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July 2009 Sri Lanka Report

Date: July 1, 2009

Throughout the month of July, the Government of Sri Lanka continued to solidify its military victory in mid-May over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Security precautions remain tight, including in the capital, with Parliament voting month by month to continue a national State of Emergency, stating it is still needed to maintain law and order. As Sri Lanka's conflict holds the global record for the largest number of suicide attacks, government forces continue to be on alert for armed cadres operating throughout the country who could continue to cause death and injury to civilians or state security forces. It was reported in early July that the first military fatality occurred when a soldier was killed by an LTTE cadre in the East, with other armed cadres allegedly being hunted down by the Security Forces throughout the month.

Subsequently, military officials have called for a dramatic expansion of the Security Forces in a post-war environment, with a drive to recruit upwards of 50,000 new recruits to help secure and administer the northern areas long held by the LTTE. The Government claims the expanded military is needed for urgent de-mining operations and to help rebuild and stabilize the North and East for the longer-term.

In the wake of the crushing defeat of the LTTE leadership, one of the world's largest displacement camps mushroomed within the jungle areas of northern Sri Lanka, administered and tightly secured by the military. Screening continues in camps across the north housing up to 300,000 displaced civilians who await permission to be released from the camps to return to their villages and be reunited with their families. The government plans to take legal action against seasoned rebel fighters, and to rehabilitate the majority of former Tamil Tiger insurgents and supporters, many of whom were forcibly recruited into the ranks of the LTTE. Conditions are reported to be difficult in the camps, with aid workers and foreign diplomats voicing concerns over the potential for disease and malnutrition, especially among children. Claiming the humanitarian situation is well in hand, the Government asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who had spoken out against the lack of international standards in the treatment of war-affected civilians, to scale down their relief operations island wide. As a first step, the expatriate staff of ICRC in its eastern offices have been withdrawn as their operations wind down.

After months of uncertainty, and calls from a number of international human rights organizations to make any funding contingent on Sri Lanka meeting basic humanitarian and human rights standards, the Government of Sri Lanka was successful in securing a highly contested agreement for crucial funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Citing human rights concerns, the U.S. and Britain abstained from the voting. The Government of Sri Lanka called the opposition to the loan "deplorable," arguing the $2.6 billion line of credit from the IMF was essential for rebuilding the North and East and for beginning the healing process after 26 years of war.

The Context and Work of the NP Teams

The work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce peacekeeping teams in Sri Lanka is evolving in the post-war situation. NPSL continues to advance its request to secure a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Government to solidify its continuing international presence and its contributions to the protection and confidence-building of populations that have suffered the long-term consequences of civil war. Plans to establish an NP presence in the area of the displacement camps in the North are awaiting Government permission.

Organizing the Work of the Teams

Administratively, a newly-expanded Programme Department is moving NPSL toward a fully developed Project-Based Approach to the planning and implementation of all areas of the work. This approach will provide the teams with a strong shared vision of NP's mandate and a firm foundation for the monitoring and evaluation of the impact of NP strategies and activities in the communities where the teams live and work. This is particularly important in a political and social/cultural context that is rapidly shifting in the post-conflict period.

In the coming months, both continuing and new initiatives will be carried out under seven broad objectives:

1.    To reduce children's risk of being recruited or harmed by armed groups.

2.    To strengthen existing mechanisms for the protection of civilians in the North and East and build confidence of affected populations to use and trust those mechanisms

3.    To build the capacities of individuals and community-based structures to engage in unarmed civilian peacekeeping at the community level

4.    To improve the safety and security of human rights defenders (HRDs) so they can continue to promote human rights in Sri Lanka

5.    To improve the safety and security of local election monitors so they can help ensure free and fair elections at local, provincial and national levels

6.    To develop NPSL to have more strength and capacity to achieve the above objectives

7.    To effectively manage the ongoing work and existing commitments of the organization

Monitoring and Evaluating Our Impact

In July, NPSL received feedback about its operations from a variety of stakeholders as part of its annual review for Unicef, which has been a key partner and funder for much of the child rights and protection work that NPSL teams have undertaken since 2006. In all districts, a range of partner organizations and individuals were interviewed and useful information was received on the perception of NP's contribution to issues of human security and on continuing gaps that individuals and organizations are highlighting.

Contributions of NP teams cited throughout evaluation interviews included: Positive recognition for the independent and nonpartisan role NP has played in a variety of highly politicized or contentious situations, including during elections and in times of crisis and tension between ethnic communities. The value of international presence to give confidence to communities and individuals was frequently mentioned. One person said that having NP present gives families hope that someone cares and is paying attention. Citing the closure of the ICRC offices in the East, several voiced fear that more internationals would now leave, with some voicing concern that the absence of internationals would likely increase the vulnerability of civilians, including human rights defenders. One religious leader said that "the people are more in danger than before."  Another mentioned the strategic location of the Valaichchenai office in the East, and encouraged more rural locations for international offices.

