Over the past two years the National Peace Council worked with over 700 members of inter-religious groups in 12 districts of the country, including the North and East. These groups with the representation of religious clergy of all the main religions engaged in humanitarian initiatives to meet the needs of war affected women and children in particular. On June 16, 2012 total of 164 representatives from the groups that have been participating in this process met in Colombo and gave their assent to a resolution which was born out of their first hand community level experiences. The National Peace Council believes that this resolution is one that calls for the attention of the government and other decision makers.
It is important to note that those who ratified the resolution were religious clergy from all four major religious communities and their lay adherents. The resolution that was approved at the conference therefore would be an expression of thinking from the community level itself. It is an important indicator to the government of unfinished tasks in the area of resettlement and rebuilding of the lives of those affected by the war. While the resolution focused on the humanitarian needs of women and children who were affected by the war, it also showed that more needed to be done, especially where the political and human rights of the people were concerned.
Among their many observations they noted the lack of proper infrastructure for people who are being resettled, the high degree of military presence which vitiates civil administration, continuing abductions and disappearances, the problems of rehabilitated LTTE cadre in finding employment, the difficulties of those who have lost their family members in getting death certificates or even ascertaining what happened to them, continuing restrictions on fishing and farming activities due to military controls, the use of outside labour instead of utilizing the people of the area in infrastructure projects, the prevalence of social vices due to poverty and abuse of power, the need to utilize both Sinhala and Tamil languages in government offices and the utilization of land to serve commercial interests rather than those of the people. (Please see full text of the resolution below and list of participants below)
The formulation of the resolution by the religious clergy, and their ability to agree on matters on which there is considerable controversy, is an indicator that it is possible to reach agreement on matters that affect the lives of people through a consultative process where there is goodwill and trust. This will be a source of encouragement to the government and political authorities who need to engage with each other in political negotiations aimed at arriving at political solutions to the problems in the country. The National Peace Council calls for the demonstration of political will by the political leaders of the country who are vested with the power of decision making to take heart from the receptivity of the people and engage in conflict resolution and problem solving that would meet the needs of the people.
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.
Resolutions for Improvement of Living Standards among Women and Children in Post-War Sri Lanka
(National Inter Religious Convention held at the Sri Sambuddha Mandira, Colombo 5 , June 16, 2012. Facilitated by the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka with support from the European Union)
12 District Inter Religious Councils have been established in their respective areas including the North and East, comprising religious and civil society leaders, committed towards seeking humanitarian solutions to issues faced by women and children in post war Sri Lanka. Additionally a National Council has been established, along with 3 Provincial councils, comprising of religious and civil society leaders selected from their respective district committees. The Southern province council comprises of members from the Anuradhapura, Kurunegala, Matara, and Galle districts, while the Eastern province council comprises of members from the Polonaruwa, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Ampara districts. The Northern Province council comprises of members from the Jaffna, Vavuniya, Mannar, and Puttalam districts.
District Inter Religious Committees have gained significant information regarding the humanitarian needs of women and children in areas directly and indirectly affected by war, and have taken steps to channel their problems towards government representatives, members of the opposition, the business community and religious leaders. These Inter Religious Committees have been able to address some of the grievances in this regard.
Meanwhile a resolution, passed by 44 religious leaders and 59 civil society representatives at the Southern province inter religious convention on 28 April2012 was submitted to political leaders and religious leaders in the area. A separate resolution was formulated at the Northern Province inter religious convention, encompassing several recommendations made by members of the Northern province inter religious council, as well as a solutions formulated by the 48 religious leaders and 61 civil society leaders representing their respective councils. The resolution was passed on 12May 2012 in Mannar, and was presented to political and religious leaders in the Northern Province.
Issues faced by victims of war
We as members of the DIRC initiative, and religious leaders representing the Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities, seek to promote democratic rights of all individuals regardless of national, language, and religious differences. Under the premise of a religious brotherhood we wish to make the following recommendation.
Observations and Proposed Solutions
1. Bringing normalcy to civilian life
The Council has identified the following issues, with regards to people presently living in war ravaged areas.
-Individuals being displaced from their land and property.
