‘Voices of Peace’: A novel approach to peace and reconciliation | Sunday Observer

‘Voices of Peace’: A novel approach to peace and reconciliation

Nearly a decade after the end of a thirty-year civil war that once racked the island, there are voices still unheard and stories yet untold. With the intent of bringing the conversation of post-conflict reconciliation to the fore, Sri Lankan researcher and author Sarah Kabir released her book ‘Voices of Peace’ recently. The launch was held at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute, Colombo, and was attended by a diverse audience of academics, activists, members of the press, and invitees.

The book launch was particularly remarkable because it drew an unusual number of political actors, who are rarely seen moving with civil society activists engaged in human rights and reconciliation work in Sri Lanka.

 Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa browses through the book that was launched

Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Hambantota District MP Namal Rajapaksa, UPFA MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara and SLPP Chairman G.L. Peiris attended the event on Wednesday, September 26.

While there have been many discourses and publications on the topic previously, Voices of Peace with its unique format of storytelling, attempts to blur the lines of division by offering accounts from both sides of the conflict – humanising the very real struggles of both.

Having spoken extensively with -and not just interviewed- over sixty active agents of the war, Sarah has chosen the stories of twenty; ten former LTTE cadres, and ten Sri Lankan ex-military personnel. Their accounts are accompanied by compelling images captured by photographer Munira Mutaher.

In a presentation introducing the publication, Sarah emphasised, “Voices of Peace encourages every reader to not just talk about these stories, but to listen.” Asserting that this was more a tool to influence policy on peace-building than mere reading material, she stressed further, “l urge you all to empathise with the storytellers, to internalise their message, and to act on it.”

The main aim with which she embarked on this undertaking, however, she says, was primarily to shift ownership of the peace building process to those on the frontline. On a more personal note, relieving these veterans of the burden of bearing their untold stories was added incentive. The balanced narrative through which these stories are told has readers empathising with each individual, irrespective of political inclination.

Gathered to celebrate the release of the book was an esteemed panel of speakers moderated by Executive Director, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, Dr. Jehan Perera. Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Aaranya Rajasingam and Saliya Pieris, (PC), each offered their erudite views on the themes of peace and national reconciliation in a post-conflict Sri Lanka.

At the event, Dr. Jehan Perera acquainted the attendees with Voices of Peace, lauding Sarah’s initiative at the same time: “In a divided society there is a need for an appeal to the heart. Sarah Kabir does that through capturing detailed stories of those whose lives have been torn due to the war. It is harder to negate an individual’s story that has been brought alive. Her book points to the need for a Truth Commission in Sri Lanka, like there was in South Africa.”

Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, General Secretary, Sarvodaya, was all praise for the project. “In a time where our country really needs reconciliation, Voices of Peace is a tremendous contribution to not just this discourse, but also to further research, and to mobilise even ordinary citizens to get more involved in the process.”

Sarah Kabir is a researcher and humanitarian worker. She has a BSc. in Social Policy from the University of Bristol, and an MSc. in International Development and Humanitarian Emergencies from the London School of Economics. After her Master’s, her focus has been primarily on peacebuilding and development work.

Pictures: Thilak Perera