Thursday (9) sessions of the Army-organized ‘Defence Seminar - 2012’ at Colombo Galadari Hotel had been set apart for deliberations on ‘Rehabilitation and Reintegration’ which evoked interest among many of the delegates since Sri Lanka could be the one and only nation which completed reintegration of ex-combatants within such a short span of time after proper rehabilitation.
A colourful and impressive entertaining display of artistic talents, presented by a group of rehabilitees (ex-combatants), at the outset warmed up the inaugural session, together with a screen play, preparing the ground for commencement of discussions on ‘Rehabilitation of Ex-combatants’ and ‘LTTE De-radicalization - Preliminary Findings’.
Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe, former Commissioner General of the Bureau of Rehabilitation sharing his views on the topic, ‘Rehabilitation of Ex-combatants’ reminded the delegates of the uniqueness of the Sri Lankan model of rehabilitation of ex-combatants, initiated, designed, developed and implemented by the Army.
‘For those of us who undertook the challenge, they were not ex-combatants any longer but were ‘beneficiaries’. ‘Child soldiers’ became ‘our children’. This Sri Lankan role model was designed and put into use to suit the culture and ethics, norms and values and religious sentiments, particularly of the Tamil speaking people of North and East. We were to transform the mindset of the world’s most dangerous terrorists to be peace-loving and harmonious citizens. Rehabilitation was carried out safeguarding the human rights of the rehabilitees, victims of terrorism and international obligations of the State. It also ensured those rehabilitees contribute towards sustainable peace, reconciliation and social cohesion while creating revitalized economic prospects for future employability, Major General Ranasinghe said.
There will be Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers and Accountants from this group.
c. Mass Marriage Ceremony. Mass Marriage
Mass Marriage Ceremony
Beneficiaries of marriageable age were not deprived of their civic rights. Matrimony, according to their wishes was facilitated irrespective of their level of radicalisation.
Number of VIPs, parents and well-wishers attended the Ceremony including Bollywood Stars.
(1) The Bureau facilitated the entire ceremony including:
(a) Wedding Dresses - Sarees, Waittees.
(b) Flower Garlands.
(d) Individual Wedding Photographs.
(e) Wedding gifts in the form of Rs. 5,000/- deposited in joint saving accounts.
(f) Bridal Dressing by experts.
d. Peace Village. The "Peace Village" was established, to facilitate, reunification of married ex-combatants, who were undergoing rehabilitation separately at different Centres.
53 Couples, who had the privilege of being the members of the "First Mass Marriage Ceremony" of Sri Lanka, were housed in this village, with a plot of land for cultivation.
These beneficiaries underwent rehabilitation and Vocational Training Programmes, whilst living under one roof as a family unit.
e. IT Training. Fully fledged mini Computer lab, with 30 computers was established to enhance IT related vocational training. This was declared opened by HE the President on 01 April 2010.
It has the capacity to train approx 100 persons a day, Over 1000 Ex Combatants have got qualified in IT through this lab.
f. Pre Reintegration Mentorship Programme. Prior to Reintegration, all beneficiaries are given a special 03 day workshop on pre-reintegration Mentorship covering important areas such as:
(1) Diversity and Harmonious Living.
(2) Peace Building.
(3) Role of Man & Woman in Society.
(4) Interpersonal Relationship and Empowerment.
(5) Programmes on Banking Systems, Micro Finance, Developing Project Plans for Cottage Industries and Small Personal Businesses and How to obtain Bank Loans.
(6) Assessment of de-radicalization.
g. Medical Rehabilitation. 4$ beneficiaries were provided with special medical care including provision of Artificial Limbs, Wheel Chairs, Clutches, Spectacles and Hearing Aids etc.
h. National Identity Cards and Important Certificates. Beneficiaries who have lost or not in possession of National ID Cards, Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates and Educational Certificates were arranged with a special programme in liaison with Registrar General's Office and Education Department.
i. Drama and Art Therapy. Special Drama, Cultural Programmes and Art Exhibitions were conducted to beneficiaries, who had the natural talents in Singing, Acting, Dancing and work of art.
The Bureau created a special Cultural Group out of beneficiaries ,who performed extremely well, and were gainfully used within all centres, to convey the message of Peace and Unity.
Some members of this team, have become professional actors and another group has developed a Western Musical Band.
The balance is working as a Forum, Theatre conveying different messages to the community.
j. "Reflection of Transformation through Art”, was an Art Exhibition conducted in April 2011 using Drama and Art as another mentor; for the beneficiaries to express their feelings. During the process of rehabilitation, such Psycho Social Rehabilitation activities demonstrated a remarkable improvement in De-radicalization.
k. Friends of Peace. Developing a musical band with rehabilitees, who had a good talent in singing and playing instruments is another important achievement. Training of the Band was done by the Sri Lanka Army. “Friends of Peace” performed at number of musical shows at many places including Colombo.
