This post comprise of highlights of an assignment submitted to the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in May 2012
“We tried everything to transform our conflict while simultaneously trying to end our war. ‘Pausing’ our war through a ‘Cease Fire’ Agreement (CFA) together with Norway as the third party mediator, gave us the opportunity to transform our conflict peacefully. But what we did not realize was that we unwittingly sowed the seeds for a military end to war (2008 – 2009). Now, we have ended our war but our conflict still remains” – (Jayawardena & Rathnapriya, 2012; 01) –
Although the CFA and the 2001 – 2005 peace process was largely seen as a failure in terms of bringing an end to the Sri Lanka conflict according to most parties (Seneviratne, 2009: 229-255) it actually brought numerous positive outcomes for the scholars in conflict resolution as well as technical experts in the field. This section of the paper will analyse the role of Norway in Sri Lanka as a third party mediator. In that regard my personal experience participating in the process will be mélanged together with the secondary literature analysis.
Norway’s record in Sri Lanka reflects a rare degree of resilience and persistence amidst of any criticism. The utmost success of Norway in Sri Lanka was being entrusted to mediate the conflict by the conflicting parties themselves (Moolakkattu, 2005:399). Moreover, involvement of higher officials in the process by Norway at various levels together with the amount of funds allocated for the process from their foreign aid budget were significant successful achievements of Norway (Ibid). Norway has been instrumental in organising multilateral efforts aimed at bridging the gap between the conflicting parties as an expert in negotiation.
The fact that even after the LTTE withdrew from the CFA in 2003 it still continued over three years informally at various levels including track 1.5 stands definitely to the credit of Norway and places it more securely as a potential dedicated third party mediator in small conflicts around the world (Ibid). As a third party mediator in the process it supplemented the peace-making role by organising donor conferences and harnessing support from the international community, including USA, EU and Japan bringing the true sense of ‘peace work’ as a mediator as Galtung (1996) explains (Moolakkattu, 2005:400). As a peace lover, Norway has been extending peace specially standing as a third party mediator irrespective of the accusations of being partial by the Sinhalese majority (Ibid). Most importantly, the CFA created an atmosphere in which a more comprehensive and sustainable peace could have been negotiated. (Ibid) Norway was successful in ceasing the violent phase of the conflict for the longest period in its history for a period of more than nearly six years amidst some incidents were reported time to time (Goonathilke, 2009:26-27).
Most significantly, Norway as a mediator could bring various positive outcomes to the entire process:
• Psychical security was improved and thousands of deaths and causalities were averted during the no war period.
• Access to and movement of goods and services greatly improved for all communities and all people living in Sri Lanka.
• Economic activity rejuvenated in the country as a whole.
• Humanitarian agencies gained increased access to vulnerable populations, and relief and rehabilitation activities expanded substantially.
• Sri Lanka received financial support from the international community of an unprecedented magnitude in country’s history (Seneviratne, 2009:241).
The CFA was structured on demarcating the territory of Sri Lanka into LTTE controlled and government controlled area. This in a way was interpreted by political elements as a ‘undermining’ of the Sri Lankan state’s territorial integrity. It was also contended that the attempts to demarcate ‘no go’ areas, also known as exclusion zones in respect of the movement of the Sri Lankan Navy, off the coast of certain parts of the Eastern seaboard, allowed the LTTE to facilitate illicit smuggling of weapons and war material (Fernando, 2011:16).
On the other hand the vulnerability of other Tamil militant groups that had held arms before but joined the democratic process later; Ealam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Ealam (PLOTE) and (Ealam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) was heightened (Ibid). Immediately after the CFA was signed these groups were required to demilitarize, irrespective of their security situation (Yusuf, 2011:16). This created a situation where parties to the conflict were treated differently violating an important principle of third party mediation.
Moreover, under the CFA, LTTE cadres were permitted to engage in ‘political work’ in the cleared areas in the North and East, whereby the LTTE was able to extend its influence into areas they did not previously control in the North and East. There was no corresponding access for the Government or other political parties, into the ‘un-cleared’ areas dominated by the LTTE. The issue of reciprocity taken up by the Government but had not been accommodated (Ibid).
Furthermore, there was “a significant lacuna” in the role of Norway in Sri Lanka as a third party mediator was the absence of a Human Rights component in the CFA which resulted in a failure to bind the parties involved in the conflict towards the observance of Human Rights norms (Goonathilaka and Wijemanna, 2010:18). This eventually paved the way for both parties to freely engage in such activities whilst the mediator had no control over such action as well.
Although peoples representatives from the Muslim community kept demanding from the LTTE, the GoSL and Norway to ensure that an independent delegation of Muslims be allowed to take part in the negotiations process, this was not accommodated. This led towards the Muslim community holding a perception that there were deliberate attempts to exclude them from the negotiation process which also violated the main principle of involving all parties of conflict in the process (Yusuf,2011:16).
Norway’s role as expected by the GoSL was facilitation that later developed by themselves as third party mediation. Whilst being the third party mediator of the peace process Norway also took office as the Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission creating a ‘conflict of functions’ (Seneviratne, 2009: 242). However, my personal experience highlights the fact that Norway at times tend to neglect some serious violations of the CFA with the objective of keeping it live, that were negatively articulated as favouring the LTTE by the GoSL.
According to Norway, the most significant reasons for the failure of the CFA are indeed more political (Norad, 2011:xv-xvi). According to them, both the government and the LTTE while staying committed to their cause, made any no significant shift in how they defined their political outcome which continued with the gap between what the south expected (a unitary state with limited devolution) and what the LTTE demanded (a separate state (Ibid). In fact, I personally raise the question whether Norway failed to understand the political climate in Sri Lanka that is completely different to that of there, which made all their efforts unsuccessful in bringing peace to Sri Lanka. The best example with this regard is how they handled both the President and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka during the process; who were from two different parties. Their act of marginalising the President standing in line with the Prime Minister ideally paved the way for the collapse of the CFA.
Moreover, according to them the window of opportunity for a negotiated settlement was only a short one and based upon a unique constellation of domestic and international factors – including a hurting stalemate, leading to an acceptance by both sides of a measure of military and political parity, a Western oriented government and multi-faceted international backing for negotiations (Ibid). Once again the question lies is it that the opportunity for a negotiated settlement was only a short one or that the mediation efforts could not take the maximum benefit out of that short window of opportunity to extent it to bring peace to Sri Lanka.
With the success and failures of Norway in Sri Lanka as a third party mediator it can draw various lessons for the similar processes in future as well.