The court injunction against a commemoration in Mullivaikkal in the North of those who lost their loved ones in the last battle of the war on May 18 highlights a problem that needs resolution. In the South the government commemorated the security forces personnel who lost their lives in the war. The police sought the court order to block the commemorative event organized by a civil society group led by Fr Elil Rajendram that sought to memorialize those who lost their lives in the last battle of the war by placing stones with the names of those who lost their lives. At present the Mullivaikkal area, where the last battle of the war was fought, is without any monument to remember those who died there.

One of Sri Lanka’s most prominent advocates on behalf o missing persons, Sandya Ekneligoda, has received international recognition by being awarded the International ‘Women of Courage’ award, presented by the U.S State Department. The International Women of Courage Award is an American award presented annually to women around the world who have shown courage and leadership, while advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment at personal risk.

STRENGTHENING CREDIBILITY REQUIRES TIME LINE FOR IMPLEMENTING COMMITMENTS

The ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is generating strong hopes and emotions especially in the former war zones of the north and east of the country and amongst the Tamil Diaspora.  Many of the people living there have been direct victims of the war that lasted nearly three decades.  They look to the process unfolding in Geneva to obtain justice for themselves and for their kin.  They are hopeful that international intervention will resolve their problems and bring justice to them.   There is much dissatisfaction about the present situation where progress in finding missing persons, return of land, compensation to victims and demilitarization have been slow in coming.

RELIGIOUS CLERGY TAKE UP CHALLENGE OF PROMOTING INTER ETHNIC RECONCILIATION
In the backdrop of imminent constitutional reforms possibly leading a referendum, religious clergy and civil society activists from across the country 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 Kumaratunge and Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms Mano Tittawella at a national symposium organised by the National Peace Council (NPC). More than 360 persons participated in the symposium.

PROTECTION OF MINORITY RIGHTS MUST INCLUDE SEXUAL MINORITIES
As an organization that believes in equality for all and non-discrimination, the National Peace Council views the recent decision of the government not to proceed with legal reform that decriminalizes homosexuality as both disappointing and a setback to a culture of protecting minority rights in general. The presence of archaic laws does not reflect positively on either the Sri Lankan legislature or on the cultural enlightenment and tolerance of the population at large.

GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO CAMPAIGN HARDER FOR RECONCILIATION
There is growing scepticism both locally and internationally about the government’s commitment to deliver on the promises regarding the reconciliation process that it made during the last elections. These concerns have surfaced with the initial governmental response to the report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms appointed by the Prime Minister. Some government members have publicly criticized the report. The Task Force report is one that is victim-centered and would also go a considerable part of the distance to meet the expectations of the international community and those who believe in international standards when it comes to matters of human rights.

NEED TO REFORM STATE INSTITUTIONS TO ENSURE JUSTICE TO ALL IN THE NEW YEAR
The need for the reform of state institutions to suit post-war conditions has become highlighted by a pattern of recent incidents. During the past year the rise of inter-religious tensions particularly in the North and East was marked, with an increase in hate speech, acts of physical violence and illegal constructions. Those who engaged in such acts did so as if they enjoy impunity which is not in the interest of national reconciliation and ethnic harmony. The responsibility of the government is to ensure that the Rule of Law is applied at all times whether it concerns those who occupy positions of religious or secular leadership. The police need to be trained to be pluralist and secular in their outlook and to take action whoever may break the law. The National Peace Council calls for all state institutions to be reformed to be in consonance with the requirements of a post-war multi ethnic and multi religious society.

IMMEDIATE DETERRENT ACTION NEEDED TO ERADICATE INTER-COMMUNITY VIOLENCE
After a two year lull that followed replacement of the former government through the electoral process, public manifestations of inter community tension have increased in recent months. There are indications of political maneuvering behind these efforts to disturb the peace in the country and to bring ethno-religious nationalism to the fore. Video footages of religious clergy engaging in vitriolic attacks on those of other ethnic and religious groups have gone viral on the social media. Ethno nationalist organizations have been engaging in hate campaigns and intimidating those of other communities at the local level. Most notably in the North and East, there are clashes being reported on inter religious grounds. There are many incidents of religious clergy getting involved in expansionist projects, such as religious conversions, destruction of ancient sites or building places of worship in areas where they are less numerous

RESTORING NORMALCY IS A PRIORITY
The importance of restoring normalcy to the North has become evident in the aftermath of the fatal shooting incident involving two university students. The students were shot by police when they failed to stop at a police check point in the early hours of the morning. Students and businesses in Jaffna have been engaging in public protests. There are suspicions voiced in the North that this was a planned incident to deliberately create tensions which would justify a continued strong military presence. In a context in which the North (and East) of the country continue to remain militarized, with large contingents of military personnel in the two provinces, such incidents are also bound to be seen in ethnic terms and therefore contribute to a spiral of negative sentiment.

