During the most recent cabinet meeting, Sri Lanka decided to create a week for "national integration and reconciliation." This will happen from January 8 to January 14 on an annual basis. How should this development be interpreted? Does this matter?
The Sri Lankan government notes that this was a "proposal made by [His Excellency] H.E. the President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation." The goal is to improve "peace, harmony and fraternity among people and to implement various programs in all schools, media, public and private institutions demonstrating the importance of national integration."
Unfortunately, this looks like another cosmetic fix that's principally intended for international consumption. It's not even clear precisely what this reconciliation week would entail. "[T]here's lots of talking done on reconciliation while on the ground what's done contradicts everything necessary for reconciliation," says senior journalist and political commentator Kusal Perera.
Indeed, a reconciliation week is unlikely to truly help conflict-affected people or to meaningfully promote reconciliation. If the government wants to give people confidence that it's serious about reconciliation, it could make more significant gestures. It could, for example, finally release (or at least bring to trial) all remaining Tamil political prisoners. More broadly, it could make a more concerted effort to improve the quality of life in the Tamil-dominated Northern and Eastern Provinces. Or it could categorically denounce hateful, majoritarian rhetoric from the Sinhala-Buddhist community, including Buddhist monks. Yet the government is not doing any of those things.
Perera believes that this move by the government could be an attempt to influence the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in March 2017. And he's definitely not the only one who is thinking along these lines. Sri Lanka's compliance with a previously passed HRC resolution will be examined during the March session. Regrettably, Colombo has largely failed to implement the resolution and major positive changes are not expected in the coming months.
So, don't be fooled by this recent announcement.