-Large groups of people remain displaced due to destruction of property during war, construction of military camps, demining operations, and acquiring of land for various security reasons. Large groups of people currently live in resettlement areas while certain others live with their relations. Over 10 000 people are still housed in welfare camps in the north. A similar situation exists within the Eastern province, though as not appalling as in the North.
People are being resettled in areas where there is an obvious lack of basic necessities and they are unable to fulfill their basic needs. Failing to uphold the rights of such people to live in a permanent residence has led to an overall erosion of civil life. Furthermore these people have lost their traditional livelihoods, as they have been resettled in areas far away from their original dwellings.
Military interferences on daily life
The military has a large presence on civil administration activities in the North, and consequently people feel a military presence in all social, cultural and religious activities organized within the area. The council feels that this is a detriment towards fostering a healthy civil society and an obstacle towards post war reconciliation.
Abductions and Disappearances
The Council sadly notes that 3 years after the conclusion of war there still surface reports of abductions and disappearances from the North and East. Those abducted include schoolchildren, which is most saddening.
Activities carried out by paramilitary groups
The Council points out that the functioning of armed gangs and paramilitary forces within the North and East has adversely affected civil society.
Loss of Life, and individuals faced with permanent disabilities
The Council also notes that there are large numbers of widowed families in the North and South who had lost their husbands and loved as a result of war. The council feels that justice should be served to these families.
Rehabilitation programs and Inmates in custody
Ex-combatants are held captive in the absence of sufficient evidence and their families are unable to receive information regarding them. Meanwhile, individuals getting released from government rehabilitation centers face a problem of securing employment.
Loss of personal documents
Individuals who have lost family members during the war face a problem of obtaining death certificates, and consequently are unable to show ownership to their land. Moreover, others who had lost important personal documents such as marriage certificates and Birth certificates also face a problem in this regard.
The following proposals are aimed at addressing the above mentioned issues as well as programs to ensure normalcy within the civil society:
-Speeding up resettlement of displaced persons in their traditional homelands and restoring infrastructure in villages.
-Removing military presence from civil Society activities, and the relocation of military camps from settlement areas.
-Instituting a reparation scheme to compensate for loss of life, and damage to property incurred during the war, in addition to speeding up legal proceeding regarding individuals held in custody.
-Investigating into abductions and disappearances and the dismissal of paramilitary and other armed groups.
-conducting mobile services to provide important personal documents to people.
-Speeding up demining efforts.
Eviction of Muslim Community by the LTTE from the North
During the war the Muslim community living in the North was evicted with 24 hours notice by the LTTE. They could not take their belongings with them. Most of these people have had to spend a long period of time in welfare centres for the displaced or with their relatives. As a result there was much harm to the culture and way of life of the people. Also the competition for scarce resources with the host community has led to economic, educational, health, social and political tensions. In addition, some of the Sinhalese people who fled the North during the war have shown interest in returning. These issues have led the Inter Religious Committee for the Northern Province to make the following recommendations:
i. The Muslim people who were evicted from their homes by the LTTE should be provided with legal assistance to resettle
ii. The infrastructure facilities for all displaced persons (Tamil, Muslim and Sinhalese) to resettle should be provided without delay. A non-partisan mechanism needs to be set up to monitor and speed up the resettlement process.
2. Livelihood development and improvements in local life.
A large number of individuals have lost their traditional livelihoods as a result of war, and are unable to cultivate their farm lands today, since they are being utilized by the Army and Special Task Force. Therefore, traditional farmers have lost their livelihood and the problem has also been aggravated by the fact that land is being given to multinational companies.
Fishing restrictions imposed by the Army in addition to illegal fishing activities carried out by Indian fisherman has had an adverse effect on the fisheries industry in the North while fishing activities carried out by fisherman who receive special privileges and government protection has also hampered the industry. Furthermore, the use of illegal fishing methods has also contributed to this problem.
Barriers to trade exist in the Northern Province and consequently the business community is faced with several important problems. For instance, traders in the North and East have been unable to build trade relations with other traders from the south.
Unemployment is on the rise, since there is little opportunity for small scale enterprise, and this situation is complemented by the fact that the area has poor infrastructure especially in relation to technology. This is further aggravated since labor for development activities are being procured from areas instead of the North and East.
