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While security remains tight in the capital of Colombo and the war continues to be executed within the northeast of the country, the security situation where NPSL teams live and work in the North and the East is also fragile and unstable for civilians. This month the Tamil Tigers carried out their second air attack on the capital, hitting a power station and causing some turbine damage, while also targeting a military installation in Mannar District. Heavy monsoonal rains and stiff resistance has slowed the earlier Security Forces progress.

On the national political front, TMVP political head, who goes by his nom de guerre of Colonel Karuna, was sworn in as a Member of Parliament. Concerns on this appointment were raised in international human rights circles, and a legal
petition has been filed seeking to prevent his taking up the appointment.

Outside of the official war zone, there were many reports in the media and from communities of a variety of destabilizing incidents in the North and East - grenade and claymore attacks, targeted killings, including of security forces and police, reports of missing civilians, and harthals or enforced general shutdowns. Batti Team also saw an increase this month in the number of reported cases of abductions and forced recruitments into armed groups.

Continued reports of LTTE re-infiltration into the East are heard, with increased clashes between armed factions with competing loyalties within the TMVP itself. Colonel Karuna and the Chief Minister of the Eastern Provincial Council,
Pillaiyan, provided a public show of unity in Batticaloa at a protest demonstration against Tamil Nadu's involvement in Sri Lanka's internal affairs. For the demonstration it was reported TMVP arranged 300 government busses to transport
people from different areas of Batti district, including from some areas of Ampara district. According to one media source 20,000 people attended the rally. In one form or another, "unidentified armed groups" continue to wreak violence on armed and unarmed actors alike. In one attack on a TMVP office in the district, 4 cadres were killed and 5 more have gone missing from the office since the attack.

One of those killed was an under-aged youth whose family had earlier sought help from NP and other agencies in getting their boy released. For all too many families, help is too little or too late.

Tamil-Muslim tension continues to fester in Batticaloa as well, with a second grenade attack within a month at a mosque in Kattankudy. Four people were injured with no group claiming responsibility for the attack. While there are not many Sinhalese choosing to live in Batticaloa, there were two reported incidents of attacks and killings of Sinhalese civilians. In one incident 3 Sinhalese workers were shot dead in the south of the District and in another 5 Sinhalese workers were injured in a grenade attack just outside of Batti town. There was some heightened fear that these communal tensions would spill over to Trincomalee District, but they did not this month.

All of Batti district was affected by a full day enforced harthal, allegedly in protest of the bodies of two Tamil youth being found dead in the sea. The families had reported to NP that their sons were missing following arrest in a government search operation. The authorities told the families the boys would be released the following day, but when they failed to turn up in the morning, the families were told they had been released the night before instead. It wasn't until the bodies were found some days later that the families learned the fate of their sons.

While Trinco District seems calm on the surface, some reports still are received related to abductions, round ups, shootings and killings of individuals in and around Trinco Town. One man shot dead bore more than 32 bullets and his dead body was unattended on the road for two hours. One particularly vulnerable cohort of people in the East seems to be those returning for visits from working abroad. One person who was preparing to leave the country for a job in the Middle East went missing. Security around Government officials has increased, with mobile phones now being taken from visitors before entering government offices.

A harthal was also experienced this month in Jaffna, reportedly called by the EPDP in protest of a suicide attack on ships in KKS harbour. During strict harthals, the NP teams work from their residences, and national staff are not able
to safely travel to work. While Jaffna was relatively calm in October, there was frequent out-going shelling and there were more SLA mortar positions set up during the month, including at least one new one near the NP office.

From public reports at least 3 people were killed and at least 2 reported missing in the Jaffna peninsula this month. Two fishermen went missing after the navy reportedly opened fire off the Point Pedro coast. An explosive device targeting SLA soldiers guarding the electricity transformer in Kokkuvil Jaffna was set off. Due to threats and perceived insecurities, at least 10 people, including 2 women, surrendered to the courts seeking protective custody, joining scores of others who see also a lack of protective options for them and their families. see also a lack of protective options for them and their families.

Key Areas of Focus in October 2008

Children, Youth & Families

NPSL teams coordinate activities with government authorities such as child protection units, probation officers and district secretaries; with Unicef, Save the Children Sri Lanka, local community groups, vocational training centers and other youth-serving facilities, and families. NPSL's focus is to support individual cases such as mothers searching for children or youth recently released or escaped from armed groups, and to strengthen the capabilities of local mechanisms to protect the safety and rights of children and their families. While both of these foci are critical and interrelated, the teams face a continual challenge to balance the time intensive needs of individual cases, with the capacity building work which is usually less of an emergency but offers the potential for longer term change. Examples of NPSL's work this month include:

NPSL was contacted by a family to assist their son, who had been an underage conscript, to access a safer location by attending a vocational training program. Youth whose education is interrupted at an early age find they have few options if they are able to return home. This boy had run away from a previous training program. The team took the time to gather all the facts regarding problems experienced and presented the case to a second facility so the staff there could properly asses the risks of enrolling the boy and to more fully discuss the matter with the family. In the end, the second program did accept him, but could do so with clarity about the challenges the boy presents. In another instance, while working with a youth-serving facility, the staff identified an unmet need for psycho-social counseling for the former young combatants they work with. NPSL staff connected them to a potential funder.

In Jaffna, there are many women and children in a rehabilitation center for their own safety. Often these are families whose husbands had been under severe threat and who surrendered themselves for their own safety to the Courts. The men are held in Jaffna Prison and their families are in the rehabilitation center. NPSL has been able to work cooperatively with Save the Children Sri Lanka and with funds provided from Unicef for small immediate needs, to provide safe transport to the children so that they can attend school.

Families in the east continue to report cases of forced recruitment or child abduction. Other threats to the safety and well being of children and families reflect the challenges of living in IDP camps and/or being resettled after
displacement, often in areas where they report continued human security concerns, and where the infrastructure-schools, hospitals, transport, markets--and livelihood options are currently limited or unavailable. 

Displacement and Resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The government, in conjunction with various international organizations, is working hard to resettle the remaining internally displaced people (IDPs) in the east. Some of these families have been displaced for many years, others for only a year or less. NPSL teams have been told the plan is to try to resettle all IDPs in the east by the end of the year.

The work relating to IDPs involves a complex set of relationships and activities. The IDP camps are affected by the presence, in some cases, of armed groups in their area, the activities of the military and police, and the civil authorities. Additionally UNHCR plays a significant role attempting to determine if all camps and resettlement efforts meet international standards and to advocate when this is not the case. There are also local and national civil society organizations involved. NPSL's role is to regularly monitor and to provide protective presence at critical times in a number of camps within the areas where we work. In particular NPSL provides presence in some of the more rural and hard to reach camps, where other humanitarian staff may be unable to visit, or are concerned for their safety if they do. NPSL has helped people who wish to advocate for themselves regarding when they will be resettled and where.

In addition NPSL has helped to bring attention to some of the tensions involved in resettlement. There have been allegations that Tamil families have been given land to cultivate that belongs to Muslim families. This plants seeds of communal tension and a potential flashpoint for violence. There are concerns that some resettlement villages are too far from schools, so the children will be unable to continue their schooling, or can only pursue schooling to a certain level, after which there are no facilities. There are concerns about the adequacy of water and overall safety and stability of the area. There are often discrepancies between various agencies about how many families and people are actually in a camp and have or have not yet been resettled and even where they have gone to.

NPSL has been present at several IDP camps just before the buses come to resettle families. NPSL staff have discussed with families if they are moving voluntarily and with confidence, and have shared with the responsible authorities any concerns raised. We have continued to follow up on concerns that in some communities IDPs have been unable to bring sufficient fuel or other needed items, including food, to the camps, given military concerns about resources reaching the LTTE instead of serving civilians. In some areas proposed for or actually resettled, there continue to be concerns about buried landmines.

