Tuesday, 08 October 2019 13:38

Creating Awareness to Assist Victims of Human Rights Abuses

A series of information sessions for police officers, security forces personnel and government sector officers on ethics, human rights and the Right To Information Act (RTI), Office on Missing Persons (OMP) and other independent commissions were completed under an European Union (EU) funded project being implemented in 11 districts.

Accountability Through Community Engagement and Initiatives for Transition (ACE-IT) is implemented with support from the Right to Life Human Rights Centre (R2L) and supports the protection of rights by mobilising civil society to use new and existing mechanisms, to hold the state accountable and vindicate victim rights through 11 Human Rights First Aid Centres (HRFACs) functioning under the project.

The intervention also targets state institutions and actors by advocating change in their ethos and their support for continued responsive state action on accountability.

At the information session for police, military and state officers in Trincomalee, many participants stated that they were not fully aware of the available national mechanisms in relation to the Transitional Justice (TJ) framework. While they knew of the important work carried out by the Human Rights Commission (HRC), the participants did not know about the functions of the OMP, the RTI or the Office of Reparations.

An introduction to the OMP was presented by Commissioner S. I. Liyanage from the Colombo office. He was able to answer questions from the participants on the functions of the OMP and to correct wrong information being circulated on the OMP.

Investigation Officer Arun Sivagnanam from the Trincomalee Regional Office of the HRC spoke on the functions of the HRC and how it works with the police and other state institutions to safeguard victims’ rights.

The session began with an introduction to ethics by counsellor Sr. Canice Fernando, the former Principal of Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya. The participants said that the session helped them to understand that listening was an important part of victim support.

Before the training, most of the participants believed that the HRC was only condemning the police and security forces but now they realised that it was actually helping them as well as the victims. They also thought that the OMP was only for Tamil people and addressed disappearances during the war but now they understood that the OMP served all Sri Lankans and was also investigating disappearances from the south.

The ACE-IT project has completed all training programmes for women police officers on counselling, information sessions for police, military and state officers, training on befriending for HRFAC volunteers, skills building sessions for marginalised communities and sessions with key community leaders to identify area specific issues affecting human rights.

A total of 55 training programmes, five per each district, have been completed. In total 1,621 persons including 281 women police officers, 159 higher level police officers, 110 state officers, 434 marginalised community members including women from female headed households and people with disabilities, 165 key community leaders and 472 persons including HRFAC volunteers and representatives from community based organizations have received training through the project.