INSSSL and The Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation holds a Joint Conference on the Role of Youth in Reconciliation.
Sri Lanka’s premier national security think tank the Institute of National Security Studies Sri Lanka, operating under the Ministry of Defence together with the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation held a one day joint conference on the Role of Youth in Reconciliation. The conference was held at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on the 12th of December with the attendance of over 100 participants representing the Sri Lankan youth across the island.
The inauguration ceremony of the conference was graced by the Hon. Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation, Mr. A.H.M. Fouzie. Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Kapila Waidyaratne PC was the Guest of Honour. Secretary to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, Mr. V. Sivagnanasothy, State Secretary to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, Mr. Sujan Nanayakkara, Commander SFHQ - West, Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Maj. Gen. Janaka Ratnayake, Assistant Secretary to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, Mr. K. Nikarilkanth also attended the proceedings of the inauguration ceremony.
Making the opening remarks, the Director General of INSSSL, Mr. Asanga Abeyagoonasekare noted that, the conflict experienced by the youth in the country was a burden that was passed down to the generation. Secretary to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, Mr. V. Sivagnanasothy, highlighted the contribution the Ministry has been making in terms of reconciliation mechanisms operating in educational and media spheres. The Secretary of Defence, Mr. Kapila Waidyaratne PC further stressed this point by underlining how the youth of today will be the decision makers of Sri Lanka in the future, hence making it crucial to embed the ideas of peace and coexistence in their mind-set so that the mistakes of the past would not be repeated. The secretary of Defence also commended the INSSSL and the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation for implementing such a thematic workshop. Delivering the keynote address, Hon. Minister A.H.M. Fouzie underlined how sustainable peace would not be a reality unless there is unity amongst people of all races and religions in the island.
As a pioneering initiative, Speakers of the conference comprised of a cross section of youth activists involved in reconciliation initiatives from both the North and the South who shared the platform with members of the civil society and leading academics who are involved in peace and reconciliation studies. The conference was conducted in all three languages to facilitate communication and knowledge sharing amongst participants.
During the first session themed “Experiences and Overcoming Challenges”, Ms. Kamaya Jayatissa emphasised that there is no clear road map to achieving reconciliation. Ms. Sujeewa Egodarachchi from the Women Development Centre gave a touching presentation on challenges that youth with special needs face in the island. Ms. Thurka Krishnasamy recounted the experience she had to face as a young Tamil female. The highlight of the session was the presentation made by Mr. Sivakumaran Vinesh who is a beneficiary of Sri Lanka’s successful rehabilitation programme. Being a rehabilitated former member of the LTTE, he spoke of the experiences faced by rehabilitated former combatants whilst a considerable number of beneficiaries were also present in the audience. Mr. Vinesh emphasised the success he has had after being reintegrated to the society as a rehabilitated beneficiary. He also highlighted the hardships and challenges his peers and himself face. Making a special statement, Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, as a former Commissioner General at the Bureau of Rehabilitation stated how the first step towards attaining reconciliation was the pardoning of twelve thousand odd ex combatants who were put through the rehabilitation programme.
Mrs. Aaranya Rajasingam from the UNDP moderated the second session themed “Identifying Stakeholders and Increasing Youth Participation.” Mr. Chaminda Jayasekare representing Sri Lanka Unites spoke of how the movement operates under the principles of reconciliation, peace and justice. A presentation was also made by Mr. Thirukumar Premakumar of the International Youth Alliance for Peace. The speaker stressed the importance of having a community driven movement to take reconciliation to grassroots level. Mr. Ashan Perera from the Road to Rights movement highlighted how, due to a lack of understanding amongst each other, the Sri Lankan society is filled with mistrust and anger towards each other.
The third session of the conference themed “Way Forward and Avenues for Improvement”, was moderated by Dr. Chulanee Attanayake, Director Research of INSSSL, who stated that reconciliation is understood differently by different people and hence measures of achieving reconciliation are multi-faceted. Dr. Jehan Perera representing the National Peace Council speaking underlined the insecurity that the Sinhalese possess regarding the Sinhala language as it is only spoken in Sri Lanka and how this had spill over effects on the language rights of other communities such as the Tamils. Mr. Mohammed Hisham representing Office for National Unity and Reconciliation spoke of targeting the youth at school and university levels to educate them about reconciliation. Mr. Akshay Senanayake from INSSSL made a presentation drawing inspiration from reconciliation initiatives that exist internationally and making recommendations to Sri Lanka.
The conference came to a conclusion with the distribution of certificates to moderators and speakers by Prof. Chandra Embuldeniya, member of the Advisory Council of INSSSL. A report on the outcomes of the conference are also in the works to be presented to His Excellency the President.