A new but likely growing area of work is with IDPs in Jaffna. People are moving out of the Vanni, a large area to the south of Jaffna District, due to continued fighting. The army and police have security concerns too about people moving out of areas that have been controlled by the LTTE for many years. Thus the level of screening, potential security risks, and long term isolation from others is expected to be high. The NPSL Jaffna team is becoming involved with this emerging reality on behalf of vulnerable civilians.

Protection and Promotion of Human Rights

In its human rights work, NPSL continues to support civilians seeking to protect their own rights, while simultaneously supporting Sri Lankan organizations to strengthen their efforts to ensure all mechanisms that support human rights are
accessible and operate appropriately. All NPSL teams respond to individual cases of rights violations such as forced recruitment, disappearances, threats, involuntary resettlement, misappropriation of land, extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests.

Teams provide both short and long term accompaniment to individuals and families to assist them to use existing mechanisms, such as meeting with local civil authorities, to inquire about missing relatives, to access youth-serving
facilities, and to move to longer term safer places. The teams continue to respond to inquiries from others working to support peace and human rights efforts at the grassroots levels to learn first-hand about specific conditions and challenges faced by vulnerable families and their children.

The Colombo Response Team (CRT) continues to both provide accompaniment for threatened individuals and families coming to the Colombo area to access human rights and justice mechanisms and resources, and to represent the field sites in national level meetings and processes. Recently they have strengthened their relationship with the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka in regards to civilian rights and safety. They have been requested to consider the needs of journalists for safety, and also provide protective presence to human rights promoters in the Colombo area.

Rita Webb, Acting Country Director
Ellen Furnari, Acting Grants/Communications Officer

 

 

National news in Sri Lanka in September '08 focused all eyes on the north of the country, as Government Security Forces continued their military advance toward the LTTE's administrative and political capital of Kilinochchi. On the 5th of the month, the Government ordered the withdrawal by month's end of all international and local aid workers in the large LTTE-controlled area of the Vanni. According to a UN spokesman, about 70 offices from five UN agencies would have to be moved out. Residents of the town said a helicopter flew low overhead, dropping thousands of leaflets written in Tamil. The government leaflets said the rebels were facing huge defeats and urged civilians to save their lives by leaving for government-held territory.

Many civilians, fearing unknown conditions they could face, and some not wishing to be separated from family members caught up in the conflict, opted for moving further into interior jungle areas, making humanitarian assistance even more difficult to provide. Some people were reported to being both fearful of disregarding LTTE orders that they remain in the Vanni and of moving toward government-controlled areas.

The ICRC issued a statement urging both parties to the conflict to protect civilians, adding they were committed to staying close to those in need of humanitarian aid and would try to meet their most urgent needs, regardless of where the civilians would seek refuge. By month's end, it was estimated there were between 200,000 and 230,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Vanni, with most moving in areas north-east of Kilinochchi. Some students at Jaffna University expressed fears that they were no longer in contact with their families in the Vanni, as they don't know where they have gone and communication has been broken.

Representatives of Sri Lankan civil society also issued an appeal to the Government and to the LTTE:

 

  • To respect and provide for the freedom of movement of civilians, staff of humanitarian agencies and their families, and medical teams as well as of transport of essential items in, to and from the Vanni; 
  • To ensure that humanitarian agencies are provided access to all IDP sites and their security guaranteed; 
  • To ensure that IDP sites are located away from military camps or other targets; 
  • To support independent monitoring of the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected communities in the Vanni; and 
  • To abide by international and national legal frameworks which provide for the protection of civilians and non combatants, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. 

 

In mid-September it was announced that every Sri Lankan who came to Colombo from the north in the past five years would have to re-register with police in a mass registration drive at police stations and other designated centers across the city. The order affects more than 100,000 people who came from the districts of Kilinochchi, Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaittivu, and the overwhelming majority of those people are ethnic Tamils. These citizens must fill up a one-page declaration giving details of their place of origin and purpose of their current stay. Tamils, just 18 percent of the country, make up as much as one-third of the capital's population, according to official statistics.

Divisions between the communities were underscored in the results of the August 2008 Peace Confidence Index Survey, in which it was reported a majority of the Sinhala community think that Sri Lanka is closer to a permanent settlement to the ethnic conflict than a year ago. However a majority of the Tamil and Up-Country Tamil communities think the opposite, saying that the country is 'not close at all' to a permanent settlement to the ethnic conflict. A majority of the Sinhala community think that the government defeating the LTTE is the way to end the war and arrive at peace in Sri Lanka, while a majority of the minority communities think the war should be stopped and political negotiations undertaken if peace is to be achieved.

Of interest in Sri Lanka from events abroad was legislation adopted this month in the USA which will permit the United States to prosecute foreign military commanders who recruit child soldiers abroad. The Child Soldiers Accountability
Act makes it a federal crime to knowingly recruit or use soldiers under the age of 15 and permits the US to bring charges under the law against both US citizens and non-citizens who are in the United States.

Children are currently used in armed conflicts in at least 17 countries. It is known that recruiters in these countries prey upon children, who are often the most susceptible to threats and coercion. Child soldiers are used as combatants, porters, guards, spies, messengers, unskilled labor, and other duties. The recruitment and use of children as soldiers was recognized in 1998 as a war crime under the International Criminal Court. What repercussions this legislation could have on Sri Lankan actors is not known. 

The Context and Work of the NPSL Teams

The security situation in the country creates challenging environments at the field level as NP teams continue to serve the civilian populations. In the capital, checkpoints are ubiquitous and nationals are careful to travel with proper
identification at all times. Fears of random bombings are ever-present, though September passed with only one smaller, and no major, attacks in the West. In the East there are increasing reports and rumors of the LTTE re-infiltrating jungle areas, with some clashes and attacks on military targets. Such events result in increased checking, cordon and search operations, and round-ups, which are both disruptive and frightening for civilians. In one round-up in Batticaloa 160 people were taken in; with smaller numbers of 32 and 35 reported in other operations. In most cases the majority of people are released within one day, and NP is often called upon by families to be present with them at police stations.

Tamil-Muslim communal violence remains a problem in Batticaloa. This month a Muslim man was killed in a Tamil area. Two days later two young Tamil men went missing when they took a goat to sell in a Muslim town. The NP team met with the Police and families of the missing youth, visiting both communities, and offering facilitation and communication between community leaders. When the body of one of the youths was found some days later, a harthal (or general strike) was called on the Tamil side, lasting for two days in the area where the dead youth was from. A shop was burned, allegedly for failure to honor the harthal. A threatening call was made to some organizations, so the INGO community also closed their offices. Then a grenade was thrown near a mosque and the Muslim Urban Council, injuring more than 20 people, including children, and 5 Tamils passing by. The second missing Tamil boy's body has not yet been found.

The monthly report of the North East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR), based in the North, claims the toll on Tamils this month was 68 killed, 38 disappeared, 87 injured, 454 arrested and 36,000 newly displaced. The losses on
all sides are not verifiable as independent journalists have no access. In Jaffna at least 9 civilians were reported killed this month, with more than 10 missing. An increase in search operations has resulted in more men surrendering for their protection to the Jaffna Prison, with their wives and children entering the Women's Rehabilitation Center. The NP Jaffna team is sometimes asked to accompany families as they surrender and is currently part of an effort to see that
the children in the center can attend school. Conditions in both facilities are difficult, made tolerable only by the belief that to remain at home is too dangerous. Curfew was instituted for a day or two in some areas, due to an attack on a military post.

A rumored 3-day curfew to be imposed in Jaffna Town, while the military provided continuous supplies to the Forward Defence Lines, caused panic and hoarding of essential goods. The curfew was not imposed, but a return to normal
market supplies and prices takes a considerable amount of time, since supplies are not brought in consistently and regularly to the peninsula. There was also an increase in house robberies, including a neighboring house to the NP team, in which 3 men with swords entered the house and stole all the valuables.

NP-Jaffna, along with 10 other organizations, received an unsigned, undated letter saying they should all leave Jaffna by the end of September. Consultation with the authorities and an emergency security meeting concluded that the internationals would not heed the warning at this time, but would continue to maintain the highest vigilance for further signs or threats.

