In 2002, the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a ceasefire agreement and peace negotiations facilitated by Norway began. This was an opening for Nonviolent Peaceforce to enter the country in 2003 with a mandate to support the peace process at a grassroots level and provide unarmed protection to people coming out of 25 years of war.
Over the next three years peace negotiations broke down, with an official resumption of the war and abrogation of the ceasefire agreement in January 2008. A split in the LTTE, tensions between Muslims and Tamils, and issues around the distribution of aid after the December 2004 tsunami contributed to a volatile political climate. During this period, NP's peacekeeping role came to the forefront. The work of NP shifted again. NP has continued to work in Sri Lanka after the end of the civil war declared in May 2009.
Until NP pulled out in late 2011, its core work of reducing violence and protecting civilians in situations of violent conflict was focused on the protection of individual rights advocates and the groups with whom they worked. This has had a particular emphasis on the protection needs of children/youth and former child soldiers, and on helping local communities in areas where there has been violent conflict and where self-protection mechanisms need strengthening.
After conducting a strategic analysis of the post-war conflict situation and considering the best use of NP’s resources, it was decided to conduct a phased pull-out from Sri Lanka commencing in late 2010 while ensuring the continued security of remaining ex-national staff.
In its January 2011 meeting, the International Governing Council of Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) expressed its deep recognition of the important and valuable work done by its staff in Sri Lanka for almost a decade. This has demonstrated the continued viability of NP’s vision of unarmed civilian peacekeeping. Whilst recognizing and appreciating the courage, commitment, and initiative shown by staff, the Council has decided that NP’s presence in the country should draw to a close by the end of 2011. Since the end of the war, NP’s core work of reducing violence and protecting civilians in situations of violent conflict has focused on the protection of individual rights advocates and the groups with whom they work. This has had a particular emphasis on the protection needs of children/youth and former child soldiers, and on helping local communities in areas where there has been violent conflict and where self-protection mechanisms need strengthening.
Nonviolent Peaceforce in Sri Lanka (NPSL) currently conducts two major programs: Child Protection and Capacity Building (basic negotiation skills and threat mitigation). Some work continues in helping local rights advocates to protect themselves. With a newly mandated National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), NPSL hopes to increasingly engage the NHRC in training and assistance for local rights advocates. The war may be over but deep wounds remain. Local tensions can very easily overflow into open conflict again.
During the exit phase, NPSL will put more resources into mainstreaming the training in Basic Negotiation Skills and Mitigation of Threats. These will no longer be given directly to the community, but through key local partner organisations, strengthening them to take on the training when NPSL finally leaves. NPSL developed a particular program focus on Child Protection and is pleased and greatly encouraged that on 29th April 2011 it signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Children’s Development and Women’s Affairs. This ensures a jointly organised 6 month programme of training and capacity building during the latter half of 2011 and forms a central element in NP’s process of withdrawal from Sri Lanka. The agreement includes facilitating the provision of two multi-purpose child/youth care centers in Batticaloa and Vavuniya. These will fulfil the government requirement for a ‘hardware’ contribution which in turns enables NPSL to remain in the country until the end of the year and complete a process of strategic exit. The good relationship established with ministerial officials means it is still possible for NPSL to deliver a programme, and in a context of greater security and staff confidence.
In order to reach a common understanding in relation to the way forward beyond 2011, NPSL staff, with the assistance of the International Programme Director and new Country Representative, held an evaluative meeting and discussion in February 2011 in Colombo. The main focus was NPSL’s exit strategy and various alternatives for dealing with the current situation were examined. District planning was conducted in order to have a clear direction in programme activities geared towards a strategic exit from Sri Lanka. Monthly plans were drawn up which identified local actors and partners for possible future limited collaboration who could support NPSL’s exit as well as build for the future. Some programme activities will continue until the end of the year, but there will be a winding down of activities in the last quarter of 2011 to ensure that all offices will be closed and fully vacated by the end of December and that there will be an effective handing on of skills and responsibilities and local staff, former staff and key stakeholders will feel confident in their skills. Following a careful assessment, it is NPSL’s view that most tasks undertaken by them in the past can now be effectively continued and accomplished by local organisations. A need for continued support and solidarity from international organisations will clearly remain until key political and constitutional issues in the country are addressed in a way which meets the needs of all sections of the community. A vital part of our last months in Sri Lanka will be the preparation of a final programme evaluation and write-up of nine years of history of NPSL. This will provide valuable documentation on NP’s learning and achievements in their first field project and a valuable resource for the future. In mid-May NP’s Exit Action Plan for 2011 will be reviewed and budget adjustments made to accurately reflect the developing plan. Continuous discussion and dialogue with local partners is central to achieving a constructive and smooth transition to a programme in Sri Lanka owned by Sri Lankans, designed and managed by them, which meets their needs for civilian protection and non-violent means of resolving conflicts. NPSL would see this as the best possible result of their 9 years presence.
NP may be leaving Sri Lanka but will not forget. There will be assessment of how best NP can offer continued support and oversight of their Sri Lankan partners once the international presence has been withdrawn and local offices closed.
Sri Lanka is an island nation that includes multiple religious, linguistic, and ethnic groups. The Sinhalese, at approximately 75 percent of the population, form the largest group. The majority of Sinhalese live in the south, central, and western portions of the island, speak Sinhala and identify with Buddhist belief and tradition. Tamils, the second largest ethnic group, are primarily concentrated in the north and east, with additional significant populations in the central and western provinces, primarily identify with Hindu belief and practice, and make up approximately 14 percent of the island's population. Smaller percentages self-identify as Moorish/Islamic, Catholic, and Protestant Christian.
The Sri Lankan civil war was an insurgency by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) against the government of Sri Lanka with the stated aim of creating an independent Tamil state in the northeast of the island.
The war began in July 1983 and ended in May 2009, with over 80,000 people officially listed as killed and over a quarter million displaced.
Following the end of major armed conflict in May 2009, NPSL's ongoing work in Sri Lanka includes the following:
• Working at the grassroots level and in partnership with local NGOs to build relationships in communities affected by violent conflict and to identify their ongoing safety and security needs.
• Working to strengthen existing structures and mechanisms at the community level which can provide protection to civilians.
• Engaging directly with governments, armed forces, police and other armed actors to help them identify and stop abuses, threats, attacks, and other illegal activity directed against unarmed civilians.
• Monitoring the impact on civilian populations of violent conflict, evaluating the options available to communities for ensuring their safety and security in such conditions and linking those communities to the resources and opportunities that could help them to improve their safety and security.
• Maintaining a visible international presence in areas or at events where the risk of renewed violence is high.
• Providing protective accompaniment to individuals facing direct threats or justified fear of attack. This includes working in conjunction with people when this can increase their confidence, accompanying them to do their own work at times or places where they may be particularly vulnerable or when under immediate threat.
• Providing safe and neutral spaces for individuals and groups to meet when it is otherwise difficult or impossible for them.
• Working with specific vulnerable groups such as children, internally displaced persons and promoters of rights and welfare facing direct threats to their life.