IMPLIED BURDEN ON THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY?

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: TamilCanadian
| Date: 20000902

The horrors of government-sponsored violence against Tamil people in Sri Lanka defy the imagination: mass murder, rape, and wanton destruction of houses, places of worship, schools and fishing and farming industries.

The international community knows about them, heard about them, and has seen them, but seemingly not doing anything not only to stop it but also to find a peaceful resolution of the whole conflict. This leaves the Tamils to ask the inevitable question: "Couldn't someone or some country have done something to prevent this?" Tamils are fighting for their self-determination to free themselves from the deprivations, discriminations, genocide and ethnic cleansing. For a variety of reasons, the Tamils are convinced that finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict within unitary Sri Lanka will never happen. The protracted civil war during the past 20 years testifies the difficulties inherent in achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict within a unitary Sri Lanka. The Tamils originally proposed power sharing ideas, but the Sri Lankan government totally rejected them. The international community has failed to help, direct and advise the Sri Lankan government to achieve the equal power sharing with the Tamils. Tamils and Sinhalese are two deeply divided societies in Sri Lanka and overseas. The Tamils were not allowed to participate in the political power sharing process in order to protect their human, civil, cultural and economic rights. However, power sharing, appropriately structured, can encourage moderation and peace among Tamils and Sinhalese.

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The Inevitable Question and the Impossibility?

The horrors of government-sponsored violence against Tamil people in Sri Lanka defy the imagination: mass murder, rape, and wanton destruction of houses, places of worship, schools and farming and fishing industries. The international community knows about them, heard about them and has seen them, but seemingly not doing anything not only to stop it but also to find a peaceful resolution of the whole conflict. This leaves the Tamils to ask the inevitable question: "Couldn't someone or some country have done something to prevent this?"

Tamils are fighting for their self-determination to free themselves from the deprivations, discriminations, genocide and ethnic cleansing. For a variety of reasons, the Tamils are convinced that finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict within unitary Sri Lanka will never happen. The protracted civil war during the past 20 years testifies the difficulties inherent in achieving a peaceful resolution to the conflict within a unitary Sri Lanka.

The War Did Not Begin as a Quest for Territorial Sovereignty

Ideally, the claim for self-determination by Tamils should be accommodated in a democratic framework within existing Sri Lanka. Normally, such accommodation is considered a fundamental human right. But, the Tamils are being deprived of their self-determination during the past 50 years. The Sri Lankan government has failed to recognise the self-determination of Tamils. In fact, the civil war in Sri Lanka did not begin as a quest for territorial sovereignty. But, when the Sri Lankan government did not address the objective grievances of the Tamils, it has led to an armed struggle to secede.

Power Sharing Ideas Not Considered

Power sharing ideas were originally proposed by the Tamils. However, the past and the current Sinhalese governments have failed to accommodate the Tamils in broad-based governing coalitions in Sri Lanka. The international community has failed to help, direct and advise the Sri Lankan government to achieve the equal power sharing with Tamils. The international community has also failed to understand and advocate:

The roots of conflict

1. Approaches to introducing democracy into deeply divided societies 2. Types of conflict-regulating practices

3. The contribution of power sharing to peace processes

4. The role of the international community in power sharing

Protection of Sinhalism at the Expense of Tamils

@ Tamils and Sinhalese are two deeply divided societies in Sri Lanka and overseas. The fear and ignorance on the part of general Sinhalese community are often driving forces of the growing conflict. The Sinhalese people tend to protect their ethnic and cultural identities at the expense of the Tamil people. Such intention has ignited in racial violence against the Tamil people. Discrimination against the Tamils is reinforced by public policy. The Tamils were not allowed to participate in the political power sharing process in order to protect their human, civil, cultural and economic rights. The Tamils were not allowed to feel valued in the Sri Lankan political system.

