On the 18th June, the Sri Lankan government (GoSL) held a victory parade in Colombo to mark the first anniversary of the end of the civil war in May 2009. President Mahinda Rajapaksa took the salute attended by thousands of troops drawn from units that had led the final assault against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). The military show, which was attended by diplomats and high-ranking government officials, was originally planned to be held last month but heavy monsoon rains forced its postponement.
The Court of Appeal appointed a three-judge tribunal to enquire into the petition filed by former Army Commander and Member of Parliament, General Sarath Fonseka, against the second court martial against him. In his petition, Fonseka asked the Court to issue an order stopping the judges convening the second court martial, which contains military procurement charges, and release him from Army detention. However, towards the end of the month, the Court of Appeal rejected Fonseka’s petition; the three-member bench unanimously agreed that the writ application presented by Gen. Fonseka be dismissed without examination noting that it was based on inadequate reasons.
Following discussions with the Sri Lankan government over whether or not to suspend the GSP+ trade tariffs to Sri Lanka, the European Union (EU) this month demanded a written commitment by the GoSL that it agrees to meet ‘a well-defined number of human rights related actions within the second half of this year. The EU said that such a commitment was a prerequisite to extending the GSP+ facility for an additional limited period. The deadline imposed on the GoSL to respond to this request is the 1st July; if the government fails to respond, the EU announced that it will suspend the tariffs from 15th August.
The Deputy Minister for Resettlement, Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan, announced that the government intends to complete the resettlement of Sri Lanka’s remaining 48,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) by the end of August this year. Thereafter, the government intends to close the IDP camps in the North of the country.
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:
Further progress was made this month by staff from NP’s Vavuniya office in gaining governmental support for its Village Child’s Development Committees (VCDC) (see Monthly Report, May 2010). NP met with two representatives from the National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) to discuss the perceived need for child development in villages throughout Vavuniya District. Up until now, the NCPA has limited its remit to child protection work but after the presentation by NP staff about its VCDC initiative, they agreed that in the current post-war context, child development is a necessary issue to address and they lent their full support to the scheme.
Later in the month, NP and the NCPA met with the Divisional Secretary (DS) of Vavuniya North to introduce the VCDC programme to him in the hope of gaining his support to endorse the formation of child development committees in all 17 village divisions of Vavuniya North. The DS was very supportive of the initiative and a follow-up meeting was arranged, which was attended by the DS and the village-level government officers (Grama Sevaka) from each division. After explaining the programme to them, the meeting was concluded with the drafting of a time-plan through July for NP to follow-up with each GS to arrange the formation of the first committees.
In recognition of their collaboration, NP staff were invited to accompany the Chairman of the NCPA on a visit to the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps at Manik Farm. Also present were the NCPA’s Planning Officer; the District Manager and Child Protection Coordinator from Save the Children; and a representative from Vavuniya’s District Child Development Committee. The aim of the visit was to get an update on the well-being of children living with their families inside the camps. One of the main problems faced by all those remaining in Manik Farm is a lack of privacy due to the close proximity of dwellings, which is having a perceivable effect upon the sexual behaviour of some of the older children in the camps. However, government resettlement programmes are continuing and according to one of the authorities at Manik Farm, the end of August is the revised deadline for completing the release and resettlement of all IDPs and closing the IDP camps.
Alongside these activities, NP also organised round-table discussions with local stakeholders, local government authorities and NGOs. Participating authorities and NGOs included the NCPA, the local government’s Child Rights Protection Office and Save the Children. The purpose of these meetings was for NP to get recommendations and suggestions about its VCDC programme from interested parties in order to make suitable changes to the action plan and improve the overall programme before it starts to be implemented.
As a follow-up to last month’s workshop with youngsters from seven local villages (see Monthly Report May 2010), NP staff collaborated with two representatives from the NCPA to conduct a workshop for the same children to build upon what they had learned in the previous session. NP started the workshop with a presentation on NP’s Capacity-Building project to introduce ways in which local communities can be trained to help increase their own security. Next, the NCPA officials gave a talk on child protection and introduced the basic tenets and principles contained in the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. After the presentations, the children were encouraged to give input about the protection and development needs that they perceive regarding themselves and other children in the district.
