Reconciliation towards Achieving Social Justice: Youth Perspectives

by Selyna Peiris, Attorney-at-Law

Keynote Speaker at the National Policy for Social Integration; Discussion Forum on Access to Justice and Legal Resources jointly Organised by the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International Relations & Strategic Studies and the Ministry of Social Integration and National Languages, September 2013.

The topic at hand contains a few terms, which are “buzzwords” in post-war Sri Lanka and used by many in various circles when addressing different development and social integration issues. Let me pick some out and attempt at the outset to connect these terms to today’s discussion and set the foundation for my presentation.

First let us begin with defining what “Social Justice” should be in the Sri Lankan context. Paraphrasing many a definition, one which suits the context is that “Social Justice”refers to the idea of creating an inclusive and democratic society that is based on the principles of equality and unity; one that understands and values human rights and further recognizes the dignity of every human being. If that is the desired goal, then how do we “reconcile” our fragmented society towards this? Sri Lanka as we all know is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural diverse Island. A unique particularity about the composition of this multicity is that more than half the population is of one religion, ethnicity and culture. This is therefore naturally reflected in the representations at the administration, policy-making and legislating bodies within the country. In light of this and among other reasons, the “other” or the minority of this composition may often feel excluded. Since Independence, we have seen that this feeling of exclusion has led to various conflicts in our society. Therefore, the process of reconciliation should then entail changing the relationships of these antagonistic parties for the better by taking actions that make one’s view or belief compatible with the others.  More importantly, it should contain actions which are genuinely seen as being collectively beneficial for all Sri Lankans.

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National principles must address local problems

Garbage dump polluting the air & destroying the scenic beauty

I have been confronted with many problems during meetings of Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation Committee meetings, but perhaps the most unusual was the question of garbage which came up at Kattankudy. I was told that garbage was being piled up at the edges of the area coming under the Secretariat, though I should hasten to add that this was not the fault of what seemed an efficient and responsive administration under the Divisional Secretary – yet another of the bright youngsters I keep coming across, who should be given greater responsibilities, with commensurate reporting obligations to the people they serve.

Waste disposal comes under local government institutions, and it seems that this Urban Council gets rid of garbage by depositing it near the sea on one side of the town, and near the lagoon on the other. What I was told seemed so bizarre that I decided I had to check this out for myself, so after the meeting I went on a tour of inspection, complicated by the fact that Kattankudy has very narrow roads, and it was Friday afternoon, which meant that they were blocked by thousands of motor-bikes as the faithful gathered for prayers.

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