Following the Government of Sri Lanka's announcement in November that Presidential Polls would be held in January, almost two years ahead of schedule, the country's political parties and electoral mechanisms shifted into high gear in December. Nonviolent Peaceforce also positioned itself to assist throughout the pre- and immediate post-election period by coordinating with the country's leading election monitoring organizations as described below.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Election Monitors and Vulnerable Communities
Prior to the official announcement of Presidential elections to be held on 26 January 2010, NPSL and three local election monitoring partner organizations-PAFFREL (Peoples Action for Free and Fair Elections), CMEV (Center for Monitoring Election Violence), and CaFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Elections)-had already been in discussions regarding how best to improve the security and safety of local election monitors. The three partner organizations requested NPSL to facilitate a training for their monitors on safety and security measures.
Following the request, NPSL was able to gain approval by the Elections Commissioner and to quickly identify and engage the services of a renowned resource person to design and implement a comprehensive elections monitoring training package to local elections monitors. With support from NP, seven training sessions were offered for two election monitoring organizations, one human rights organization, and one media company. Three training sessions were conducted for 45 monitors from the CMEV, and one for 15 monitors from CaFFE. While PAFFREL had also requested training, they were finally unable to participate.
The one-day highly-participatory training centered on the threats, vulnerabilities and capacities of election monitors. Participants were led to develop their own contingency plans based on their unique situations and what would work best for them. Post training evaluation showed that 95% of the participants felt positively empowered and were eager to participate in future similar trainings.
As the trainings proceeded, NPSL also undertook recruitment of qualified professionals to hire on short-term contracts as International Protection Officers for the Election Observers Protection Project. Ultimately four people from different geographical areas around the world were identified and, by the end of the month, the process of getting these additional resource people to Sri Lanka was well underway.
In addition to activities related to preparation for the Presidential Elections, NPSL teams in Colombo, Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa continued their other protection activities, including:
Increasing the Safety of Children Affected by Armed Conflict
NP's Vavuniya team provided accompaniment to local Child Rights Promoting Officers (CRPO) to detention camps and rehabilitation centers to monitor conditions and security considerations of ex-combatants during their reintegration process. The Government Agent (GA) of Vavuniya requested NP to accompany also ex-cardres who were released by court order to various rehabilitation centers under government auspices. This month NP accompanied 07 ex-cardres to various rehabilitation centers in the District from the Vavuniya Remand Prison. The team also coordinated on several missing cases with ICRC and the Human Rights Commission and reported back to the families. NP provided space and facilitation for Mothers of the Disappeared committee to discuss their issues with the HRC in relation to their children. In Batticaloa, the teams worked with local training center partners in regard to ensuring the protection of children and youth being reintegrated into their home communities following their training programmes.
Through its many partnerships, NP's child protection efforts over time have resulted in coordinated actions at multiple levels. Lessons learned from NP's work on behalf of both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and children have been incorporated into other national advocacy efforts. For example, through NP's partnership with UNICEF, NP has been able to contribute to the development and implementation of a Child Protection Action Plan, which was signed by the Government, the TMVP party, and UNICEF and resulted in the creation of a Child Welfare Unit, a reintegration support mechanism for ex-child soldiers. This has resulted in an improved security situation for children across the island through the establishment of sustainable mechanisms to monitor the security and well-being of these youth.
Capacity-building for Individuals and Community-based Organisations to Engage in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping at the Community Level
Following the signing of our partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in November 2009, NP commenced the first phase of the project aimed at training NPSL national staff as trainers in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP). The goal of this training is to build the capacity of Sri Lankans to take an active role in increasing the safety and security of their own communities for the long term.
In coming months NP national staff will be training community leaders in UCP, providing them with both the skills and the theories needed to do this work, as well as cultivate their ability to sustain this work within their communities by training others. Tools for mapping conflict and tensions, identifying strategic partners, developing strategies for mitigating conflict, and creating contingency plans for when tensions suddenly arise are some of the topics covered in the training. On the final two days, participants were given the opportunity to practice their training skills by leading the group through different modules and activities in the curriculum.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders (HRD)Currently our largest project in Sri Lanka, thanks to financial support from the European Commission and several European donor nations, Human Rights Defender project staff were deployed to three new locations: Ampara in the East, Mannar in the northwest, and Vavuniya in the north. As part of the project NP has signed partnership agreements with the Human Rights Commission (HRC) of Sri Lanka and the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) to collaborate in building the capacity of selected government officials to monitor and report human rights violations in their areas of jurisdiction.
To this end, a workshop was organized for the Regional Offices of the Human Rights Commission and officials from the Colombo head office which focused on skills and tools for improving the safety and security of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka. Five to six regional offices from Southern Sri Lanka were also the part of the workshop. An NP-facilitated forum also brought the Dean of the Law Faculty to deliver a lecture on the country's 17th Amendment, entitled "Towards Good Governance: A Constitutional Conundrum in Retrospect." Among participants were lawyers, human rights defenders, diplomats, law students, civil society actors and others from different walks of life.
In addition, the HRD Project staff organized a one day workshop for Sri Lankan Army members, where 60 commissioned and non-commissioned officials from different military branches were trained on conflict resolution, human rights, and human rights defenders protection issues.
Future plans include two trainings on improving the safety and security of human rights defenders that will be organized in the North, East and in Colombo on threat and risk assessment, context analysis, contingency planning and option analysis to build local human rights defenders' capacity and to improve their safety and security. A workshop and gathering of women human rights defenders will be organized at Colombo where they will gather to share information, exchange views and discuss issues and threat women faces due to their work on promotion and protection of human rights.Monthly meetings of local HRDs will be held in Ampara, Mannar, Jaffna, Trinco, Vavuniya, Mannar and Batticaloa. And further security forces training will be organized for Police and Military on their role in protection of human rights defenders.