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Sunday, 04 June 2017 05:18

Vesak With A Difference in Batticaloa

Members of Batticaloa’s District Inter Religious Committee (DIRC) decided to make it a Vesak with a difference by inviting people of all religions to participate in the celebrations. Although the Batticaloa district is home to Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese, the different communities rarely participate at each other’s festivals.

Forty nine members of the Nuwara Eliya DIRC, including Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim religious leaders, attended a training session on pluralism conducted by NPC.

A one-week training on conflict transformation for peace workers was held in Colombo under NPC’s Religions to Reconcile project, which is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented with a Jordan-based partner organization, Generations For Peace.

A dispute between Buddhists and Muslims because of a Buddha statue in front of a meat shop belonging to Muslims was discussed at DIRC Badulla’s monthly meeting under NPC’s project Reconciling Inter Ethnic and Inter Religious Differences (RIID).

Stories in the third anthology of the Write to Reconcile project focused on Sri Lanka’s post war situation with emphasis on border villages and the Vanni.

Participants travelled to the Vanni and the Sinhala border villages to hear stories of what the people had undergone and to get a sense of their lives and issues post war. In addition, human rights workers visited the workshop in Anuradhapura and spoke about their work and the ongoing issues for war affected people.

Under NPC’s project Promoting Inter-faith and Inter-ethnic Dialogue in Sri Lanka, 81 members of the District Inter Religious Committees (DIRCs) in Trincomalee and Batticaloa were trained on mediation, documenting issues, making referrals and engaging with the media.

Phase III of NPC’s Reconciling Inter Religious and Inter Ethnic Differences (RIID) project, which was implemented with partner organizations that collaborated with District Inter Religious Committees (DIRCs) at the district level to build support for a Transitional Justice (TJ) process within the framework of the Geneva Resolution, concluded after nine months.

Reflecting the positive changes in relations between civil society and the government in the past two years in relation to the reconciliation process, NPC Executive Director Dr Jehan Perera was invited by the Sri Lankan government to join the official delegation to Geneva to represent a civil society point of view at side events during the UN Human Rights Council sessions.

Under its project Inter-faith and Inter-ethnic Dialogue in Sri Lanka, NPC carried out orientation meetings for district level partners and District Inter Religious Committee (DIRC) members in the Trincomalee and Batticaloa districts and held training workshops on early warning and conflict sensitivity, Transitional Justice and Non-violence Communication.

Religious clergy and civil society activists from across the country on Monday urged the government to take concrete steps to ensure that peace and reconciliation were established in post war Sri Lanka.

The leaders handed over a six-point resolution to the Minister of National Co-existence Dialogue and Official Languages Mano Ganesan, Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation Chandrika Kumaratunga and Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms Mano Tittawella at a National Inter Religious Symposium organised by the National Peace Council (NPC).

The symposium was held under the NPC’s project that set up 12 District Inter Religious Committees (DIRCs) comprising leaders of all religions and ethnic groups, government officials, university academics and students and youth representatives.

The DIRCs worked towards conflict transformation and reconciliation by building support for the transitional justice process, especially truth telling and trust building within communities.

In the resolution the leaders urged the government to bring back to normalcy the lives of people who have been evicted from their homes and properties, pointing out that many of them are without homes or incomes even today.

The leaders said civil administration should be strengthened in keeping with the 19th Amendment because security forces still intervene in civil administrative activities and this hinders the freedom of life of the people in these areas. They added that the lethargic manner of working by certain government officials has hindered the improvement of infrastructure facilities and provision of various essential services.

The third point in the resolution said that there has not been specific and speedy action on missing persons and those who have been made to disappear illegally. “We firmly hope that the State mechanism for acting on the above matters will be strengthened and that action is taken to fulfill justice for the people affected directly and indirectly due to the war.” The leaders also asked for a compensation process without any form of discrimination.

The resolution pointed out that extremist political activity and extremist religious groups and individual activities were destabilizing society and called for several measures to avoid such situations such as the establishment of social protection monitoring committees, strengthening the action of the Women and Child Protection Committees and conducting formal counselling services aimed at those subject to severe mental stress.

The final point in the resolution suggested several steps for building national reconciliation including implementing the national language policy and paying attention to activities that will improve inter-relationships among the communities.

“If there are political groups, religious groups, government officials, civil society actors who will disrupt reconciliation, take legal action against them unmindful of their status,” the resolution said.

About 360 religious clergy, civil society activists and government officials attended the National Inter Religious Symposium.

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