HIMALAYAN DECLARATION


HIMALAYAN DECLARATION
“A Sri Lanka where every individual can live peacefully with dignity, trust, and no fear or suspicion, enjoying equal rights.”

Nagarkot, Nepal

27 th April 2023

Statement 1

Preserving and promoting the pluralistic character of the country where no community feels threatened about losing its identity and pride of place.

Statement 2

Overcoming the economic crisis, selecting an appropriate development model which encourages local production, facilitating involvement and investment from overseas Sri Lankans and others, ensuring the country is in a growth trajectory and making Sri Lanka firmly a middle-income country.

Statement 3

Arriving at a new constitution that guarantees individual and collective rights and promotes equality and equal citizenship among all peoples, ensures accountable institutions and guarantees adequate devolution of powers to the provinces, and until such time focus on the faithful implementation of provisions of sharing of powers in the existing constitution.

Statement 4

Devolving power in a united and undivided country, accepting the religious, cultural, and other identities of people and respecting those identities, and working towards establishing trust between ethnic groups and religious groups.


Statement 5

Envision a Sri Lanka that is reconciled and committed to learning from its past and creating measures including accountability to ensure that such suffering never occur again.


Statement 6

Complying with bilateral and multilateral treaties and international obligations, taking steps to follow independent and dynamic foreign policy, and ensuring the country takes its pride of place among the democratic, peaceful, and prosperous nations of the world.

Sangha for Better Sri Lanka (SBSL) is a group of Maha Sangha who have engaged in peace and reconciliation activities for decades and dedicated for a Peaceful Prosperous Sri Lanka where all its people can live in harmony, with no fear and doubt, enjoying equal rights.

Global Tamil Forum (GTF) is an influential Tamil diaspora organisation – established in 2009 following the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. GTF is absolutely committed to a non-violent agenda and it seeks lasting peace in Sri Lanka, based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.

Any conflict has a beginning or roots. In Sri Lanka, the marginalisation of youth led to two rebellions in the South and the denial of certain rights to the Tamil-speaking people in the North led to a protracted conflict. All three turned into armed uprisings that the State had to contain by military means when peace overtures fell through.

But this does not mean that the State has completely addressed the fundamental issues that led to these insurrections. Far from it, the scars still remain. This is why it is essential to go back to the past and see where we have gone wrong. There is no shame in doing so. We must come to terms with the past to ensure a brighter future.

GTF Meets Rammana Prelates

Other countries have travelled on this path before Sri Lanka. South Africa, whose White minority Government suppressed the majority Black community through Apartheid, gave up that horrendous practice in the early 1990s and appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to probe how this historical injustice was perpetrated. It was not aimed at punishing anyone, but rather at ensuring that such horrors would not be repeated.

In fact, the first post-Apartheid South African President Nelson Mandela, gave priority to reconciliation with the White community. Without any hint of revenge, he sang parts of the National Anthem in Afrikaans with his hand on his heart. He made sure that the White community, which some in his party thought of as the “enemy”, was involved in every aspect of governance. Similarly, the Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland and Ireland through a similar emphasis on reconciliation among former adversaries.

Having won the war in 2009, Sri Lanka failed to win the peace due to the myopic and communalist attitudes of the then administration which hurt the sentiments of the Tamil community with its majoritarian rhetoric. No attempt was made to heal the wounds of war. In fact, the Government celebrated the war victory as if the Security Forces had conquered another country.

However, under pressure from the international community, that Government established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Yet, only a very few of its recommendations were implemented and even then, in a half-hearted manner.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has always stood for resolving the National Question, has now filled this lacuna by deciding to establish an independent Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation (CTUR). This proposed Commission will be established through an Act of Parliament. It is currently in the drafting process as a concept paper in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

The concept paper, used to prepare the final draft of the Bill for Parliament, will soon be available for comments to ensure an inclusive process in developing legislation that strengthens and safeguards national unity through Truth, Transitional Justice, Reconciliation, Reparation and Social Cohesion.

