Health and Psychosocial Aspects of the De-radicalization of Ex-Combatants

Rehabilitation of terrorists took place in a unique model of 6 +1 ( six plus one) which included Religious and Spiritual,Vocational, Educational, Health and psychosocial and family rehabilitation programs. The medical and psychosocial rehabilitation interventions were mobilized separately under the theme of ‘Health as Bridge for Peace’. The interventions were based on the two presumptions, namely, that war is a ‘disease’ and hence need to be both prevented and cured; and secondly, that genuine concern for an individual’s health, in this case, the ex – combatant, also helped build attachment to the community and society which was denied. The definition of health by WHO (World Health Organization) is ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’. Therefore, to ascertain an individual is healthy it is not only his/her physical and mental wellbeing, and it’s a must that the individual maintain a good relationship with community to promote social integration and inclusion. Health as whole helps to counter the terrorist ideology of destroying the social fabric and other human relations natural to growth and progressive conduct of communities.

The healthcare services were provided for Terrorist/Ex-combatants (here after known as ‘Beneficiaries) from treating the common cold up to the provision of artificial limbs for amputees. Primary healthcare centers (PHC’s) were established at each rehabilitation center equipped with necessary medication which can be dispensed at PHC setting. The medical officers from Regional Director of Health Services (RDHS) visited the PHC’s on regular basis. The beneficiaries who had experienced in healthcare were empowered to work at these centers with the supervision of visiting medical officer. Initially health screening was performed to identify the medical needs of beneficiaries and those who require specialized care were  referred to tertiary care facilities. Further, public health/preventive healthcare services were promoted among the beneficiaries with provision of health education booklet.

Many workshops and programs were conducted under the psychosocial rehabilitation pillar within the general health provision. The ultimate aim of psychosocial rehabilitation is to promote smooth reintegration of beneficiaries back into society by cultivating tolerance, moderation and co-existence among  them which can prevent future conflicts. Soon after the rehabilitation work became operational at the centers, the center administrators were provided with appropriate training both to be aware of the importance and be able to handle  psychosocial rehabilitation and the psychosocial first aid.

In very simple terms the ‘Radicalization’ is transformation of a person which occurs within, in his/her thinking and behavior. Therefore, psychosocial rehabilitation helps an individual in more than one way to adjust to his/her natural environment. What one will expect from his/her life family and society; a sense /meaning to life, Belonging, Acceptance, Purpose, Value, Being special, Having power, Dignity and Respect. Therefore, it’s important to address the above through the various programs such as Emotional Intelligence and strengthening of life skills, pre-reintegration mentorship program and the entire 6+1 model. At a glance the psychosocial rehabilitation may be perceived as only one aspect of rehabilitation but it is the collective effort of the entire 6+1 model. Though it was a center based rehabilitation many programs were conducted to promote community engagement, beneficiaries visited other part of the country to meet people from different ethnicities. This will not only help to promote unity in diversity but to understand the importance of diversity to co-exist.

Psychosocial approaches need to be defined as psyche + social, psyche is the person’s mind or the heart. The rehabilitation of ex-combatants is all about changing hearts and minds to embrace a shared future. Therefore, the center based rehabilitation programs will help the beneficiaries to renounce their terrorist ideology and alongside reintegration what remains crucial is the  community acceptance. Therefore, awareness raising programs for religious and community leaders were conducted in different parts of the country with the involvement of mass media to educate the public on the rehabilitation programs and importance of community acceptance of ex-combatants to become active agents of development so that they are absorbed into the  socioeconomic growth of the community.

An Art exhibition was held for ex-combatants under the theme of ‘’Reflections of Transformation through Art’’. The paintings were presented by beneficiaries depicted a very material to assess and evaluate the impact of rehabilitation program.

Painting by a ex-combatant resembling the birth (1) , growing up (2), schooling (3) , conscripted by terrorist (4)  and rehabilitation center thinking of his future (5).

Giving up arms entering the rehabilitation program undergoing spiritual, vocational and extracurricular activities and looking forward a better future.

Sinhalese or Tamils or Muslims we all have the same blood we all are the children of mother Lanka.

The beauty of the Sri Lankan model of rehabilitation is that it was planned, coordinated and implemented by Sri Lanka Army and they did the best with limited resources but with determination and courage in order to give the beneficiaries a life that is worth living.  It was heartening to watch rehabilitation in action under the same roof: two enemies who held weapons against each other.

Dr Safras addressing the 2012 Defence Seminar


By: Dr ASA Safras

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