Demanding security and getting what? | Sunday Observer

Demanding security and getting what?

 It is true that the war was won, but at what cost to those left behind?
It is true that the war was won, but at what cost to those left behind?

At times, it seems that Sri Lanka is a candle burning at both ends. No matter which direction one turns, we cannot miss the painful effects of conflict. Lost lives and sometimes lives with lost limbs. Displaced groups yet to set foot in their childhood homes, burdened by the worry that they never will. Victims of explosions sometimes have been waiting for decades without relief and some are still in shock in the aftermath of the April bombings.

The real healing is in finding the truth about missing relatives, investigating into their disappearances, access to healthcare and education for children, clean water and infrastructure facilities for communities that were destroyed by conflict, livelihood support for a hopeful youth, or psycho-social support for traumatised victims, such as those who are rendered disabled, tortured, or subject to rape and sexual assault during conflict.

“We ended the war” is not an answer that can last a generation. The real victims know that the end of conflict does not mean guaranteed security. There were countless opportunities to prevent inter-ethnic violence following the end of the war. But political advantage through social manipulations was an easier bait. “The prosecution of our war heroes by the UN” was the stick that was waved in front of a population that often mistook fear for the truth. The pain, suffering and urgent needs recorded by the Consultation Task Force was that of our own citizens, but reconciliation was brushed off as ‘foreign intervention’. They never mentioned that 5,100 reported cases of missing persons were those from the armed forces. It was their families who were waiting for answers. It was they who were denied the truth until the Office on Missing Persons was set up in 2017.

Consistent priority was given to Chinese loans and constructions, lotuses that rose above the Beira Lake leaving marginalised families neglected in the mud. Those investing in sky scrapers often do not hear the pleas of the down trodden asking to be granted their most basic human rights. It is true that the war was won, but at what cost to those left behind?

The former Government openly fought against investigating enforced disappearances and abductions. Instead, this became a political tactic to silence the voices of opposition. The media was held under a tight grip and those in power eventually stood above the law of the land. What is continuously branded as ‘national security’ under the previous regime in retrospect looks a lot like political insecurity.

Even as part of the Opposition since 2015, they attacked and condemned the establishment of an independent Office on Missing Persons as well as an independent Office for Reparations. These are institutions addressing grievances and serving victims of all ethnicities, religions and geographic locations. This then is the first time in the long democratic history of the island that an Opposition positions itself as an entity against furthering the rights of aggrieved parties or victims.

It is a wonder that key political figures of the former Government stand strongly against the peace agenda and somehow this is okay with us.

The efforts taken by the Government in 2015 were many, but maybe, they came too late. There is still a chance to build a peaceful future for Sri Lanka.

Education, awareness and understanding about the importance of national unity is vital. Reconciliation cannot be achieved overnight or without the complete investment of every citizen, every community and every political leader. Following the traumatic Easter attacks and the anti-Muslim violence that followed, if there is any party that has previously denied the need for reconciliation and transitional justice and thereby deprived Sri Lanka of peace - they do not deserve to lead us.

What does security really mean? In the end, optics are not more important than healing old scars before they fester and development means nothing without the guarantee of non-recurrence.