Workshops and seminars on democracy, good governance, pluralism, the proposed constitution and Transitional Justice are organized for DIRC members and other participants such as lawyers, doctors, university academics, school principals, teachers and entrepreneurs.
The purpose of the project is to build consensus on the idea of a conflict transformation mechanism for reconciliation such as a truth and reconciliation commission within the framework of transitional justice and a political solution to the ethnic conflict. The need is to popularise ideas of transitional justice, recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, conflict transformation, good governance and principles of pluralism to the public within the framework of reconciliation.
The target groups are influential intermediaries, especially the academics, national level religious leaders, journalists and CSOs. The target groups have been selected for two reasons. A part of them are ground level opinion leaders – district level religious leaders and novice monks, trainee priests, junior clerics and junior Hindu priests who are future community level religious leaders. The district level religious leaders who constitute the membership of the DIRCs are those who play an important role in maintaining inter religious and inter-ethnic harmony at ground level. This has been borne out by NPCs existing DIRC centred intervention.
IMPACT is being implemented in the 16 districts where DIRCs were established through district level civil society and community based organizations who work as NPC’s district level partner organizations.
During the first year of the project, seven new DIRCs were established in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunegala, Ratnapura, Kalutara, Hambantota and Badulla.
Hambantota town in a multi religious and multi ethnic place; although the majority are Sinhalese, there are populations of Muslims and Tamils.
For many years people of different ethnicities and religions have lived in harmony without disputes or conflicts.
During the early part of 2017, three incidents caused distrust and suspicion between the Sinhala and Muslim communities: Buddha statues had been placed on the main roads leading to the town and there were disputes about removing them; a Muslim youth had killed a Sinhala youth over a personal matter; and for the second time, the glass cover of a Buddha statue in front of a temple was broken by stones that were thrown at it.
The Chief Police Inspector of Hambantota discussed situation with Hambantota DIRC to see what could be done. DIRC members also met government officials as well as members of the Hambantota Trade Union and the Chief Incumbent of the Jayabodhi Temple. Efforts were made to meet and discuss the issues with the Muslim community.
DIRC organized a dialogue with religious leaders, with collaboration from Hambantota Police Headquarters, getting together those directly and indirectly related to the incidents. There were also 65 people representing various sectors who participated in the dialogue.
A Co-existence Committee was established that included police officers, religious leaders and civil organization representatives. The Chief Police Inspector agreed to support the work of the committee, whose primary role was to take action to minimize conflicts.
A sticker pasting programme was launched to create awareness among the people of the town. Police officers, religious leaders, DIRC members and members of other civil organizations pasted 1,000 stickers, bearing the message, “stand together for religious coexistence” at commercial locations as well as in buses and three wheelers.
DIRC Batticaloa organised a peace walk through Batticaloa town to urge the government to focus on several important issues facing the country including the abolition of the Executive Presidency, Constitutional reform, finding missing persons, releasing of political prisoners and punishment for corruption.
Around 300 religious leaders, civil rights activists and community leaders carried slogans in three languages calling for peace and harmony among the ethnic communities in Sri Lanka. The participants at the walk also distributed leaflets containing quotes about peace and the values of all religions.
At the end of the walk, religious leaders from the Batticaloa district spoke on the threats to democracy and religious harmony and urged the government to address these issues as soon as possible.
Moneragala District Inter Religious Committee (DIRC) organized a dialogue on building trust and fellowship among a group of Muslims, Tamils and Sinhalese from different areas of the district. The event took place in Bakinigahawela village in the Monaragala district, which is a Muslim village.
The objective of the visit by Sinhalese and Tamil people to the village was to rebuild trust by understanding Islamic cultural and religious customs and to remove various misconceptions about the religion and its people.
Conflicts had arisen between Muslims and Sinhalese in the area over misunderstandings about Muslims killing cows and allegations that they control the Sinhala population growth through devious means.
The visitors participated in a clean up of the school premises. Then they went to three mosques in the village to have a dialogue with the Moulavis. They returned to the school and discussed their experiences during the visit. Many referred to the fact that Muslims and Sinhalese had lived in harmony in the past. Some people sang peace songs. The visitors and the villagers asked and answered questions, told stories and gave opinions.