Danilo Türk, Member of World Leadership Alliance-Club de Madrid (WLA-CdM), who was President of Slovenia between 2007 and 2012, is at Sri Lanka's Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). This governmental entity was set up to foster coexistence and reconciliation among Sri Lanka's multiple ethnic groups.
Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. While most of the population are of Sinhalese ethnicity, Tamil and Muslim minorities populate the Northern and Eastern areas of the country. Furthermore, many more ethnicities and religious groups make up the mosaic that is Sri Lanka
Between 1983 and 2009, Sri Lanka went through a long, bitter war. The conflict largely confronted segments of the Sinhalese and Muslim population against a Tamil resistance in the Northern and Eastern provinces.
ONUR supports small scale infrastructure projects, psycho-social programmes for those affected by the war and education for children and adults. These projects build trust with the minorities and bring recovery through development. The governmental entity implements much of these projects in the Northern and Eastern territories of Sri Lanka, where the war wreaked havoc and the fighting was fierce.
“When a government in Sri Lanka puts forward a reconciliation policy, it is always highly accepted”, says Chandrika Kumaratunga. She is a former Prime Minister of the country and WLA-CdM Member. She is now the director of ONUR.
Kumaratunga is very open about the challenges the current government is facing. Mainly identified with the Sinhalese population, the government has failed to deliver on the promise to build a more inclusive policy approach that counts with the participation of minorities. ONUR strives to build trust with the Tamil communities by providing them with support and services.
Recovery through development
The Northern Province is populated by a Tamil majority. The soil is dry and water is scarce. ONUR has built a small rain-fed tank for irrigation and some more tanks for domestic use. Poor access to land and finance also hinder the development of this land.
The former President of Slovenia learns about the projects supported by ONUR. They include community-run dining halls, health clinics, pre-school playgroups, psycho-social programmes for war-affected women and secondary schools that raise awareness of inter-community sensitivities.
The Ammahchi Center, a local restaurant, is managed by war-affected women. Having suffered the war, many of them found themselves lonely and deprived of income.
Another project offers psycho-social support for these women. At the Shanthiham Counseling Center, women who have suffered the war tell Danilo Türk how talking about their situation with a support group has helped them recover their self-esteem.
Danilo Türk talks to Tamil children at the school. They regularly engage in inter-community exchanges with Sinhalese pupils. They are building relationships that stand the test of time.
In a conversation with President Türk, Suren Raghavan, governor of the Northern Province, says that both approaches are not mutually exclusive. The country could move forward on both fronts.
"An open dialogue is a critical element to build confidence and ease our differences", he says. Governor Raghavan tells President Türk of the continued commitment to democracy by the Tamil community. There is a growing sense that they can work hand by hand with the central government. But the governor also criticizes recent efforts to centralize power in Colombo.
Agenda 2030 in post conflict situations
Through the Shared Societies Project, WLA-CdM has been developing for 12 years an extensive collection of recommendations and policy proposals that can help Sri Lanka put in place a more inclusive implementation of Agenda 2030. It provides a framework to build policies that contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), while fostering reconciliation and mutual understanding among distinct communities.
Good practices already exist. Uchita de Zoysa, a Sri Lankan sustainability expert, was unhappy with the government's efforts to review Agenda 2030 implementation. He created a Voluntary People's Review, a process where civil society monitors progress to achieve the SDGs.
De Zoysa, who used to advice the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development, thinks that this ministry has little power. While the country passed a Sustainable Development Act in 2017 —he says to the WLA-CdM Member — there is no consultation mechanism with civil society or monitoring process to review the implementation of Agenda 2030. Hence, the Voluntary People's Review.
During the mission to Sri Lanka, Danilo Türk leads two Roundtables. He presents the Education for Shared Societies Agenda. This set of policy proposals aims to build democratic societies through education plans that respect diversity and understanding between communities while fostering social cohesion.