Nonviolent Peaceforce is to wind down its work in sri lanka by the end of 2011
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 theA 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. needs of all sections of the community.
The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, although having been a long process, nonetheless provided relief to Nonviolent Peaceforce Sri Lanka. The endorsement and acceptance from government agencies working in the promotion, protection and well-being of children gave greater confidence to the organization in pursuing its mission and mandate in the country.
A series of dialogues and consultations with various government bodies and partner organizations on how to implement projects in collaboration with them are on-going. As part of the organization’s exit strategy, Nonviolent Peaceforce (NPSL) is identifying key local organizations that can continue its works after the organization has departed.
Upon signing the MoU NPSL immediately focused on obtaining the Presidential Task Force approval needed to enter areas/ in the Northern Province of Vavuniya. This is the region where NPSL wishes to focus in its last phase or presence here.
Although there are no formal activities launched for those defending people’s rights NPSL provides assistance where it can on a low-profile basis. Direct intervention is minimal, however the established rapport NPSL has with a range of concerned organizations, particularly on human rights concerns, enables us to respond where we can. NPSL maintains cordial working relationships with organizations such as the Law and Society Trust, The Neelan Tiruchelvam Trust (NTT) and Centre for Human Rights & Development (CHRD).
Basic Negotiation Skills and Threat Mitigation Training
Our Introduction on Basic Negotiation Skills and Threat Mitigation training is being rolled out and we conducted a workshop on this theme at Kathankudy Nassar Vidiyalayam (high School). The training was requested by the school principal who is also Chair of the local Mediation Board. The training was attended by 24 Sixth Form Muslim students.
The importance and relevance of this project is becoming more visible in all the districts we work in, although currently full implementation is only in the eastern province (Batticaloa). The many requests coming from different sectors are studied based our 2011 plan of activities and what we have a budget for.
In the Northern district (Vavuniya), our trainings on Basic Negotiation Skills and Threat Mitigation is a training component of the Child Protection Programme. The training was provided to volunteers formed by NPSL in earlier trainings held jointly with the National Child Protection Authority. These are the young volunteers who’ll be eventually become our Child Rights Defenders.
At the district level, particularly in Vavuniya, activities under the project were focused on giving accompaniment to Government staff. This was done through the provision of transportation to NCPA officers enabling them to visit and monitor communities and villages. This maintains NPSL’s presence and visibility in the district. NPSL was able to provide two accompaniments and conducted two field visits for the month of April 2011.
Our present structure of staffing, especially in the field sites, presents some limitations for the Child Protection Programme. However the addition to our team of the new Child Protection Programme Coordinator has boosted staff capacity and morale.
For the month of April 2011, staff in two districts focused their activities on gathering stories for a study on impact using the Most Significant Change methodology. This has involved various stakeholders, partners, and beneficiaries. The MSC is aimed at improving our understanding of the impacts of NPSL’s presence and activities in the country. We hope to look at impacts in personal, community, relationship and government changes.
The culmination of the activity will be on the 5th of May 2011 and be held in the Batticaloa.
Under a European Union funded project NPSL is cooperating with various agencies to join efforts in educating and training human rights defenders (HRDs). This project addresses awareness and knowledge on fundamental rights and strengthening of networks. These organizations are working on mechanisms that will enhance the safety and security of HRDs in the country. This project is designed to create a safer space, and more secure atmosphere, using proper and legal means within which HRDs can work. Through these trainings HRDs will work together and be accepted and recognized as agents of peace in the society.
One of the objectives of the Capacity Building Project is to strengthen local communities in their capacities to mitigate threats and to build up local skills in basic negotiation techniques. In the past trainings were focused on selected members of communities. Now with a focus on our exit strategy and due to limited numbers of staff with the appropriate skills, the project has shifted its approach. The training now focuses on local Community Based Organisation’s (CBO’s) staff, knowing that they have a wider access to villages and communities and can multiply these trainings into the communities and villages they serve.
Recently, as the project has progressed, NPSL has received more demands for the training on Basic Negotiation Skills and Threat Mitigation (BNSTM). These approaches have come from the academe, NGOs, government bodies and agencies such as the Mediation Boards, National Child Protection Authority and others. The importance of the project is appreciated and acknowledged by various stakeholders who plan to multiply the trainings in their respective assigned communities and villages.
