July 2010 Sri Lanka Report
The European Union (EU) decided in July to withdraw trade concessions granted to Sri Lanka after the government failed to make a written commitment to improve its human rights record (see Monthly Programme report June 2010). Sri Lanka will "temporarily" lose its preferential access to the EU market from August 15 after it missed a July 1 deadline to deliver the pledge, the EU said in a statement.
Tamil political party and civil organisation leaders met in Colombo on July 2 and formed the Forum of Tamil Parties. It was decided at this discussion that all Tamil political parties should work together to determine what course of action they need to adopt for the betterment of the Tamil people, having taken into consideration the political atmosphere. A decision was also made to invite other political parties that could not participate at this discussion and absorb other parties into this forum so that all could work in unison to realise the objective. The forum decided to appoint a committee through which to present a work plan for achieving the objectives of the forum leading to solving Tamil people’s problems at present.
With regards to NP’s project in Sri Lanka, July proved to be a very challenging month. On the 7th July, both Ms Tiffany Easthom (Country Director) and Mr Ali Palh (Coordinator Human Rights Defenders Project) left Sri Lanka having been notified that their respective work visas had been cancelled. Although NP’s Sri Lanka project had encountered a few similar visa cancellations during its seven years of active service in the country, this was the first time two senior staff members had been targeted in this way. Coinciding with what has generally been a challenging environment for all international NGOs in Sri Lanka since the Parliamentary elections in April of this year, remaining staff in NPSL decided to suspend most day-to-day activities for a couple of weeks in order to carry out internal assessments and analyses of the current situation. Senior Colombo-based staff and NP’s Interim Programme Director who came to Sri Lanka embarked on a series of high-level meetings with governmental contacts to determine the political space available for NPSL to continue its work.
The following summarises some of the key activities of NP teams in relation to its current project areas:
Increasing the Safety of Children Affected by Armed Conflict:
In Batticaloa District, NP staff attended the monthly inter-agency meeting, at which locally-based national and international NGOs present their current activities and share information on issues such as security and child protection. July’s meeting included representatives from the UNDP (United Nations Development Program); UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund); Oxfam; plus several local NGOs. All those present agreed that during the past six months, there had been no major security incidents. As for Child Protection work, there had been no new cases reported of children being forcibly recruited by armed groups, leaving the primary focus for those NGOs working in the sector to focus on rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.
In the northern district of Vavuniya, NP staff conducted a one-day training workshop on children’s rights as the latest in NP’s monthly trainings for local youth within its Child Protection and Development programme. This month’s training, which was attended by seven youngsters from different villages in the area, followed on from last month’s introduction to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (see Monthly Programme Report June 2010). The workshop provided a more in-depth look at the provisions contained within the CRC as well as pertinent provisions within the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This activity was conducted to lay the ground-work for further workshops with local children in the coming months.
As part of its ongoing collaboration with the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA) to implement its Child Protection project in Vavuniya District, NP staff provided support and assistance to NCPA officials throughout the month. NP provided accompaniment to NCPA officials to two outer-lying areas in the district where they were following-up cases of child abuse. In addition, the District Coordinator for NCPA requested NP’s accompaniment to Manik Farm, where he wanted to monitor the work of the Child Focus Unit (CFU) in the camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). NCPA learned that currently the CFU has suspended its operations while the resettlement process of the last remaining IDPs is carried out. According to one of the officials inside Manik Farm, any cases of alleged child abuse are reported to the Police.
NP staff in Vavuniya also attended two Child Focus Working Group (CFWG) meetings in July. These meetings bring together staff from national and international NGOs as well as representatives from the government sector in order to share information about and discuss various issues pertaining to child protection and child development efforts in the north of the country. The first meeting, which was facilitated by the NCPA District Coordinator, focused primarily on child protection initiatives. The work of Child Focus Units in IDP camps was discussed and plans were put forward to establish similar groups in resettled areas. The District Coordinator acknowledged the efforts and support given by NPSL staff with the formation of Village Child’s Development Committees in Vavuniya North. At the second meeting, discussions focused on the need to implement awareness-raising programmes about Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) at all IDP camps and in resettled areas. Plans were developed to hold formal discussions with the Ministry of Social Services in order to implement such programmes in every village throughout resettled areas. With regard to child protection efforts, all those present at the meeting agreed that a mapping exercise should be conducted to detail all the various activities being carried out by each NGO and government body so as to avoid duplicating work and encourage closer collaboration among all interested parties. The main topic for consideration was the number of child abuse cases being reported in villages and rural communities. Discussions have taken place with high-ranking Police officials to request that they inform staff from the government’s Probation Service whenever child abuse cases are reported to them.