A key objective of this process is to establish the truth regarding post-conflict grievances of Sri Lankan citizens, facilitating reconciliation, reparation and sustainable peace. The Commission aims to ensure and strengthen national unity, peace, the rule of law, coexistence, equality, tolerance, respect for diversity and reconciliation among Sri Lankans. This commitment extends to preventing any recurrence of disharmony and future conflict between the diverse communities.

In another related and significant move towards reconciliation, prominent bhikkhus and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the leading Tamil Diaspora group, jointly presented the “Himalayan Declaration” to President Wickremesinghe. The Declaration advocates for a pluralistic Sri Lanka that promotes the well-being of all communities. Emphasizing the importance of learning from the nation’s historical missteps, the Declaration underscores the necessity for implementing measures that ensure accountability.

This historic step would have been unthinkable even five years ago, with some prominent bhikkhus taking a hardline Sinhala Buddhist nationalistic stance that explicitly ruled out any concessions for the Tamil and Muslim communities. They saw the ghosts of the Tigers in the Tamil Diaspora at every turn. The Diaspora, in turn, did not want to settle for anything less than a separate State, though this was to be achieved through diplomatic moves.

Time heals many wounds and opens new perspectives. It seems that both sides have mellowed over the years and understood the futility of still clinging on to a war mentality.

As both sides have pointed out in the Himalayan Declaration, the time has come for a new beginning for Sri Lanka which has undergone many trials and tribulations over the past few decades due to our inability to make peace with ourselves. This ultimately led to a devastating war that pitted brother against brother, sister against sister.

Other countries such as Singapore which managed to retain ethnic harmony grew by leaps and bounds whereas Sri Lanka fell into a chasm from which it was extremely hard to emerge unscathed. Unfortunately, our politicians on both sides of the ethnic divide, helped no doubt by some sections of the clergy and the so-called intelligentsia, added fuel to the ethnic conflagration to meet their own political ends. But now, their time is up, as evidenced by the historic accord between leading bhikkhus and the Tamil Diaspora.

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Any conflict has a beginning or roots. In Sri Lanka, the marginalisation of youth led to two rebellions in the South and the denial of certain rights to the Tamil-speaking people in the North led to a protracted conflict. All three turned into armed uprisings that the State had to contain by military means when peace overtures fell through.

But this does not mean that the State has completely addressed the fundamental issues that led to these insurrections. Far from it, the scars still remain. This is why it is essential to go back to the past and see where we have gone wrong. There is no shame in doing so. We must come to terms with the past to ensure a brighter future.

Other countries have travelled on this path before Sri Lanka. South Africa, whose White minority Government suppressed the majority Black community through Apartheid, gave up that horrendous practice in the early 1990s and appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to probe how this historical injustice was perpetrated. It was not aimed at punishing anyone, but rather at ensuring that such horrors would not be repeated.

In fact, the first post-Apartheid South African President Nelson Mandela, gave priority to reconciliation with the White community. Without any hint of revenge, he sang parts of the National Anthem in Afrikaans with his hand on his heart. He made sure that the White community, which some in his party thought of as the “enemy”, was involved in every aspect of governance. Similarly, the Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland and Ireland through a similar emphasis on reconciliation among former adversaries.

Having won the war in 2009, Sri Lanka failed to win the peace due to the myopic and communalist attitudes of the then administration which hurt the sentiments of the Tamil community with its majoritarian rhetoric. No attempt was made to heal the wounds of war. In fact, the Government celebrated the war victory as if the Security Forces had conquered another country.

However, under pressure from the international community, that Government established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Yet, only a very few of its recommendations were implemented and even then, in a half-hearted manner.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has always stood for resolving the National Question, has now filled this lacuna by deciding to establish an independent Commission for Truth, Unity and Reconciliation (CTUR). This proposed Commission will be established through an Act of Parliament. It is currently in the drafting process as a concept paper in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

The concept paper, used to prepare the final draft of the Bill for Parliament, will soon be available for comments to ensure an inclusive process in developing legislation that strengthens and safeguards national unity through Truth, Transitional Justice, Reconciliation, Reparation and Social Cohesion.