@ An honest and realistic power-sharing proposal with self-determination for Tamils can help lead divided societies toward a stable democracy and away from war and destruction. Power sharing, appropriately structured, can encourage moderation and discourage Sinhala extremism. But, the Sri Lankan government proposals to devolution of power to Tamils in the past were based on politicians' self-interest: the Sinhala politicians did everything possible and whatever was needed to get them elected. The Sinhala political leaders never attempted to consider the Tamil National Question.

@ Need a Profound Power sharing Effort by the Society

@ Power sharing can begin a profound movement of the society away from ethnicity as the strongest identifier. Coalitions may form along ethnic lines at the outset, but ideology or class may become more important. People feel strongly about ideology and class but they are less likely to defend themselves to the death. Power sharing has been successful in some societies but ineffective in others. It was essential in the peaceful change of government in South Africa. Without an agreement on transitional power sharing, the conflict over apartheid may not have been brought to an end, or a new round of killing may have occurred. Yet a power-sharing pact in Rwanda did not prevent genocide. By considering this fact, the international community should promote power-sharing efforts to prevent deadly conflict in Sri Lanka.

International community Must be Actively Involved

All too often international mediation deals with the process of political change: Is it peaceful or violent? Mediators want to stop the violence by any means possible. The international community must be more involved in shaping the institutions that will ensure an enduring peace -- the outcomes of political change. It needs to be involved early and address what may be the most important question: Is power sharing necessary, and possible, in this society or is separation a better course? Prescriptions are not possible because every situation is different.

It is sad that the Sri Lankan government has chosen the war strategy to resolve the conflict. This means that there will not be any resolution to the civil war in the foreseeable future. The war will be very devastating to the Tamil people. The critical question is whether such conflicts can be managed by the international community without letting the Sri Lankan government to resort to violence. Ideally, a concerned and active international community with the close collaboration of scholars and policymakers can help parties forestall a turn to violence by encouraging the adoption of an appropriately structured power-sharing agreement based on democratic principles - equalities of opportunities and equal outcomes for all people.

The following summary highlights some key points for thoughts and actions by the International Community:

ETHNIC CONFLICT: APPROACHES, PATTERNS, AND DYNAMICS

. Ethnic conflict is either primordial and innate or instrumental and (at least partially) socially constructed. The extent to which analysts perceive ethnicity as immutable and innate versus socially constructed or manipulated by political leaders influences beliefs about the types of institutions and practices that can best ameliorate ethnic conflict. A critical factor is whether ethnic groups are threatened by each other simply because they are different or whether there are perceived pragmatic reasons for the conflict. Perceptions of pragmatic differences are amenable to peaceful management. . The severity of ethnic conflicts depends in large part on the nature of the relationships, for example, whether identity or socioeconomic differences overlap. An important predictor of the severity of the conflict is the role of the state: Does it stand above conflicts and mediate them, or does a group "own" the state and use its powers to the detriment of other groups.

. A common thread that runs through all violent ethnic conflicts is the manipulative role of ethnic group leaders who foster discrimination and mobilise group members against their foes. Ethnic outbidding refers to extremist ethnic group leaders who decry moderation with enemies as a sellout of group interests.

. Ethnic conflicts can escalate, that is, intensify or spread, or they can de-escalate. The post-Cold War world contains examples of both. Escalation occurs when background conditions of ethnic strife are combined with "conflict triggers" or precipitating events. A useful way to conceptualise moves toward more peaceful ethnic conflict management is through a phases or stages approach to de-escalation, in which conflicts that reach a stalemate are managed through protracted negotiations.

DEMOCRACY AND ITS ALTERNATIVES IN DEEPLY DIVIDED SOCIETIES

* Ethnic conflicts have more often than not been managed with nondemocratic, authoritarian practices such as subjugation and control. However, informal practices of ethnic balancing have at times kept a relative peace even in societies that are not democratic. Democracy is inherently difficult in divided societies, but democratic practices offer greater promise for long-term peaceful conflict management than nondemocratic ones. Even when democracy is unlikely to be introduced quickly in a society, practices can be put into place that helps manage ethnic tensions. * Simple majoritarian democracy contains special problems for ethnically divided societies. Minority ethnic groups expect to be permanently excluded from power through the ballot box and fear electoral contests conducted under the principle of simple majority rule. Power-sharing practices offer an alternative to simple majoritarian forms of democratic governance.

