By Salma Yusuf
Post–war rehabilitation of ex-combatants is a relatively new discipline in the field of international transitional justice. What is even newer is the increasing recognition of the inextricable link between successful rehabilitation programmes and the achievement of genuine and sustainable national reconciliation. In fact, rehabilitation programmes are now regarded as a sine qua non for any country emerging from the throes of an armed struggle.
A high–level national meeting was convened last week in Colombo to review Sri Lanka’s post–war rehabilitation efforts. The aims of the meeting were three-fold: namely, to review the current status of rehabilitation of former cadres; explore new ways of extending the current programme of rehabilitation from ex – combatants to the rehabilitation of detainees in custodial settings such as prisons; and finally, discuss possibilities of research and training facilities for further development of programmes island wide that could be used in the criminal justice system more generally in dealing with ordinary drug and common criminals to higher offenders of the penal law. The strategies envisaged include programmes to inculcate an ethos of toleration, moderation and coexistence.
Accordingly, the following key messages and observations were tabled for consideration.
REHABILITATION FOR RECONCILIATION
The overarching theme highlighted throughout the discussion was that in order to create a conducive environment for peace and reconciliation it became necessary to put in place such rehabilitation programmes. As one of the initial steps following the conclusion of the armed struggle, the programme was aimed at preventing a relapse into conflict.
Foreign observers at the meeting remarked that the rehabilitation programme was completed in a record period of time and that it is shorter than that which is normally required at the conclusion of a three decade conflict. Furthermore, it was revealed at the meeting that the Sri Lankan team involved in designing and implementing the rehabilitation programme have been consulted internationally, to share their experiences and have conducted capacity building programmes in Peshawar in Pakistan, Jakarta in Indonesia and in a number of other countries.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AS A STABILISATION STRATEGY
Taking the discourse one step further and locating it within the broader context of suspicion and prejudice that still exists in a small section of the populace, it was opined that the lessons learnt from the rehabilitation programmes should be transplanted on a larger scale in communities demonstrating such inter – ethnic tensions. It was recommended that amongst the useful channelling of the lessons would be towards introducing programmes for community engagement to ensure that recurrence of extremisms and prejudice do not re – emerge. This was tabled as an imperative in stabilisation strategies.
Future generations will be the ultimate beneficiaries of successful rehabilitation programmes. A sound programme will thus impact on the stability of the nation. Speaking at the meeting, an international commentator visiting Sri Lanka for the exchange, having worked in similar programmes and contexts across the globe, remarked that the Sri Lankan people have demonstrated the resilience and potential that exist to bounce back after a long drawn out struggle and ought to be used as an example by foreign jurisdictions contemplating similar rehabilitation programmes for not only expediency and the technical expertise involved but for the lesson that the ‘other’ is not isolated or punished after the end of the war but rather embraced into the folds of the communities and everyday life and living in the country.
THE 6 + 1 FORMULA
The post war rehabilitation programme undertaken in Sri Lanka was explained as follows: A coordinated and integrated effort was put in place beginning with the formulation of a national policy on rehabilitation of ex – combatants. Six key sectors of intervention were identified and adopted, namely, Education; Spiritual, Religious and Cultural; Social, Community and Family ; Livelihood and Vocational; Psychosocial; Sports and Recreational. The 6+ 1 dimension that was developed into the process was a community awareness programme which sought to sensitise receiving communities on the necessity to embrace ex – combatants into mainstream society. The reinsertion phase within rehabilitation included vocational and educational training programmes and pre – reintegration mentorship programmes to orient ex – combatants into living a harmonious civilian life.
The overarching objectives of the rehabilitation programmes were to facilitate the transition of ex – combatants into civilian life and further to groom individuals to becoming responsible members of the community while integrating into the social fabric of the receiving communities.
CONNECTING THE DOTS OF REHABILITATION, RECONSTRUCTION AND RECONCILIATION
Having completed the successful rehabilitation of approximately 11, 400 ex – cadres, the following have been identified as future plans by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation: obtaining foreign employment opportunities in collaboration with the Bureau of Foreign Employment and the private sector. The negotiations of such a process is currently underway; providing ex – combatants the ability to subscribe to a loan scheme of LKR 250, 000 at a 4 percent interest rate to enable the generation of self – employment opportunities; to put in place a programme to provide three wheelers to the ex – combatants with an exemption of the required initial payment; provision of pre – school diploma courses as a means for capacity building and increasing employability; utilise the services of the ex – combatants for construction and development work in the North and East which will in turn facilitate the flow from rehabilitation to reconstruction activities and thereby fostering improved relationships and reconciliation within and between communities.
HEALTH AND PSYCHOSOCIAL REHABILITATION
Under the theme of ‘ Health is a Bridge for Peace,’ the interventions were directed at medical and psychosocial rehabilitation separately. The interventions were premised on the two presumptions, namely, that war is a ‘disease’ and hence needs 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. The key activities conducted under this aspect of rehabilitation included psychosocial training programme for rehabilitation centre administrators which included psychosocial first – aid: counselling, listening and providing options as solutions for ways forward. This was followed by a Pre – Reinsertion and Reintegration Mentoring Programme which was carried out over a period between one – month and one year in duration. This was coupled with Training of Trainers Programmes for counsellors on pre – reintegration mentorship programmes which included orientation and exposure to the practical ways of encouraging diversity for harmonious coexistence, peace-building activities and identifying and fulfilling social roles. Training in emotional intelligence and life skills were also provided at such mentorship programmes.
RATIONALE FOR THE REHABILITATION MODEL USED IN SRI LANKA
What started off as a commonsensical approach to rehabilitation, namely, catering to the needs of the beneficiaries metamorphosised into a sophisticated model which was implemented. The factors that helped to nurture radicalisation were identified: a secure support base, propagation of disinformation, emotive strategies for recruitment and sustaining of a radicalisation mindset through the removal of contact of the individuals from mainstream society and demonising the perceived opponent.
Logically following from the identification of the above, the rehabilitation model sought to reverse the process of radicalisation through the promotion of an alternative non – violent means to achieve a sense of meaning, belonging, acceptance, purpose, value, power, and dignity of self and respect for family. The 6 + 1 components identified were hence incorporated back into the lives of the ex – cadres, which are elements of normal living of a human being in society. The ex – cadres reconnected with their culture, society, religion and family, thereby filling the void that was created with the end of the armed conflict, thereby preparing them for life in civil society.
The methods used in the rehabilitation model were as follows: emotive narrative techniques that were previously used for radicalisation were now used for different purposes, namely to celebrate the value of life, family, community and country; restoration of significance as peace builders through peacebuilding activities; countering of the single narrative of a mono – ethnic ideology through an inculcation of a multi – ethnic ideology involving training in the notions of diversity and harmonious living; supporting interaction and reconnections with family, society, friends, education, and vocation. This was coupled with empowerment activities that involved celebration of faith, religion, culture and traditions.
THE PRELIMINARY FINDINGS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSESSMENT
The national meeting convened last week is the first occasion at which the results of the assessment conducted by the international social scientists were presented. The statistical analysis presented revealed that support for violence had dropped significantly among the rehabilitees as a direct result of the rehabilitation programme.
The final conclusion of the international scientists was that they, as social scientists, would be in a position to, cautiously though not conclusively, state that the exposure to the rehabilitation programmes had been successful. The scientists went onto urge that the process is far from over and needs to ensure the successful re – integration of beneficiaries into communities to ensure that there is no relapse into violence.
This article appeared at The Daily Mirror and is reprinted with permission.