In the four districts where NPSL has its field offices-Colombo, Jaffna, Trincomalee, and Batticaloa--the work of the teams is organized into four focal point areas. While work in one of these areas sometimes crosses over to other
areas, what follows is a summary of some of the key issues and activities for September 2008.

Children, Youth & Families

NP teams continue to coordinate with Unicef, Save the Children, government agencies, and other organizations, in meeting the rights and protection needs of children and youth. The safety net of a number of youth was enhanced with NP accompaniments and linkages with needed resources. A 13-year-old boy who had twice joined an armed group and been retrieved by his mother was assisted to enroll in a residential training program where he might be occupied in a more supervised environment and be able to learn some skills to increase his available options. Six youth finishing a training program were assisted to return home, where the parents considered safe enough to do so, and others to continue on-thejob training in a different location. Another youth, now 18, forcibly recruited by one armed group when he was younger and who had managed to escape, was later taken by a different armed group when he had returned home. Escaping a second time from this group, NP was able to help the youth to a place of safety where he hopes to learn a trade.

At the request of a local partner organization, international presence was provided for a day's outing for 55 youth so they could enjoy a day at one of the East's beautiful beaches. On the beach members of the TMVP group (a political party but still an armed actor in the East) appeared to harass one of the youth. NP intervened, along with a staff member from the sponsoring organization. After some negotiations, including the assistance of some policemen patrolling the beach, the situation was resolved and the TMVP members said they would cause no further disruption. 

In many areas there are very limited options for youth who return from having been part, either forcibly or voluntarily, of an armed group. In partnership with Unicef, NP has been part of a multi-agency and government coalition working
together on a variety of CAAC (Children Affected by Armed Conflict) initiatives. In Trincomalee District the NP team is part of a long process of trying to establish a Safe House in the district for such youth, although the resistance has been strong from some quarters. In Batticaloa there is a strong initiative spearheaded by Terre des Hommes (TdH), a French child-focused organization, to establish, with government structures, Village Child Rights Monitoring Committees, which NP will coordinate with as these mechanisms for improved security and advocacy for youth develops.

Displacement and Resettlement

Protection work with Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is a large part of the work of NP in Sri Lanka. Teams are also getting more involved with UNHCR's efforts, in conjunction with the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human
Rights, to initiate and strengthen a variety of Confidence Building and Stabilization Measures (CBSM) so the IDPs can safely be resettled in their home or another area of their choice. Teams have established relationships with certain
IDP camps through monitoring activities over a period of time, and now in certain resettlement areas where these IDPs are being settled. When there are problems in these areas, it is often NP that will be notified, such as when fighting broke out this month in one of the resettled areas in Batticaloa District that the Valaichchenai Team was monitoring.

IDPs have also trusted NP to take letters of concern about being resettled to the authorities, when the IDPs have not been convinced that the area they are being resettled in is actually a stable and safe environment. This month permission was also given to NP to enter a resettlement area in the interior of Batticaloa that we were previously not allowed to go to. This is an important area to monitor as IDP's have complained that they are not allowed to take sufficient supplies to and from the resettlement areas following the attack on a TMVP camp in which both TMVP
members and SLA were killed. From the Security Forces perspective, there was fear that supplies taken into the area could be used to support LTTE. NP will work with all parties to try to reach some resolution.

IDPs are a particularly vulnerable population, often getting caught up in cordon and search operations, and often not having all the proper documentation they need to justify their presence to the authorities or to travel in a certain area.
Sometimes their identity cards are worn down or signatures are not readable, which creates problems for them and concerns for the authorities. Sometimes they are not registered with the local authorities. That too is a problem. Two IDP youth went missing this month near Batticaloa, with the NP Team supporting the families to approach authorities that they hope will help them locate their loved ones. In another case, an IDP was arrested in a round-up in Valaichcenai and kept in custody for 10 months in another area. The family remembered NP's earlier presence at the IDP camp and contacted the team to seek accompaniment for him upon his release this month.

For the Colombo Response Team, they are able to take the concerns and problems raised at the field level to the biweekly IDP Protection Meeting in Colombo. They also are able to communicate back to the teams information on the national efforts, including a National Consultation now underway which will be focusing on three intervention areas for IDPs in Sri Lanka: a) Land and property issues and compensation for what they have lost; b) addressing the challenges of long-term displacement (some IDPs have been displaced for 20 years); and c) the role of development actors in finding durable solutions for IDPs in Sri Lanka. The Consultation is based on the needs of the more than 312,000 IDPs currently seeking such durable solutions, a number that is likely to go up in the coming months with the military operations in the north.

Community-Based Structures

In September the bulk of the NP work with community-based structures was centered on preparations for International Peace Day on the 21st. Teams played various roles as part of preparations and participation in the day's events in all the districts in the North and East. In Jaffna the commemoration for Peace Day was actually over a whole week, involving many partners including Center for Peace and Reconciliation and World Vision, with hundreds of children, parents, community leaders and school personnel taking part in various activities. Such celebrations in the midst of war are beneficial for children and communities, and provide a hiatus in the violence and conflict so that a future of peace can be envisioned.

In Valaichchenai the team supported a key local partner in preparing for a large celebration of almost a thousand people that also brought Sinhalese school children and teachers from communities outside of the area, in a day-long, multi-ethnic celebration. Present also were representatives of all four major religions-Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christian--as well as government officials and Security Force representatives. At this event the Executive Director of NP from USA, Mel Duncan, was also present and greeted the gathering with a message of peace and hope for the children of Sri Lanka. In Batticaloa the team members were the only international representatives and chief guests at two celebrations in the southern part of the District involving several hundred children, parents and community members. 

As a result of this community-level involvement, the local networks that NP is a part of and in some cases facilitating are being increasingly strengthened and consistent channels of communication are developing. Other district, national and international actors are starting to also want to meet representatives of these networks, and the possibilities for identifying important training needs, information-sharing, and avenues for advocacy are increasing.

Human Rights

Some of the pressing human rights issues and concerns have already been referenced above. NP is increasingly relied on to respond when violations occur or advocacy is needed. In Colombo, CRT regularly responds to requests from human rights defenders to help them in helping others, for legal aid, for sanctuary, for access to human rights mechanisms. Cases are referred to NP from a growing list of community actors, including from high level religious leaders and political figures.

While the overall impact of the conflict on civilians throughout the country has eroded confidence and security over many years, sometimes the effects become suddenly even more immediate, threatening and disruptive, as in this case this month:

A Personal Story: Life Shattered by Visit of a Relative

A family in the east is visited by a relative from the north. This ‘cousin-brother' may have had some previous association with LTTE, but was reported to have escaped from their service. His two visits to his relations in the East immediately put them in jeopardy, as someone in the area had noticed the northern cousin's visits and reported to the police and local TMVP (now in political coalition with the government). In mid-August they came to arrest the husband. He was not home at the time, so they arrested his wife and 6 month old baby and held them for four days. The husband learned of this and out of fear went into hiding.

Relations of the husband approached NP to seek assistance in helping the man surrender to the police, as they were afraid harm might come to him on the way. The team laid the groundwork over several days, holding numerous meetings with the family and the local police to arrange for NP's accompaniment of the husband from his hiding place in an interior area to the police station in town. Finally they were given permission to bring him in. 

Police needed to do an inquiry to determine if the husband, as accused by others, had ties himself to the LTTE. Some said he did. They said he had been involved in recent violent acts in the district. The family denied it. The husband was kept in custody, and his case was subsequently referred to the Courts. NP, with the family's permission, coordinated with ICRC and the Human Rights Commission. They followed up to ensure that the man was treated according to law while in custody. The wife said the family was so grateful to NP for having saved her husband's life. It was now up to the government and Sri Lankan legal processes to determine the truth.

The story is not over for the family, however. When the husband was released about a month later by the Court for lack of evidence, he was immediately threatened. His danger had not ended with his exoneration through the judicial
process. He ran for his life back inside the Court building. For his protection the judge put him back into custody. He is again in prison. His family can visit him there. Their family life was shattered by the visit of a relation. What the future
now holds for them, they do not know.