Capacity-building for Individuals and Community-based Organisations to Engage in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping at the Community Level:
NP’s second two-day community-led UCP training was conducted on 19-20 June by two participants of NP’s previous ToT (training-of-trainers) training, at Kithul village near Chenkalady, in Batticaloa District. Eleven participants, from local Tamil and Muslim communities, attended. The training was enthusiastically received; participants appreciated the mixture of theory and practical role-play, followed by group discussions about how they could apply their newly-learned skills in their home communities and thereby improve their own security and that of their neighbours.
Three NP staff visited the UCP team based in Marapalam, Batticaloa District to de-brief the events connected with the abduction case that took place in their village the previous month (see Monthly Programme Report May 2010). The person who had been abducted was safely returned thanks in large part to the quick-thinking and actions taken by those community members who had participated in one of NP’s UCP trainings. The de-briefing session allowed the local peacekeepers to reflect on all that had happened before, during and after the kidnapping and to draw-up standard operating procedures (SOPs) and contingency plans (CPs), to be shared with local residents under the heading “I watch your back and you watch mine”, to improve every-day security in their village and reduce the likelihood of similar incidents occurring again. NP carried out a similar session with the new UCP team in Thanamunai to start developing SOPs and CPs for residents in their community.
NP staff also accompanied the six members of Marapalam’s UCP team to visit the acting Officer in Charge (OIC) at the local police station. This provided an opportunity for the UCP team to explain what NP’s UCP training had taught them and the activities they were now carrying out in Marapalam to reduce security risks and deter violence against residents. The OIC praised the locals for their work and admitted that there is a big gap between local communities and Police, which he and his colleagues are trying to resolve. He and the UCP team went on to discuss ways in which Police could work with locals to help build bridges between them.
Throughout the month NP’s Batticaloa and Valaichchenai teams carried out an assessment in order to identify other villages and communities in the district that could benefit from UCP trainings in the future. Through the assessment six areas were identified and, currently, further analysis is being undertaken for the final selection of one divisional area.
In addition to planning the expansion of the Capacity-Building programme within Batticaloa District, NP’s Capacity-Building Coordinator and Field Officer carried out a pre-assessment exploratory visit to Vavuniya District in the North of the country in the hopes of being able to implement UCP trainings there. A full needs-assessment is currently being carried out by NP’s Vavuniya staff.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders (HRDs):
The Batticaloa team, along with the project’s Country Director who was visiting the team at the time, met with the commanding officer of the local Army Brigade. The meeting was held in order to explain NP’s activities in the district as well as to improve NP’s relations with key local military authorities. The officer had himself served with UN peacekeeping forces in Haiti and so understood well the concept of peacekeeping and civilian components included in that work. He supported NP’s aim to help bridge the gap between local government authorities and civilian populations, acknowledging that relations between the two had been very strained for several years.
Two NP staff from the Batticaloa team attended a monthly human rights defenders (HRDs) meeting hosted by one of NP’s local partner organisations, the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA). HRDs from 16 organisations around the district attended in order to exchange information about the current situation for resettled internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Vanni region in the North of the country. Main issues raised at the meeting concerned land rights and restrictions on freedom of movement. A representative from the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission (HRC) also attended the meeting in order to offer legal advice and possible solutions to address specific grievances or problems.
In Kalkudah, Batticaloa District, NP received a request by local Police to help facilitate their programme to register all unregistered marriages in the area. Having contacted two local partner organisations, NP staff from the Valaichchenai field team accompanied a registrar from the local Divisional Secretary’s (DS) office as she visited local communities in and around Kalkudah. Not only did this activity support local civil authorities by enabling them to carry out their work, it also gave NP a good opportunity to introduce NP’s work to a large number of local stakeholders in the area.
In Valaichchenai, NP attended a meeting hosted by the local Divisional Secretary (DS), which brought together various local and international NGOs working in the area to share information on their respective projects and determine overlapping areas in which they could collaborate their efforts. Organisations attending included the Rural Development Society (RDS), the Women’s Rural Development Society (WRDS), World Vision International (WVI), Survivors Association (SA), and several local civil authorities. In addition to forging closer links among the local NGO community, the meeting helped to form closer relations with the DS, who is keen to receive regular activity and impact updates from all NGOs working in the region.
