six-point pledge that will form the basis. The member of the clergy form the Sangha for Better Sri Lanka (SBSL). Other signatories are GTF representatives in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia.
The first copy of the Himalaya Declaration was formally handed over by a SBSL-GTF delegation on Thursday to President Wickremesinghe. On Friday, the same delegation met the Mahanayakes of both the Malwatte Chapter (Venerable Thibottuwawe Sri Siddharatha Sumangala Thera) and Asgiriya Chapter (Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanarathana Thera) in Kandy to hand them copies. Yesterday, the delegation members travelled to Jaffna for a string of meetings with leaders of the clergy in the district. They will return to Colombo to speak to Parliamentarians at a meeting in Committee Room 2, civil society groups and three former Presidents – Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
“This is the first time an organisation is spearheading reconciliation initiatives. In the past, those taking part have all been political parties,” said Suren Surendiran, spokesperson in London for the GTF. He said, “We propose to carry our message to likeminded people the districts and educate them on the need for peace, which is foremost for economic development.”
The six-point Himalaya Declaration formally released at a news conference in Kandy on Friday says:
- Preserving and promoting the pluralistic character of the country where no community feels threatened about losing its identity and pride of place.
- Overcoming the economic crisis, selecting an appropriate development model which encourages local production, facilitating involvement and investment from overseas Sri Lankans and others, ensuring the country is in a growth trajectory and making Sri Lanka firmly a middle-income country.
- Arriving at a new constitution that guarantees individual and collective rights and promotes equality and equal citizenship among all peoples, ensures accountable institutions and guarantees adequate devolution of powers to the provinces, and until such time focus on the faithful implementation of provisions of sharing of powers in the existing constitution.
- Devolving power in a united and undivided country, accepting the religious, cultural, and other identities of people and respecting those identities, and working towards establishing trust between ethnic groups and religious groups.
- Envision a Sri Lanka that is reconciled and committed to learning from its past and creating measures including accountability to ensure that such suffering never occur again.
- Complying with bilateral and multilateral treaties and international obligations, taking steps to follow independent and dynamic foreign policy, and ensuring the country takes its pride of place among the democratic, peaceful, and prosperous nations of the world.
The signatories listed in the Himalaya Declaration are: Ven. Madampagama Assaji Tissa Thera, Anu Nayake of the Ambagahapitiya Chapter, Ven. Siyambalagaswewa Wimalasara Thera, Chief Sanghanayake of Northern and Eastern Provinces, Ven. Kithalagama Hemasara, Nayake Thera, General Secretary, Siri Dharmarakshitha Chapter, Ven. Prof. Pallekande Rathnasara Thera, Acting Maha Nayake of Vajirawansa Chapter, Ven Kalupahana Piyaratne Thera of Sri Daddharamawansa Chapter, Member of Sri Lanka Human Rights Council 2023, chairperson of Human Development Edification Centre, Ven. Narampanawe Dhammaloka Thera, Chief Sanghanayake of Central Province and Ven. Walatara Sobitha Anunayake Thera, Sri Dadhammawansa Chapter.
The GTF signatories are Velupilla Kuandndra (GTF – UK), Dr Shanthini Jeyarajah (GTF – USA), Thanabalasingham Surendiran (GTF – UK), Sri Kantha Bavaguhan (GTF – UK) and Dr Kannappar Mukunthan (GTF-Australia).
In a related move, the government also announced on Friday that it would set up an “independent Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation.” An announcement by the Presidential Media Division on Friday said, “This proposed Commission will be established through an Act of Parliament, currently in the drafting process as a concept paper in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
“The concept paper, used to prepare the final draft of the Bill for Parliament, will soon be available for comments to ensure an inclusive process in developing legislation that strengthens and safeguards national unity through truth, transitional justice, reconciliation, reparation, and social cohesion.
“A key objective of this process is to establish the truth regarding post-conflict grievances of Sri Lankan citizens, facilitating reconciliation, reparation and sustainable peace. The proposed Commission acknowledges every Sri Lankan’s inalienable right to ascertain the truth, a pivotal aspect for individuals and communities to heal from past conflicts.
“Additionally, the Commission aims to ensure and strengthen national unity, peace, the rule of law, coexistence, equality, tolerance, respect for diversity and reconciliation among the people of Sri Lanka. This commitment extends to preventing any recurrence of disharmony and future conflict between the multi-ethnic and diverse communities.
“The Commission is expected to review, consider and facilitate the implementation of recommendations made by past Commissions related to Sri Lanka’s post-conflict reconciliation efforts, including the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Findings from the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, established in 2006 by the Government of Sri Lanka, will also be considered.
“The Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensuring that the proposed independent Commission acts impartially, free from any political influence. With a victim-centric ethos, the proposed Commission will be a sanctuary for voices to be heard, pain to be acknowledged and dignity to be reclaimed, providing a closure to victims and paving the path for national unity and social cohesion.
“Pending the enactment of the proposed new law, the Government has initiated the establishment of an interim body, the Interim Secretariat for Truth and reconciliation Mechanism (ISTRM). The ISTRM is working to build the necessary legal and policy framework, operational procedures and guidelines for the Commission. The objective of the ISTRM is to lay the foundation for a home-grown solution for truth, reconciliation and national unity. The ISTRM is currently engaging with the public and stakeholders to ensure the Commission is built with their participation and consultation, shaping this transformative mechanism and ultimately paving the way for sustainable peace and national unity….”
Sunday times, Sri Lanka