Sri Lankan authorities continued throughout September to defend the government's overall post-war strategy, which has included the ongoing confinement in welfare camps of more than a quarter million Tamils. Meticulous screening procedures continue in an attempt to weed out LTTE loyalists among the IDPs (internally displaced persons). As the annual monsoon rains threaten, there has been growing international and local pressure on the government to expedite the process and release already-screened people for resettlement or to the care of their relatives.
The UN dispatched two delegations to Sri Lanka this month, including Lynn Pascoe, the UN's political chief, and Walter Kaelin, the under secretary-general for human rights of refugees, who visited the country to assess the needs of the IDPs. Kaelin included the many Muslims, displaced from the North for more than 20 years, in his call for an inclusive reconstruction programme. The pace of the release of refugees was described as "too slow" with people growing increasingly impatient to leave the camps. The government reiterated its pledge to resettle all displaced people by January, but said it needs international aid, in particular for clearing land mines in the North.
Sri Lanka and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) are planning to launch a USD $23 million programme to rehabilitate former LTTE cadres with the help of countries like the USA and the UK. The programme will include education, training and livelihood components. Besides the IOM and other countries, leading Sri Lankan companies will also provide assistance to the government in these rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. Sri Lanka plans to set up a Special Tribunal to try over 10,000 LTTE suspects, said to be held in various centers across Sri Lanka, and who are alleged to have been involved in various crimes. A top government official said the aim is to settle the cases against the LTTE cadres speedily, as it could otherwise take years in the normal legal system in courts.
In the North of the country, Sri Lanka is recruiting Tamil police officers, both male and female, from Jaffna for the first time since it became the epicentre of the separatist movement. The government has not recruited Tamils from Jaffna to serve in the police force since 1978.
The Context and Work of the NP Teams
September marked the start of new leadership in the NP Sri Lanka Project with the arrival of a new Country Director, Tiffany Easthom. Tiffany is Canadian and holds a Bachelors degree in Justice Studies and a Masters degree in Human Security and Peacebuilding. She has four years international project management and administration experience in Indonesia, Peru and Chile, where she managed peacebuilding, human rights and protection projects. Most recently, Tiffany was the Project Coordinator in Indonesia for Peace Brigades International.
Under new and inspired leadership, NPSL will further develop and implement its projects to contribute to steadily improving human rights and security for civilians in the post-conflict period in Sri Lanka. Some new cases of threats and human rights violations continued to be reported to the teams this month, followed by frequent referral to mechanisms and authorities that might be able to assist to address the problems these citizens were reporting. Eleven accompaniments occurred this month; with more than 25 monitoring and field visits to assess the prevailing conditions in various locations. Other highlights of the work of the NP teams this month are summarized below.
Increasing the Safety of Children Affected by Armed Conflict
NP teams in the North and East continue to work with child protection agencies and organisations and the Government in addressing the needs of children in the post-conflict setting. Teams are following up with all families who previously sought the support and interventions of NP to help insure that children have access to the needed resources to be able to safely reintegrate back into their families and communities. NP teams cooperate with the Probation Department and coordinate with their staff on case follow-up. They also continue to assist in awareness-raising and advocacy for the government's "Bring Back the Child" national campaign.
Poverty is a large obstacle to family stability, particularly in remote areas and in rural locations where displaced persons have been resettled. In some areas the infrastructure is not yet in place to provide for the medical care or the schooling of children, with the pressures of poverty causing some children to drop out of school to assist with family income-generation. In some areas there is no accessible educational facility beyond the 5th grade level. In other areas, people more recently settled have not yet been able to get their children enrolled in school and thus they continue to fall behind. Vocational training centers played a significant role in helping many vulnerable children and youth learn a practical trade during the war. In some cases the security situation has improved to the extent that some youth are now able to live at home and travel with confidence to and from the training center. Some Centers are now reaching out to more poverty-stricken families, as issues of livelihood become ever more pressing for families, but available resources are very limited. One gap that has long been identified is that most training programs do not have sufficient funding to ensure that youth who complete the program have the tools of the trade when they finish, and in some cases there is little or no opportunity to pursue the trade in a particular area, such as being an auto mechanic, and particularly for girls. In Jaffna well over 200 children continue to be identified as separated from their families.