In northern Sri Lanka, the Vavuniya District, Nonviolent Peaceforce focuses its programme on Child Protection. NPSL works not only as individual entity but in collaboration with various Government and non-government agencies. The promotion and protection of children’s rights in various villages and communities is a joint endeavour. NPSL is working hand-in-hand with these agencies in order to strengthen their mechanisms to gear up to better protection for children as well as their welfare and well-being.
A training-workshop, facilitated by NPSL on the 9th of June 2011, to members of the Village Child’s Rights Monitoring Committees had 25 participants. This activity emphasizes the importance of the child protection project and more specifically the roles and responsibilities different stakeholders, such as government, NGOs and INGOs, play as actors in the development of children. It was through this training that participants became aware of the “co-responsibility” we all have in terms of child protection. Namely that “protection of children is everybody’s concern and responsibility; it is not only the task of the government nor NGOs and INGOs but ALL”.
Nonviolent Peaceforce Sri Lanka also maintains its partnership with various government agencies working on Child Protection. In Vavuniya district NPSL aside from providing accompaniments to staff and officers of National Child Protection Authority, Child Rights Protection Officers (CRPO) and other government agencies in the district, it also assists and co-facilitates their awareness programme on children’s rights.
NPSL assisted in the formation of three (3) Village Child’s Rights Monitoring Committees (VCRMC) in Vavuniya North. This was after NPSL coordinated with the Child Rights Protection Office (CRPO) based in Vavuniya North regarding the activity. After visiting and consulting with village leaders, parents and community members, the committees were formed. The main task of these newly formed VCRMCs will be to guide the children in their own developmental growth and mediate in any dispute which arises affecting children in the community. The newly formed committees will work closely with the CRPO in safeguarding children and they are mandated with reporting any violations and abuses to their respective Government Agents, in coordination with government agencies, NGOs and INGOs.
After the violent conflict that took the life of a young Sri Lankan wife and mother, her husband and baby son were separated for many months. I was one of a team of peacekeepers involved in the long and ultimately successful effort to reunite father and son.
There is never anything routine about providing protective presence and accompaniment for someone. But some cases stay in your heart forever: like the moment Nagamuthu cuddled Sajanthan to him the day they were finally reunited. Months of grief, agony and uncertainty were finally over. Our whole team was very quiet as Nagamuthu held Sajanthan. We looked and whispered among ourselves. … “This day, a new episode of life begins, and we are so lucky to be a part of it. …”
During the long months spent waiting in uncertainty, there were times Nagamuthu feared for his sanity. But as I sat and listened to him, what I saw was a man of great courage. He was determined to persevere and hold on to hope. I felt his heavy burdens and felt the separation from my own wife and son.
But when that day came and Sajanthan cuddled against his father’s chest, it was an unforgettable reminder of peacekeeping in action. Our work penetrates people’s lives at the most profound level. It is my joy and consolation that — though I am away from my own family — Sajanthan will grow up with a father. I am proud and eager to continue my work as a peacekeeper. There are lots of families and communities still in need of civilian protection.
Chaos. Panic. Separation. Loss. Death. Words on a page. Or, life in a war zone. Hell on earth for 28-year-old Nagamuthu Susitharan. Hell for his 27-year-old wife, Logambikai. Hell for their 1-month-old baby son, Sajanthan. Hell for one Sri Lankan family and hell for displaced thousands fleeing with them under a March midnight sky bright with gunfire, shells and bombs. Agony rains from the sky. It falls on the town of Mullaitivu in northeastern Sri Lanka. It falls on citizens stampeding to escape the Tamil Tiger-held territory. It falls on Logambikai — shielding Sajanthan in her arms. It falls on Nagamuthu, shepherding his family, worrying about the wound in his wife’s leg — inflicted days after their son’s birth. It falls everywhere as new explosions rip the night in a fiery standoff between rebels and soldiers.
Suddenly, Nagamuthu stands alone. His wife and child are nowhere to be found. He heads for the army-controlled area, hoping against hope to find his family. He does not. He has seen his wife for the last time. She will die from post-pregnancy complications and the wound in her leg aboard a Red Cross ship bound for Trincomalee, Sajanthan still in her arms.
While her husband waits for her in Vavuniya in a camp for the internally displaced, Logambikai is befriended by a woman aboard ship who will mother the still-nursing Sajanthan as best she can. Upon reaching port, however, she and the boy are transferred to Vavuniya and — due to the woman’s lack of maternity — placed in a detention camp by police, while a case is filed with a local court.
