March 2020

06.03.2020 - Keep Open The Space For Soft Skills Programmes by NGOS

A set of guidelines issued by the Mullaitivu District Secretariat to all non-governmental organisations working in the district has notified them that their work should be focused on infrastructure development and not on soft skill training. Examples of the latter that are provided are women’s empowerment, child rights, youth training, human rights, land rights training, and formation and strengthening of self-help groups. The district secretariat has said that action plans of organisations that contain “less than 70 percent of physical infrastructure activities, such as construction of rural roads, wells and preschools, will not receive its approval”, which may be an indication of the district’s needs rather than a policy statement.

We are aware that during the period of the war, the Mullaitivu district suffered great devastation. The National Peace Council acknowledges that the District Secretariat’s commitment to economic and infrastructure development needs to be supported and it must ensure that this development is equitable and reach the widest possible population. However, not all NGOs are service delivery ones which engage in infrastructure development. Through their soft skills trainings NGOs, not only in Sri Lanka, but worldwide, seek to create awareness in the general population of their rights and responsibilities in relation to one another, the state and the larger community. 

In this Independence Day message, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reaffirmed the government’s commitment to basic democratic values and to the rights of all citizens by saying “We will always ensure their right to think freely, hold independent opinions, and express themselves without any hindrance. We will always respect the right of any citizen to follow the religion of his or her choice. Every citizen has the right of free association and of free assembly.” He went on to say “We consider all these as rights of human beings that no one can challenge.” 

In Geneva, at the UN Human Rights Council session, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena stated that “the Government will also address other outstanding concerns and introduce institutional reforms where necessary, in a manner consistent with Sri Lanka’s commitments, including the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (SDGs). We will implement policies rooted in the Government’s commitment to the people by advancing individual and collective rights and protections under the law, ensuring justice and reconciliation and addressing the concerns of vulnerable sections of society.” 

The National Peace Council notes that the government is mindful of the ground realities as represented in the webpage of the Batticaloa District Secretariat in another former war zone that observes its “foremost duty is ensuring harmonious relationship among the different communities in the District.” In this context, we affirm that soft skills programmes are also important and those organisations that wish to focus on them need to be provided with the space to do so unhindered in keeping with the president’s vision articulated in his Independence Day speech and the Foreign Minister statement in Geneva at the ongoing UNHRC session.

Governing Council
The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization 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.