1. Visits to South. Numbers of excursions were organized for the beneficiaries, to interact with the people in the south and the hill country, to understand the concept of brotherhood.
m. Reintegration Ceremony at the President House.
On 30 August 2011, 1716 male and 6 female totalling 1722, beneficiaries were reintegrated with a grand ceremony at the President’s House. HE the president Hon Mahinda Rajapaksa graced the occasion as the chief guest. Large number of Ministers, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Diplomats and government officials were present at the ceremony.
n. After Care and Monitoring. Close monitoring on the reintegrated rehabilitees for a minimum of six months period, is utmost important. Hence, Security Forces and the local Police Authorities monitored the reintegrated ex Combatants, on a personalized fashion y down to the village level. Simultaneously, a comprehensive “After Care” programme is implemented, by the government, to substantiate the successful reintegration in to the community.
Ladies and Gentlemen, coming in to Lessons Learnt,
Lessons on rehabilitation Process.
a. Transition from an offensive force in the interest of national security, into humanitarian service operator with the end of the war made Sri Lankan forces stand unique, in the way in which, they embraced the role of rehabilitation.
It is heartening to know, that Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation programme conducted by the Sri Lanka Army is considered one of the best experimented within the region.
b. Separating ex-combatants from ordinary IDPs was skilfully executed by the Security Forces, which subsequently led both winning confidence of the ex combatants as well as the IDP population.
Both groups felt that the armed conflict had come definitively to an end, and that they could now be hopeful.
Rehabilitation was the pathway towards national reconciliation and nation building.
c. Well designed, Rehabilitation programme by the Sri Lanka Army, which developed to suit the Religious and Cultural needs, Values, Customs, Traditions and aspirations of Tamil speaking community helped to carve out a model of understanding diversity, among the ethnic and religious groups.
d. Initial rehabilitation programs were geared towards opening the Hearts and Minds of beneficiaries, helping them to live in secure environment, with enough time, for stock taking and enabling them to rediscover their life skills, and education. The majority, responded well, which was evidenced through their active participation.
e. There was a solid understanding of the needs of the children and the ethos was "let the child be a child". They were the first to be resettled with their parents. The overwhelming joy, we have witnessed in this reunion of the conscripted children, was a sense of “lost and found” for both, the child and the parents.
f. It is obvious that the former cadres were indoctrinated, with vicious and fabricated stories, about the security forces, and had developed a deep hatred, and vengeance pronged attitude.
Hence, it was vital/for the beneficiaries to be exposed, to-the uniform, they were groomed to hate, and discover for themselves, that the military was there to protect, safeguard its citizens and uphold the values of the nation.
Lesson on Monitoring.
a. The Centres were sheltered, only with 500 members for the close monitoring and identification of individual behaviour and to assess their level of radicalization. This segregation, made intelligence agencies to do their identification without difficulties.
b. Conduct of Psycho Social and Socio Economic profiling, developed a system for intelligence agencies to monitor Ex Combatants during Community Rehabilitation Phase.
c. Timely conducted community awareness programs, cleared the doubts and uncertainties of normal public on Beneficiaries. This gave confidence to the beneficiaries to go back home, without any fear.
Lesson on National Policy.
a. Promulgation of a national policy, with a separate ministry, that fully understands the importance and seriousness of rehabilitation, that is quick to take decisions is vital. Because we believe, it is one of the key ingredients for the national reconciliation.
b. Introduction of aspects of rehabilitation and disaster management, into the curriculum of Security Forces, would be essential in the future.
c. Preparing highly trained civilian contingency to take the responsibility of executing the national policy on rehabilitation and disaster managements essential.
d. Sri Lankan model of rehabilitation of Ex Combatants, which is initiated, designed, developed and implemented by the Sri Lanka Army should be disseminated around the world, as a successful model to follow.
In the final analysis, the Sri Lanka Army must be commended for conceiving, designing, developing and implementing a very successful rehabilitation model, which resulted in total reintegration of over 11000 Ex combatants to society, within just three years, after three decades of war. It is a unique experience and a learning process to all Army’s in the world
In conclusion let me tell you a small story. During the latter stages of the rehabilitation process, a Tamil speaking delegation from overseas visited few rehabilitation centres. They interacted with number of beneficiaries. At the end of their visit one beneficiary gave the head of the delegation this note.