Calls for New Zealand to support a campaign to have the Commonwealth heads of government meeting moved from Sri Lanka should be dismissed, writes Aruna Abeygoonesekera,honorary consul for Sri Lanka in Wellington.
It was disappointing to read former Green Party MP Keith Locke’s article (NZ’s reputation at stake over summit venue, May 3).
Many Sri Lankan expatriates living in New Zealand have taken the opportunity to visit their ancestral homes, an opportunity denied to them for so long. Both Sinhalese and Tamil Sri Lankans living in New Zealand have travelled back to Sri Lanka after the end of the war and expressed to me the absolute joy of going back to their mother country without having to worry about suicide bombings and intense security.
In May 2009, the Sri Lankan military defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). This marked the end of a 26-year- long conflict that many pundits had claimed was unwinnable.
The decisive defeat of the Tigers put an end to the era of suicide bombings, assassinations and indiscriminate violence that had terrorised the lives of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion.
It must not be forgotten that the LTTE – pioneers of suicide bombings and notorious for their use of child soldiers – was proscribed as a terrorist organisation by more than 20 countries including the United States, the EU member states and India. Certainly, the last few days of the conflict were bloody. Which war is not?
But the Sri Lankan military succeeded, at great cost to itself, in rescuing nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians who were being forcibly held as human shields by the LTTE during the final stages of the conflict.
Despite many dire predictions at the time regarding their welfare by certain international organisations, nearly all these displaced civilians have since been successfully resettled to their former homes – no small feat for a developing country emerging from 26 years of war.
Thousands of former LTTE combatants have been through a rehabilitation process, given vocational training and are today engaged in rebuilding their livelihoods.
Child soldiers who were forcibly conscripted by the LTTE have been reunited with their families and have resumed their studies. Demining in former combat zones is 95 per cent complete.
Since the end of the war, economic development has surged. Annual GDP has averaged around 7 per cent to 8 per cent nationally, while the predominantly Tamil-populated Northern Province has recorded an unprecedented 20 per cent growth.
These achievements must not be overlooked. Most importantly, the period since May 2009 has seen the opening up of democracy in areas that were previously run under the totalitarian jackboot of the LTTE.
Denied the opportunity to vote for years or to express any form of dissent at all, Tamils living in formerly LTTE-controlled parts of the country are now able to vote in local, provincial and national elections, and are represented at all levels of government.
The current democratically elected Sri Lankan government enjoys widespread support. President Mahinda Rajapaksa convincingly won the presidential elections in 2010 and his ruling party achieved a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary elections that took place later that same year. Consistent with the pluralistic nature of Sri Lankan society, his cabinet consists of ministers from all of Sri Lanka’s ethnic communities.
Contrary to what is often reported, Sri Lanka has embarked on its own comprehensive reconciliation and accountability process. Several recommendations from the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC) report have already been implemented. The LLRC report was welcomed by the UN Human Rights Council.
The lives of millions of Sri Lankan citizens are immeasurably better than during the long dark years of the conflict.
What Sri Lanka needs right now is the support of all members of the Commonwealth.
It is encouraging that New Zealand is following Australia’s lead in taking a pragmatic and constructive approach by engaging constructively with Sri Lanka at the coming Commonwealth summit,. Attempting to isolate the country at this critical juncture will only undermine the post-war gains and harm ordinary Sri Lankans who are united in their gratitude that the long dark era of terror is over.