Six long months pass for Nagamuthu. Finally, he learns of Logambikai’s death and his son’s whereabouts. Grief and joy collide in his heart. He mourns for his wife and counts the days until he will hold Sajanthan in his arms. But when that day finally comes, Nagamuthu sees Sajanthan only briefly and is not granted custody. Devastated, he appeals to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and is sent to Nonviolent Peaceforce. And so begins a protracted effort to bring father and son back together. It starts with Nagamuthu telling his story, during which he confides, “I feel as though I am about to lose my sanity. I no longer care about my own life; I am hopeless.”
Two more months pass. Finally, a new hearing that the HRC helps secure is held. The peacekeepers Nagamuthu credits with standing by him and giving him the strength to persevere accompany him to court. When father and son are finally reunited, Nagamuthu’s parting words to Nonviolent Peaceforce are, “Thank you.”
At present, Nagamuthu and Sajanthan are living at a camp for internally displaced persons named the Ananthakumarasami Welfare Center in Cheddikulam in the Vavuniya District of Sri Lanka.
With Parliamentary elections due to take place in early April, campaigning was the main highlight of the month. Media sources confirmed that this campaign saw the highest number of candidates running for election in Sri Lanka’s history – 34 recognised political parties, 310 independent groups and 7,537 individual candidates altogether. Newly re-elected President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, was seeking another resounding endorsement both for himself and his ruling party, the UPFA (United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance) with much speculation surrounding the issue of whether the party would win the two-thirds majority needed for the President to make changes to the Constitution.
Towards the end of the month, campaigning around the country became increasingly intense leading, in some places, to reports of election violence, much of it caused by intra-party disputes where two or more candidates were competing for seats. Furthermore, complaints were made throughout the month to the office of the Elections Commissioner about the high number of candidate ‘cut-outs’ and posters in view around the country, which is in violation of election laws. In a newsletter released by the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE), the Executive Director of election-monitoring organisation PaFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections) stated that during a one-day survey conducted on March 15, monitors came across cut-outs and banners in 2,600 places.
Alongside the build-up in electioneering, the case against retired General Sarath Fonseka continued. Fonseka remained in custody at Sri Lankan Naval Headquarters in Colombo awaiting Court Martial. Two Charge Sheets containing five charges in total were made against him: engaging in politics while still in uniform and contravention of military procurement procedures. Two Military Tribunals were established – one for each Charge Sheet. The first session of one Tribunal took place on March 16 and the case was adjourned until 6 April, two days before the elections. The second Tribunal, held on 17 March was similarly adjourned when it was decided in the interests of transparency to appoint different judges from the first Tribunal. For his part, General Fonseka filed a petition before the Supreme Court claiming that both his arrest (on 8 February 2010), and the two Courts Martial were illegal. The case continues.
The following summarises some of the key activities of NP teams in relation to its current project areas:
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Election Monitors and Vulnerable Communities:
March was an active month for the Election Project as NP staff began preparing to provide protective support to local election monitors for the Parliamentary elections, due to be held on the 8th April. Given the feedback that NP had received from various stakeholders in February that an increase in violence was expected in the run-up to the April elections, NPSL continued to hold similar community-based discussions at its field sites in Batticaloa, Valaichchenai and Vavuniya with community and religious leaders, and representatives from local government departments so as to raise awareness of NP’s role during the election.
Meetings also took place in all NPSL field sites and the capital Colombo with members from NP’s three monitoring organisations PAFFREL (People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections), CMEV (Centre for Monitoring Election Violence), and CaFFE (Campaign for Free and Fair Elections). The concern about violent unrest was echoed by the spokesman for one of the monitoring organisations, who told NP that he expects the Batticaloa District and resettled areas in Vavuniya District to be potential hotspots in the coming election period. In response, NPSL strategized response measures and operating procedures with all three organisations in case of violent outbreaks.
The Coordinator of NP’s Elections Project submitted a final report to the Sri Lankan Election Commissioner, detailing the work NP had carried out during the Presidential elections in January. At the same time, NP informed the Commissioner of the final part of NP’s Election Project and its plans to provide similar support to election monitors on Election Day in April.