As part of NP’s partnership agreement with the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission (HRC), staff from NP’s Valaichchenai and Batticaloa teams lent their support at a quarterly meeting hosted by the Batticaloa branch of the HRC, in conjunction with one of its donor organisations, the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). A large number of civil society actors were invited, including human rights defenders (HRDs); in the event, around 80 people from throughout Batticaloa District attended. The meeting had been arranged ahead of upcoming constitutional reforms that are due to take place within the Commission. The head of Batticaloa HRC appealed to the locals present to bring any complaints, grievances and cases pertaining to human rights directly to the HRC. He also explained the procedures that HRC staff go through when investigating alleged human rights violations. At the end of the meeting two local representatives from each divisional area in Batticaloa were chosen to act as point-people who, on behalf of their local communities, will raise any concerns they have about human rights issues with the HRC. Some issues were raised at this meeting and it was decided that at the next one, due to take place in three months’ time, the HRC would aim to bring people along who could answer those concerns.
In Oddamavaddy near Valaichchenai, NP met with a local HRD who works with an NGO called SCAF (Social and Cultural Affairs Forum). SCAF members, who specialise in different sectors, such as health, rights of people with disabilities and women’s rights, work with people from the local communities to try and address issues of concern in those communities. SCAF requested support from NP as they set about trying to develop a wider-reaching HRD network with other NGOs. In order to encourage closer collaboration between NGOs and the Batticaloa-based branch of the HRC, NP is facilitating links between the two and will see whether staff from the HRC can present one of their introductory human rights awareness workshops to SCAF members and residents from the local communities.
In its ongoing support for local partner organisation OCPC (Organisation Council for Peace and Co-Existence), NP provided presence at a meeting organised by OCPC in Valaichchenai, which was intended to raise awareness among local communities of basic human rights. Those attending included three representatives from USAID (which is funding OCPC’s peace-building activities); members from both the Rural Development Society (RDS) and Women’s RDS; members from the Livelihood Development Society; and residents from two villages in the area: one predominantly Tamil, the other Muslim. One of the key aims of the gathering was to bring people from the Tamil and Muslim communities together in order to improve understanding between them. Issues discussed at the meeting included domestic violence; children’s rights; and the need for all children to have access to a decent basic education. In a few instances, residents cited allegations of human rights violations from their villages, to which OCPC staff members advised the villagers on the ways in which they could follow-up and pursue the cases.
NP’s team in Vavuniya organised and conducted a one-day workshop training at the request of staff and volunteers from Jaffna-based organisation, Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR). The training discussed legal and para-legal remedies to deal with alleged human rights violations, as well as how to develop contingency plans to combat real and perceived threats and so be able to continue their legitimate activities in a safer environment. In drawing up a list of standard operating procedures and contingency plans, NP has arranged to conduct a follow-up training for CPR in the near future, which will address information technology and data security.
Throughout the month, NP’s Vavuniya staff carried out weekly routine visits to its HRD partners working in Vavuniya District. In this way, NP can remain informed of the current situation in different areas of the district as well as monitor the security situation of its partners. Nine such meetings took place in June.
One staff member from NP’s Vavuniya office spent five days during the month working at the local Human Rights Commission (HRC) branch as work continues on documenting and filing all reported cases of disappearances and abductions from the district. 2,833 cases from December 2009 were completed and work began on documenting cases from January 2010.
In addition to helping the HRC in this regard, NP staff from Vavuniya provided accompaniment for two HRC staff during a one-day field trip to Mullaitivu District. The aim for the HRC was to visit resettled areas and assess the progress of development work in the district, which was profoundly affected by the tsunami at the end of 2005 and then by fighting during the latter stages of the civil war. The visit afforded an opportunity for NP staff to explain their work to local Police in the region and they met staff from Mullaitivu’s Education Department, who provided NP with information regarding child welfare and educational services in the area.