A key objective of this process is to establish the truth regarding post-conflict grievances of Sri Lankan citizens, facilitating reconciliation, reparation and sustainable peace. The Commission aims to ensure and strengthen national unity, peace, the rule of law, coexistence, equality, tolerance, respect for diversity and reconciliation among Sri Lankans. This commitment extends to preventing any recurrence of disharmony and future conflict between the diverse communities.

In another related and significant move towards reconciliation, prominent bhikkhus and the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the leading Tamil Diaspora group, jointly presented the “Himalayan Declaration” to President Wickremesinghe. The Declaration advocates for a pluralistic Sri Lanka that promotes the well-being of all communities. Emphasizing the importance of learning from the nation’s historical missteps, the Declaration underscores the necessity for implementing measures that ensure accountability.

This historic step would have been unthinkable even five years ago, with some prominent bhikkhus taking a hardline Sinhala Buddhist nationalistic stance that explicitly ruled out any concessions for the Tamil and Muslim communities. They saw the ghosts of the Tigers in the Tamil Diaspora at every turn. The Diaspora, in turn, did not want to settle for anything less than a separate State, though this was to be achieved through diplomatic moves.

Time heals many wounds and opens new perspectives. It seems that both sides have mellowed over the years and understood the futility of still clinging on to a war mentality.

As both sides have pointed out in the Himalayan Declaration, the time has come for a new beginning for Sri Lanka which has undergone many trials and tribulations over the past few decades due to our inability to make peace with ourselves. This ultimately led to a devastating war that pitted brother against brother, sister against sister.

Other countries such as Singapore which managed to retain ethnic harmony grew by leaps and bounds whereas Sri Lanka fell into a chasm from which it was extremely hard to emerge unscathed. Unfortunately, our politicians on both sides of the ethnic divide, helped no doubt by some sections of the clergy and the so-called intelligentsia, added fuel to the ethnic conflagration to meet their own political ends. But now, their time is up, as evidenced by the historic accord between leading bhikkhus and the Tamil Diaspora. (https://www.sundayobserver.lk/2023/12/10/editorial/11812/two-great-moves-towards-reconciliation/)
 

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உலகத் தமிழர் பேரவையினர் ராமஞ்ஞ பீடத்தினரை சந்தித்து கலந்துரையாடியதோடு தாம் மேற்கொண்டுள்ள மக்கள் மயப்படுத்தப்பட்ட வேலை திட்டம் தொடர்பில் விரிவாக எடுத்துரைத்துள்ளனர்.

குறித்த சந்திப்பு கொழும்பில் இன்றைய தினம்(10) இடம்பெற்றுள்ளது.

உலக தமிழ் மன்றமும் முக்கிய பௌத்த துறவிகளும் இன்று காலை ஜனாதிபதி ரணில் விக்ரமசிங்கவை சந்தித்து கலந்துரையாடியுள்ளனர்.

இதன்போது கூட்டு இமாலய பிரகடனத்தை அவர்கள் ஜனாதிபதியிடம் கையளித்ததாக ஜனாதிபதி ஊடக பிரிவு அறிவித்துள்ளது.

சமூக நல்வாழ்வை முதன்மைப்படுத்தும் பன்மைத்துவ இலங்கையை ஊக்குவித்தல் போன்ற விடயங்கள் இதில் உள்ளடக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது.

மேலும் வரலாற்றுத் தவறுகளில் இருந்து பாடம் கற்றுக்கொள்வது, பொறுப்புக்கூறல் நடவடிக்கைகளின் முக்கியத்துவம் குறித்தும் குறித்த பிரகடனத்தில் வலியுறுத்தப்பட்டுள்ளது.

இமாலய பிரகடனம்

இது தொடர்பில் கருத்து தெரிவித்த உலகத் தமிழர் பேரவையின் பேச்சாளர் சு,சுரேந்திரன்,

இலங்கையிலுள்ள நான்கு பௌத்த பீடங்களில் ஒன்றாகிய ராமஞ்ஞ பீடத்தினரை உலகத் தமிழர் பேரவையினரும் பௌத்த பிக்குமார் அடங்கிய குழுவினரும் இன்று சந்தித்து கலந்துரையாடினோம்.