NP was cited numerous times for filling a unique role in responding to crises when called upon, and in accompanying vulnerable children or other individuals when needed to increase their safety. A mother said she was grateful NP helped her son and asked for nothing in return. In one district, a long-standing partner cited NP's facilitation of community meetings and the opening of its offices for meetings of conflict-affected mothers, which gave parents "the space" and confidence to come together in times when they had no where to safely gather to discuss their common fears and break their isolation and silence. In addition to the losses and suffering across Sri Lankan society as a consequence of the war, some families are still awaiting news of the fate of the children, with UNICEF reporting in July that there are still more than 1500 young people on their database yet unaccounted for, all of whom were recruited or forcibly abducted when they were underaged. UNICEF also acknowledges that their database has always represented only a portion of those children directly caught up in the conflict.

Monitoring and follow-up advocacy on behalf of internally displaced people (IDP), both in camps and in resettlement areas, was noted as a valuable contribution of NP teams. NP's periodic facilitation of national NGO visits to vulnerable areas allowed one Sri Lankan organization, which conducts human rights documentation, research and advocacy at national and international levels, to directly meet themselves with civilians in the IDP communities this month and to make recommendations directly to the relevant Sri Lankan authorities. A report on their findings was posted on the Groundviews website. NP's consistent presence and advocacy in Batticaloa District resulted in an invitation to attend special government-led meetings to further understand the needs of the displaced, and coordinated steps were taken to better serve this population in the resettlement process in the future.

Gaps Noted in Community Protection and Services:
A variety of continuing fears and gaps were also mentioned during the course of the evaluation interviews. Youth frequently cited continuing inability to safely return to their home communities, with ex-combatants and parents fearing potential reprisals. The need for training for community peaceworkers and peacebuilding programmes was highlighted, including community awareness programs regarding reintegraton and acceptance for returning combatants. Several people mentioned the widespread need for capacity- and confidence-building, including for community-based organizations, and for government actors at the ground level, in order for government entities to be accountable and responsive to all citizens.

The dire need for livelihood supports, including additional supports needed for youth completing vocational training programs, was frequently mentioned, including engaging youth meaningfully and productively in the life of the community. For youth fortunate enough to be finishing vocational training programs, the lack of tools for the trades they have been prepared in, the inability to speak Sinhala or English, and limited employment opportunities were all mentioned as significant obstacles for Tamil youth. Fears were also voiced regarding the lack of monitoring visits/presence available to remote areas, leaving people feeling insecure and vulnerable.

In other activities this month: NP staff also hosted the visit this month of two members of NP-Japan. The delegates evaluated the outcomes of the projects funded by the Niwano Foundation in Japan for the support of inter-ethnic Peace Committees in Trincomalee District. The delegates were able to meet with many members of Peace Committees to hear first-hand of the importance of the support they received to advance their objectives to increase inter-ethnic programmes and build relationships and understanding across ethnic divides. In more than a dozen meetings involving more than 120 participants, the delegation got a broad range of feedback and insight into the changing Sri Lanka context. They were also able to visit some of the partner organizations of the NP teams in Batticaloa District and other stakeholders in Colombo, including the Japan Embassy. 

In Jaffna, the NP team was engaged with IDP concerns in one area where IDPs were threatened with being forcibly removed from one center prior to being given government permission to return to their home area. NP was able to bring their plight to the attention of UNHCR, the lead UN agency for refugees. Among the IDPs in Jaffna and Vavuniya are a number of university students who are hoping to be allowed to return to university, despite the extended interruption to their education. In a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of the university, he thanked the team for their previous support of the university at critical times in the past and reported that there are at least 40 students in Jaffna camps and more than 170 in Vavuniya camps and that the university will be flexible in supporting these students to return, once they are given permission to leave the camps. The team was also involved in monitoring the lead-up to the Jaffna Municipal elections in early August, in which four parties and two independent groups are vying for 23 municipal council seats. In conjunction with a local partner, the Jaffna team participated in a training on nonviolent problem-solving attended by more than 60 preschool teaching staff. They also met this month with a number of government servants in remote areas regarding the revitalization and/or establishment of Child Rights Monitoring Committee, with requests for NP support.

The benefits of continuing international presence and NP's contribution to help solidify the peace appears compelling--and welcomed--by a broad range of stakeholders and partners, in the post-conflict environment of Sri Lanka.

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