The Sri Lankan government continued to solidify its military and territorial victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) declared from mid-May. Despite on-going concerns coming from some national and international advocates, conditions at camps for the internally displaced were reported to have been improved and the arduous work of mine-clearing continued in selected locations of the north. Limited media and humanitarian access to the more than a quarter million refugees and the lack of freedom of movement for the displaced continued to be voiced as main concerns in the immediate post-conflict period.
There are now some cases before the Sri Lankan Supreme Court challenging the continuing restrictions on freedom of movement of displaced citizens in the 'welfare centers'. Recognizing that there are genuine national security issues, rights groups have asked the justice system to issue some criteria for the screening process within the camps so that it is not perceived to be ad hoc and arbitrary. Officials claim that only those who have admitted to being part of the LTTE have been separated out from the general population and that their relatives are told of their whereabouts. By month's end the Government reported that it was drawing up guidelines for a structured amnesty programme for lower-ranking LTTE cadres. The Government also reiterated its intention, despite concerns that 'permanent displacement sites' were being built, that their goal remains to resettle 80% of the displaced populations by the end of the year.
Also this month, the President's Commission of Inquiry, established in 2006 to look into 16 cases of serious human rights violations, was disbanded. Seven of the sixteen cases were said to have been investigated by the Commission during this period, with reports on five of them being written, but none released to date.
As the country begins its recovery from a costly and protracted civil war, Sri Lanka, along with many other nations, will continue to struggle for development dollars in the midst of the global economic downturn, predicted to result in significant decreases in official development assistance world-wide.
The Context and Work of the NP Teams
While the NP Sri Lanka management team in Colombo was focused on the search for a new Country Representative to assume the leadership of the project, NP field teams continued their activities within the four areas of focus as outlined below. As a number of the international peacekeepers finished their contracts in the first half of 2009, replacement field staff, who underwent NP's intensive Mission Preparedness Training (MPT) in the Philippines in March, have arrived to begin their tour of service. In addition to orienting and integrating new staff into the field teams, NP carried out more than 70 activities this month with a focus on protecting and promoting the rights of children and internally displaced populations, and supporting the capacity of local and national organisations and community leaders to help promote a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka.
Protecting Children, Youth and Families
Under the leadership of NPSL's Child Protection Coordinator and with the support of the Child Protection Unit of UNICEF, the teams are engaged in a thorough review and evaluation process of their child protection work, focusing on achievements, constraints, lessons learned, and opportunities for the future in the changing political and security context. Families continue to seek NP's help in addressing issues of reintegration and rehabilitation of ex-child combatants and other issues of human security.
In Batticaloa District, NP's two field teams were busy with new casework involving vulnerable children and youth, including 14 requests for accompaniments, and many follow-ups, requiring more than 20 referrals for psychosocial supports to mental health providers and to the government's Probation Department. The teams also supported the government's Department Child Protection Unit in their community awareness campaign called "Bring Back the Child."
In Jaffna, the child protection networks have recently been focused on gaps in educational services, family reunification issues, and support for children with disabilities. The NP team coordinated with the government's Child Protection & Rights Officers (CPROs) to identify communities for capacity building of village-level committees on issues of child rights. In one area, NP participated in a child protection meeting that focused on supports for single mothers and their families to assist in information sharing and access to resources. In one instance, NP was asked to help improve district-wide coordination of child rights/protection issues. Because of the networks and coordination bodies that NP participates in, the teams can assist in sharing information and resources for family and community capacity building, including encouragement to establish children's clubs that can be a stable and positive network for children and parents in remote areas.
Promoting Human Rights
Many of the situations that families bring to NP, and requests for protective accompaniment, involve concerns about human rights, whether of children, youth or other adults in the family. The Valaichchenai team in June fielded 42 new cases, with half of them being related to fears of human rights abuses being suffered by the relatives being held in camps in Vavuniya. The Batti team served more than 50 families this month, and networked with area leaders in one community to help mitigate the potential for violence following the abduction of a Muslim businessman that resulted in a day-long harthal, or community strike. Fortunately the man was released later and tensions eased in the area. Two of the military checkpoints were dismantled this month between Valaichchenai and Batti Town, helping to build the confidence of civilians that steps toward demilitarization in the district are happening.
In Jaffna, the NP team participated with one of their human rights partner organisations in a workshop for pre-school teachers on human rights and conflict resolution skills, involving 63 participants. While individual/family case reporting is historically less in Jaffna than in the East, the team was contacted by several families seeking assistance related to their security, and the team was able to meet community representatives in one remote area where they could introduce NP's mandate and protection services and listen to community concerns in the post-conflict environment. The ratio of security forces to civilians in Jaffna (said to be 1:10) continues to be voiced by the Tamil community as a contributor to ongoing feelings of community insecurity on the peninsula.
Providing Presence in Displacement Camps and Resettlement Areas
The Jaffna team, along with many other humanitarian organisations, lack access to the 10 displacement camps and the more than 11,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) on the Jaffna peninsula. Two schools were cleared of IDPs with the construction of a new camp to accommodate them. Educational activities were able to continue in the cleared schools and all children in the camps were reported to be receiving educational services. Two hundred fifteen elderly people were released from the camps and resettled with family members. Some 85 families were resettled in one area and the local government servant for the area was awaiting permission for 122 more to be resettled. He asked NP for help and advocacy for this group and the team was following up with UNHCR and the security forces on the needed processes and permissions. The team also visited 30 families at two temporary Transit Centers to monitor the situation.
In Batticaloa District, the NP teams are part of an extensive coordinating network of humanitarian and government stakeholders to monitor and serve remaining IDP camps, still housing almost 200 displaced families from Trinco District (with another 200 now in resettlement areas of the district) who have been unable to return to Trinco since 2006. In Valaichchenai the team conducted seven field visits in June to other resettlement areas in the central part of the district covering approximately 900 families. In one instance some humanitarian agencies reported observing an instance of forced resettlement being carried out, in violation of international standards, which caused heightened tension in some areas of the district. Emergency advocacy meetings were subsequently held with government representative and humanitarian actors to address the situation.
Support for Capacity-building of Community-Based Structures
While NP does not provide livelihood support to the communities where the teams live and work, NP teams can help communities liaise with potential partners and resources, particularly for farming and fishing communities, and to make other stakeholders aware of needs in remote areas to help stabilize vulnerable communities. In Jaffna, the team was able to help network the Swedish Development Corporation with a fishing society in need of support; and a meeting with a Women's Rural Development Society in another area was able to focus on available resources for female-headed households and their security issues.
In Batticaloa, the team in Valaichchenai had numerous meetings this month with their networks of Tamil and Muslim organizations and assisted one of their coordinating committees to successfully access financial support from another international funder. Ninety-eight individuals, some representing other remote networks, are part of an Early Warning system that helps to quickly share information and reduce rumours to enhance human security in the district. Both teams continue to be in close and regular contact with community and religious leaders, meeting regularly with them, and using their international protective presence in times or in areas of heightened tension or potential violence.
While the economic costs of war are ever-increasing, keeping the peace also costs money. The current costs of the United Nation's 14 peacekeeping operations are double of what was being spent fifteen years ago. For the Nonviolent Peaceforce, its total annual budget of approximately four million dollars is roughly equivalent to what the US Defense Department spends in two minutes.