Rita Webb, Programme Officer

 

 

The first week in August saw the completion of the 15th South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Conference, amidst intense security causing havoc with Colombo transportation. The eight SAARC countries include: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Sri Lanka was keen to assume the chairmanship and host the conference, deploying 19,000 extra police and soldiers in the capital. The Tamil Tigers, classified as a terrorist group by many countries, including India, had declared a 10-day unilateral truce starting from July 26 as a goodwill gesture for the summit but the Sri Lankan government dismissed it, saying it had received no official notification and was skeptical about the declaration.

Of particular significance for Sri Lanka was the meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, where the Prime Minister was to raise a number of issues of concern to New Delhi. Chief
among them were India's stated position that there is no military solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka and the need to evolve a political solution through the All Party Representative Committee (APRC) process.

As an observer to the SAARC proceedings, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher reiterated that Sri Lanka must act to prevent human rights abuses, including abductions, the intimidation of media personnel, and the
recruitment of child soldiers as it fights a long-standing civil war against Tamil Tiger rebels. "We have been concerned about the continuing reports of abductions, disappearances, the detention of some people, and reports of intimidation against the media," Boucher said. This year alone, 12 journalists have been attacked, and one hacked to death. Media groups say there has been a failure of adequate investigations or apprehension of any of the attackers.

In one of Sri Lanka's several high profile freedom of speech cases, journalist J.S. Tissainayagam has been held by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) with two of his colleagues for more than five months before being charged with
publishing and distributing a magazine and editing a news website alleged to have brought the government into disrepute. He is also accused of collecting money from non-governmental organizations for running the magazine. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the Colombo High Court's indictment of the journalists on terrorism charges for articles published in 2006. He was denied bail and will go to trial in mid-September. 

The government's military strategy continues to be pursued in the North, buttressed by the President's party having won crucial Provincial Council elections held in two more of the country's nine provinces. Their victory was called an "endorsement'' to carry on with the military offensive aimed at recapturing rebel-held areas. The main opposition party, however, categorically rejected the results of the elections, saying they did not portray the true aspirations of the voting public.

In the meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) continues to pursue a major offensive and is now closing in on the LTTE's political headquarters of Kilinochchi, held by the Tigers since November 1999. It is said the fall of Kilinochchi would likely be a tremendous blow to the LTTE, both in terms of lost territory as well as morale. Kilinochchi houses the LTTE's administrative infrastructure, including its judicial and police headquarters and peace secretariat. The LTTE have tacitly admitted they are losing ground. In terms of casualties, with no independent monitoring or access by media, all reported figures are essentially unverifiable and both sides dispute the other's figures.

Predictably, it is again the civilians, caught between the fighting forces and within the contested territories, who are finding it impossible to keep out of harm's way. An estimated 200,000 persons are reported to be on the move in the Vanni, looking for places of safety from artillery and air bombardments on the one hand, and enforced arms training and conscription on the other. Aid agencies say 134,000 displaced people are in Kilinochchi district alone, and more than half of the population has abandoned their homes in the last three months.

Humanitarian groups have urged both parties to allow civilians to move to safer areas and to receive needed assistance. As a recommended first step needing to be taken now, it is suggested the government of Sri Lanka, the LTTE and the International Committee of the Red Cross agree on opening up a humanitarian corridor to enable the people to leave. A number of religious leaders also made a similar appeal. A second step in the process of ensuring safety to the civilian population would be to establish a safe sanctuary to which people could go. Entry into this place of safety would be open to anyone, so long as they are unarmed.

The last Saturday of the month at least 45 persons were wounded when a bomb exploded in Colombo around noon in a busy market area. Saturday's bombing was the first in the capital since May 16, when a suicide bomb attack blamed on rebels killed 12 people, including eight policemen, and wounded 85 others. On June 6, another bomb hit a crowded passenger bus just outside the capital, killing 21 people. The August bomb was concealed under a roadside stall displaying fake designer watches in the busy Pettah area of the capital, a short distance from the main bus station and the railway terminal, and came a day after the rebels accused government forces of setting off a roadside bomb and killing two civilians inside rebel-held territory. 

A Washington-based think tank, Fund for Peace, and Foreign Policy magazine moved Sri Lanka up in its rankings on their Failed States Index (FSI) for 2008. Sri Lanka's scores dropped in most of 12 indicators on the FSI, moving the country from 25th to 20th position. Five of the eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, accounting for one-quarter of the population of South Asia, are ranked among the 35 critically failed states of the world in this year's Index. Scores on the Index are based on tens of thousands of articles from different sources and reviewed by experts.

The Work of the NPSL Teams

In the four districts where NPSL has its field offices-Colombo, Jaffna, Trincomalee, and Batticaloa--the work of the teams is currently organized into four focal point areas, and is shared in monthly reports to government  representatives in the districts. While work in one of these areas sometimes crosses over to other areas, what follows is a summary of some of the key issues and activities under NPSL focal areas in August.

Children, Youth & Families

Despite the best intentions of many individuals, organizations, agencies and other stakeholders in and out of government, the Sri Lankan conflict continues to take a huge toll on children, youth and families, especially on the protection needs of the rural poor in the north and east of the country. Much of NP's early and emergency response work centers on children, youth and families. NPSL works in weekly, even daily collaboration with others to support families and mitigate the effects of the conflict on their lives and the lives of their children.

In August, NPSL teams responded to a variety of requests. In some cases individuals and families were assisted in reaching a safer location to address both shorter-or longer-term insecurities. Too many under-aged children continue to be targets of armed actors, including in government-controlled areas, such as a 13year-old who was able to reach safety with NP's accompaniment following his escape from an armed group. In some cases, other family members are targeted following the escape of someone; for example, a younger sibling was threatened when his elder brother escaped from a camp. NP was able to help the family find an alternative solution to protect the younger child with the help of networks within the district. 

One family chose to report the abduction of their under-aged son, but feared to raise their profile and suffer possible further repercussions. In another case, an under-aged boy with developmental disabilities was reported by his family to have joined an armed group voluntarily, but his family sought to get him released with NP's and ICRC's support. In another family, a sister received direct threats following the escape of her brother, forcing the family to relocate both their children. In yet another case, a father who had been forcibly taken into an armed group's camp was able to get released due to combined action by NP, ICRC, and the local police.

Helping families build their confidence and experience in advocating directly themselves with various authorities is another support that NP teams provide. This month several mothers were assisted to approach directly a camp in a remote area where they believed their sons were being held. They were not allowed to see them that day, but they at least received confirmation that their sons were there, one step in relieving their ever-present anxiety about the fate of their children. In some cases, NP has worked with mothers over a long period of time, building their capacity for nonviolent engagement. These mothers continue to grow in their confidence for self-advocacy with government and political authorities to demand that their children and families be protected. While the mayor in one town promised assistance earlier to a group of mothers but did not take any concrete action to follow-up on the women's requests for assistance, the mothers made their own phone calls and gained an appointment this month.

In another district, NP will assist children under the UNICEF grant living with their mothers at a Rehabilitation Center, with the permission of the Court Magistrate, to travel securely to and from a school outside the Center. These are
largely children whose fathers have disappeared and whose mothers entered the Rehabilitation Center programme for their family's protection. Thousands of families face similar difficult decisions day after day to try to keep their children
safe.

Displacement and Resettlement

All the teams continue to be involved in protection needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the monitoring of resettlement areas for those who have been returned to their original villages or to another location if it is still not possible to return home. While this area of work sometimes requires emergency response, it also requires ongoing activities of nonviolent engagement and confidence-building, protective presence, and advocacy and awareness at multiple levels. While the greatest displacement is currently happening in the north central part of the country, NPSL continues to be part of advocacy and protection networks at district and national levels serving this vulnerable population in the areas of our field sites. The government authorities, and supported primarily by UNHCR, are the lead entities on IDP's. NPSL coordinates and cooperates with them and other protection and humanitarian agencies to help maintain and monitor international standards for the care and protection of internal refugees. NP's role is to provide regular protective presence in identified camps and resettlement areas, as coordinated with other actors at the district levels, and to share information among the protection working groups and coordinating mechanisms. 