சந்திப்பில் எம்மால் தயாரிக்கப்பட்ட இமாலய பிரகடனத்தினையும் கையளித்தோம். குறித்த சந்திப்பில் ராமநிக்காய பீடத்தின் துணைப் பொதுச் செயலாளர் ராமஞ்ஞ பீடம்தம்மவன்ச தேரர் கலந்துகொண்டு எமக்கு ஆசீர்வாதமும் தந்தார்.

அதாவது சந்திப்பில் அவர்கள் தெரிவித்த கருத்து என்னவென்றால் இலங்கையில் அனைவரும் சமம் என்ற ஒரு நிலை ஏற்படும் போதுதான் இலங்கையில் பொருளாதார மேம்பாடு மற்றும் ஏனைய விடயங்களில் மேம்பாடு ஏற்படுவதற்கு சாத்திய கூறுகள் காணப்படுகின்றன.

இலங்கையில் குறிப்பாக சமாதானம் சமதர்மம் நல்லிணக்கம் என்பன அனைவரும் சமம் என ஏற்கப்பட்டால் மாத்திரமே ஏற்படும் எனவே மக்கள் மயப்படுத்தப்படுகின்ற இந்த வேலை திட்டத்திற்கு தாங்கள் பூரண ஆதரவினை வழங்குவோம்.

மக்கள் மத்தியில் இந்த வேலை திட்டம் மேற்கொள்ளப்படும் போது இந்த வேலைத்திட்டம் வெற்றியளிக்குமென தெரிவித்ததோடு தமக்கு ஆசீர்வாதமளித்ததாகவும் தெரிவித்தார்.


Spirit of reconciliation in the air

by Jehan Perera

The Himalaya Declaration being handed over to President Ranil Wickremesinghe. (File photo)

A group of Tamil Diaspora members from western countries have been in Sri Lanka for the past several days. They have been engaging in a series of meetings, with religious clergy in the main, but also with civil and political leaders and with their friends and relatives. The highlight of their meetings has been the one with Buddhist clergy and with President Ranil Wickremesinghe which has received a high level of positive publicity. There was a time when they would have been viewed with suspicion and possibly even arrested had they visited the country as they would have been identified as supporters of the LTTE and promoters of terrorism. On this occasion they have come under the banner of the Global Tamil Forum which was a banned organisation twice, once in 2014 and again in 2021. On both occasions the bans were lifted when President Ranil Wickremesinghe took over the reins of government and defunct peace processes were restarted.

The visit of the GTF delegation and the publicity that their visit has generated has aroused the ire of some of their compatriot groups in the west. They have issued a joint statement stating that “As representatives of the Tamil Diaspora, we have learned through media sources about the recent initiative by a section of the Sinhala-Buddhist clergy and southern civic society. It is unfortunate that these groups have begun discussions with a selected and limited representatives of the Tamil Diaspora. This engagement, primarily with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), which now represents only a few individuals of the Tamil Diaspora, does not fully capture the unified voices of the organisations that collectively represent our community. It is important to note that the GTF no longer holds the representation it once did.”

According to the local organisers of their visit and their own testimony, the GTF members have had a warm welcome in Sri Lanka wherever they have been, including Kandy where they met with the highest ranking Buddhist prelates, the Mahanayakes of the Asgiriya and Malwatte Chapters, visited the most sacred Temple of the Tooth which was once bombed by the LTTE and also met with other religious clergy and civil society representatives in Jaffna, Colombo and in the next day or two in Batticaloa. In their meetings with civil society members there was no sense of distancing, no tension and no suspicion. This is indeed the way it should be, as the national anthem itself affirms—”Children of One Mother.”

