The National Peace Council (NPC)

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Implement Action Plan for Human Rights


The abduction and brutal assault on Poddala Jayantha, Secretary of the Working Journalists Association by an unknown group of men in a white van, and the threats leveled against the Centre for Policy Alternatives to conform to the expectations of the unknown party that has written to them, have taken place in a post-war context where the discrediting and labeling of people as anti-national is being taken to an unprecedented level.. Acts of this nature not only undermine the government’s commitment to freedom of the media but also remind us that terror was not only part and parcel of the LTTE but of others as well.  Now that the government has curbed the LTTE’s terror it is time for the government to counter other forms of terror, if we are to move forward united as a country.

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Ensure the Freedom of Movement in Post War Sri Lanka


The government has announced that all restrictions on fishing in the northern seas have been removed. It has also stated that the A9 Highway that connects the Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the country would also be opened for commercial transportation.These two measures will help to restore normalcy in the day to day living of the people. The National Peace Council believes that this positive approach of the government needs to be extended to other areas of national life.

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Government Needs To Address Breakdown Of Law and Victimisation of Tamils


At this time when attention is focused on the last phase of war and on the humanitarian crisis in the north, there is another less publicised crisis that requires urgent attention by national and international entities who are concerned about the fate of Sri Lanka's people.  This concerns the breakdown of law and order and the spate of kidnappings, murders and extortions taking place in the east and other parts of the country.  These incidents have been accompanied on occasion by the killing of the suspects who have been arrested by the Police in shoot outs where they were allegedly trying to escape.

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Prevention of Terrorism Act is Not for Journalists


The prison sentence of 20 years with hard labour passed on a senior journalist and editor of the North Eastern Monthly, J S Tissainayagam has come as a great disappointment to all who cherish the freedom of media and the right to free expression of political ideas.  This is a case that attracted a great deal of publicity, both nationally and internationally, on account of the issues at stake.  The Colombo High Court found Mr Tissainayagam guilty of having violated the Prevention of Terrorism Act by writing articles aimed at creating communal disharmony and for raising money for a publication that violated the law.

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Importance of International Involvement for a Peaceful and Orderly end to the Conflict


In a worrying turn of events, the Sri Lankan government has informed its Norwegian counterpart that it sees no further role for Norway’s facilitative role in the current context.  This rupture in relations comes in the aftermath of an attack on the Sri Lankan embassy in Oslo in which the police failed to provide the embassy with sufficient protection from the attackers.   A few days prior to this incident the Sri Lankan government has also expressed its unhappiness at Norwegian facilitation between the UN and the LTTE to address the humanitarian crisis in the north of the country.  The government’s decision to terminate the Norwegian facilitative role at the present time seems to shut the door to a transformation of the ongoing humanitarian crisis into negotiations involving the LTTE.  It also seems to close all doors to any further negotiations on any surrender terms by the LTTE. The government’s position has been to demand an unconditional surrender of the LTTE.

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Shrinking Space for Dissent

In recent weeks the National Peace Council has become increasingly concerned by arrests, as well as the indirect intimidation, of those who seek to offer an objective view based on their own observations which is independent of the view of government authorities. This is particularly in respect of the humanitarian situation in the North.  Although the Government has severely restricted independent access to these areas, such censorship has not proved to be effective in changing the opinions of the International Community. Although NPC recognises the need to prevent the dissemination of false information about the Vanni, it feels that direct or indirect censorship is unlikely to be productive. Transparent and independent verification is essential in maintaining Sri Lanka's legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.

NPC notes that the Government has expressed its determination to improve the conditions in these areas.  We think such improvements should be brought to the notice of the outside world. NPC also believes that the ethnic conflict is best resolved in a democratic environment and that the pre-requisite of a healthy democracy is the opportunity to form and express opinions, through freedom of information and independent critical thinking.  Such freedoms will help the government to obtain objective views that provide a range of options in finding a solution to the challenges the country faces. These assessments are also essential to enlighten the ordinary citizens on the possible consequences of available options, so that the pros and cons of each option may be freely discussed and their merits compared. Without a free space for dialogue opportunities to transform the root causes of Sri Lanka’s conflict may be missed.

