The Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation declared this week that a "National Integration & Reconciliation Week" would be observed every year from 8th to 14th January following a cabinet approval.
The Main aim of this initiative is to promote among communities of different ethnic, religious, cultural and regional diversities about the unity, peace, affection and brotherhood.
This is a "nation building" effort that lays foundation for united, strong, reconciled and prosperous nation which recognizes “Unity in Diversity”
A Press Conference was held at the Government Information Department on Friday the 06th of January 2017 to announce the National Reconciliation Week programmes and initiatives.
The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) notes with concern, the rise of hate speech in Sri Lanka in the recent past, which challenges the initiatives being taken by the government to heal our country after decades of bloodshed and destruction.
Hate filled expressions and actions by groups with vested interests, resulting in demeaning, denigrating and inciting violence against fellow citizens of various ethnic, religious backgrounds has no place in Sri Lankan society.
For the first time in contemporary Sri Lanka, the Government has a stated vision to build One United Nation by promoting Reconciliation and a lasting Peace. The Government is working towards bringing about reconciliation among all communities, making it the highest priority.
This is in contrast to the years before 2015 where power brokers in the state fomented communal and ethnic hatred, shielded by a culture of impunity, thereby inciting racism and violence against fellow Sri Lankans.
The Government and the people of Sri Lanka are presently engaged in the noble task of rebuilding a society in which Good Governance prevails. The challenges faced in realising this are immense. Yet, the new opportunities that have opened up and the favourable socio-political context created since January 2015 must be seized.
The active participation and leadership of ALL patriotic Sri Lankans is essential for the achievement of Reconciliation, Peace and honest, effective, people friendly Governance if we are to attain political stability, economic growth and progress we so richly deserve as a Nation. We must work towards acknowledging the differences and celebrating the richness of diversity in our multi-ethnic, multi-religious country.
Short, medium and long term efforts are underway to address the grievances of all communities and to build a sense of respect, equality and pride in every citizen, living in an inclusive Sri Lanka where each person has the opportunity to enjoy the freedoms that are the right of all citizens.
The strictest action must be taken without delay, against persons or groups who act to provoke disharmony by creating divisions among citizens along ethnic and religious lines. President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickrmasinghe and the entire government have categorically reiterated that hate speech will not be tolerated.
We welcome the proactive actions by civil society and religious leaders in countering the attempts to spread hate by very small yet vocal groups.
ONUR, while appreciating the arrest of two individuals from two different communities, accused of hate speech and for inciting racism, urges the relevant authorities to take appropriate action against all such incidents regardless of the social status, ethnic / religious background or political affiliations of the perpetrators.
We note that there are numerous complaints against hate speech and incitement to racism where strong evidence is available yet investigations and prosecutions are pending for some time. We urge the law enforcement authorities to take early action on all these incidents.
We welcome His Excellency the President and the Hon. Prime Minister’s unequivocal statements that we cannot permit racist or extremist elements from any community to challenge or imperil our chosen path to a stable, prosperous and plural Sri Lanka.
We appeal to all Sri Lankan's to engage with the Government to realise this goal.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
Chairperson, Office for National Unity and Reconciliation
The First Brainstorming Session of the “National Unity and Reconciliation through Higher Education” Programme took place at the Hotel Janaki with the presence of the Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation, Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga and the Vice Chairman of UGC, Prof. P.S.M. Gunaratne.
This programme is a collaboration between ONUR and UGC.
For this Brainstorming Session, University of Ruhuna, University of Jaffna, South Eastern University, Swami Vipulananda Institute of Eastern University, Visual and Performing Arts University, Sri Lanka Bhikku University-Anuradhapura and Jamaih Naleemiah Islamic Institute are participated.
Education to play a major role in reconciling Sri Lanka
The Office for Unity and Reconciliation, along with the Provincial Education Departments has initiated a programme to strengthen reconciliation at school level across the island.
The first in a series of facilitator trainings took place in Anuradhapura this year with 3 more held involving officials from then Eastern, Central, Southern, Western and Northern Provinces.
The Follow up student exchange camps titled "Sahodara Pasal - Sahodara Padasalai" were held last week in Batticaloa bringing together schools in the Eastern and Southern provinces, which have been paired to continue reconciliation activities amongst the provinces. Another camp was concluded in Central Province under the same initiative for the diverse student population within the province. This programme will also be held between schools of the Western and Northern provinces, and between the other provinces in early 2017.
At these camps, hundreds of students representing diverse ethnicities, come together for a 5 day residential camp where they will learn to live together, about diverse subjects related to Reconciliation, engage in activities and plan for an Action Plan to follow up before heading to their respective communities to work towards Reconciliation. A teacher education programme runs in parallel with all these programmes being conducted by the trained provincial facilitators.
The key objective of this programme aims to create a pool of facilitators among teachers and education officials in the provinces while connecting thousands of students to become change makers in their communities. This approach is taken as ONUR's medium to long-term plan for the education sector where these initiatives evolve into a long term plan to foster relationships between the provinces and wider student communities, in a sustainable manner.
The inaugural camps in Dambulla and Batticaloa were attended by the Chairperson of ONUR former president Chandrika Kumaratunga along with provincial officials.