The role of ex combatants in reconciliation

It is estimated that nearly 11,000 former LTTE cadres either gave themselves up or were taken in by the Sri Lankan Army at the end of the war in May 2009. According to Major General Chandana Rajaguru the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, 10,000 of these former LTTE cadres have been rehabilitated and released. Whilst some criticisms have been leveled against the rehabilitation process, many commentators would argue that overall the process has been a success. The government has repeatedly stated that rehabilitation of ex-combatants is an integral part in the overall reconciliation process. This article will explore some encouraging consequences that are a result of rehabilitation and look into ways in which the system can be strengthened.
In liberalized terminology, GoSL terms ex combatants as beneficiaries. They have gone through a varied rehabilitation process, a combination of vocational training and de radicalization including spiritual learning and meditation. Many if not all of these ex combatants have committed grave crimes against the military forces as well as civilian populations during the war, but their rehabilitation and release have had a positive impact on their lives. Heartening evidence is provided by the fact that a few of ex-combatants have gone on to medical school in the University System, many have completed some sort of vocational training while others have entered into marriage with other former cadres in an attempt to start a new life.
Academics defending the government’s stance on releasing many ex-combatants with a violent past have stated that it is a real need to forgive crimes committed by ex combatants, and that forgiveness will play a crucial role in moving the reconciliation process forward. There can be little doubt that this is true, and forgiveness is indeed a corner stone of reconciliation.
Some questions however have arisen about this leniency. One TNA MP has pointed out that, while some hardcore LTTE cadres have been released, there are many Tamils who languish in detention facilities as in Boosa for years for lesser crimes.
Whilst rehabilitation and release are important parts of ex combatants being restored back into their community, the greatest challenge they face is during reintegration back into their communities. There are accounts from people on the ground of ex-combatants who have returned to their former villages only to realize that they are no longer welcome. This is of course no surprise since many Tamils suffered due to LTTE activities, and now have begun to resent the presence of former LTTE combatants. Furthermore, and more damagingly, it seems that female ex-combatants are most at risk after returning home. In Batticoloa there were nearly 700 female ex-combatants who have been reintegrated in to area. According to accounts from the area, two females recently committed suicide after prolonged sexual harassment. This raises an important issue of the follow up programs that needs to be put in place in order to protect the interests of these individuals when they are most vulnerable. While the government has put in place some follow up programs to allow these ex-combatants to secure financial aid, through micro finances or job placement, there has been no psychosocial program to aid these individuals in the reintegration process.
While large amounts of funds have been allocated by both the government and other international agencies/foreign governments (International Organization for Migration, International Labor Organization, the government of Australia, U.S.A and Japan to name a few) in the rehabilitation process, there seems to be a lack of programs aimed at specifically monitoring the wellbeing of these individuals once they return home.

The government now after successfully completing the initial phase of rehabilitation must implement a monitoring and support structure mechanism to aid ex-combatants when back at home. This would ensure that the good work that has been done is not wasted, and that ex-combatants are supported right through the process of entering society. Having such mechanisms will reduce the risk of these individuals being the victims of those who wish to take advantage of their situation, and also reduce their vulnerability to be radicalized once again, and or become unproductive members of their communities.
International organizations and friendly countries too must aid these individuals in the years to come in their arduous journey towards being fully integrated in to a civil society. Furthermore, the government at the earliest must process the cases that are pending for the hundreds of individuals who are incarcerated under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Justice needs to be balanced and equitable. The path to reconciliation must be a holistic one that leaves no one behind.
By Shakya Lahiru Pathmalal

3 comments on “The role of ex combatants in reconciliation

  1. Many if not all of these ex combatants have committed grave crimes against the military forces as well as civilian populations during the war

    Rehab and forgiveness is all good and it’s unfortunate to hear about the rejection that some of these individuals receive. As you say, something must be done about it.

    At the same time, there’s no way to determine if this rehab is permanent. In fact, the idea of permanent rehab sounds science fiction-like. As these people have already demonstrated the capacity to, in your own words, commit grave crimes against the military and civilians, they should be regularly monitored for their own good as well as for the good of those around them. This monitoring also needs to be a long term arrangement as we’re dealing with lives here.

    Sorry if you already raised this point and I missed it.

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