The first Court Martial against retired General Sarath Fonseka concluded this month. He was found guilty of “engaging in active politics while in uniform” and was subsequently stripped of his military rank, medals, honours, pension and other benefits, and was barred from all military installations. His appeal against the first conviction was dismissed by the Appeal Court but he has filed another challenge in the Supreme Court. The second Court Martial, which charges Mr Fonseka with contravening military procurement procedures, is nearing the end of its enquiry. Addressing the media in Parliament, Colombo District MP Fonseka said that he expected the second Court Martial to sentence him to a jail term.
Regarding NP’s Sri Lanka project, NP’s Interim Programme Director Christine Schweitzer continued her stay in Sri Lanka to lead the process of internal contingency discussions, meetings with Sri Lankan government officials and strategising the future course of NPSL’s work. Discussions also took place with in-country donor organisations to inform them of the current situation and determine future activities and funding possibilities. Towards the end of the month, the project was notified that the work visa for Elizabeth Ogaye, NPSL’s new Human Rights Defenders Project Coordinator, was cancelled.
The following summarises some of the key activities of NP teams in relation to its current project areas:
Increasing the Safety of Children Affected by Armed Conflict:
NP staff attended the latest monthly Child Protection Coordination Meeting, facilitated by UNICEF in Batticaloa. Other organisations present included the YMCA, Sarvodaya, Save the Children, and representatives from Sri Lanka’s Probation child welfare service and Human Rights Commission (HRC). It was noted that there had been quite a high number of children being abducted by members of their own family during recent weeks in the district. When discussing the most appropriate way for NGOs to deal with these and other cases of child rights’ violations, all those present agreed that cases should immediately be reported to the HRC to follow-up and investigate.
In Vavuniya, NP provided several accompaniments to staff from government agencies, namely the Probation Service and the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA), as they conducted investigative field trips to villages in the Vavuniya North Division. In the same region, NP oversaw the formation of the first Village Child’s Rights Development Committees in a few villages.
Capacity-building for Individuals and Community-based Organisations to Engage in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping at the Community Level:
NP staff from the Batticaloa office visited local community trainers who were due to conduct NP’s latest Community-Led Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) training in the village of Pondukalsenai on 28-29 August 2010. Unfortunately, the training had to be cancelled at short notice due to the planned visit of Chief Minister Pilliyan on those days. However, NP carried out a full preparatory session with the two UCP trainers and the training will be re-arranged for a future date. During NP’s visit, the two community trainers mentioned a case that they had been asked to address, which involved a conflict between two fellow community members that had become violent. They were currently drafting a letter detailing the incident and requesting local Police to investigate, which they plan to submit in early September.
NP staff began to hold talks with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Social Services to explore the possibility of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a view to expanding NP’s Capacity-Building UCP trainings in Batticaloa and Vavuniya districts, and to outline areas for collaboration between NP and the Ministry. Ministry staff expressed their enthusiasm for such collaboration and indicated that they would like to see future UCP trainings include members of community-level Elders’ Committees.
A joint internal meeting was held between NP staff from Batticaloa and Vavuniya districts in order to discuss and plan for the next three months of the Capacity-Building project. In Vavuniya, there are plans to incorporate certain elements of the Capacity-Building project into the existing Child Protection work of the team, namely in conjunction with NP’s Village Child’s Development Committees in North Vavuniya.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders (HRDs):
August saw the virtual suspension of all NPSL’s Human Rights Defenders (HRD) project activities. A decision was made within NP, following much internal analysis and discussion, to effectively close the HRD Unit in Colombo where, consequently, all HRD activities stopped with immediate effect. At the field sites in Batticaloa and Vavuniya, work within the HRD project continues but, given July’s hibernation mode, there were very few activities carried out this month.
Due to a shortage in human resources, the full evaluation of NPSL’s HRD project that was planned in July (see Monthly Programme Report July 2010), has been scaled down. Staff worked this month to prepare to carry out internal components of the evaluation, while the external work – interviewing and getting feedback from NP’s HRDs, human rights partner organisations and relevant government bodies – will be carried out once there is sufficient staff capacity.