Issues in August were somewhat typical of issues that always need attention, including varying levels of lack of access to livelihoods, health care, and education. In some cases, IDPs report that they were not properly consulted before
resettlement, not given enough information on what the conditions are in the areas they are to be resettled, nor a choice of return. In one instance this month IDPs reported they were improperly "de-registered" in an IDP camp and their supports cut off in order to compel them to move to another area. Advocacy at the Colombo level allowed them to be re-registered. Often fear of what they will find when they are moved, or lack of infrastructure and security in the areas of return, create endless anxiety for people who have already suffered so much. In some areas in the East, there are repeated reports of LTTE re-infiltrating some areas, so being returned to some of the remote areas is seen to be quite insecure. In some situations people get reasonably settled in an area, their children enrolled in a local
school, some source of food and a small income arranged, so being told to again shift and start over in yet another place can be disheartening.

NPSL staff capacity in one district was enhanced this month in collaboration with the Norwegian Refugee Council working with us on sharing experiences, interview techniques, documentation and review of protection needs. NPSL also facilitated a meeting in which UNHCR and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights was able to share information on Confidence Building and Stabilization Measures directly with a network of grassroots organizations brought together by NP. One government agent told NP that international presence is needed in all resettled areas and he acknowledged NP's role in that process.

When it comes to displacement and resettlement issues, everyone works under difficult limitations, knowing that the only satisfying outcome for families is a quick return to a safe and stable situation in their home areas. But it is often a slow and unsatisfactory process to get there, and some conflict-affected families have been displaced for more than one or two decades in Sri Lanka.

Community-Based Structures -Based Structures

In all districts where we work, NPSL seeks to facilitate and support networks of community-based structures, particularly those networks composed of civilians who wish to participate in activities that promote and sustain peace among all communities and ethnicities and engage in nonviolent problem-solving at the grassroots level. Networks of human rights defenders in Jaffna, peace committees in Trincomalee, grassroots community organizations in Batticaloa have all benefited from the slow but steady work of confidence-building and nonviolent engagement that NP has emphasized in its grassroots activities.

In two of our districts in August, a major focus of community involvement came in the form of support for a variety of actors preparing community events to celebrate International Day of Peace on September 21st. Events, large and small, will be held in many places in Sri Lanka, supported by many actors, with NP being a key partner in several of our field sites. NP is working, often behind the scenes, to coach and support these local actors who are "out front" every day bridging differences and building alliances in their communities. In Jaffna, key human rights actors and partners are planning a week long celebration of various activities in five vulnerable communities. In Batticaloa District both teams are working on both ends of the district with networks and partners planning to bring hundreds of people from all religious communities and ethnic groups for a day-long celebration that will feature a combined call for peace
and the protection of human rights in Sri Lanka. Through its continual presence in the communities where NP lives and works, such networks, such grassroots collaborations, such celebrations are more possible in 2008 than would have been possible when we first arrived in 2003.

Human Rights

A final focal area of work for NPSL is the broad area of human rights. Human rights is often a cross-cutting issue, affecting many individuals, families and communities in a variety of ways, as reflected in the preceding three focal areas. In addition to NPs work with children, youth and families, with IDPs, with war-affected and vulnerable communities, NPSL also works closely with a variety of local actors who help those suffering fundamental and human rights abuses of various kinds, as well as advocate for and build awareness of the need for institutions and mechanisms that can promote and protect human rights for all Sri Lankans. NPSL provides accompaniment and presence for many vulnerable and threatened people, helping to enhance their immediate human security, and providing linkages to other resources and mechanisms that can both work to support them specifically and to engage actors at multiple levels for improving the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. This includes some journalists, human rights defenders, and ordinary citizens who wish to enjoy the full benefits of living in a thriving democracy. 

Rita Webb, Programme Officer

 

 

Progress of the execution of the Government of Sri Lanka's war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North of Sri Lanka continued to dominate the news, if not the lives, of all within the country. The Government
appeared to remain convinced that the LTTE has been severely crippled the last two years and can be eradicated as a fighting force by the end of this year. Many other voices, nationally and internationally, are voicing their concerns that the plague of terrorism could continue in clandestine forms for many years to come in Sri Lanka, regardless of what happens on the battlefields, unless a political solution to Asia's longest-running civil conflict is also pursued along with the military strategies.

Despite entering into political coalition with the President's party and winning Provincial Council elections in the East in May, the TMVP political party, which broke from its affiliation with the LTTE in 2004, has claimed that they will not
disarm until the LTTE is wiped out, despite the government's official position that only police and security forces are empowered to bear arms. According to repeated reports, the LTTE are said to be operating in scattered cells throughout the East, carrying out periodic attacks on government forces and creating instability throughout other parts of the country. A bus bomb in Moratuwa, south of Colombo, in the first week of June, killed at least 23 and wounded dozens. And a suicide bomber in Vavuniya killed 12 policemen and wounded a couple dozen others, including four civilians.

Independent journalists continue to be banned from areas where the fighting is being carried out and from access to combatants, so verification of either side's reported casualty figures is impossible. Also dominating the news was the
continued assault on media and defenders of a free press, with defense columnist Iqbal Athas calling this "the worst period in my 42-year career." He suspended his defense column in the Sunday Times in June. Mr. S. Tissainayagam, another prominent journalist and human rights activist (along with two other colleagues), remained in custody for more than four months without charges, and national and international pressure was mounting in the case. In response, the President has appointed a ministerial level commission to investigate into the many allegations of threats, harassments and attacks on journalists. 

Despite having lost its coveted seat on the UN Human Rights Council, the Government continued to reject the concept of international Human Rights monitors to document alleged abuses, claiming it is an unacceptable infringement of sovereignty. Concern from many sectors has been raised that this could also lead to loss of GSP+ tariff concessions of the European Community, especially for the garment industry. EU requirements for such favourable status require that
countries adhere to as many as 27 international agreements, including protection of human rights and labour rights. The European Commission also reported it will withhold development aid funding to Sri Lanka, until the government addresses concerns about its human rights record. The EC says future funding will depend on resolving issues of access and security for humanitarian aid workers from the Red Cross and United Nations. Coming at the same time, Action Contra le Faim (AcF), the French humanitarian aid agency that lost 17 Sri Lankan staff in a massacre in Mutur in 2006 and withdrew from Sri Lanka in protest in March, is pressing their case in Europe for an international inquiry, citing failure of the Government of Sri Lanka to conduct a proper investigation until this time.

The cost of prosecuting the war and other global economic indicators are taking a toll on the whole society with inflation more than double any of Sri Lanka's neighbors. A general strike called by the JVP on July 10th was of mixed result in galvanizing national attention on the country's economic plight.

The Local Context and Work of the NPSL Teams

The Colombo Response Team (CRT)

The situation in Colombo was generally calmer in June and July than it had been in earlier months when there were numerous bus and train bombings in and near the capital. For the CRT, referrals from various stakeholders and from the NP field sites are expanding and resulted in an increase in demands on the team. The team has done more than 40 accompaniments during this time period, supporting at risk and threatened individuals and families to access a wide variety of resources and services, pursue legal or human rights channels, and improve their immediate or longer-term security. CRT was also asked to provide international presence in court in one human rights case.

The team worked closely with local human rights partners and the UN Office of Human Rights, and established contacts with a number of governmental and nongovernmental agencies. NPSL's relationship with the national Human Rights Commission is strengthening, resulting in more pro-active involvement and advocacy by the headquarters of that important national institution. Contacts within the Christian community were also expanded when the team met again with the Anglican Bishop and a representative of their Reconciliation and Peace Desk.

The team participated in a National Peace Council (NPC) program on "Promotion of Peace Through Peace Education and Peace Activism." An outcome of the programme was the formation of a South Asia Peace Alliance, which may prove of interest to NPSL work in the future. CRT also regularly attends the Protection Working Group on IDPs (internally displaced persons) and hopes to contribute, with the input from our field sites, to a "protection gap analysis" that the PWG will undertake.

