International Conference on Harmony and Reconciliation | Sunday Observer

International Conference on Harmony and Reconciliation

5 February, 2023
From left:  Vice Chancellor, Vavuniya University, Prof. Mangaleswaran, Vice Chancellor, Ruhuna University, Prof. Sujeewa Amarasena, Rajib Timalsina, Assistant Prof. Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuvan University in Nepal and Prof. Svanibor Hubert Pettan, Chair, Study Group on Music and Minorities, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
From left: Vice Chancellor, Vavuniya University, Prof. Mangaleswaran, Vice Chancellor, Ruhuna University, Prof. Sujeewa Amarasena, Rajib Timalsina, Assistant Prof. Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies, Tribhuvan University in Nepal and Prof. Svanibor Hubert Pettan, Chair, Study Group on Music and Minorities, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

The concept of ‘harmony’ of a nation has many vicissitudes and facets that are needed for a society to thrive peacefully, happily and in abundance.

To move Sri Lankan society in this direction was the aim of the first International Conference on Harmony and Reconciliation 2023 (ICHR 2023) on January 19 and 20 hosted by the Harmony Centre, University of Vavuniya, on the theme of ‘Harmony and Development through Knowledge and Innovation towards Nation Building’.

The Harmony Centre was established under the University Grants Commission Circular No 10/2021 in the University of Vavuniya in September 2021 and is headed by S. Mathivathany, a senior academic from the Department of Project Management, Faculty of Business Studies of the University of Vavuniya.

The central purpose of the centre is to promote understanding of religious and ethnic communities while promoting the Sri Lankan spirit rather than parochial identities.

It recognises the message of harmony and reconciliation being relevant today and the need to formulate multi-dimensional approaches to conflict resolution in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda promoted by the United Nations. It seeks to pursue this endeavour supported by academic cultural diversification and developing sustainable research that complements the theoretical and practical aspects from a global as well as a local perspective.

Hence, under the initiation and planning of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Vavuniya, Prof. T. Mangaleswaran, the ICHR 2023 academic conference was held to set a base to reflect on the theme of harmony and reconciliation from historical, traditional, theological, economic, social, cultural, political, educational, and environmental and other perspectives.

Local and international scholars

Among the local and international research scholars, experts, artistes, religious leaders, devotees and practitioners who attended the two-day event which had both academic and cultural aspects, included the Chief Guest, Senior Professor Sujeewa Amarasena who is the Vice Chancellor of Ruhuna University, Prof. T. Jeyasingham, former Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University, Prof. Mohammed Abu Nimer, Director of the Peace Building and Development Institute of the American University in Washington, Emeritus Prof. Savitri W. E. Goonesekera, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo, Prof. Rajib Timalsina, Assistant Professor, Department of Conflict, Peace and Development Studies of the Tribhuvan University in Nepal, Prof. Svanibor Hubert Pettan, Chair of the Study Group on Music and Minorities of the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia and Dr. Senthan Selvarajah, Co-director, Centre for Media, Human Rights and Peace Building in London and the Gate Foundation in the UK.

Prof. Sujeewa Amarasena at the conference inaugural session, expressed words of wisdom on keeping the unity among Sinhala and Tamil academics and students within the university network in personal and professional spheres.

Education system

Former Vice Chancellor, Eastern University of Sri Lanka Prof. T. Jeyasingam addressing the gathering

As a medical doctor and humanist, he spoke of the ideal contribution academia and the overall education system can make towards developing an intellectual framework for objective analysis and solution seeking for a nation’s challenges. He described the first International Conference on Harmony and Reconciliation as contributing to creating such a base for humanistic perspectives to rise within academia with sensible problem solving.

Recalling his childhood and youth in a typical Sinhala village, he also reminisced personal humanistic encounters between the 1980s and 1990s in the larger societal context in Sri Lanka.

Drawing from those experiences, he said that whatever action done at any particular point impacting human beings, has serious consequences and urged for the promotion of attributes of intellect, understanding and empathy to reign in Sri Lanka.

“Winning a war is easy. But it is winning the peace that is difficult. For winning the peace, there must be contribution from across sectors and this is what we must work towards,” Prof. Amarasena said.