Increasing the Safety of Children Affected by Armed Conflict:
In Batticaloa District, both the Batticaloa and Valaichchenai teams held meetings with local vocational training centres (VTCs) to inform them that NP will be phasing-out its Child Protection programmes in the Eastern region of Sri Lanka. This decision was reached after NPSL carried out an extensive needs-assessment in the area, which showed that there has been a marked decrease in protection needs for conflict-affected children in the East since the war ended in May of last year. In their discussions with the VTCs, however, both NP teams made it clear that they will respond to any emergency requests for protection should the need arise.
The needs-assessment highlighted that for many former child-combatants and other conflict-affected children, the main challenge they face as part of their reintegration process is economic. In many cases, there is a lack of employment opportunities for these young people when they return to their home communities. For this reason, NPSL staff are beginning to utilise its established networks in the area to refer former combatants who have returned to their communities and seek livelihood support to UNICEF and its partner organisations that facilitate livelihood-support schemes for former child combatants.
Despite the relative lack of new Child Protection cases in the East, follow-ups continue. During March, the Valaichchenai team carried out follow-ups for four ex-cadres, all of whom have completed their two-year VTC courses. Three have returned home although a lack of jobs in their villages is a cause for concern for their families. However, they are not facing threats to their security. The fourth case, however, concerns a young adult who, after his departure from a VTC, joined a local armed group due to severe intimidation by the group against the boy’s family. NPSL has referred his case to UNICEF in the hope that they can advocate for his release from the group but, as the boy has now turned 18, he is legally an adult and may not be protected by Child Protection provisions, despite the fact that he was originally recruited as a child.
Also in Batticaloa District, the government’s Probation service, which is concerned with children’s welfare, has requested NP to support them with presence as they carry out their Child Rights Awareness programme in remote, rural areas. And UNICEF formally invited NP to join their UNSCR case management scheme. The scheme is concerned with the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1612, pertaining to protecting conflict-affected children including, specifically, protecting children from recruitment as child combatants. This is an endorsement of NP’s protection work in the region as only a few government agencies and non-governmental organisations, such as the NCPA (National Child Protection Authority), HRC, and Save the Children (SCiSL), are invited to attend the meetings.
Regarding NP’s Child Protection work in the North of the country, the Commissioner General for Probation and Child Care has granted approval to NP to operate Child Protection activities in the entire Vavuniya District in collaboration with Child Rights Promoting Officers (CRPOs).
On request from the Government Agent (GA) in Vavuniya, NPSL accompanied 10 ex-cadres to several rehabilitation centres after their release from the Remand Prison. Also, NP staff monitored the security of, and provided protective presence to, Muslim residents from five villages, whose local school had been commandeered by a mining company as its headquarters. Having identified their key protection needs, NP liaised with community leaders in referring them to appropriate government mechanisms to help resolve the issue. Following NP’s intervention in this further example of a UNSCR 1612 violation of children’s rights, the building was handed back to the local education department for educational purposes.
By way of strengthening its relationship with government authorities, NP attended a presentation at the Ministry of Child Development to lend support to the rehabilitation programmes contained within Children Associated with Armed Groups, which is an initiative included in an Action Plan drawn up by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. The presentation was accepted by the Ministry’s board members and a working group has been formed to determine future collaborative activities, which will be implemented throughout Vavuniya District.
Capacity-building for Individuals and Community-based Organisations to Engage in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping at the Community Level:
March began with follow-up visits to the community leaders who participated in the Introductory Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) training in Chenkalady, Batticaloa District in February. NP staff were very encouraged to learn of several participants who felt sufficiently empowered following the training that, for the first time, they proactively engaged with local government authorities in following-up human rights cases and set about raising awareness of security issues in their community.
Firstly, two female participants requested NP’s accompaniment to go to the local office of the Human Rights Commission (HRC) in Batticaloa to report four cases from their village: the arbitrary arrest and detention of two men, and two cases of disappearance. On instruction from the HRC, the women wrote and submitted a letter about the two men in detention, after which time officials from the Commission went to the prison where the men were being held. The HRC is continuing to advocate on behalf of the men with senior-level government authorities and have reported to the women that they expect them to be released within the next four months.
