Sunday, 05 July 2015 00:00


Addressing Rising Religious Tensions

Inter community relations continued to deteriorate after the end of the war. Anti-Muslim propaganda was on the rise and there were attacks on Muslims by a section of the Buddhist clergy and their followers. The unwillingness of the state to speak up was one indication of the failure of post war reconciliation.

In order to address the rising tensions, NPC began a new project in late 2013 with support from SPICE/USAID entitled Reconciling Inter religious and Inter ethnic Differences (RIID), which was completed in October 2014.

Under a previous EU-funded project, NPC had set up 12 District Inter Religious Committees (DIRCs) that have been functioning for three years. Some members underwent training on conflict resolution, conflict sensitivity and prioritisation of humanitarian needs. Through these activities, people are able to understand one another and their religions. They realised the nature of the political problems that separates the ethnic communities and makes their political leaders see each other as opponents instead of as partners.

The new project strengthened the work of DIRCs in Jaffna, Mannar, Puttalam, Galle, Batticaloa and Ampara while setting up new ones in Kandy and Nuwara Eliya. NPC worked with partner organizations, who collaborated with DIRCs at the district level. The funding enabled NPC to strengthen the effectiveness of the existing DIRCs and build partner capacity so that they served as a district level mechanism to prevent localised conflicts.

One of the significant results of RIID was an increased level of trust developed between members of DIRCs and a significant improvement in their ability to work together as a multi religious and multi ethnic group.

The DIRCs were revitalized to work towards reducing religious and ethnic tension and contributing to reconciliation, peace and justice at district and national level.

DIRCs intervened in a number of incidents that had potential to flare up into full scale hostilities between religions, and resolved the matters in an amicable manner. A total of 26 such incidents were addressed and dealt with in a manner that promoted healing of relationships, and the relevant DIRC is continuing to monitor them to avoid incidents of reoccurrence.

A register documenting different issues and the preventive measures used has been maintained at the district level by the DIRCs and this will facilitate and act as an early warning tool that could be used to identify issues that can flare up in the future.

The second phase of the project, which began in November, is being implemented in three stages with the participation of district level partner organizations.

Strengthening Survivors of Torture

Incidents of torture are widespread and recurrent in Sri Lanka despite there being constitutional protection against it and the adoption of the International Convention against Torture. The Government of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report contains key provisions related to combatting torture at all levels. However, these provisions are yet to be implemented in Police stations and Army camps around the country.

NPC commenced work on a EU-funded project to strengthen survivors of torture by promoting accountability and preventing torture. Asian Justice and Rights (AJAR), an NGO based in Indonesia, selected NPC to be its partner in Sri Lanka, together with partners in Myanmar, Aceh and Timor-Leste. NPC is implementing the two year project with selected local partners who specialise in the field of supporting torture victims.

The project’s target groups include torture survivors and their families, civil society, religious-based groups, government officials and decision-makers in the security sector. The specific objectives include increasing capacities of torture survivors and their organizations to initiate and implement sustainable self-care, raising awareness and understanding among civil society with regard to victims’ rights and enhancing commitment to accountability and prevention of torture among key government agencies, human rights bodies and security sector institutions.

Among the key activities are regional trainings on international and domestic laws on torture, advocacy and rehabilitation; healing of memories training of trainers; exchange visits by survivors’ groups; documentation, community-based support and advocacy; facilitation of legal aid; participatory action research to develop referrals and advocacy for reparations; a public information campaign, and a regional seminar on lessons learned from Asia on accountability, prevention, and rehabilitation.

NPC’s partners for the project are Human Rights Office Kandy, Citizen Committee Gampaha District, Center for Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (CPPHR) Trincomalee and Child Development Initiative (CDI) Vavuniya. 

Healing the Wounds of War

Although they make up over half of the population and live in the country that elected the world’s first woman prime minister, women in Sri Lanka are poorly represented at the top of the decision making process. While often bearing the brunt of the country’s 30-year civil war, they are not consulted in post conflict peace building activity.

In order to bring women’s perspectives into the national reconciliation process, NPC is implementing “Post-Conflict Healing: A Women’s Manifesto” with funding from FOKUS Women. FOKUS consists of 74 women's organizations from Norway that share a vision of women united to change the world, in which women's organizations form the basis for egalitarian societies free from oppression.

Through capacity building, the project aims to increase female participation in decision making at the local and grass root level. There are healing activities as well as a platform for the voice of woman to be heard. The manifesto will articulate women’s perspectives of transition from post-conflict to peace and translate them into action through advocacy to policy makers and authorities.

The NPC has an island wide outreach and has worked in every province in the country, gaining understanding of the issues that affected minority communities and women. The work is being carried out in the Vavuniya, Mannar, Trincomalee, Ampara, Galle, Hambantota Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Puttalam Districts. Some such as Vavuniya, Mannar, Ampara and Trincomalee were directly affected by the war while others such as Galle and Hambantota have a high number of war widows. Kandy and Nuwara Eliya are home to the minority Tamil estate community while Puttalam plays host to many Internally Displaced Persons from the Tamil and Muslim communities.

The project aims to building capacity, encouraging increased participation and representation of women at local and grass root level; create post conflict healing; advocate/publish women’s perspectives on post conflict processes and peace building;

And train participants on transitional justice, women’s rights, role of women in post conflict society, reconciliation, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and its recommendations and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that deals with women and security. 

Reconciliation Through Writing

Write to Reconcile, a fiction writing project supported by NPC in conjunction with the internationally renowned Sri Lankan author Shyam Selvadurai, went into its second year after a successful first year.

The project brought together 24 emerging Sri Lankan writers who were interested in writing fiction, memoir or poetry in English on the issues of conflict, peace, reconciliation, memory and trauma, as they related to the civil war and the postwar period.

Over the course of two residential workshop in Kandy and Batticaloa and two online forums, these emerging writers, under the guidance of Shyam Selvadurai, honed their craft of writing and produced work that showed a diversity of cultural, ethnic and geographical points of view on the civil war and its aftermath, as well as a diversity of styles and genres.

The work produced by the writers will be published in the second Write to Reconcile Anthology. Two thousand copies of the anthology will be mailed to libraries and schools across the country and a downloadable version is available as well. NPC translated the first anthology into Sinhala and Tamil to reach wider audiences.