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August 2009 Sri Lanka Report

Date: August 1, 2009

Access to the displaced populations in the North continued to be restricted this month, and progress on resettlement of interned Tamils in the North has been slow. Conditions are likely to get more difficult in the camps due to the coming monsoon rains. Security screening to identify former cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and de-mining operations in the North are said to be the main obstacles to a speedier resettlement process. Some 10,000 of the elderly were reported to be resettled with their families this month. One hundred seven Hindu priests and their families, along with several Catholic priests, were also among those released. In response to a lawsuit brought forward to the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, the Court has said that war-displaced persons in government-run camps should be released if they are non-combatants and have a place to go. The media reported the Court's position when a petition was filed on behalf of five Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). A hearing on the petition is scheduled for mid-November. 

Internationally, following the death or surrender of the LTTE's main leadership last May, the self-appointed but still disputed leader of the LTTE, Kumaran Pathmanathan (also known as KP) was arrested in Bangkok and repatriated to Sri Lanka. KP, who is accused in the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was wanted by Interpol and was said to be the LTTE's chief procurer of weapons. His arrest was seen as another blow to the LTTE following their military defeat in May. KP had recently announced the formation of a 'transnational government' and some of the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora were also planning to hold an election.

A Sri Lankan reporter singled out by U.S. President Barack Obama as an example of persecuted journalists around the globe was sentenced this month to 20 years in prison on charges of violating the country's anti-terror laws. J.S. Tissainayagam's articles in the now-defunct Northeastern Monthly magazine in 2006 and 2007 was said to be critical of the conduct of the war against the Tamil Tigers and accused authorities of withholding food and other essential items from Tamil-majority areas as a tool of war. Tissainayagam's conviction, 17 months after the ethnic Tamil reporter was arrested, was the first time a journalist was found guilty of violating the country's Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The Context and Work of the NP Teams

Workplans and reporting protocols are developing for the Sri Lanka project to organize both continuing and new initiatives under the following seven broad objectives:

1.    To reduce children's risk of being recruited or harmed by armed groups.

2.    To strengthen existing mechanisms for the protection of civilians in the North and East and build confidence of affected populations to use and trust those mechanisms

3.    To build the capacities of individuals and community-based structures to engage in unarmed civilian peacekeeping at the community level

4.    To improve the safety and security of human rights defenders (HRDs) so they can continue to promote human rights in Sri Lanka

5.    To improve the safety and security of local election monitors so they can help ensure free and fair elections at local, provincial and national levels

6.    To develop NPSL to have more strength and capacity to achieve the above objectives

7.    To effectively manage the ongoing work and existing commitments of the organization.

In August, NP team activities included fielding 15 new cases of threat or human rights violations and conducting follow-ups on 19 previously-reported cases. To address these civilian concerns, the teams coordinate and collaborate with a variety of other stakeholders, including government actors, to increase the human security and build the confidence of the civilians to access protective services and to pursue the human rights mechanisms available. The teams also carried out 64 monitoring visits to various locations, including IDP camps and resettlement areas, and networked with multiple other humanitarian sectors in 42 information-sharing and strategic planning meetings where the protection needs of civilians, especially of children, human rights defenders and IDPs, in the immediate post-conflict situation were considered.

Throughout July and into the first half of August, NPSL received feedback about its operations from a variety of stakeholders as part of its annual review for Unicef, the premier UN agency mandated to protect children, which has been a key partner and funder for much of the child rights and protection work that NPSL teams have undertaken since 2006. In all districts, a range of partner organizations and individuals were interviewed and useful information was received on the perception of NP's contribution to issues of human security and on continuing gaps that individuals and organizations are highlighting particularly in relation to children.

