De-radicalization Of Ex-combatants Underway

While Sri Lanka is in the spotlight in Geneva and accused of non compliance with the LLRC recommendations and several other accountability issues by the international community, there is evidence that the government has undertaken a huge task with regard to the rehabilitation and reintegration of a large number of ex-LTTE combatants.

Subsequent to the end of the war in May 2009, there was an urgent need to address the issue of rehabilitating these ex-combatants in order to change their mindset by taking them out of the war mentality and out of trauma, and provide them with options for a better future.

During the latter stages of the war in keeping with the international norms and regulations, separation of ex-combatants from the general public was mandatory. Hence, security forces requested all ex-combatants to report to designated centers in the presence of the ICRC.

Twenty four protective accommodation and rehabilitation centers were established at the initial stages and they were utilized separately for children, women, and men. In compliance with international norms, statements and letters of consent from the surrendered ex-combatants were obtained seeking willingly to follow the rehabilitation programme.

Thereafter the government gave its highest priority for rehabilitation and goals were set within a conceptualized framework; policies, a national action plan and a legal framework were formulated to facilitate the set goals.

The Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation was established to take the lead role together with other relevant institutions and line ministries, in the rehabilitation process. According to the current Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi, the Sri Lankan government adhered to a three-pronged approach when dealing with the ex-combatants. “Accordingly those ex-combatants who were to be investigated and prosecuted, due to their higher involvement in various terrorist activities were tried in a court of law. Those to be rehabilitated were directed to the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation and on confirmation by the intelligence agencies some were released due to their marginal involvement in LTTE activities. The ex-combatants who were selected for rehabilitation were accommodated in 24 protective accommodations and rehabilitation centers (PARCs),” he said.

At these centers, a comprehensive study on all ex-combatants were carried out by the intelligence agencies and followed up with a dynamic psychosocial and socio-economic profiling in liaison with profiling experts such as clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, medical officers and counsellors.

Subsequent to the psychosocial profiling, socio-economic profiling, professional skills and education, levels of radicalization, talents and experiences were assessed. “As per the finding of the profiling, rehabilitees were guided to undergo educational, vocational and skills development programmes along with development of mental tranquility, spiritual enhancement and expansion of moral values to prepare them to rejoin the community,” added Brigadier Hettiarachchi.

The legal framework for rehabilitation was approved by the Attorney General’s Department and all rehabilitation centers were Gazetted. The trainers were bi-lingual and the rehabilitees were taught Sinhala language during the programme in a bid to promote effective communication skills between the communities.

Out of approximately 300,000 IDP’s, 10,790 ex-combatants were either those who surrendered or were motivated to surrender.

The Sri Lankan model for rehabilitation for ex-combatants was initiated, designed, developed and implemented by the Sri Lanka Army. However, the assistance of a number of professionals, intellectuals, academics and many experts in the respective fields were obtained during the design stage.

Furthermore, the rehabilitation components were specially designed developed to suite the culture and ethics, norms, values and religious sentiments of Sri Lankans especially the Tamil speaking people in the North and East.

Awareness raising programmes were conducted regularly for religious leaders and community leaders on the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants into the community.

According to the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation these programmes were organized mainly to educate different segments in society on the rehabilitation and reintegration process, in order to clear doubts and uncertainties of the community, in accepting these rehabilitation beneficiaries to work together for unity and peace. “However it has been found that in certain areas, ex-combatants have encountered many problems from the community when they try to reintegrate into society after rehabilitation, due to their unacceptable past behavior in their respective areas with a gun in their hands, just few years back. There are also cases where ex-combatants had forcibly taken children from their parents during the conflict period and most of those children are not living anymore and when these ex-combatants go back to the society, the parents who lost their children try to harass and take revenge from the ex-combatants,” he added.

Ninety nine percent of the ex-combatants had not travelled beyond Vavuniya towards the South and were under the misconception that the Sinhalese community does not allow Tamil people to live in the Southern part of Sri Lanka. “Therefore during the rehabilitation period, special arrangements were made to show the ex-combatants how the Tamil community is living in most areas in the Southern part of Sri Lanka without any difficulties in harmony with the Sinhalese and Muslim communities,” he said.

Eighty four students undergoing the rehabilitation program sat for the GCE A/L examination in 2012; eight had passed while 76 had failed the examination. A total of 212 ex-combatants were selected to enter university in 2010 and 2011.

A total of 594 child soldiers underwent the rehabilitation program i.e. 364 boys and 230 girls. Of this figure 274 of them underwent formal education while 320 underwent vocational training.

The total number of ex-combatants that entered rehabilitation and reintegrated into society as of March this year was recorded at 12,140. Of this figure 26 of them had deserted while in hospital receiving treatment. According to the statistics obtained from the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation 13 of them had died during rehabilitation due to natural causes.

Outlining the future plans for reintegrated ex-combatants, Brigadier Hettiarachchi said that their aims are: to obtain foreign employment opportunities; to obtain Rs.3000/= monthly allowance to provided to all disabled ex-combatants; to obtain artificial limbs provided to all disabled ex- combatants; to obtain a grant of Rs. 25,000/= available to all disabled ex-combatants; and to obtain assistance to construct houses for the needy disabled ex-combatants (up to Rs.250,000/=). He added that only a small number of cadres with known higher level involvement in LTTE activities have been prosecuted up to now.

He further highlighted that there have not been any major issues from any part of the country with regard to the behavior or the activities of the ex LTTE cadres who had been released to society after rehabilitation since 2010.

Professor Arie Kruglanski, Professor of Social Psychology of the Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland in the US who spoke at a Defence seminar held in August 2012 in Colombo stated that a scientific study conducted by him provides statistically significant proof that Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation programme and the staff interactions have had a direct impact on de-radicalization of ex-combatants.

In order for ex-combatants to be fully reintegrated, there needs to be a process of reconciliation, normally in the form of national attempts at post-conflict justice. This will help the community to come to terms with past violence, while also helping the ex-combatants develop new norms and values that deal with resolving conflicts without resorting to violence. The community emphasis stems from the argument that it is not the individual combatant who has split from society, but rather that war has broken down society as a whole and destroyed social bonds within communities.

Reintegration in post war Sri Lanka has proved to be a challenging process due to the nature and scale of its objectives. True reintegration cannot be achieved in a short number of years, and requires the development of the country as a whole. The initial objective of the government was to provide ex-combatants with economic security, which will then allow them to function in, and contribute to, the community into which they are reintegrated. By providing ex-combatants with skills that make them valuable to the community, they also maintain dignity and social status. This can only occur with reconciliation and community acceptance, thus requiring a complex policy design, which accounts for the wider community and encourages national development.