* There are two broad approaches to constructing democracy in divided societies: the "consociational" or group building-block approach that relies on accommodation by ethnic group leaders at the centre and a high degree of group autonomy; and the "integrative" approach, which seeks to create incentive structures for moderation by political leaders on divisive ethnic themes and to enhance minority influence in majority decision making. Consociational approaches rely on elite accommodation and guarantees to groups to protect their interests, such as a mutual or minority veto, whereas the integrative approach relies on incentives for intergroup cooperation, such as electoral systems that encourage the formation of preelection pacts among candidates or political parties across ethnic lines.

A TYPOLOGY OF CONFLICT-REGULATING PRACTICES

The consociational and integrative approaches can be fruitfully viewed as conceptual poles in a spectrum of specific conflict-regulating institutions and practices that promote power sharing. Which approach and which practices are best is highly contingent upon the patterns and dynamics of a particular conflict. Indeed, a given political system may fruitfully incorporate aspects of both approaches simultaneously. It is useful to consider the practices in terms of three sets of variables that apply to both approaches: territorial division of power, decision rules, and public policies (for example, on language, education, and resource distribution) that define relations between the state and ethnic groups (see Table below).

Five consociational conflict-regulating practices are:

1. Granting territorial autonomy and creating confederate arrangements

2. Creating a polycommunal, or ethnic, federation

3. Adopting group proportional representation in administration appointments, including consensus decision rules in the executive

4. Adopting a highly proportional electoral system in a parliamentary framework

5. Acknowledging group rights or corporate (nonterritorial) federalism

Five integrative conflict-regulating practices are:

1. Creating a mixed, or nonethnic, federal structure

2. Establishing an inclusive, centralised unitary state

3. Adopting majoritarian but ethnically neutral, or nonethnic, executive, legislative, and administrative decision-making bodies

4. Adopting a semimajoritarian or semiproportional electoral system that encourages the formation of preelection coalitions (vote pooling) across ethnic divides

5. Devising ethnicity-blind public policies

POWER SHARING AND PEACE PROCESSES

Power-sharing practices, when parties in conflicts adopt them, often evolve as a direct response to a history of violent conflict. Pragmatic attitudes toward other groups can emerge from the belief that the failure to accommodate will precipitate wider strife. Political leaders and public must be motivated to avoid worsening or more violent conflict if power sharing is to be successfully adopted. Unfortunately, such motivation does not always exist: high levels of violence do not inevitably mean that political leaders will be more moderate and adopt power sharing.

Transitional moments, changes in international relations and in relations among groups within states, are moments of promise and peril. Ethnic relations can improve or worsen. Power sharing can evolve from transitions or peace processes in which parties adopt agreements or mutual security pacts that seek to limit the ability of groups to harm each other. The degree of unity and organisational coherence of the parties, and the ability of political leaders to persuade their constituents to act peacefully, are the most important variables in creating improved relations among ethnic groups. Conciliatory attitudes must be both broad (including "hard-liners") and deep (including key segments of the public as well as leaders).

INTERNATIONAL INTERVENTION AND POWER SHARING

International intervention in ethnic conflicts focuses both on the process by which groups rearrange their relations, through violence or dialogue, and on the terms and structures of the outcomes that are reached. Despite the inherent problems of partition, the international community should not assume that the borders of an existing state are sacrosanct. The principal decision that the international community must face is whether separation or power sharing (living together) is the most achievable, sustainable, and just outcome. This is especially true when the parties themselves cannot reach an agreement on this fundamental question.

The international community often places too much emphasis on democratic elections without considering their potential perverse impact in situations of severe ethnic conflict, especially if such elections are held with simple majority-rule electoral systems and without prior mutual security pacts. Elections are critical moments in peace processes; they are turning points in which relations can polarise or in which new national unity can be forged through the creation of a legitimate government. Much depends on both the electoral system chosen and the actual administration and monitoring of the election event. Elections provide important opportunities for intervention to help ameliorate ethnic conflicts because they are especially amenable to monitoring and an ongoing international presence.

