The research forum, attended by youth from 21 districts, was aimed at understanding the extent to which youth knew about TJ and the related issues, concerns, misconceptions and questions.
The discussions at the forum were based on a survey commissioned by NPC on youth’s knowledge, attitudes and perceptions on TJ in Sri Lanka with youth aged between 18 to 29 years and university students under its project Youth Engagement with Transitional Justice for Long-Lasting Peace in Sri Lanka, which is implemented with the support of United Nations Peace Building Fund.
The survey, which was conducted by Dr Pradeep Peiris, Senior Lecturer Department of Political Science and Public Policy at the Colombo University, was carried out among 11,000 youth in 21 districts and also captured the views of 400 adults in order to obtain a comparative understanding of the youths’ views on reconciliation and peace building.
Addressing the participants NPC Chairman Dr Joe William urged the young people to vote responsibly at the forthcoming Presidential election by analyzing statements made by candidates and assessing whether they were true or false, justified and contributed to sustainable peace.
He pointed out that it was the youth who had fallen victim to political manipulations that had resulted in the JVP and LTTE uprisings. “We must make sure the experiences of the past are not repeated,” he said.
Before summarising the results of the survey, Dr Peiris pointed out that what Sri Lankan society lacked the most were leaders who could take decisions.
“Who is trying to bring about change? No one is coming forward for peace. If it is peace based on politics, we won’t have peace. That is why we have to find people from among the youth to bring about change,” he said.
Some questions and views of the participants:
- A lot of money has been set out for reconciliation but people do not know about the processes.
- Constitutional reforms should be discussed with people at the grass roots. How can we bring reconciliation? Most youth do not examine these problems.
- What about the security of the country? There are different ideas about how to safeguard national security.
- Tamil people do not give priority to strengthening the armed forces. They do not believe that this will bring peace.
- We have doubts about punishment for perpetrators under the TJ process. How can this be done?
- During the war human rights were violated. Through TJ we will be able to give some relief. We have to look into matter properly.
- I learnt about TJ at the training. There are practical challenges in supporting TJ. Politicians have no will to see the process through. How can we get politicians on board?
- We have to discuss these matters in rural areas. Tamil people think they have a problem with the armed forces but the problem was between LTTE and the armed forces. If their attitudes change, we can have peace.
Some of the findings of the survey:
- Close to two-thirds of the youth who participated in the survey exhibit only little awareness about reconciliation initiatives that were initiated over the past years. In terms of ethnicity, the upcountry community shows comparatively low awareness. The Tamil community shows a relatively higher level of awareness with a little over half of the Tamil youth reporting to have some or high awareness about reconciliation initiatives. Sinhalese youth demonstrate the second highest awareness.
- Among the Tamil and Upcountry Tamil communities particularly, young women exhibit slightly higher levels of awareness than their male counterparts. Young men of the Sinhala and Muslim communities show higher levels of awareness of reconciliation initiatives compared to their women counterparts.
- Except youth from the Tamil community, all other youths, especially Sinhalese and Upcountry Tamil youth, think that strengthening the security forces is important to prevent the recurrence of conflict. The full implementation of the 13th Amendment is perceived as the least important proposal to youth across all ethnic categories.
- For Sinhalese youth, the most popular negative view of reconciliation is that ‘reconciliation is something imposed by the West on Sri Lanka’. For minorities, ‘reconciliation will perpetuate ethnic divides’ is the most popular negative opinion of reconciliation. However, the support for such negative views is significantly low across the board.
- According to the findings, endorsement of extreme forms of intolerance such as the use of violence and boycotting businesses are low among all ethnic groups irrespective of age.
- Minority communities, not just the Tamil community but also the Muslim and Upcountry Tamil communities, believe that their respective communities suffered the most because of the war. Although one quarter of the Sinhalese youth also claim that they suffered from the war the most, the percentages are low compared to the minorities.
- Youth were asked to indicate who and what they think of as the main blockade to the realisation of peace in Sri Lanka. A significant majority of youth points their finger at political parties as the main culprit obstructing peace. Religious clergy, corruption, and insular attitudes of certain communities were named as second, third, and fourth highest voted hindrances to peace in the country respectively.
- Prosecuting the perpetrators responsible for rape and sexual violence during the war is considered an important proposal across all ethnic groups. When looking at the level of importance given by each ethnic group to these proposals, prosecuting the perpetrators responsible for attacking religious places during the war seems to be the most important proposal for Sinhalese youth. For Tamil youth, finding out what happened to the people who went missing during the war is of top priority.
- Appointing a special court with local and international judges to investigate into the alleged occurrence of human rights violations during the war is the least important proposal for the Sinhalese and Upcountry Tamil youth. This proposal is listed as the third priority even for Tamil and Muslim youth.