In the second instance, participants who were eager to put what they had learned from the NP training into practice, put up safety and security signs around their village with messages such as cautioning people not to walk in wooded areas alone at night. Having recently suffered a case of alleged sexual violence by a Sri Lankan Army (SLA) soldier on a young girl in their community, some of the signs carried messages of how such acts are a violation of children’s rights and need to be reported.
And thirdly, two UCP participants were provided with protective accompaniment by NP when they visited the HRC to file a complaint about alleged harassment and threats they and others in their village had been receiving from Sri Lankan Army (SLA) personnel stationed in the area. The HRC confirmed they will follow-up their case by meeting the local Military Commander and pass on their concerns.
NPSL staff, meanwhile, spent much of the month translating the UCP trainers’ manual into Tamil in preparation for the second phase of the UCP programme, the Community Training-of-Trainers (ToT), which was held from March 27th-30th in Valaichchenai. Each community selected two out of the initial four participants from the introductory training to attend the ToT, resulting in a total of ten participants (eight female and two male). These participants exhibited great enthusiasm and energy during the four-day training and engaged fully in mapping-out the next steps of the process; designing potential standard operating procedures (SOPs) and contingency plans; and facilitating sessions as practice for when they train others from their community in UCP.
At the end of the four days, participants shared that this training had been particularly beneficial for them as they were able to learn not only from NPSL but also from the stories and experiences of other participants. They also expressed an intention to form a network to support one another in carrying out this work.
In their written evaluations, all participants shared that they now feel they can effectively in engage in UCP using the skills and knowledge they have gained through the training, and they all feel confident to speak and meet with others in their communities, including members from other ethnic groups or backgrounds if and when conflict arises. Furthermore, all ten participants are ready and willing to create UCP teams in their communities and are looking for NPSL support as they begin doing training and develop their skills in advocacy.
In April, NPSL will complete the pilot project by implementing the first community-level training, which will bring together members from two communities who will receive the introductory UCP training from individuals who participated in the ToT. NPSL will provide coaching and resource support to ensure that facilitators and participants are able to fully engage and develop a strong foundation for implementing UCP in their communities.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders (HRDs):
The NP team in Batticaloa provided protective accompaniment for a civilian who has been receiving threats from an armed group since November 2009. He went to the office of Child Rights Promoting Officers (CRPO) to seek help in securing safe relocation for himself and his family. Advised by the CRPO Commissioner that they could offer assistance only to his wife and child, NP staff helped the man to prepare a contingency plan to safeguard his own safety. The team also held contingency planning meetings with two human rights defenders (HRDs), one of whom is standing as a candidate in the upcoming Parliamentary elections.
Beyond its direct protection work, the Batticaloa team facilitated a meeting in conjunction with the local branch of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) to bring together HRDs from several local NGOs and recently returned internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the northern Vanni area. Commonly-identified issues of concern raised at the meeting included arbitrary arrests, discrimination from some local government authorities and cases of sexual abuse. Those present informed NP that they are interested in forming committees to engage directly with local civil and security authorities so as to be able to tackle these issues together.
Also with a focus on IDPs in the area, NPSL staff attended an inter-organisational meeting called by the Government Agent (GA) in Batticaloa to discuss both the livelihood needs of Vanni returnees and local IDPs and how best to address them. Statistics presented at the meeting claimed that out of approximately 2,000 returned families, only 357 have so far received livelihood support. This meeting was especially helpful for NP as staff will be able to refer people seeking livelihood support to the appropriate authority or agency.
As part of NP’s efforts to engage Sri Lankan armed forces in human rights discourse, the Batticaloa team met with the local Sri Lankan Army (SLA) Commander to discuss logistics for a proposed one-day human rights awareness training for thirty men under his command.
In Valaichchenai, NPSL accompanied an HRD to the Police where he filed a complaint about threats he had received. NP staff then assisted him to conduct a risk analysis of his situation and prepare a contingency plan to try to ensure his continued safety. As part of his contingency plan, the man travelled to Colombo to meet with Colombo-based HRDs as well as NGOs, representatives from the European Union (EU) Mission and diplomatic staff.
NP acted as a link in establishing security networks for local HRDs in Batticaloa District when, at the request of the EU Mission in Colombo, NP staff in Valaichchenai put the EU in touch with the HRDs. Following this initiative, the EU extended invitations to all NP-supported HRDs in Valaichchenai to meet with them in Colombo.