Capacity-building for Individuals and Community-based Organisations to Engage in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping at the Community Level:
In Batticaloa District, NP staff paid a visit to the recently trained Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) team from Kithul in Chenkalady, following the successful Community-Led training that was carried out last month (see Monthly Programme Report June 2010). Members of the newly-formed UCP team informed NPSL staff that they had been invited to participate in a mobile service for the local community organised by the local Karadiyanaru Police. During the visit, many community members had approached the UCP team to learn more about the work they would be undertaking in the local area. Several local people requested support from the UCP team in addressing different cases, including land issues, bribery and one case of abduction, which the UCP team reported directly to the local branch of the Human Rights Commission (HRC).
Later in the month, the UCP team from Kithul visited NP staff at their Batticaloa office to provide an update on their work in the local community. The UCP team mentioned that there is a visible need for their work, as witnessed by the variety of different cases they have been asked to handle. They were encouraged by the fact that they had been able to help resolve some local disputes in a peaceful way. They also mentioned, however, some of the challenges they face in carrying out their work: the lack of transport being a key obstacle to being able to access as many areas as they would like. On a very positive note, they referred to the case of two men from Kithul who had been arbitrarily arrested earlier in the year but who had recently been released from prison on 26th June. Their release had been secured by the intervention of the Batticaloa branch of the HRC after two participants of NP’s first introductory UCP training in Chenkalady had reported the case to the HRC in March of this year (see Monthly Programme Report March 2010).
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders (HRDs):
As mentioned above, all the NP field sites and the Human Rights Defenders Unit (HRDU) in Colombo spent much of the month in hibernation mode. The greatest impact of this decision was felt within the HRD project, as staff grew increasingly conscious of trying to maintain a secure environment for themselves and for NP’s HRD contacts and partner organisations. Therefore, NP staff spent much of the month meeting with local HRDs and partner organisations, as well as other stakeholders, to carry out mini evaluations based on the current situation for NPSL; assess the severity of current challenges; and strategise about ongoing working relationships.
In Batticaloa District, NP linked a recently-returned IDP from the northern Vanni district, who is currently based in Valaichchenai, with two international NGOs in order that they could provide assistance and transportation facilities for the person to receive a medical check-up.
In Valaichchenai, NP staff met with partner organisation OCPC (Organisation Council for Peace and Co-Existence), to discuss the ways in which the organisation can carry out its human rights work during the course of the coming months with the support of four human rights workers who had recently completed a six-month training with the Batticaloa branch of the Human Rights Commission (HRC). The four trainees are now ready to undertake field work and will continue to receive ongoing support and assistance from the HRC.
Towards the end of the month, NP staff from the Valaichchenai office attended a Divisional Coordinating Committee meeting at the request of the local Divisional Secretary. The meeting provided an opportunity for NP to meet a number of newly-elected politicians and other government representatives, who were seeking information from local community-based organisations, NGOs and INGOs as to their respective activities and associated needs in the area. The visiting politicians, representing a number of government ministries, including Education, Fisheries, Land and Health, also shared information about their various development projects for the Valaichchenai area. NP staff gave a short presentation detailing the local team’s current activities with a specific focus on the Capacity-Building project and the Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) trainings, after which they distributed NP brochures in both Sinhala and Tamil.
As the HRD project approached the end of its first year in operation, staff from NP’s HRD Unit in Colombo prepared to carry out a full project evaluation at all field sites in order to assess the successes and challenges faced during the first year and so provide quantitative data to determine the priorities for the coming year’s work and activities. The time-line for completing the evaluation process was set at 6-8 weeks, while staff linked to the HRD project compiled questionnaires to be completed by all of NP’s human rights defenders, human rights partner organisations and interested government bodies, such as the Human Rights Commission. Following Ali Palh’s premature departure from Sri Lanka, the coordination of the HRD Unit was handed over to NP staff member Elizabeth Ogaye, who had formerly been the coordinator of NPSL’s Elections Project until its conclusion in April of this year. Given the suspension of most of the HRDU’s substantive HRD work, Elizabeth Ogaye will visit the field sites in Vavuniya and Batticaloa districts to assist staff there in completing the project evaluation.