In addition to the contributions of NP teams cited in the July report, further evaluation interviews were conducted in August and incorporated into NP's Evaluation Report to Unicef. In one case of sensitive child protection work, NP teams had provided extensive presence and monitoring in the case of a child who was the only surviving witness to the massacre of his family by unknown perpetrators. In follow-up meetings, NP's diligent attention to the child's welfare throughout his initial traumatized response and beginning healing process was cited by his guardian as very helpful to the boy's recovery, as no other representatives of welfare or protection agencies or psychological case workers visited the family as consistently as NP team members. NP's help in identifying resources was cited as invaluable to the relations of the boy and gave them the confidence to pursue needed services that they would not otherwise have known about or used, including using the legal system to gain custody of the boy. As the whole extended family was traumatized by the event, the boy's guardian reported the family felt safer knowing that NP was involved and visibly monitoring their situation.

One of the challenges NP teams face, as they become involved in difficult family cases, is that some family members can feel that NP should be able to do more to meet additional and pressing needs once the immediate security situation has been addressed. In this case, for example, there was pressure on NP to take responsibility to send the boy abroad or to support him financially in a boarding school somewhere, as the family feared that he, as the surviving witness, (and, by extension, they) could be at continued risk. Such fears--and requests--while quite understandable on the part of families, push up against the limits as to what NP peace teams can do for vulnerable families, as well as the ongoing limitations of services and resources available to poor and rural families.

In another challenging situation, NPSL was asked by a family to provide accompaniment to a man who, for his own safety, wanted to surrender to the police following his escape from an armed group. Further support and monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the national Human Rights Commission was also arranged. Tragically, after some time, the family again contacted NP when they learned their relation died in custody. The Team immediately networked with the national Human Rights Commission (HRC) to gain assistance for the family in learning its options under such a traumatic circumstance. Since the HRC was already involved in the case, as they had visited the victim while in detention three times, they were also willing to meet with the family to discuss further legal avenues they might wish to pursue. NP facilitated the family to meet with HRC and is in regular contact with the family as a slow process to seek justice and accountability plays itself out. Being in relationship with such families as described above, families who have suffered tremendous sorrow and loss, is part of the work NP teams face continually in trying to contribute to nonviolent solutions in a still insecure post-war environment. 

In other work, NP teams are supporting all ethnic communities as they begin to engage with each other in ways and in places that they have not been able to do for more than two decades. Fears of the unknown and insecurities exist, as Tamils and Muslims in the East, for example, are wary of what will happen as more Sinhalese return and perhaps lay claim to properties they were forced to leave behind due to the rise of the LTTE in earlier decades. How the Security Forces will respond in times of trouble is one source of insecurity in both the North and the East. The government is attempting to address such fears, for example by initiating mechanisms and processes whereby Sinhalese and Tamils in one village can work together to determine joint settlement arrangements. They are also establishing Civil Security Committees in some areas that involve the local government servants, police and Army representatives, school principals, and other religious and community leaders. NP's support and presence throughout these processes is helping to build the trust and confidence of civilians to engage in such community initiatives.

In Jaffna, while there seems to be more military presence in certain areas, civilians are generally facing fewer restrictions on their mobility and fewer checkpoints that can hamper their livelihoods, access, and freedom of movement. NP has also been asked in Jaffna to be included in a resources flyer to be given to newly resettled civilians so they know who to contact when facing a variety of needs or issues. Civilian concerns in the north mirror those in East regarding ethnic relations, for example, where Tamils and Sinhalese are now starting to share communities and resources and how disagreements will be handled. A recent clash between Tamil and Sinhalese fishermen could presage more problems in the future. Also as in the East, the NP team in the north is collaborating with the government's "Bring Back the Child" Campaign and with growing government networks of Child Rights Promotion Offices and Child Rights Monitoring Committees that are being institutionalized in more areas. Localizing such mechanisms should help to strengthen local capacity to protect children and address community problems before they become unmanageable.

The benefits of continuing international presence and NP's contribution to help solidify the peace appear still to be compelling to--and welcomed by--a broad range of stakeholders and partners. The challenges and opportunities for Nonviolent Peaceforce peace teams in the post-conflict environment are, however, to make peacekeeping work increasingly redundant and unnecessary, such that local initiatives that build the peace and prevent violence from erupting, and peacemaking mechanisms that resolve conflicts nonviolently and justly when they do emerge, will become sufficiently entrenched, robust and trusted that the peacekeeping activities of internationals ultimately will no longer be needed.

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