Local peacebuilding and security networks were also strengthened when the Valaichchenai team organised and facilitated two meetings that brought together local religious leaders from Hindu, Christian and Muslim faiths and representatives from local trade unions from the Tamil and Muslim communities. The participants used the meetings to analyse the current security situation in their region, discuss ways in which to prevent election-related conflict in the area, and strengthen their network as a means to prevent potential inter-communal conflict in the future.
In Mannar, NPSL’s Vavuniya team organised and facilitated a one-day training workshop on human rights at the office of partner organisation Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA). The workshop was attended by eighteen participants from different sectors and organisations within the district. The training is in collaboration with CHA as part of NP’s Human Rights and Human Security initiative.
In Colombo, staff from NPSL’s Human Rights Defenders Unit (HRDU) continued to provide daily protective presence at the Sri Lankan branch of an international organisation working on issues such as human rights, corruption and freedom of expression so as to ensure that staff were able to continue their work in a safe environment. Daily presence had begun towards the end of February and, based on several assessments carried out throughout March it continued every day for the whole month. In addition, daily protective accompaniment was provided for the head of the organisation throughout March along with overnight protective presence at his house for a couple of weeks following an increase in the threat level against him.
In order to build the capacity of the organisation’s staff members to be able to address their own security risks, members from NP’s HRD Unit collaborated with them in carrying out a security assessment of their work premises and conducted a one-day security training for all staff members. The training covered such topics as risk assessment and mitigation, threat identification and reduction, contingency planning and developing individual security plans. Feedback from the organisation’s staff was positive: they confirmed that they felt more empowered to deal with the potential risks they face. Following the training, the organisation’s Security Coordinators requested NP’s expertise in drawing up standard operating procedures (SOPs) and contingency plans for members of staff.
In addition to this case, NPSL staff provided two accompaniments to the wife of a journalist who has been missing for more than two months as she pursues in her ongoing quest for information. One accompaniment took place when she visited the US Embassy and the other when she attended an enquiry into her husband’s case at the Human Rights Commission (HRC). No information on her husband’s whereabouts was presented.
Upon a request from the European Union (EU) Mission, NPSL helped facilitate a forum that gathered together HRDs from Colombo as well as the North and East of the country to allow them to give feedback to the EU delegation, diplomats and United Nations (UN) representatives concerning the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences Plus (GSP+) (see first section of NPSL’s February 2010 Programme Report).
Within NPSL, the HRD Unit organised a one-day training for all NP’s HRD staff from its four field offices around the country. The training, which looked at the reporting of human rights violations according to UN Special Procedures, was led by a Colombo-based HRD who works with the Law and Society Trust (LST). NP is not a reporting organisation and will not be utilising these procedures directly but the aim is that with the requisite knowledge, NP staff based in more remote areas of the country can help build the capacity of local HRDs to do so.
With NPSL staff members from the North and East in Colombo, the HRD unit took the opportunity to organise and facilitate a meeting with representatives from the diplomatic corps, the UN and local NGOs to share information regarding the security and human rights situation in the respective regions.
The first Court Martial against retired General Sarath Fonseka concluded this month. He was found guilty of “engaging in active politics while in uniform” and was subsequently stripped of his military rank, medals, honours, pension and other benefits, and was barred from all military installations. His appeal against the first conviction was dismissed by the Appeal Court but he has filed another challenge in the Supreme Court. The second Court Martial, which charges Mr Fonseka with contravening military procurement procedures, is nearing the end of its enquiry. Addressing the media in Parliament, Colombo District MP Fonseka said that he expected the second Court Martial to sentence him to a jail term.
Regarding NP’s Sri Lanka project, NP’s Interim Programme Director Christine Schweitzer continued her stay in Sri Lanka to lead the process of internal contingency discussions, meetings with Sri Lankan government officials and strategising the future course of NPSL’s work. Discussions also took place with in-country donor organisations to inform them of the current situation and determine future activities and funding possibilities. Towards the end of the month, the project was notified that the work visa for Elizabeth Ogaye, NPSL’s new Human Rights Defenders Project Coordinator, was cancelled.
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: NP staff attended the latest monthly Child Protection Coordination Meeting, facilitated by UNICEF in Batticaloa. Other organisations present included the YMCA, Sarvodaya, Save the Children, and representatives from Sri Lanka’s Probation child welfare service and Human Rights Commission (HRC). It was noted that there had been quite a high number of children being abducted by members of their own family during recent weeks in the district. When discussing the most appropriate way for NGOs to deal with these and other cases of child rights’ violations, all those present agreed that cases should immediately be reported to the HRC to follow-up and investigate.
