Thursday, September 11, 2008

SL: Justice,Fairness,Tolerance...make Peace ...!

Only justice and fairness could deliver ‘real peace’–
Sec. Gen. International Lynn Ockersz

One of the biggest challenges which would confront the Sri Lankan government and Sri Lankan society as a whole, once the ‘violent phase’ in the country’s ethnic conflict is over, is to build a ‘real peace’ based on justice, fairness towards all communities and tolerance among peoples, Secretary General, International Alert, Dan Smith said.

Speaking to ’The Sunday Island’ in an exclusive interview, while in Sri Lanka on a brief visit, Smith said that there is no avoiding the need to negotiate a settlement to this country’s conflict, once the current military operations are over. ‘The vast majority of armed conflicts in the modern era have ended by agreement and therefore by using the techniques of one kind or another from the field of conflict-resolution’, he explained. Even on those few occasions where conflicts of the kind in Sri Lanka seem to have been resolved militarily, the ‘armed conflicts have come back a couple of years on’, thereby underscoring the need for peace agreements among the parties to the conflict, once military action has been concluded.

Explaining the rationale for International Alert’s current involvement with Sri Lanka’s business sector, Smith said that the building of a strong economy, through the fostering of entrepreneurial development, particularly among local youth, could lay the basis for sustained peace and stability, for, youth unemployment ‘carries a severe economic risk with a conflict potential built into it’.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: What are International Alert’s priorities in Sri Lanka at present?

A: We are working with the business communities, both in Colombo and in the provinces, looking at business opportunities and at conflict-sensitive development in the business sector; looking at how this could support peaceful development in Sri Lanka. We are also working on the issues of youth unemployment and potential marginalization of young people, which we see as not just in Sri Lanka but in several other countries too. They carry a severe economic risk with a conflict potential built into it. These are our main areas of priority.

Q: What is the relationship between business development and peace-building?

A: Everybody who has looked at peace-building agrees that there is no way of building peace without building an economy with strong foundations. A crucial component in the strong foundations of the economy is the business sector. The economic policy of the government needs to be right and the revenue base needs to be strong and the spending priorities needs to be on target, but a good, strong role for the business sector is also important.

Q: What are the issue areas in which International Alert advises the Lankan state? Would you describe this relationship as constructive?

A: I think we do have a constructive relationship with the Lankan state and I think that in part is based on the recognition that the work we do with the business sector is important. I would not want to depict ourselves as being in a position where we are giving the Lankan state advice as if from on high, telling them what to do. But, for example, we have been part of the process of working out the Youth Employment Action Plan and we hope to continue having good co-operation with the Lankan state on aspects of the work we are doing with the private sector, like the ‘Learn and Lead’ programme, which is about educational opportunities. I think it is both constructive and rather quiet but it is working out.

Q: Right now the Lankan state seems to be giving priority to a military solution over a political solution to the conflict here. Do you see this policy decision as contributing towards conflict-resolution?

A: The vast majority of armed conflicts in the modern era have ended by agreement and therefore by using the techniques of one kind or another from the field of conflict-resolution. There are very few conflicts which have ended through military victories. There have been occasions where there have been apparent military victories but a couple of years on, the armed conflict has come back. Also, there are very many peace agreements which have failed, and the armed conflict has returned afterwards. Now, I think the Sri Lankan government has made its decision about how to resolve the conflict and the reports seem to show that on the military front it is having success. What remains to be seen, what is going to be a very big challenge for the Lankan government and for Sri Lankan society as a whole, is how to build peace when the immediate violence of the war is over. That is a challenge which a government and a society face whether the fighting comes to an end through an apparent military victory or through what seems to be a peace agreement. However you get to the end of the violent phase of the conflict you still have the challenge of building a real peace; because peace is more than the absence of violence. Peace is also about justice , about fairness, about people tolerating each other and getting on with their lives in a constructive way., in relationship to each other crossing caste lines, class lines, ethnic lines and other sorts of lines and traditions. That is a big challenge which will face this country as it did in the case of my own country, Northern Ireland.

Q: Currently, there are sections in Sri Lanka which see the involvement of organizations, such as International Alert, in conflict-resolution, as more destructive rather than constructive. What are your observations on this issue?

A: I hear and understand those points of view when expressed but I think that when you look at what we actually do, and if you look at it without ideological blinkers, you could see that it is aimed towards working with constructive groups in society, especially in business sector, with the aim of building a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Sri Lanka. If there are people who object to those aims, well, then, there is a principled argument in politics to have - a principled argument of political values. If people are simply suspicious about just what we do, we say, look closely at what we do now, and you will not find in it those things which people seem to fear. Whether there are other organizations on which people have had different views from time to time, that is not really for me to comment on. I can stand for what International Alert does and am proud of the contribution we have made to peace-building in over 20 countries around the world, including Sri Lanka.

Q: Coming to your native land of Northern Ireland, what do you think has contributed towards strengthening the peace process there?

A: I think there has been good statesmanship on both sides. Alongside of that you had propitious conditions; prosperity in Ireland itself. This meant that in Ireland itself, it seemed to be less important to unite the island of Ireland. The result of that was that there was more talk about reaching a pragmatic solution. And the pragmatic solution which was reached was sharing of power and the sharing of responsibility. I think that the majority of people in Northern Ireland and even in the whole of Ireland were simply tired of this war. But one thing, perhaps, what people don’t understand when they see it from afar is that by the 1980s this was really on a world scale; it was a very small problem – 30, 40 or 50 people were being killed each year and those people should not have been killed and it was a tragedy they were. But compared to the scale of violence in Sri Lanka, let alone in Iraq or Afghanistan or Sudan, this was really a small armed conflict. And it was one that seemed to a lot of people to have lost its purpose and when they got an opportunity to vote for peace, they did so with a massive majority. In the final analysis, you got good leadership, propitious economic conditions and the will of the people.

Q: How would you assess the impact of the US-led ‘war on terror’ on peace-building world-wide?

A: I think what has been called ‘the war on terror’, when it has been placed in this global context, risks treating all sorts of groups as if they were the same and seriously risks overlooking the real social grievances of these societies. I don’t think it is really useful to spray this label of terror all over the world arbitrarily and blindly on different groups. One could see that in the Middle East, for example, it is highly counter-productive. In the Philippines it risks being seen as counter-productive. I am struck by the fact that Nelson Mandela has just come off the lists of ‘terrorists’ and that to me captures the dilemma completely. I think there are some places where what has been done under the label of the ‘war on terror’, at least in terms of its objectives, one could agree with, but if it is carried out in some way to justify the invasion of Iraq, which I regard as a complete violation of International Law, that I regard as misleading as to the motives to go into Iraq, and generally suggest that the war on terror is as much as anything only a rhetorical device and rhetorical devices could always mislead as to their intentions.
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