IDEAL TIME

The present would be the ideal time for a reconciliation process to take off into a stable and long-lasting political solution. The terrible economic crisis that the majority of people have fallen victim to has made them realise that ethnic conflict is not a priority, but getting the country rid of economic corruption, pillage and class privilege is. In Jaffna these days, the hotels are filled with people of Sri Lankan origin who have returned from the Diaspora to visit their families and friends. The restaurants are also filled with them. Despite being pricey and out of reach of the ordinary Sri Lankan wage earner, those living in Sri Lanka can enjoy the fare in those restaurants with their relatives from the Diaspora.

What has been special about the GTF visit to Sri Lanka is that they have been engaging with senior Buddhist clergy for about a year. Even though it is a key Diaspora group that campaigned for the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka, the GTF members held talks with the Mahanayake Theras of the two main chapters and visited the Temple of the Tooth. In a joint statement with the Buddhist clergy they said, “We have been engaging nearly for a year with the intention of promoting understanding and peace among all the different communities in Sri Lanka. The preliminary structured engagement in Nagarkot (Nepal) in April 2023 helped us see each other’s point of view and jointly create a framework to start this national conversation. We arrived at the ‘Himalaya Declaration’ to guide the continuation of this important first-of-its-kind initiative in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora communities.” This is an important document as it represents an agreement between the two sides, and not just an extremist wish list of one side which is much easier to come by.

The joint statement produced through dialogue between the GTF and Buddhist clergy is a well-crafted document. It captures the spirit of what needs to be done to bring Sri Lanka to a state of unity through justice and reconciliation. The joint statement which is given the name of Himalaya Declaration (the venue of their meeting in Nepal) calls for:

* Preserving and promoting the pluralistic character of the country where no community feels threatened about losing its identity and pride of place.

* Overcoming the economic crisis, selecting an appropriate development model which encourages local production, facilitating involvement and investment from overseas Sri Lankans and others, ensuring the country is in a growth trajectory and making Sri Lanka firmly a middle-income country.

* Arriving at a new constitution that guarantees individual and collective rights and promotes equality and equal citizenship among all peoples, ensures accountable institutions and guarantees adequate devolution of powers to the provinces, and until such time focus on the faithful implementation of provisions of sharing of powers in the existing constitution.

* Devolving power in a united and undivided country, accepting the religious, cultural, and other identities of people and respecting those identities, and working towards establishing trust between ethnic groups and religious groups.\

* Envision a Sri Lanka that is reconciled and committed to learning from its past and creating measures including accountability to ensure that such suffering never occur again.

* Complying with bilateral and multilateral treaties and international obligations, taking steps to follow independent and dynamic foreign policy, and ensuring the country takes its pride of place among the democratic, peaceful, and prosperous nations of the world.

The Buddhist monks who have been giving leadership to the engagement with GTF have included Ven Prof. Pallekande Ratanasara and Ven Madampagama Assaji who took a principled and courageous stand upholding the rights of those of the Islamic faith to bury their dead during the Covid pandemic when the government of the day took the callous and totally unscientific decision to forcibly cremate those who had died of Covid. It also includes Ven Kalupahana Piyaratana who was a member of the Human Rights Commission. The engagement in Nepal, facilitated by Visaka Dharmadasa who was nominated for the collective Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 as part of the group, 1000 Peace Women Across the Globe, helped to create the common ground for the meeting of minds between the group of key Tamil Diaspora members and the Buddhist clergy.

CONTRADICTORY EVIDENCE

The high point of the GTF visit to Sri Lanka was the joint meeting between them, the participating Buddhist clergy and President Ranil Wickremesinghe. This meeting received a great deal of media coverage. At the meeting the president had assured the group of his support to their efforts to promote peacebuilding and reconciliation. This assurance would give reassurance to those who are like-minded that their work has the blessings of the country’s highest political authority. However, there is no getting away from the need for the political leadership to put its shoulder to the wheel rather than leave it to others to perform the Sisyphean task of pushing the boulder up the mountain. The government needs to give the political leadership to set up the institutions of state power and construct methods of ensuring justice which are embedded in the law.