In Vavuniya, NP provided several accompaniments to staff from government agencies, namely the Probation Service and the National Child Protection Agency (NCPA), as they conducted investigative field trips to villages in the Vavuniya North Division. In the same region, NP oversaw the formation of the first Village Child’s Rights Development Committees in a few villages.
Capacity-building for Individuals and Community-based Organisations to Engage in Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping at the Community Level: NP staff from the Batticaloa office visited local community trainers who were due to conduct NP’s latest Community-Led Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping (UCP) training in the village of Pondukalsenai on 28-29 August 2010. Unfortunately, the training had to be cancelled at short notice due to the planned visit of Chief Minister Pilliyan on those days. However, NP carried out a full preparatory session with the two UCP trainers and the training will be re-arranged for a future date. During NP’s visit, the two community trainers mentioned a case that they had been asked to address, which involved a conflict between two fellow community members that had become violent. They were currently drafting a letter detailing the incident and requesting local Police to investigate, which they plan to submit in early September.
NP staff began to hold talks with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Social Services to explore the possibility of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a view to expanding NP’s Capacity-Building UCP trainings in Batticaloa and Vavuniya districts, and to outline areas for collaboration between NP and the Ministry. Ministry staff expressed their enthusiasm for such collaboration and indicated that they would like to see future UCP trainings include members of community-level Elders’ Committees.
A joint internal meeting was held between NP staff from Batticaloa and Vavuniya districts in order to discuss and plan for the next three months of the Capacity-Building project. In Vavuniya, there are plans to incorporate certain elements of the Capacity-Building project into the existing Child Protection work of the team, namely in conjunction with NP’s Village Child’s Development Committees in North Vavuniya.
Improving the Safety and Security of Local Human Rights Defenders (HRDs): August saw the virtual suspension of all NPSL’s Human Rights Defenders (HRD) project activities. A decision was made within NP, following much internal analysis and discussion, to effectively close the HRD Unit in Colombo where, consequently, all HRD activities stopped with immediate effect. At the field sites in Batticaloa and Vavuniya, work within the HRD project continues but, given July’s hibernation mode, there were very few activities carried out this month.
Due to a shortage in human resources, the full evaluation of NPSL’s HRD project that was planned in July (see Monthly Programme Report July 2010), has been scaled down. Staff worked this month to prepare to carry out internal components of the evaluation, while the external work – interviewing and getting feedback from NP’s HRDs, human rights partner organisations and relevant government bodies – will be carried out once there is sufficient staff capacity.
Update: Interim Program Director Christine Schweitzer has arrived in Sri Lanka to support the team and discuss NP's work with authorities.
On June 24th, a fax was received at the Colombo office of Nonviolent Peaceforce – Sri Lanka (NPSL), from the Department of Immigration and Emigration, advising the project that visas for Ms. Tiffany Easthom (Country Director, NPSL) and Mr. Ali Palh (Coordinator Human Rights Defenders Project, NPSL) were being cancelled and that they would have to leave the country on or before July 1st. Upon request, immigration staff extended their departure date until the 7th July and both Ms. Easthom and Mr. Palh left Sri Lanka on that date. NP has written to the relevant Sri Lankan authorities to request further information as to the reason, or reasons, upon which these decisions were based.
We are emphasising that Nonviolent Peaceforce is an international, humanitarian NGO that has worked in Sri Lanka since 2003. We are committed at all times to working within the laws of our host country and to remaining above reproach in all respects. We work openly and transparently and have nothing to hide about the work we are doing. However, there have been some reports in the Sri Lankan media concerning our work here, which have been misleading and which we, therefore, feel compelled to correct.
Nonviolent Peaceforce is a non-partisan organisation. We do not support, favour or engage with one political party, faction or group over any other but engage with all parties on an equal basis without bias or prejudice. We are also strictly independent and do not represent the interests or position of any government, religion, or funder. NP is a field-based, not a campaigning, organisation. We work diplomatically at the appropriate level of government in order to improve security for civilians at risk of harm and to prevent attacks and other human rights violations. The focus of our efforts is on prevention and change rather than on investigation and the attribution of blame.