Both historically and more recently the international community has promoted power sharing by offering formulas -- institutional blueprints for postconflict political structures -- and has often sought to induce disputants to accept them through a combination of diplomatic carrots and sticks. Increasingly, the international community is using linkages to other issues, such as membership in collective security, trade, and other international organisations, to induce states to adopt practices that promote ethnic accommodation. Promoting conflict-regulating practices in this manner can be a useful tool of preventive diplomacy to arrest the escalation of ethnic conflicts into violence.

The paradox of promoting power sharing early in the escalation of an ethnic conflict is that parties may be unwilling to embrace power-sharing practices because they are not sufficiently desperate or feel insufficiently compelled. At a late stage of conflict, after significant violence, enmities may be too deep for parties to share power for mutual benefit. Determining when a conflict is "ripe" for a power-sharing solution is a difficult judgment requiring intimate knowledge of a situation, especially the willingness of parties to live together within a common or shared political framework.

Thus, a second paradox is the problem of judging intentions. Tactical adoption of power sharing can set the stage for new grievances and new strife. Moreover, the international community is often asked to secure successful implementation of agreements or to guarantee them, which in essence ties the international community to the substance of a settlement.

The promotion of power sharing by the international community in situations of deep ethnic conflict is riddled with normative considerations, such as potentially rewarding aggression or appeasement of extremists. It also entails considerable risks, such as inducing parties to share power when their underlying perceptions are still deeply suspicious and based on mutual harm.

When an international mediator goes beyond facilitating a negotiation process and backs a power-sharing solution at either an early or late stage of escalation, this policy involves choosing sides. This is true of choosing among parties to a conflict (often in favour of minorities who seek to limit the power of majorities) as well as bolstering more moderate factions within a given party or government against more hard-line elements.

POLICYMAKING AND POWER SHARING

· Power sharing involves a wide range of practices and not a simple model or formula that can be universally applied. Thus, in a given conflict there is no substitute for intimate scholarly and policymaker knowledge to reach conclusions about whether any given power-sharing practice will likely have an ameliorative or potentially adverse effect on ethnic conflict. For example, in some situations consociational power sharing may be an appropriate interim measure but should not become a permanent feature of political life. Likewise, parties in an ethnic conflict may be too insecure to accept the incentive mechanisms of the integrative approach, preferring the more firm guarantees of consociationalism.

· In many countries democracy may be a long way off, but the international community can exert pressure on nondemocratic states to adopt conflict-regulating practices such as fair treatment of ethnic minorities and integrative security forces.

· Conditional generalisations can be made that can serve to inform policy. Power-sharing arrangements are successful in managing ethnic conflict when

· They are embraced by a core group of moderate political leaders who are genuinely representative of the groups that they purport to lead

· The practices are flexible and allow for equitable distribution of resources

· They are indigenously arrived at, not agreed upon as the result of excessive external pressures or short-term, zero-sum expectations of the parties

· Parties can generally eschew the extraordinary measures that some power-sharing practices entail and allow a more integrative and liberal form of democracy to evolve

TABLE 1: CONFLICT-REGULATING PRACTICES CONSOCIATIONAL APPROACH INTEGRATIVE APPROACH

Territorial Divisions of Power Granting autonomy and creating confederate arrangements Creating a polycommunal federation Creating a mixed, or nonethnic, federal structure Establishing an inclusive, centralised, unitary state

Decision-Making Rules Adopting proportional representation and consensus rules in executive, legislative, and administrative decision making Adopting a highly proportional electoral system Adopting majoritarian but ethnically neutral executive, legislative, and administrative decision making Adopting a semimajoritarian or semiproportional electoral system

State-Ethnic Relations Acknowledging group rights or corporate federalism Adopting ethnicity-blind public policies.