Sustainable Peace for Sri Lanka?
Sri Lanka attempts to reunify a country torn by decades of civil war, using restorative justice methods.
WINNING THE INVISIBLE CONFLICT: Is Sri Lanka headed for sustainable peace?
From groundviews: a Sri Lankan citizen journalism initiative
The recently concluded Presidential elections reelected president Mahinda Rajapaksa, achieving just shy of a two-thirds majority; emergency powers have been partially relaxed; and the President has declared his commitment to national unity through the appointment of an eight member ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’.
In Search of the Truth
In constituting the Commission on 15th May 2010, the President stated that ‘having regard to the common aspirations of all we have collectively resolved that our people are assured an era of peace, harmony and prosperity’. The Commission is charged with conducting enquiries and producing a report which will – amongst other objectives – propose measures ‘to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities’.
Restorative, participative and transparent justice is not new to Sri Lanka. The Gamsabhawa (or village council) had a mandate to maintain local peace and harmony by facilitating the amicable settlement of disputes, which dates back to 425BC. Similarly, the head priest of the village temple took an active role in dispute resolution. Both processes were traditionally conducted in the open air – in a shed without walls, or under a tree – where any member of the village could come and observe, or give testimony that would be taken into account in the matter heard. Both offender and victim were given a chance to relate their side of the story, to explain what had happened and how they felt. When all had been heard, the community as a whole decided what recompense was due the victim, what justice should befall the offender, and what action was needed to ensure that the incident would not ever happen again. There, in the open, before so many witnesses, there could be no deception or manipulation – either in the telling, or in the process that followed – and the strength of the community was such that all were keen to keep it together, rather than fragmenting, punishing and bringing shame.