Jaffna District Team

Although the fighting between the government forces and the LTTE continues to be focused in the north with increasing intensity in various areas, the Jaffna Team remains able to carry on its work, despite limited or no access to some parts of the Jaffna peninsula. Families report fear of imminent displacement, as the progress of the war is unpredictable. With a gradual diminishment in the number of international organizations on the Jaffna peninsula, the NP team seeks to show consistent international presence in several vulnerable areas, but field visit plans are often delayed or changed depending on the security situation. In addition to the heavy military presence and activity, the lack of health and legal services in many areas, the on-going restrictions on fishing and the high security zones, the high
cost of living, limited mobility and livelihood options, and high rates of alcohol-related domestic abuse, all conspire to make life a continual challenge for war-affected families in the North.

The international organizations and UN agencies that remain in Jaffna are in constant contact with one another, and NP is an integral member of all forums. NP Jaffna members attended a program for World Day Against Child Labour, an
island-wide concern as families get pushed further into poverty. The focus of the team's work continues to center on human rights and human security, with frequent meetings with local human rights defenders and HR organizations. The team is also following up with human rights defenders who participated in the NP-sponsored training on international standards of human rights reporting and documentation in Colombo last March.

Trincomalee District Team

The political situation in Trincomalee has been somewhat more stable in the postelection period following Provincial Council (PC) elections in May, although news reports continue to be posted regarding extortions, intimidation, some
reported abductions, and the killing in Trinco town of an insurance business man. The Tamil-Muslim violence that plagued Batticaloa District in May and early June did not spill over into Trinco District, as had been feared. To that end, the Trinco team continued to help bridge relationships between Hindu and Muslim groups in the post election period in Kinniya.

In the beginning of June security was heightened for the Provincial Council inauguration ceremonies. Security Force presence was increased in Trinco Town, and several explosives and weapons caches were reportedly found in search
operations at various times. North of the district is a Forward Defense Line, demarcating a line of military engagement between the government forces and the LTTE. Some people fleeing the fighting to the north and making their way to
Trinco are reported to have been sent by boat to IDP camps on the west coast in Mannar District. Nighttime movements of civilians are limited but shops and 3wheelers are generally operating until 8 or 9 at night. Fishermen can now go out to fish at 5 am instead of 6, a slight improvement from previous fishing restrictions.

NP Trinco Team continues to be based in Trinco Town, with regular visits to the NP office in Mutur and key divisions in the south of the district. The team does regular monitoring of several IDP camps and is providing regular presence in
remote areas in the south of the district, particularly in the areas of Seruwila and Mutur, and in Sinhalese-Tamil border areas where land issues are simmering. The UNHCR requested NP's participation in monitoring four IDP camp resettlement operations, and the IDP section of the district Human Rights Commission is seeking regular collaboration with the team for follow-up monitoring. The team attended a district forum with the local commanding officer to discuss mutual interests and needs and improving civil-military relations.

The team facilitated linkages with two Peace Committees to UNHCR and UNICEF to encourage stronger protection links in their communities by UN agencies. For two other Committees, NP facilitated a meeting with a local peace
activist and a British minister visiting the district with representatives of the British High Commission. The local actors from different areas seemed to increasingly recognize the benefits of collaboration, and visibility was given at higher levels to grassroots initiatives by local Peace Committees. 

Batticaloa District Teams (Valaichchenai and Batti Town)

While the government has worked hard over the past year to stabilize and secure the East, there is much work still to do and reported widespread civilian insecurities. The teams are not able to fulfill all the requests made of them due to capacity limitations. The post-Provincial Council election violence between Tamils and Muslims that erupted during May and early June thankfully diminished thereafter, but tensions remain and political rivalries often take a violent turn. There were grenade attacks on the homes of at least two political party leaders, with two security personnel injured in those attacks. Intra-Tamil political rivalries appear to be contributing to destabilization of the district, with visible weapons reappearing outside some political offices following a number of tit-for-tat killings. Police have also been targeted, with four being killed in a brief period in Batti town. Reports of extortion are frequent, even of government employees, and many businesses are suffering under repeated extortion demands by armed actors. 

In Valaichchenai the Team continued to help develop and support the Community Information Network, a consortium of more than 20 small Tamil and Muslim community-based organizations initiated by NP at the beginning of the year and which is steadily gathering in strength and confidence. Additional outreach to religious leaders, Security Forces, and the Union Traders Association also appear to have been positively received and helped to minimize Tamil-Muslim tensions in the northern part of the district.

Heavy family casework and numerous accompaniment requests dominate the teams' schedules. Strong partnerships with government agencies, security forces, national and international NGOs, as well as tapping local resources and national networks, allows the teams to provide early and emergency responses which help families address their pressing protection and human rights concerns. These involve assistance with safe access to resources or services, to reporting or advocacy mechanisms, to responsible political or military authorities, or to safer locations. Work related to Child Protection is ongoing, with continued work with some families who, until now, have been unable to secure the release of their children or other family members from armed actors.

IDP camp and resettlement monitoring is a regular part of the teams' work as well, including participation in a number of national and international protection and coordination forums. In conjunction with the Ministry of Disaster Management & Human Rights and the GA's office (Government Agent's), UNHCR has also invited NP to be part of "Confidence Building and Stabilization Measures" discussions and activities for IDPs in the district.

NP staff from all districts were able to enhance their technical skills during this time period through a Child Rights/Child Protection/Child Participation training from a Norwegian expert seconded to NP from Save the Children/Norway. Several staff were also able to participate in a UNICEF-sponsored workshop on reporting and monitoring mechanisms under UN Resolution 1612, which tracks at the international level human rights violations against children. 

 

 

Violence rocked Sri Lanka from all sides in May 2008, from military engagements in the North between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North; to election-related and communal violence in the East; to random acts of violence against civilian targets in and near the capital in the West. Combined with run-away inflation and monsoonal flooding in parts of the South, there was hardly a constituency untouched by some adversity this month.

Eastern Provincial Council Elections

The work of Nonviolent Peaceforce-Sri Lanka (NPSL) was dominated for most of the month by the lead up to and the aftermath of the Eastern Provincial Council elections, where three of NPSL's teams are situated. Declaring democracy restored to the East following the May 10th polls, the coalition led by the President's party claimed victory in the elections and a mandate for the continuing military strategy to rid the north next of "the scourge of terrorism." The Government now intends to replace emergency humanitarian and recovery work with long-term development and infrastructure projects to re-build the East, presuming that it can also win the confidence of financial institutions and donors.

Many such promises were made in the lead up to the elections, with the President reiterating that all the peoples' aspirations would finally be met in the East, including for livelihood development and food security, a growing problem given a 26.2% inflation rate, according to one economic analysis. But the government's assessment of the election and its outcomes did not go unchallenged. The Opposition party condemned the poll as irreparably flawed and several election monitoring organizations reported widespread elections violations, including the murder of two police officers who were killed in separate incidents several days after the Election.

In the aftermath of the election, the Government was faced with the equally difficult process of deciding who would now be the Eastern Provincial Council's

Chief Minister: the main TMVP contender and former LTTE child soldier, Sivenesathurai Chandrakanthan, also known as Pillayan; or Muslim minister Sivenesathurai Chandrakanthan, also known as Pillayan; or Muslim minister M.L.A.M. Hisbullah. Ultimately it was announced that the post would be rotated amongst the three community leaders elected, with Pillayan starting out as the first Chief Minister of the Eastern Province. After a period of two years, he is to be succeeded by Minister Hisbullah for two years, and then a Sinhalese elected from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party within the President's party, the UPFA, will be given the Chief Minister post for the balance period of one year. 

Attacks on the Media and Other Rights Violations

The importance of the media in conflict situations is well-established, but members of all media in Sri Lanka continue to be highly vulnerable. This month saw the brutal killing in the North of the ninth journalist in the last two years, and
another high profile attack on a journalist in Colombo who was abducted and assaulted, the associate editor of The Nation. Senior journalist J S Tissaianayagam's arrest and detention continues into its third month without charges being made against him.