He said that the root cause of violence has to be rooted out from the human psyche of the nation and that the education system is a crucial place to commence the task. He referred to the recent incident of the murder of a female university student by her partner who is another student and said that this should open our eyes to how deep seated unrest and violence is in the minds of youth.

He asked for a re-thinking of the concept and purpose of education at policy level and to re-think of where what we describe as education has taken us as a country for the past 75 years of post-colonial reality.

The former Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University, Prof. T. Jeyasingam looked at the definition of harmony within humans from the lens of mother earth and all which live within its bosom. He spoke of the essence of harmony as lying within the heart of nature. He said that much could be done to create peace within human hearts by using this harmonious relation between earth and humans.

“We must look at how we build harmony with nature and link this to nation building to determine that our future is sustainable and that we are healthy in mind and body,” Prof. Jeyasingam said.

Negative influence

“The earth and all the space around it, the air, especially has come under the negative influence of man. We must understand that human development should go aligned with nature and not against it,” he said.

“Have we understood that we are just a smallest fragment of nature? With all our expertise what can we do when nature strikes? What could we do in the face of the tsunami? What can we do against a cyclone? A lifetime of expertise of man faces just a minute of nature’s wrath and we become utterly helpless.”

Nature takes only a few minutes to strike us into a helpless state. After such an event – say for example, the tsunami we faced, see how nature went back to its usual calm,” he said.

“Fifteen minute after the 2004 December tsunami, I closely observed the sea. It had gone back to normal. No one would ever believe that what had occurred had happened and that thousands had been killed by the sea.”

“Humans must realise that harmony is a concept that is applicable to nature and man in unison. We cannot do terrible things to either nature or man and expect harmony to reign. We have to think. We have to act with deep thinking,” Prof. Jeyasingam said.

He outlined the existence of Mother Nature in pristine condition in segments of the land of Vavuniya University which are nature conservation areas and commented on the many options for nature-based tourism in the university.

Such productive initiatives are those that could be conceptualised as follow up practical project activities connected to the ICHR 2023 Academic Conference, he said.

Academic discipline

Prof. Mohammed Abu-Nimer of the American University, School of International Service in International Peace and Conflict Resolution in Washington, in his keynote address spoke of the international perspective connected with conflict resolution which is now a global academic discipline.

He focused on both of the theory and the practice, describing conflict resolution as a fundamental requisite for credible human development.

Within this macro-framework, he said that the core need is for nurturing human linkage and individual transformation, pointing out that this is the microelement that influences and propels large scale social systems positively.

Emeritus Prof. Savitri E. W. Goonesekera, former Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo spoke of the interpretation of justice and its relevance.

There were panel discussions and presentations of academic research papers covering many aspects of harmony, unity, peace building and sustainable development.

The schedule of the conference had two key components which comprised research sessions and the harmony exhibition.

The research sessions were designed to focus less on paper reading and lectures but instead the format was geared towards deeper insights into a topic.

The research sessions featured in the conference consisted of two types; the panel sessions and the discussion platform where the panel session was on the practice segment and the discussion was based on the theoretics.

The panel sessions conducted concurrently at the conference venue provided an opportunity for many presenters to speak on common themes of the conference. Presentations by the panellists were followed by question and answer sessions that opened up to the audience of academics.

The discussion sessions were designed to provide an in-depth review at a specific conference topic from one person’s research or practice. Each session followed an interview format in which a moderator interviewed an expert to explore his/her work, knowledge and personal stories. The moderator also engaged the audience in questions and comments.


Together with high quality and innovative research, the conference hosted a harmony show featuring exhibition of art and entrepreneurship, especially by women.

The art exhibition had many artists, especially youth presenting work of peace, harmony and reconciliation through their visual stories.

Some of the conference themes included Social Cohesion and Reconciliation for Development, Communal Harmony and Social Development, Unity of Diversity towards Nation Building, Peace and Sustainable Development, Harmony with Nature, Role of Art and Culture in Peace Building, Role of Digital Media towards Peace Building, Literature for Peace and Strategic Partnerships for Sustainable Development.

The conference delegates attended a reception and cultural events hosted by the organisers which represented musical and dancing talents of youth and children of Vavuniya and the University.