In this context, the National Peace Council is very concerned about the recent arrest of Shantha Fernando, a senior official of the National Christian Council and a human rights activist.  He was reportedly detained at the international airport whilst en route to a seminar in India on the prevailing humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka.  It is understood that his detention is sought to be justified by his possession of material that the government considers to be adverse to the country's security interests.  Some senior leaders of the present government have, when in the opposition, faced similar problems when taking information out of the country and, as such, are in a position to be more understanding of the commitment that drives human rights activists.  NPC holds deep reservations about the arrest and continued detention of Mr Fernando and calls for his release.

NPC also refers to the editor of the Sudar Oli newspaper, N Vithyatharan who was arrested on the grounds that he had information concerning the most recent suicide attack on Colombo by the air wing of the Black Tigers.  As the editor of a leading Tamil newspaper, there is no reason to doubt that Mr. Vithyatharan and his staff were actively involved in investigating this incident at the time it was occurring, as indeed would any other responsible journalist working for a media organisation with daily output.  Although NPC outright rejects any suicide attack due their morally irreprehensible nature, it believes that the media has a right to seek information regarding such incidents in order to disseminate them to the public.

NPC also expresses its dismay at the arrest of the owner of Poobalasingam bookstore, a well known books shop that sells publications in the Tamil and English languages.  This was on the grounds of selling one of the issues of Ananda Vikadan, a Tamil magazine published in Chennai. The issue in question included a story on the LTTE air attack on Colombo with photographs of LTTE members.  Ananda Vikadan magazine is a respected family magazine that has been imported into Sri Lanka from India for over thirty years. Whilst NPC welcomes the decision to release Mr Sritharasing, it believes that if the government disapproved of a story it could simply have confiscated this particular edition of the magazine.

The three arrests and detentions outlined above are all indicative of the shrinking democratic space for dissent and alternative perspectives. NPC is concerned that this could be a precursor to the erosion of further democratic rights as part of the government’s fight against terrorism, which is being fought to protect these very same freedoms.   Such actions would undermine the credibility of such claims of moral legitimacy by the Government.  In addition, we also raise the worsening problem of abductions and extortion by unidentified groups and individuals.  Whether opportunistic or deliberate, these criminal acts are intimidating the civilian population. While emphasizing the need for a political solution, NPC believes the democratic rule of law remains essential for the peaceful coexistence of Sri Lankan society.

NPC acknowledges the complex nature of the present crisis, in which a bitter war is being fought in a conflict zone inundated by civilians and resulting in heavy casualties for all sides. However, we also call for respect for democratic rights and freedoms by all those involved.  As the surest means of conflict transformation, NPC believes it is an imperative to work more speedily towards a political solution to the ethnic conflict on the lines proposed by the All Party Conference summoned by the President.  NPC believes such a solution must be broadened by inclusion of the democratic opposition, including the UNP, TNA and JVP, and accompanied by an environment in which free and unfettered discussion by all sections of the country’s polity is possible.


Governing Council

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organisation 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.

Shrinking Space for Dissent

In recent weeks the National Peace Council has become increasingly concerned by arrests, as well as the indirect intimidation, of those who seek to offer an objective view based on their own observations which is independent of the view of government authorities. This is particularly in respect of the humanitarian situation in the North.  Although the Government has severely restricted independent access to these areas, such censorship has not proved to be effective in changing the opinions of the International Community. Although NPC recognises the need to prevent the dissemination of false information about the Vanni, it feels that direct or indirect censorship is unlikely to be productive. Transparent and independent verification is essential in maintaining Sri Lanka's legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.

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Monitoring Will Provide Incentives for Humanitarian Change in Conflict Zones


The accusations voiced by the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights Navi Pillay are a depressing reminder of the conflict dynamics in Sri Lanka.  She has expressed frustration that "certain actions being undertaken by the Sri Lankan military and by the LTTE may constitute violations of international human rights and humanitarian law".  The combined allegations of forced conscription by the LTTE, and accusations of indiscriminate and disproportionate tactics employed by the government not only threaten catastrophe but also give rise to a new moral dilemma.

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Misguided Beliefs In a Quick End to War


Most people in Sri Lanka and internationally seem to take it for granted that the war is soon coming to an end.  This is on account of the Sri Lankan military's steady progress into the last remaining LTTE-held areas.  Even the UN's head of humanitarian affairs, Sir John Holmes, who recently visited the country advised the government "to take the historic opportunity to swiftly, after the end of fighting, tackle the underlying political issues..."  However, the last stretch on the battlefield is turning out to be slower and more difficult to traverse than anticipated. 

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