A government minister reported seventy eight people have disappeared since the beginning of this year. According to the Human Rights Commission in Trincomalee, fifteen people have disappeared in that district during the first half of
May. The government has also been pressed to introduce witness protection mechanisms, considered a necessity for any credible probe of rights violations.

Further threats to Sri Lanka's standing in the world community lie ahead and could adversely affect the country's international position. Chief among these is the possible removal of Sri Lanka from the General System of Preferences (GSP+) that gives the country exemptions from significant tariffs for trade with the European Union, Sri Lanka's largest trading partner. Losing these benefits would worsen an already critical economic situation, which has brought drastic increases in fuel, electricity and food costs and is further destabilizing the political environment.

Violence Spreads Unpredictably

In addition to the full-scaled prosecution of the war in the North, the LTTE is accused of continuing to carry out suicide missions and other bombings targeting civilians in other parts of the country, including attacks on buses, trains and at
ports. LTTE is said to have bombed and sank a navy cargo ship in Sri Lanka's eastern port town of Trincomalee just before the voting for the Eastern Provincial Council elections.

A bomb on a train in Dehiwela, near the NP headquarters, killed at least 10 civilians, with scores more wounded. NP national staff on their way to catch that train ran back to the office at the sound of the explosion. A flurry of phone calls
ended with all staff safely accounted for. Several powerful bombs in various locations have been detected and defused prior to their detonation. 

In addition to the government/LTTE clashes, in Batticaloa the last week of May and into the beginning of June, violence between Muslims and Tamils suddenly reached alarming proportions. The immediate trigger was the targeted killing of a local TMVP leader and his bodyguard, and the retaliatory killing of 3 Muslim civilians. Over several days, some Muslim shops and lorries were burned; two policemen were killed; and several men were beaten or reported abducted. Hundreds of families on the border areas of two of the three main Muslim centers in the District (Kattankudy and Eravur) displaced to churches and other centers for fear of clashes and attacks. NP visited the displacements and helped link humanitarian resources to meet immediate needs. Shops were closed and curfew was imposed in some areas.

While high level meetings and calls for calm were being held between Tamil and Muslim political leaders, the two NP teams in the District were engaged in almost non-stop activity to try to find ways to help mitigate and reduce the violence at the grassroots level. NP was the only international organization invited to a meeting at the Bishop's House that brought together area representatives of the two communities.

Subsequently the teams facilitated further meetings in two locations, bringing together other local actors, religious leaders and security force representatives from among their contacts, and using their networks to help reduce rumors. A government representative in Valaichchenai told the NP team there that their presence in the community helped to keep violence from erupting in the Tamil/Muslim areas of Valaichchenai and Oddamavadi.

The Work of the Teams

Colombo Response Team

The Colombo Response Team (CRT) worked this month on expanding its knowledge of the resources available for cases of vulnerable individuals and families seeking asylum. The asylum process is often the path of last resort, and
only a small percentage of people who apply to various countries are successful in their asylum appeal. NPSL does not have the resources or capacity to respond to all asylum requests or to undertake the intense work needed to pursue that process. Further help has to come from the UN Office of Human Rights, the Center for Victims of Crime, the Human Rights Commission, and other resources in the capital, including psychological and counseling services for traumatized victims. The team continues to help individuals and families to access such services. capital, including psychological and counseling services for traumatized victims. The team continues to help individuals and families to access such services.

Follow-up plans to the successful March training of human rights defenders in the North and East is underway, with further discussion with one of our partner organizations to extend internship opportunities in the capital for young people wishing to work in the human rights field. Follow-up plans are also underway to host a second Partners Network meeting in the coming months in order to connect NPSL partners across districts for mutual support, sharing and sustainability.

Jaffna District Team

As the focus of the military engagement between the Government and the LTTE has shifted to the North, the Jaffna Team continues to be under restricted movement. Planning the work of the team is sometimes a challenge as it is
difficult to reach contacts in remote areas ahead of time, and the Government requires 72-hour notice to travel to some areas, making timely response to developing situations difficult.

The team received three new family cases this month regarding security clearance issues, harassment and threat concerns. Two previous cases required immediate follow-up, with some families still attempting to leave the peninsula. Widespread fishing restrictions on civilians, and other limitations and displacements, continue to cause hardship and loss of income for thousands. The team continued to provide international presence and trust-building in two vulnerable areas of the District, meeting with government servants in those areas, a new religious leader, and a
local NGO that the team would like to develop more collaboration with regarding peace and nonviolent conflict resolution activities. The team was invited to the passing out (graduation) ceremony of another partner organization that trains youth to become human rights defenders. Some of these youth have gone on to participate in internship opportunities in the capital facilitated by the Colombo Response Team and other partners.

The team visits regularly five other NGOs that do not have international staff on site, to check on any concerns or staff security issues, but all reported that they have been able to carry out their programs this month. A visit was made to the University campus, following a request from the warden of the student hostel for NP presence after a grenade was thrown near security personnel across from the university. Visits were also made to monitor the situation at the Jaffna prison and at two rehabilitation centers where women and children have sought safety. These families feel unsafe to be in their homes following the arrest or disappearance of their husbands, or have themselves received direct threats.

As all INGOs and local organizations are required to keep in close contact with the Government regarding their activities, the team did a presentation on the work of the team to the Government Agent, local Security Force representatives, and other INGOs. The presentation was well-received, with the General Commander suggesting that NP visit another vulnerable area that the team has not yet developed contacts in. He also suggested the team visit another rehabilitation center where "surrenderees" are housed. These are reportedly former LTTE cadres who have sought the protection of the government. The team will further explore the advisability and opportunities of involving themselves in these areas.

Trincomalee District Team

As part of the Eastern Province, Trincomalee (along with Batticaloa and Ampara to the south) were focused on the Provincial Council elections throughout late April and the first half of May. (See Context section above). In the course of
supporting NPSL's election monitoring partner organization, PAFFREL, the team met with many election stakeholders, including government officials, security forces, political party representatives and civilians. Security levels increased due to elections, with more road blocks and search operations being conducted. In some operations grenades, weapons, and anti-personnel mines were discovered. NP supported local monitors provided by Sarvodaya in observing the pre-and post-election environment, and a number of meetings were held with other international actors throughout the month regarding the security situation.

Armed activity seemed to increase the first part of the month, with a Black Tiger suicide mission accused of sinking a Sri Lanka Navy ship in the Trinco harbor just hours before the polls were due to open. The Human Rights Commission received 11 reports of abductions in a 10 day period before and after the election, with other killings and missing persons cases reported to other agencies. Reports were that abductions for ransom were on the rise. While more people and shops were observed to be open in the early evenings, people reported limiting their movements to their own ethnic areas, especially after 7 or 8 pm. Some Sinhalese expressed fear to go to Trinco Town; Tamils expressed fear to go to Mutur town.

Trinco team continues to monitor regularly two IDP camps, one at Cultural Hall and the other at Alias Garden, visiting others as field work takes them to other parts of the district. Safety and security issues are monitored and identified needs are conveyed to appropriate agencies and authorities. Current concerns voiced are lack of good nutrition, accessibility of schooling in some areas, domestic violence, and security. Working with a number of active Peace Committees, NP supports community-based efforts aimed at bringing different communities together across issues and boundaries. This month they met with four Peace Committees to discuss any early warning signs of communal tensions erupting in Trinco, as was occurring in Batticaloa District to the south. 

Peace Committees were able to defuse some tensions in Mutur; and a one-day harthal in protest of fishing restrictions affecting Muslim fisherfolk resulted in an easing of restrictions the following day, but not to the extent that the fishermen say is needed. Prevailing insecurities precipitated one NGO to request NP accompaniment for their local staff to a remote area to carry out their activities. In many cases, Peace Committees remain relatively inactive except in times of crisis or violence; the challenge is how to build their capacity so that they can become more consistently pro-active, and not just reactive.