For the past three years the Tamil farmers and herdsmen in Batticaloa have been complaining that the grazing land on which their cattle find fodder are being taken over for cultivating corn by Sinhala settlers. It is said that the grazing land was allocated by the government in a cabinet decision in 2011. However, since 2020, Sinhala settlers from Polonnaruwa have been annexing the pasture for corn cultivation. The conflicting permissions have caused tensions. Former Vice Chancellor of Eastern University, Prof T Jayasingam who now practices as a lawyer for the Tamil farmers has confirmed that more than 80 cattle have been stolen, slaughtered or electrocuted on the ground since the visit of the president to Batticaloa two months ago. The total loss is said to be around 160 cattle. He has stated that”This unjust situation runs amidst and despite the establishment of two police posts, around October 7, 2023, just before the visit by the Honourable President to Batticaloa, and his declaration on 8th October 2023, to provide justice to these people at Chenkaladi.”

Prof Jayasingam has also noted that “the eviction ordered by the Magistrates Court of some of the intruders, 13 in number, in November 2013 and undertaking by the Mahaweli authority to evict of all intruders in the Court of Appeal in July 2022 have not taken place. Nothing has been effectively achieved and it does suggest the ignorance or incompetence of the governance and the administration or its policy to undermine justice for the minorities.” When the words of the President, the highest executive, are not met with deeds on the ground the people will invariably lose faith in the system. Further when the orders of the court of law also are not implemented, and the police fail to act, they lose faith entirely. It is in such situations that violence emerges. Words need to be followed by deeds, or the spirit of goodwill and reconciliation that is in the air will not bring a solution to the problems on Ground Zero. The gazetting of the grazing areas by a presidential directive as per the 2011 cabinet paper may be a start to reconcile.

  For Immediate Release – December 8, 2023      

Start of a National Conversation: A Sri Lanka, where every citizen can live peacefully with dignity, trust, and no fear or suspicion, enjoying equal rights  

A dialogue between people, for the people of Sri Lanka – initiated by Sangha for Better Sri Lanka and Global Tamil Forum   Sangha for Better Sri Lanka (senior Buddhist monks from different Nikayas) and members of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) are humbled to be at the forefront to launch this national conversation between people, for the people of Sri Lanka. We have been engaging nearly for a year with the intention of promoting understanding and peace among all the different communities in Sri Lanka.

The preliminary structured engagement in Nagarkot (Nepal) in April 2023 helped us see each other’s point of view and jointly create a framework to start this national conversation. We arrived at the ‘Himalaya Declaration’ (of the above title) to guide the continuation of this important first of its kind initiative in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora communities.   Today marks the official start of a national conversation within Sri Lanka. We call on every citizen of Sri Lanka not only to join us in this national conversation, but also to start your own conversations with each other. We are committed to making this vision a reality together with you. We have every confidence that the silent majority in all communities (Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim) will rise to their civic duty and turn this national conversation into a genuine national movement. The prize at stake is a new dawn where every citizen can live peacefully with dignity, trust, and no fear or suspicion, enjoying equal rights.           

Background to the engagement  

Sri Lanka is a country with tremendous potential. That has been the case throughout its history. The country’s significance always outweighed its size and small population. Nearly seventy-five years ago the newly independent Sri Lanka had many attributes to become a peaceful and prosperous democracy. It was viewed that Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) would provide a blueprint for success for many countries emerging from centuries of colonization.
However, many countries, particularly those with different nationalities and religions, found this transition difficult, and Sri Lanka was no exception. In fact, the constitutional and developmental trajectory Sri Lanka eventually led to it being declared state bankruptcy in 2022. The impact of this on the neediest and low-income household in all communities is there for everyone to see.

