The world has become a more dangerous place. While the Western media directs the world’s attention to places like Iraq, Israel and Palestine, a similar deadly game is being played here in Sri Lanka. Like the more publicised wars, our situation has very similar characteristics.
In the Sri Lanka conflict, two violence-oriented parties, one governmental and one non-state, commit violent acts against the people and each other for political gain. (This is similar to Iraq, Israel/ Palestine/ Lebanon and other conflicts). After a quarter-century of fighting, both sides have reached the point that, despite being able to inflict tremendous suffering on civilian populations, neither can achieve a military advantage over the other in the field.
However, through carefully controlled media sources on both sides, they each manage to portray themselves as heroic defenders of “the people”, while stirring up hatred and enmity among the general population. Both the Government and LTTE try to convince their constituents that “victory is right around the corner”. In this way, they hope to get more support for more killing. However, the stalemate will continue, even while the civilian casualties go up.
There is NO PROOF that a military victory is possible. There is abundant evidence that two decades of fighting and 60,000 deaths (mostly civilian) merely creates a climate where more killing becomes easy. Calls for a military solution are wishful thinking that ignore a 25 year long reality: the only thing that the military powers can do is kill each other and kill innocent civilians in the process.
Both the Government and LTTE claim to fight for “humanitarian” reasons. However, both completely disregard the people in their insane attempts to punish each other. In order to inflict suffering on the other, they use tactics of fear, suffering, intimidation, pain and death. Both sides practise indiscriminate shelling and bombing in civilian areas, as well as subjecting civilian populations to dangerous, degrading and humiliating circumstances (cutting off critical water supplies, denial of services).
While giving lip-service to “protecting civilians”, both sides are seeking a military advantage on the ground. Their consciousness is not humanitarian.
Neither side in this conflict can claim to have “clean hands”. Neither side can claim legitimacy. Neither side can claim to uphold humanity, while killing the very humanity they claim to uphold.
We are not naïve. It is those who think that either side can gain a military advantage, after 25 long years of war, who are deluding themselves. The quest for killing and for power over others drives the perpetrators of violence further away from sanity.
The problem is simple: violence. Each side claims that their violence is legitimate and the other’s violence is “terrorism”. To the frightened mother (Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim) trying to shelter her small children with her own body, ALL VIOLENCE IS TERRORISM. After 25 years, it is time to realise: violence doesn’t work.
SARVODAYA WORKS TO CRAFT A LASTING SOLUTION
In the face of the immediate crisis, Sarvodaya, along with other NGOs and INGOs, is responding with humanitarian assistance, necessitated by the warring parties. Sarvodaya is helping to operate a number of camps for over 10,000 internally displaced persons, providing first aid, medical facilities, sanitary facilities and shelter materials. We will do this until the immediate humanitarian crisis is passed.
However, this is not enough. Unless we END THE WAR, Sarvodaya and the other humanitarian organisations could be providing these same services to a battered civilian population at various times over the next 20 years. This is unacceptable.
Enough is enough.
Sarvodaya is working to SHIFT THE CONSCIOUSNESS away from war and towards a lasting, permanent peace.
Our 1999 “Peace Action Plan” campaign, aimed at ending the shooting war with a ceasefire and peace talks between the parties was a success. We helped to lay the groundwork for the historic 2002 Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) between the parties. The problem was that the parties squandered this historic opportunity with endless squabbling at the peace table. (After all, they are not the ones who suffer in war – it’s the people, not the war-makers.)
Now, in 2006, we will go further. We will not rely on the vested interests to make the peace. We, the people, will do so for them.
It is time for us to move the public conversation away from ethnic posturing and political self-interest. It is time for us to change our minds, change our society, change our way of governance and change our future for our children.
Sarvodaya’s vision for the peace process encompasses four specific goals:
- To move beyond the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) to a permanent end to the war.
- To identify an acceptable political framework that devolves power to the people at the most local level.
- To accelerate its work towards the economic transformation in Sri Lanka, specifically to eliminate poverty and corruption.
- To forge a national identity that transcends ethnic or religious identity, and recognises Sri Lanka’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious character; to create a sense of “one nation, many cultures.”
We have a four step process that will create the foundation for a lasting, permanent peace:
- Generate a common vision of a positive future for all Sri Lankans.
- Initiate a national dialogue for “Peace, Security and Identity”
- Catalyse a “People’s Constitutional Convention”
- Continue work to shift the field of human consciousness toward peace, nonviolence and community with large and small meditation programmes.
This includes the upcoming million-person “Universal Peace Meditation” on 2 October 2006.
A DECLARATION OF A COMMON VISION
Right now, with our team of “truth-seekers”, we are collecting the opinions of thousands of ordinary Sri Lankans from all ethnic groups and all walks of life. We will weave these statements into a statement of the future of our society: a “Vision Declaration”. This will be the topic of numerous conversations around the island, as we move away from the consciousness of a “killing society” toward the consciousness of a society that works for all people.
NATIONAL CONVERSATIONS ON “PEACE, SECURITY AND IDENTITY”
With the “Vision Declaration” as a basis, Sarvodaya will sponsor a nation-wide campaign of conversations. Engaging people from all walks of life, Sarvodaya will engage people in fundamental conversations about our future:
- How can we resolve our conflicts without resort to violence?
- What will it take to have all people safe and secure?
- What is our “Sri Lankan” national identity?
A “PEOPLE’S CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION”
We believe the “Vision Declaration” and the national conversations will serve as the foundation for a new “People’s Constitution”. Rather than wait for the warring parties to make constitutional reform, we will do so for them! Sarvodaya, in concert with other peace and civil society organisations, will help catalyse a “People’s Constitutional Convention” in early 2007.
Dr.Vinya S. Ariyaratne, M.D., M.P.H., MSc. (Comm. Med)., M.D.(Comm.Med.)
Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement
98, Rawatawatta Road