In November 2009, in the four districts where NP teams are currently operational, the teams received more than 25 new cases of potential human rights violations, and conducted a variety of follow-up activities and advocacy on more than 20 other cases. They also traveled throughout their districts, engaging with constituents and beneficiaries on security-related issues and participated in more than 60 stakeholder meetings. At the request of local partners, they also performed a number of protective accompaniments. The following summarizes some of the key activities of NP teams in relation to current project areas:
Increasing the Safety of Children Affected by Armed Conflict
In the East, the Batticaloa team participated in a meeting of the government's Department of Child Protection regarding the current status of children in the district, and supported 33 beneficiaries under its Child Protection programme. The team has facilitated the linkage of a mobile medical provider twice per month to serve ex-combatant youth enrolled through a vocational training partner. Some youth report feeling unsafe to return to their home community and families continue to request NP presence in some areas. To assist in stabilizing communities in the post-conflict period, NP is collaborating with the government on a child protection awareness programme to be held in 7 divisional areas in remote areas in Batticaloa District.
In the northern part of the district, the Valaichchenai team continues its child protection work in three areas: accompanying government Probation and Child Rights Protection officers (CRPO) to remote areas to meet with affected families previously identified as in need of security monitoring, doing follow-ups with families who have reintegrated an ex-combatant child, and monitoring the situation for youth previously integrated into vocational training programmes.
To the north, NP's newest team in Vavuniya District established relationships with all Child Protection authorities and agencies at different levels. Access to the detention camp for under-aged youth has been granted periodically and the team directly supported 9 youth and families. At the request of the Government Agent the team accompanied a CRPO and 6 surrenderees to a rehabilitation center. Two ex-combatants were linked with the Probation Department in order to finalize their legal status with the Courts. Three cases of missing children were reported this month, but continued limited access to camps and returnee villages is delaying any action by protection actors on such cases.
Building the Confidence and Capacity for Individuals and Community-based Organisations to Engage in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping at the Community Level
In supporting civilians to utilize existing mechanisms and security networks, the teams in the East accompanied local partners to resettlement areas several times, including once to attend an inter-religious programme on peaceful co-existence. The Valaichchenai team continued monitoring two vulnerable divisions in the west of the district, creating links between local communities and other authorities and national actors, such as the police, security forces, government representatives, local human rights defenders, the Probation Department, religious and community leaders and the Disaster Management office.
In Vavuniya, the Divisional Secretary has offered to gather 45 grassroots government servants to allow NP staff the opportunity to present the organisation and planned activities in the district. Such cooperation from the government sector upon the launch of the NP team in Vavuniya is a positive sign for future support and good relations. Several cases have been referred to the team and support has been provided to a family seeking to get their disabled child released from a detention camp, and in another case the family of a university student requested assistance in getting their some released so he could continue his education. NP was also asked to accompany 8 adult ex-combatants to a rehabilitation center. In December the team is planning to do a general baseline survey of host families to understand the needs and inform team planning into the new year.
In November the final groundwork has been laid for the launching in December and beyond of planned trainings in unarmed civilian peacekeeping at the community level. In Batti District, with the support of the UN Development Fund (UNDP) four grama sevakas, grassroots government servants, will be selected from each of five divisions chosen by the Divisional Secretary to participate in the initial training. This training will be preceded by further NP local staff training in order to build their capacity to deliver the training modules. In Vavuniya, the team is also quickly organizing potential participants, and the team met this month with 25 local NGOs to share the project idea and get input from them.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders (HRD)
Launched earlier in 2009, the Human Rights Defender (HRD) Programme has quickly grown in to NPSL's largest project in Sri Lanka, with substantial donor interest in supporting and expanding this project throughout 2010. In the capital this month, overall 18 HRDs were supported through a variety of interventions. It was reported that four were able to increase their activity level this month with NP support, and four suspended their activities due to pressures and insecurities. Five were provided with direct protection, and seven implemented portions of their personal contingency plans. NP provided presence at a meeting organized by CID (Committee for Investigation on Disappearances) with about 150 members of families of disappeared people and political prisoners. The Colombo-Jaffna HRD network was strengthened, with two HRDs from Colombo facilitated to visit Jaffna and work with HRDs there. The Jaffna team also continued to strengthen collaboration with the Human Rights Commission and with Jaffna University on issues of human rights.
Human rights defenders were provided with protective accompaniment and presence, have formulated and implemented contingency plans, and further strengthened their protection networks. NP has been requested to provide security training to vulnerable journalists, as well as protective presence at court hearings. Further referrals of other HRDs began to be received, with emphasis on challenges HRDs are facing in the North and the East. NP was also requested to provide security training and protective presence at two public events on disappearances and political prisoners. Human Rights and Disaster Unit staff from Vavuniya, Jaffna, Batti, Vala, Ampara and Colombo met in Colombo for training in HRDU work, shared information and attended some legal sessions related to the work in the field.
In the East, twelve HRDs were supported in a variety of their activities. In one case an HRD was accompanied during his advocacy with the Army following reports of resettled families who claimed vulnerability and insecurity due to perceived army surveillance. In another area an HRD was able to advocate with a government servant to engage more in the pervasive land ownership issues and other problems for newly resettled communities before problems escalate. In Vavuniya, NP monitored the safety of six human rights defenders, and linked three service providers for greater collaboration in serving the needs of two traumatized youth coming out of refugee camps. Religious leaders, the NGO Consortium, international organisations, and other civil society actors are actively referring cases to the new NP team in Vavuniya. Local government actors report being satisfied with NP's ability to provide additional protection and support to community-based actors.
In December and beyond NP will also be undertaking a project before, during and after the January 26th Presidential Elections, to improve the safety and security of local elections monitors. With 22 registered presidential candidates, the largest field of candidates ever, the election promises to be a close and contentious one in many parts of the country.