SRI LANKA: Forgiveness is the most important gift we can give each other

Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge | Published on June 18, 2012 at 2:45 am

Your excellency Ambassador Sager, Caux Scholars and alumni, Friends of IofC, distinguished guests.

I cannot tell you enough how honoured and grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to be a part of CSP’s 20th year in

Ambassador Sager delivers opening remarks

existence. That it has already produced over 360 leaders from 88 countries is in itself an amazing feat. But that these leaders have gone back, and will go back to their jobs, their homes, their countries…. and themselves, put into action the insights they have acquired, is truly a powerful thing. A thing of hope. The hope for change, the hope of forgiveness, the hope of reconciliation. The hope above all, for peace.

We see this today with Sam Doe. A CSP Scholar now in the very heart of the UN mechanism. What an inspiration. It is these bright lights that create that shining network that will serve as a framework for changing the world.

There is nothing more powerful than changing the heart of another human being. It will move mountains, break down walls. And to do that we have to change ourselves. These are the seeds that were planted in me from a young age at IofC leadership programmes aptly titled ‘Equipping Oneself for a Lifetime,” at conferences, at seminars and later as a graduate at the Caux Scholars Programme.

U NU a former Prime Minister of Burma once called this movement one that seeks not to change policy but to answer the needs of the

Patrick and Sonali both 1996 Alumni

heart. A movement that would change men and women, change the way they think, change their motives and their aims. And surely, regimes, democracies, countries and organisations are only as good as the men and women who run them or speak their name.

The seeds that were planted by my parents and by the inspirational people I met through IofC propelled me into a more proactive role as a journalist and human rights defender. It inspired me to pursue investigative journalism, to boldly speak truth to power, to speak out for those with no voice and to stand up and cry foul when I saw an injustice.

It would have been easier and more lucrative to have continued in my career as a lawyer. But when I read Frank Buchman or Peter Howard, listened to Rajmohan Gandhi and later, to other voices of hope and reason, as the organization evolved and transformed to meet new challenges and reach greater heights; it became clear that we as human beings, need to lead, as best we can – extraordinary lives.

I want to end on a very personal note. Three years ago my world fell apart. My colleague and husband was killed just two months after we were married. I was compelled to flee my country due to threats to my life. As a result, I lost my job, my home, my friends and my family was torn apart.

Emotionally and viscerally pummeled and numb with shock, I could have crumbled and withered. What kept me going was my faith, and the grounding I had received throughout the years from the IofC network and the wonderful support of friends like Randy Ruffin and others.

So the CSP is not merely an academic course in one of the most beautiful places in the world- Caux, Switzerland. It is also a life changing experience as much as it creates life long bonds with special people.

It was because I had been infused with these ideals that I was able to press on, and to do so, with (I hope) dignity and compassion. Therefore when two British journalists asked me in two separate interviews, ‘Do you seek revenge?’, I could genuinely say ‘No’.

It is because of what I know to be true about conflict resolution, transformation, reconciliation and justice, infused in me through the years because of CSP and IofC that when many call for regime change in my own country Sri Lanka – I also see as an alternative; perhaps of changing the hearts and minds of those who are now in power.

One of the most profound moments of my life was at an IofC conference where Ginn Fourie, a South African woman who lost her only daughter, Lyndi, in an attack on a Cape Town restaurant in 1993, and a black freedom fighter, Letlapa Mphahlele who ordered the attack; spoke of their own journey of healing, trust building and reconciliation.

Though a part of her was angry, Fourie had agreed to meet Mphahlele, and it changed his life. It moved him more than anything else could. He says, “I saw in her somebody willing to listen. Freedom of conscience, of spirit, was elusive, but her acceptance struck a cord in me. I felt my humanity was restored.”

How powerful that is!

He says, “I did not ask for forgiveness, but she forgave me,” “It was the most important gift that one can receive from another human being.”

Fourie in turn asked forgiveness from him on behalf of herself and her ancestors for the 350 years of oppression, slavery, colonization and apartheid.

To me this story and others like it must become the cornerstone for reconciliation in my own country. Sri Lanka is now wallowing in bitterness, sullenness, anger, and allegations of war crimes, unsolved murders, botched investigations. While the rule of law and due process must be restored, while the culture of impunity must stop, while press freedom must return, while there must be accountability and justice: I sincerely believe that if ever there was a time for my people to forgive each other, then this time is that time.

We must weep together for our past mistakes, but we need to work together for the future of our children. As Mphahlele said, Forgiveness is the most important gift we can give each other.

Thank you.

Speech by Sonali Samarasinghe, at the Swiss Embassy Washington DC on June 6th 2012 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Caux Scholars Program conducted by Initiatives of Change.  The Program paid tribute to two of its distinguished alumni Sonali Samarasinghe an award winning Journalist and Lawyer and Dr. Sam Doe of the UNDP.  

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SRI LANKA: Forgiveness is the most important gift we can give each other

Your excellency Ambassador Sager, Caux Scholars and alumni, Friends of IofC, distinguished guests. I cannot tell you enough how honoured and grateful I am to have ...