Child and family protection activities continued, with five new cases of abduction or extortion being recorded. Linkages for a variety of family needs and follow-up were made to other service providers and resources, including NRC, UNHCR, ICRC, HRC, and a local NGO. NP Trinco has been asked to spearhead child protection meetings in Kantale where there is limited awareness and organization on the issue. The establishment of a district ‘Safe House' for youth is still progressing, with multi-agency participation and the District Probation Office coordinating. Trinco Team was joined by a member of the Jaffna Team to participate in a special all-team training on child rights, child participation, and child protection strategies, the result of a collaboration with Save the Children/Sri Lanka, through an expert in child rights from Save the Children/Norway. Following completion of the 3-day training in Trinco, the training was repeated for NPSL staff in Batticaloa District.

Batticaloa District Teams (Valaichchenai and Batti Town)

In Batticaloa District both NP teams were busy with election-related activities, including observing at 26 polling stations on Election Day, and responding to several violent incidents the first half of the month. The latter part of the month
saw a spike in post-election Tamil-Muslim violence that spread alarm throughout the District and into Trinco District to the north. Throughout the latter part of the month, both District teams worked tirelessly to bring stakeholders from all sides together so that discussions reported in the media to be happening at the upper political levels between party leaders could have a parallel hearing at the grassroots levels. Numerous individual contacts and meetings were held to lay the groundwork to bring representatives together in larger forums--forums that included Tamils and Muslims, religious and community leaders, government actors, police and the Security Forces.

The focus of the communal violence was in communities on either side of Batti Town, in and around two of the three main Muslim towns in the District, Eravur and Kattankudy. For several days the violence restricted movement to and from Batti Town, causing disruption to many civilians, including NP local staff, who were unable to travel through either Eravur or Kattankudy at various times to get to or from the office. Hundreds of families living in border areas between the two communities fled their homes and sought safety in churches or other community centers. NP was able to visit several of these make-shift camps and convey to other agencies the immediate needs for relief the families shared. 

The third main Muslim community is located further to the north in the Valaichchenai/Oddamavadi area. Tamil-Muslim violence did not spread to the north, thanks in part to the active involvement of networks that are functioning with the support of NPSL. The Valaichchenai Traders Association, made up of Tamil and Muslim businesses, requested NP to host a meeting where 30 traders came together to discuss how to prevent violence from spreading in their area. The
Community Information Network (CIN) that NP has been facilitating also came together and took their first joint Tamil-Muslim action, which was to write a joint letter of appeal and elect a delegation to approach the police and Security Forces, with NP accompaniment, to request more patrols in the border areas between Tamils and Muslims to reduce the possibility of violence erupting and displacement of families. The team also has made a practice of providing visible
presence every Friday after prayers in the areas of the main mosques in and around Valaichchenai.

Other NP work continued as well throughout the month, including five family visits and five new cases of underage recruitment being recorded. Twelve requests for accompaniment within the district of threatened individuals were met.
Numerous security meetings were called with other INGOs and UN agencies, as well as regularly scheduled meetings regarding Child Protection and Children Affected by Armed Conflict (CAAC) meetings, and IDP Protection and Resettlement meetings where important information is shared and coordination discussed. Numerous meetings were also hosted in both NP offices, including of families seeking missing relations who were forcibly taken earlier this year. A group of seven mothers made plans to visit newly elected TMVP leadership in the District, including the mayor of Batticaloa and the new Chief Minister of the Province, in the hopes that they will advocate with others in the party for the release of their loved ones.

NP plays a vital role in making linkages and communication networks function within the District, making full use of a variety of referral mechanisms and options to improve people's security and the realization of their rights. By partnering and communicating with a wide variety of actors, knowledge of and access to resources is increased. The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), for example, has legal staff that rural clients in the northern part of the district can more readily access and NRC can access the courts in Valaichchenai by making use of office space in the NP Valaichchenai office one and a half days a week. Such collaborations and relationship-building is paying dividends for families and communities despite the ongoing tensions and instabilities. 

Rita Webb, Programme Officer, Colombo

 

 

In a parade and an air and sea display of military power at a seaside park in the capital of Colombo on the 4 th of February, Sri Lanka celebrated 59 years of independence from Portuguese, Dutch and then British rule between 1505 and 1948.

In a politically turbulent month, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the government and the UNP was torn apart by the main opposition party after it was compromised by the ‘cross over' of 18 UNP MP members who have joined the government. To accommodate the defectors, new ministerial posts were created, resulting in a jumbo cabinet of 54 Ministers, the largest in the world today. During the international donor conference that was held in Galle at the end of January, Western powers, including the United States, were urging Sri Lanka's government to commit to a political settlement with the LTTE, potentially holding back sums of aid if no progress is made.

Also at the international level, 38 US congress members called upon President Bush to appoint a special envoy to Sri Lanka who would also monitor the human rights situation. In a further development, the UN Secretary-General called for ‘targeted measures' against the LTTE and Karuna for their continued involvement in child recruitment. The Government joined 60 other countries that approved the so-called Paris Commitments to end the use of child soldiers.

Gradually, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) has arrived in Sri Lanka. Its support secretariat also has been established. Already the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) has started the preparations on the 15 human rights cases it was charged by the President to investigate. Another serious concern is the number of disappearances in Sri Lanka. According the latest statistics every five hours one person in Sri Lanka disappears.

The Work of the NP Teams

The Jaffna district remains under marshal law. Human rights organizations and defenders report they are facing increased threats. NPSL's role is to provide proactive international presence to a number of national partners which allows them to carry on with their work to receive complaints, file cases, raise awareness and do advocacy. NPSL in Jaffna is also getting more visits by families whose relatives and children have disappeared. NPSL has been requested to provide presence and interact with families affected to determine how to reduce vulnerability and build capacity for community response.

Over 75,000 Tamil people are currently staying in IDP camps in Batticaloa district due to the recent fighting. Forced recruitment into armed groups, including of children is also reported to have increased. Local authorities and the military in the Trincomalee district wish to see the IDPs to return to their original villages but many families fear to do so. Safety and security of IDPs including their safe return have been monitored by NPSL teams on a number of occasions.

Peoples' livelihood continued to get interrupted. Fishermen are experiencing great difficulties due to the restrictions imposed on fishing times and boats. After a series of meetings with the fishing societies, the peace committee members, religious leaders and the Navy, NPSL has begun to serve as an impartial catalyst to connect the actors so they can identify a local solution to the imposed fishing ban that is having such a negative impact on people's livelihoods from all three communities in the area.

NPSL has established closer relationships with several human rights organizations in Trincomalee. These have agreed to conduct training programmes for NPSL partners that have expressed interest, but also for Peace Committee members in Mutur. The presence of NPSL personnel in meetings and through accompaniments so far allowed sensitive issues to be raised, partners to get connected to training programs and families to receive (legal) support.

In Valaichchenai, NP often serves as a safe meeting space for mothers and families who wish to share experiences and relevant information and decide on possible action and self-advocacy. The team intends to facilitate all the interested families together for a larger gathering in February. Safe places for youth at risk continue to be requested. The team has been able to facilitate the enrollment of a number of youth to a vocational training center where they would follow a year long residential program. NPSL will continue to serve as link for other youth and the centers which are serving them.

The LTTE has reportedly not given up its influence in the region, and appears to be competing with the Karuna group for control and influence. A claymore mine attack at the Eastern University was followed by the request of a religious leader for NPSL Batti to provide international presence after the attack to increase the safety and confidence of staff and students.

NPSL continues to be heavily involved in addressing the problem of continuing reports of child abductions. Several meetings with families affected were held during which information about the pledges and guidelines on child rights by TMVP and LTTE was shared. This prompted several families to write letters addressed to the groups, and others sought the support of UNICEF. NPSL has started to receive requests by the families to be present when they visit the offices of the TMVP.

NPSL has started several new partnerships with CIDA, Christian Aid and PWRDF and is currently finalizing a new project proposal with UNICEF.

Report written by Christine Schweitzer (Programme Director)