While UNICEF's database was always known to hold only a percentage of the total number of conflict-affected children, according to their September summary, which tracks children who had been previously reported to them as involved in either the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) Movement or in the break-away political group (the TMVP), there are still 77 unresolved cases of children involved with the TMVP, and 1410 with the LTTE. (Note: in some cases, these children have now reached their 18th birthday). Almost 100 children in the database have been documented as killed, with some parents continuing to report their missing children to UNICEF.
Strengthening Existing Mechanisms and Building the Confidence of Civilians to Use the Mechanisms to Increase their Security
A number of resettlement monitoring visits and activities for internally displaced persons (IDPs) occurred this month, as the Government continued its efforts in the East to return the last groups of IDPs from Trincomalee District who had been displaced to Batticaloa District since 2006 and '07. In some cases the families have now been moved to another temporary site in Trinco District, as their original communities are still considered High Security Zones. Such a process has proved quite difficult for some families, especially for those who managed to secure some stable livelihood in their area of displacement, and now must be uprooted again. Recently some additional IDPs have also come into Batticaloa District from Vavuniya in the North and are yet to be screened and resettled. The NP teams help civilians access needed information, monitor the security of their transitions, and identify their concerns and needed resources to share with government and other humanitarian actors. On-going advocacy on behalf of war-affected civilians with a variety of authorities, including the Security Forces and Police, requires NP teams to continually develop and maintain relationships with all key actors in an area.
Capacity-building for Individuals and Community-based Organisations
September was a month of outreach by the teams to many community-based Government Servants (GSs) and Divisional Secretaries (DSs) to lay the groundwork for future training programs on violence reduction and nonviolent community problem-solving. Such efforts will help further stabilize communities and the government is now investing in community structures to help in this regard. In Trinco District, for example, Tamil and Muslim community leaders in Mutur, a community that had a strong NP presence until early 2008, the government is establishing a Mediation Board and providing some training on leadership, conflict resolution, Sri Lankan law and human rights. In some areas Civil Security Committees are forming, both mechanisms that can help resolve disputes at the lowest levels. In one case of a land dispute the Valaichchenai Team was able to help bring disputants together to unravel, in cooperation with the government representative, how two different claimants to a piece of land were misled into thinking they both had rights to it. In a post-conflict environment, with many shifts of population continuing to occur, such disputes over resources-land, water, forests-could prove a major source of potential community conflicts. NP's project of offering Capacity-Building activities in several remote areas has been welcomed by the government authorities and community-based organisations and will be carried out in the coming months.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders
Nonviolent Peaceforce teams know that it is critical to understand and to operate on the belief that it is the local people who are the experts when it comes to addressing long-term community stability, human security, and protection of everyone's human rights. Supporting local peacemakers and human rights defenders in order that they can more securely carry out their activities is an important area of NP's work. This month the teams performed a number of accompaniments in this regard and helped create more space and opportunity for these local efforts to thrive. In many cases, NP's accompaniment has allowed human rights defenders to continue to engage in their legitimate work of protecting larger communities' human rights. Encouragement for more people to take up such leadership roles within their communities will occur as people see that there is an acceptance of such work and that people of goodwill can safely reach out to others without fear of reprisal. There is still considerable fear in many places and it will take some time for people who have lived in a conflict zone for a generation or more to claim their dignity and their rights. In one case this month a local human rights defender, with NP's support, was able to advocate directly with a local Police station on behalf of a family whose relative was wrongly detained. In another case a national human rights organisation was encouraged to involve itself in a case where a defendant had no adequate representation in court. Encouraging systems and structures to be trustworthy is the first step in helping citizens begin to trust in them, creating a 'virtuous circle' to build a stronger civil society.