HEED THE VOICE FROM THE NORTH AND ANSWER ALLEGATIONS
The protest march and mass rally organized by the Tamil People’s Council in Jaffna has been criticized by the government and generated misgivings in the rest of the polity. The TNA, which is the main Tamil party in North has disavowed the protest. It has said that launching a protest march like Eluga Thamil (Rise Up Tamils!) is not beneficial to the Tamil people at this time when discussions are being conducted for a new constitution. On the other hand, the protest has the support of Tamil parties and groups that are outside of the present constitutional talks and other government-led reconciliation processes. The large number of people who attended the rally, estimated to be 10-15,000 indicates a substantial degree of public participation and support for the protest.

OMP IS A PART OF A LARGER PROCESS OF TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE
The passage of the Office of Missing Persons bill (OMP), albeit in controversial circumstances in Parliament, augers well for the forward movement of the reconciliation process. The National Peace Council welcomes the new law, and the legal foundation of the first of the four transitional justice mechanisms that the government has pledged to establish. We are disappointed that the Joint Opposition members failed to cooperate with the parliamentary process, and refused to debate the new law according to the agreed schedule in parliament. It was unfortunate that those who were human rights champions in the 1980 and 1990s, and widely admired for this, displayed their opposition to OMP by word and deed.

THE INDEPENDENCE DAY BOOST TO NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
The singing of the national anthem in Tamil that marked the end of the Independence Day celebration was a strong gesture of reconciliation by the government. It was one of the most significant actions taken to lessen the sense of alienation of the Tamil speaking people and make them feel a sense of equal belonging to the national polity. It will also reignite hope and confidence that the government will stay true to its mission of healing the wounds of many decades of inter-ethnic strife and war. The issue of language has long been an emotive and divisive one. The boycott of the Independence Day events by the opposition and the government’s mixed messages on the implementation of the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council were indications of the pressures that exist within the polity.

ALL MANIFESTATIONS OF HATE SPEECH MUST BE BANNED BY LAW
The sudden display of “Sinha le” posters and stickers in public places, private motor vehicles including buses and three wheelers, and on social media, gives the appearance of being part of an organized political campaign that seeks to exploit nationalist emotions. The term “Sinhale” was used during the period of Western colonial invasion that began in the 16th century to represent that part of the country that remained free of colonial rule. However, today it being given the meaning of “Sinhala blood” by being broken into two parts as “Sinha Le” with the second part being depicted in red. While the word “Sinhale” is part of the country’s historical tradition, its current usage through posters, sticker, social media and on properties of ethnic and religious minorities is a form of severe intimidation to them. When these words are spray painted on their properties it constitutes hate speech which is prohibited in international law to which Sri Lanka is signatory.

PRESIDENT’S PARDON SETS TONE FOR SPIRIT OF TRANSITION PROCESS
President Maithripala Sirisena gave concrete expression to his ideals of healing Sri Lanka’s post war wounds when he utilized his presidential powers to pardon a former member of the LTTE Sivarajah Jeneevan who had been convicted and imprisoned for having attempted to assassinate him in 2005 when he was Minister of Mahaweli Development. This symbolic and healing gesture coincided with the first year anniversary of his becoming President.

FACTIONAL INFIGHTING CAN UNDERMINE POLITICAL SOLUTION
The government has declared its intention of prioritizing constitutional reform in the New Year. Parliament is to be converted into a Constituent Assembly (parliamentary committee) that will deliberate on issues pertaining to a new constitution. The government has also appointed a 24 member committee drawn from political and civil society leaders to obtain the views of the people and feed them back to the parliamentary committee. The promise to amend the constitution was made by government leaders at both the last presidential and general elections that took place in January and August of this year. Their main pledge was to abolish the executive presidency and to change the electoral system from one based on proportional representation to a mixed system of proportional representation and first-past-the-post voting in which parliamentary seats would be apportioned in proportion to the total number of votes obtained by each of the political parties. There is a general consensus in society about the need to reduce the power of individuals elected to power and to ensure their accountability.

CREDIBILITY OF TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE MECHANISMS IS ESSENTIAL
Among the festering wounds of Sri Lanka’s protracted war that came to its bitter end 7 years ago is the fate of at least 20,000 persons who went missing and whose names have been registered with the Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (the Commission) which was established in August 2013. The Cabinet of Ministers has approved draft legislation to establish an Office of Missing Persons, which is intended to expedite the search for missing persons and bring closure to their loved ones. It also ratified the Convention against Enforced Disappearance as promised at the UN Human Rights Council session in September 2015 in Geneva.

About us

The National Peace Council (NPC) was established as an independent and impartial national non-government organization