The opportunity for economic expansion was stunted by the long drawn war which affected the region, and the opportunity for regional trade between the North and East was also held back as a result of war. Even thought it has been three years since the conclusion of war, there has been little work done towards economic integration and the Council also feels that there has been lack of opportunity given with regards to traders from the region. The Council makes the following recommendations to address the above mentioned problems.
-Handing over of farmland utilized earlier by the military to their original owners whilst supporting them in developing land.
-Addressing the problem of illegal fishing activities carried out by Indian fisherman in local waters, and implementing steps to uplift the local fisheries industry.
-Utilizing workers within the region for construction and infrastructure development activities.
-Developing local industries with the aim of creating a market for local goods.
-Developing a comprehensive mechanism to conduct cross regional trade between the North, East and South.
-Re starting manufacturing operations within factories.
3. Social Security and Promotion of Culture.
Lack of social security remains an important problem to be addressed in war ravaged areas, and has resulted by the weakening of civil society organizations and NGOs in the region. This has resulted in an overall degradation of culture leading to an erosion of cultural values and ethics. For instance there have been a number of reports where ancient artifacts had been stolen from temples .The Council hopes to make the following recommendations to address these problems.
-Child abuse, child labor, orphans and under age marriage.
-Drug abuse prevalent within the region.
-Prostitution and spread of pornography.
-Rising crime rates.
-Mental problems relating to high levels of stress.
-Lack of protection for widowed families.
-Lack of protection for senior citizens
-Erosion of cultural values, as a consequence of tourism within the region.
Women and children have been largely victimized by these problems. The Council hopes to make the following recommendations to address the problems mentioned above.
-Creation of social security committees centering places of worship, and implementing counseling programs.
-Strengthening the capacity of child protection committees.
-Implementing counseling sessions, aimed at people suffering from depression and other mental problems.
-setting up organizations to look after senior citizens.
- Preventing activities related to tourism, which has an adverse effect on the culture.
4. Education, Vocational Training, and Employment Opportunities
A large number of youth joined the military during the time of war, and as a result missed out on educational opportunities. High levels of government spending on defense and low levels of appropriations for education, vocational training and improvement of employment has affected the resource potential of educational institutions. Lack of teachers and infrastructure in schools in the North has resulted in high dropout rates. The Council makes the following recommendations to address the problems mentioned above.
-Implementing vocational training and skills development programs aimed at children leaving school after ordinary level.
-implementing vocational training programs aimed at the international job market.
-Developing the resources of vocational training and educational institutions.
-Increasing the role of the private sector in vocational training activities, under proper guidance.
-Creating a program to involve retired army personnel in development efforts.
-providing alternative livelihood opportunities to individuals who had lost their traditional livelihoods as a result of their land being taken over for tourism activities.
5. Promotion of Sinhala and Tamil in within government agencies
The Council has realized that there are only a handful of government officials in the north who have the ability to communicate in Tamil.
Tamils and Muslims in these areas, face problems when seeking services from government agencies such as provincial councils and police, since they are unable to communicate in the Tamil language. The problem also extends to judicial institutions within the area, since there are only a few translators, and subsequently impacts the serving of justice.
Meanwhile, since the activities of the North and East provincial administrations are conducted in the Tamil language, the Sinhala community becomes greatly inconvenienced.
The Council brings the following recommendations to the attention of relevant authorities.
-Employing Tamil language proficient individuals for government service.
-Implementing a program to provide Tamil proficiency to Sinhala speaking state employees, and applying the same program for Tamil state employees to improve their Tamil language proficiency
-Implementing the national language policy on state circulars, gazette notifications, and signboards.
-Implementing steps to create a culture where both Singhala and Tamil language is used.
6. Land and Resettlement
The Council has noticed several problems with regards to resettlement efforts in the North and East, especially in instances where displaced families are resettled away from their traditional land. It is also saddening to note that people have been displaced due to government efforts during the post war time, as a result of apportioning land for tourism activities, and the transfer of land for foreign companies for business purposes. Furthermore this has resulted in the loss of traditional livelihood for people in the area.
The Council makes the following recommendations in this regard.
-Stressing the importance of resettling people in their traditional lands.
-The handing over of land to foreign companies in a manner, which minimizes the effects on the civil society.
-Minimizing unnecessary political intervention.
-Ensuring security for resettled individuals.
7. Fostering Mutual Understanding and Reorganizing Efforts