Politically motivated violence and counter violence – whether driven by social and economic considerations or due to ethnic, linguistic and religious differences – became the defining characteristics of Sri Lanka. The most impactful episode was the ethnic conflict and the resulting civil war which lasted nearly thirty years. Its direct human cost was staggering – more than one hundred thousand deaths, tens of thousands of disappearances, and millions displaced, which created a new ‘Tamil Diaspora’ phenomenon. While these losses were not limited to any one community, the proportional impact on the Tamil community was many folds higher.   Equally damaging is the indirect impact caused by the violence. Emergency rule for decades, excessive militarization, lack of respect for human rights and freedoms, torture and deaths in custody, and endemic corruption – all led to a political class that was self-serving and lacked empathy and capacity for addressing people’s problems, including the long-festering ethnic and religious conflicts. Peoples’ trust in the political and governance systems hit rock bottom. Under such conditions, finding the country in a deep economic crisis is not surprising.   Nevertheless, the new awakening these appalling conditions have led to, and new initiatives some concerned citizens have embarked upon, are silver linings to the dark clouds. One such earnest approach has been initiated by a few important Buddhist monks from the “Sangha for Better Sri Lanka” and the GTF personnel to promote understanding and peace among all the different communities in Sri Lanka.    

Nagarkot Dialogue  

These discussions revealed the existence of commonalities between the parties – a shared vision for a better Sri Lanka for all its peoples – despite the apparent perception that both were extreme antagonists with unbridgeable differences. It was clear that ‘lack of understanding and the fear of the other’ were fundamental factors in undermining the ethnic and religious harmony in the country.   The Sinhala Buddhist community feared about preserving their historic and unique identity and pride of place in the (only) country they inhabit from the many forces they view as antagonistic, which include minority communities and the Tamil diaspora. On the other hand, the emotions and politics of Tamil people were always driven by a mirroring fear – losing their defining identity and viable existence in areas they have been inhabiting for long periods of history through calculated state measures.   There are serious negative perceptions among the Tamil people about Buddhist monks, who are viewed as a major factor in the continuation of ethnic conflict and suffering, but this view does not give weightage to the noble roles played by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks over centuries, including promoting the welfare of their communities. Likewise, the common perception among the majority community is that the economically successful and influential Tamil Diaspora is bent on destroying Sri Lanka, while not realizing or acknowledging the displacement, and the physical and emotional hardships they encounter in their adopted countries – all caused by the conditions they faced in the country of their birth.   One may find that these differing perceptions and fears are not always rationally based. It is also a fact that many political leaders and some religious dignitaries and others with vested interests have always, and will continue to seek to exploit these fears with self-serving motives. Hence, we wanted to reach out to you, for the people of Sri Lanka, to start this national conversation. Nagarkot conversation needs to be repeated between communities all across Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora. Such a process requires a guiding document that a vast amount of people from all communities can identify with. The ‘Himalaya Declaration’ arrived at Nagarkot is an important outcome of our journey together.    

Himalaya Declaration  

The ‘Himalaya Declaration’ is a pragmatic document that articulates a new and progressive vision for Sri Lanka, without being overly wedded to ideological fundamentals pertaining to any particular community. The declaration consists of six statements which are presented in full: Preserving and promoting the pluralistic character of the country where no community feels threatened about losing its identity and pride of place. Overcoming the economic crisis, selecting an appropriate development model which encourages local production, facilitating involvement and investment from overseas Sri Lankans and others, ensuring the country is in a growth trajectory and making Sri Lanka firmly a middle-income country.   Arriving at a new constitution that guarantees individual and collective rights and promotes equality and equal citizenship among all peoples, ensures accountable institutions and guarantees adequate devolution of powers to the provinces, and until such time focus on the faithful implementation of provisions of sharing of powers in the existing constitution.   Devolving power in a united and undivided country, accepting the religious, cultural, and other identities of people and respecting those identities, and working towards establishing trust between ethnic groups and religious groups.   Envision a Sri Lanka that is reconciled and committed to learning from its past and creating measures including accountability to ensure that such suffering never occur again.   Complying with bilateral and multilateral treaties and international obligations, taking steps to follow independent and dynamic foreign policy, and ensuring the country takes its pride of place among the democratic, peaceful, and prosperous nations of the world.    

