I write to you today as a US citizen of Sri Lankan descent, a teacher trainer, child advocate, and an advocate for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. I spent several weeks in Sri Lanka in January and February of this year just as I have done each year since the Asian Tsunami.
Ever since the war ended, I have participated in efforts towards reconciliation through my role as an educational consultant, teacher trainer and peacemaker. Since 2009, when the 33 year conflict ended, I focused my attention on reconciliation efforts through several private organizations and friends in Sri Lanka.
First, I visited a rehabilitation center for former child combatants and participated in some educational and recreational activities with them. My first visit was in December 2009 not long after the war had ended. I visited these children ages 12 to 16 with a group of teachers who worked with them every week day afternoon. At that time, I observed their sad and untrusting demeanor and witnessed their physical and mental trauma. It was heartbreaking to listen to their stories of abduction, molestation and oppression by the LTTE.
From the first time I visited these children, I was struck by the kindness and nurturing shown to these children by the staff of the Center. Military staff who worked with them in the camp did not wear uniforms. Men and women who cared for them took great care to make the children comfortable both physically and mentally. It was a long road to recovery; but when I went back an year later, I was stunned by the success of this rehabilitation program. In my research on the plight of child soldiers in international conflicts, I had never come across such an amazing and effective undertaking.
I wanted to focus on this venture to put a very important and positive light on the handling of a very significant burden of any war. Children are the worst affected in any conflict. But the problem of recruiting children as soldiers is a brutal and dastardly act. Although the United States has not ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, I am sure you will agree this act of barbarism is totally unacceptable in civilized societies.
I am bringing this to your attention at this time because last month, the United States humiliated Sri Lanka by sponsoring a resolution on human rights violations and not once did it mention so many positive measures that have been undertaken on the ground. Not once did this resolution mention this important child protection exercise. As an eye witness to some of these measures on my visits to the North in the past two years, I am disappointed at the way we in the US have acted towards a nation that has finally put a stop to the daily violence by the LTTE. They may have billions to lobby congress but they have the blood of innocent children on their hands.
In February this year, I was involved with other children’s projects designed to promote reconciliation efforts. We had joint educational and social projects between the children of both the North and the South which resulted in many heartwarming exchanges between these children. Many groups in Sri Lanka have activated wonderful opportunities for reconciliation. These efforts by both the government and private organizations need to be recognized and encouraged. The US needs to listen to those people who want a united Sri Lanka. It is time to recognize Tigers in Sheep’s clothing; the Pro-LTTE Diaspora are not the experts on Sri Lanka. There is a large silent majority including Tamil citizens in Sri Lanka who do not agree with their ideas and tactics.
If the goal of some Western powers is to divide the country along ethnic lines, this will certainly happen. What the UNHCR resolution has achieved indirectly is the creation of distrust in the Sri Lankan community. The Pro-LTTE Diaspora has been emboldened by the results of this biased decision and they are doing their utmost to destroy a sovereign state and its gentle people. Most of the pro-LTTE Diaspora have not stepped foot on Sri Lankan soil after the end of the conflict. We, who have regularly visited and worked with the people of the North have a very different view of things on the ground . Using doctored material, these divisive individuals have spread false information to members of the international community who in turn have fallen for it Hook , Line and Sinker.
Sri Lanka has made tremendous strides since the successful end of its war against terrorism in May 2009. Since the end of the conflict, Sri Lanka has:
- Resettled 300,000 people who were displaced by the conflict;
- Invested $1 billion annually on new infrastructure to help support livelihoods and the economy, especially in conflict-affected areas;
- Rehabilitated over 1,000 former LTTE child soldiers and re-united them with their families;
- Given amnesty and job and educational training to 12,000 former LTTE terrorists who have returned to civil society;
- Held Presidential, Parliamentary and Regional elections in formally terrorist controlled areas;
- Lifted conflict-era emergency regulations that were in place for 26 years;
- Agreed to adopt the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
I hope you will consider the view of those of us who have no vote in Sri Lanka, no affiliation to any political party in Sri Lanka, and no hidden agenda. As a teacher, peace advocate and one who seeks peace for ALL children of Sri Lanka, I respectfully ask you to consider these facts I have noted.