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Government Needs To Observe The Example That Civil Society Organisations Have Provided In Commemorating All Who Lost Their Lives

The joint commemoration event titled “Turning Point” held on May 17 at Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo was in memory of the loss of life that took place 15 years ago at the war’s end for people from all sides. It is an indication that the wounds of the three-decade long war are beginning to heal. The event was organized by a civil society collective consisting of inter-religious groups, different NGOs and Diaspora groups.

The National Peace Council appreciates the leadership role played by the Dharmashakthi Organisation, the Institute for Democratic Reforms and Electoral Studies (IRES), the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA), Sangha for a Better Sri Lanka (SBSL) and Global Tamil Forum (GTF). Those at the evening open-air event were persons of all ethnicities and religions, religious clergy and politicians. The images shown at the event and the words spoken represented a common concern for all life, including security services personnel, lost during the war.

Unfortunately, the continued polarization on the issue of memorialization is to be seen in the way in which May 18 is commemorated in the north and east of the country as a day of sorrow, while May 19 is commemorated by the government as Victory Day and promotions are given to members of the security forces. The presence of security forces has been strengthened prior to the commemorations scheduled to take place in the north and east, as it has been ever since the war ended.

The National Peace Council condemns the arrest and harassment of those who wish to mark May 18 or that week as a period of sorrow owing to the loss of civilian life, which are also Sri Lankan lives whoever they may be, in the last battles of the war. The path to national reconciliation is not for members of the security forces to drag men and women away at night from their homes and arrest them as happened last week in the east for trying to commemorate their loved ones.

There can be no reconciliation process if there is no justice. Those who wish to commemorate have a right to do so. In fact, the Reparation Act provides for it. Section 27 of the Reparations Act states that “collective reparations mean, such measures as are intended to recognize the right to an effective remedy and benefits to the communities or groups of aggrieved persons and shall include(a) means of remembrance of deceased persons, including memorials…” If there is to be reconciliation, it is incumbent on the government to uphold the law and observe the example that civil society organisations provide in commemorating all who lost their lives and replicate it on a macro-scale.

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