Next steps  

Both, the Buddhist monks and GTF are conscious that we are groups of people that represent the views of certain sections of the communities of Sri Lanka, not every citizen or group. At the same time, we know that the path we are taking is a righteous one. It is a bold, first ever joint initiative of this kind in the history of Sri Lanka since independence. Promoting inter-religious understanding and harmony in Sri Lanka and in the Diaspora is the basis in which peace and stability can be built for the better future for all.   While our present focus is on different religious communities and religious leaders with a view to establishing inter-religious working groups in all twenty-five districts, many of the outcomes articulated in the ‘Himalaya Declaration’ will be possible only through relevant political processes. Hence, we have informed all key political parties and stakeholders of Sri Lanka of this initiative and asked them rise to meet this challenge. But the people of Sri Lanka and Diaspora communities have an important part in making the political processes count.    We are also actively engaging with the governments of the countries that are home to Diaspora communities and India. Our lived experience in these countries where diversity is celebrated and viewed as a strength, and our professional and personal experiences, make it possible for many in the Diaspora to contribute to economic, social, and cultural developments in Sri Lanka.   We are truly inspired of the recognition of our joint ambition, and blessings for start of this national conversation by senior leaders and prelates from all major religions including the venerable Mahanayakas, the President and leaders of different political parties, and civil society organisations that work to promote inter-religious understanding, harmony, peace and reconciliation, and equality and prosperity to all peoples of Sri Lanka.   The journey that we start today will be a long and hard one, but it will facilitate the creation of accountable institutions of governance and a conducive environment for resolution of longstanding ethnic grievances and economic malice. The success achieved from this national conversation have the potential to profoundly transform Sri Lanka with direct economic, developmental and quality of life benefits for ordinary citizens, while restoring its image as a progressive and respected country in the international community.   The Nagarkot Dialogue continues in Sri Lanka this week, and the Himalaya Declaration is now a public document. Turning the national conversation we have started this week into national movement where every Sri Lankan citizen can live peacefully with dignity, trust, and no fear or suspicion, enjoying equal rights rests with us all – the people of Sri Lanka.    

The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) & prominent Buddhist Monastics met Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe on December 7th 2023 and




presented the Joint Himalayan Declaration    
 
    The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) & prominent Buddhist Monastics jointly met with Mahanayake Theros in Kandy on December 8th 2023  
       
HIMALAYA DECLARATION

“ A Sri Lanka where every individual can live peacefully with dignity, trust, and no fear or suspicion, enjoying equal rights.”  
Nagarkot, Nepal – 27th April 2023  

Statement 1   Preserving and promoting the pluralistic character of the country where no community feels threatened about losing its identity and pride of place.   Statement 2   Overcoming the economic crisis, selecting an appropriate development model which encourages local production, facilitating involvement and investment from overseas Sri Lankans and others, ensuring the country is in a growth trajectory and making Sri Lanka firmly a middle-income country.   Statement 3   Arriving at a new constitution that guarantees individual and collective rights and promotes equality and equal citizenship among all peoples, ensures accountable institutions and guarantees adequate devolution of powers to the provinces, and until such time focus on the faithful implementation of provisions of sharing of powers in the existing constitution.   Statement 4   Devolving power in a united and undivided country, accepting the religious, cultural, and other identities of people and respecting those identities, and working towards establishing trust between ethnic groups and religious groups.   Statement 5   Envision a Sri Lanka that is reconciled and committed to learning from its past and creating measures including accountability to ensure that such suffering never occur again.   Statement 6 Complying with bilateral and multilateral treaties and international obligations, taking steps to follow independent and dynamic foreign policy, and ensuring the country takes its pride of place among the democratic, peaceful, and prosperous nations of the world.      
About the Global Tamil Forum  

Global Tamil Forum (GTF) is an influential Tamil diaspora organization – established in 2009 following the end of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. GTF is absolutely committed to a non-violent agenda and it seeks lasting peace in Sri Lanka, based on justice, reconciliation and a negotiated political settlement.   Canadian Tamil Congress is a founding member of the Global Tamil Forum.

For more information, please contact info@globaltamilforum.org and/or visit: www.globaltamilforum.org

https://island.lk/spirit-of-reconciliation-in-the-air/

About editor 3020 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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