Vision & Mission

Vision: A peaceful and just country in which freedom, human and democratic rights of all people are assured.

Mission:To work in partnership with different target groups to educate, mobilize and advocate to build a society of rights conscious citizens and a political culture that enables a political solution to the ethnic conflict and equal opportunities to all.

Monday, June 6, 2011


 The second year anniversary of the war’s end was overshadowed by the 2600th anniversary of the Buddha’s Enlightenment which fell on May 17.  The Sambuddhattva Jayanthi celebrations organized by the government were on a scale that was hitherto unprecedented.  Military personnel from the armed forces were deployed to put up lanterns and other decorations along the main roads in Colombo and other important towns, including Jaffna.  So did many households including my children who created their own decorations to put up and be part of the larger celebration.  Together with thousands of people from out of Colombo who thronged to the capital city to see the sights, they joined in the Vesak spirit of sharing, partaking of the free food at the dansalas, especially the ice cream dansalas.

However, the grim reality of the costly thirty year war shadowed the Sambuddattva Jayanthi celebrations.  After the main celebrations were over, the government announced that the month commencing May 19 to be War Heroes month.  This was to commemorate the sacrifice of the Sri Lankan soldiers, including those tens of thousands who made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to safeguard the country’s unity.  Among other activities, the government announced that Ranaviru flags would be sold, and the proceeds used to support the lives of those families of soldiers who had lost their lives and to uplift the lives of those who had been disabled in the war.

In the north of the country, the spirit of celebration was less spontaneous, with less light and joy than in Colombo and other southern towns.  Although the military had decorated the streets of Jaffna with the support of sections of the business community and people, the enthusiasm came more from the outside in the form of thousands of pilgrims from the south.  Jaffna’s Nagadeepa is host to one of the most sacred sites of Sri Lankan Buddhism. 

Commemoration ceremonies for those who lost their lives in May 2009 were held with circumspection this year in the north.  Last year when they were held, the government and military saw these ceremonies as attempts to remember the LTTE and took action to prevent them.  This time when such commemoration ceremonies were held the organizers made specific mention that it was not to support the memory of the LTTE, but of the kith and kin who had died in the war in its last phase.


The month of May 2009 in which the war came to an end has a mixed element for the people of the north.  For many of them, particularly those from the four districts of the Vanni--Mannar, Vavuniya, Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu--the month of May would have been the worst one of their lives.  They were held hostage by the LTTE as human shields in the face of the approaching Sri Lankan army.  The grief and terror of personal loss would have been accompanied by relief when the war ended.  Those who have experienced war at first hand would not wish for it to continue but would want it to end. 

The subject of civilian casualties in the last phase of the war is a matter of dispute today. Sections of the international community are taking the position that as many as 40,000 civilians or even more could have lost their lives in the last phase of the war.  The government position is that civilian casualties were minimized through its strict policy of zero tolerance for civilian casualties.   During a recent visit to two districts of the Vanni region I was able to speak to about ten families, all of whom said that they had lost a family member, some even more. But this cannot be taken as a norm.  A community leader gave another example of a village of about 150 families where 35 had died which in that case worked out to about one casualty for four families.

The roads within the Vanni were in very poor shape, highly uneven gravel roads for the most part, which made a 40 kilometer drive take around three hours, and which gives an idea of the poor state of the infrastructure.  Hardly any buildings were intact and most of the people were living in temporary shelters.  It was difficult to talk to them about the war. Invariably when I asked them what had happened, there would be moist eyes and faraway looks and it seemed unfair to continue to question them along those lines when there was nothing I could do to directly assist them.  So I asked them what they wanted most to happen next. 


Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a well known motivational theory in psychology that argues that while people aim to meet basic needs, they seek to meet successively higher needs in the form of a hierarchy. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchial pyramid with five levels. The four levels (lower-order needs) are considered physiological needs, while the top level is considered growth needs. The lower level needs need to be satisfied before higher-order needs can influence behavior.

In response to my query what did they want most to happen as a next step, none of the people I met said that they wanted punishment of wrongdoers on either side of the divide.. One person said that both sides had done wrong and now it was time to move ahead.  Nor is there any evident desire to glorify the LTTE or see its resurrection.  In fact one community leader said several rehabilitated LTTE cadre who had gone back to their villages in Jaffna had decided to leave along with their families to start a new life in the Vanni, because their home village people mocked them.

It was the economic problem of survival that was uppermost in the minds of the people I met. All of them said they want jobs to look after their children.  This was their main request.  There were large extents of land that were uncultivated and needed to be cleared. But many families did not have enough males of working age to do the work.  They also did not have the capital to invest, either in seeds or in fertilizer, or to hire tractors for land clearing purposes.  They also said that they did not receive assistance from the government to restart their livelihoods.  According to all of them I spoke to, they had only received a cash grant of Rs 25,000 at the time they were taken from the welfare centres and brought back to their home villages.  They were also provided with asbestos sheets for temporary shelter. 

The much talked about Northern Spring economic initiative of the government seemed to consist of government buildings in the process of construction. There was one road that I saw being constructed with concrete at its base, and there are others that may be following.  The government is talking about Rs 270 billion to be invested in the north in the near future.  This may be the government’s infrastructure-centred development, but it is not people-centred as most people in those areas do not even know what the buildings are for. There is a clear need for consultation with the people of the area or with their elected representatives when the government makes decisions regarding northern development projects and indeed this is true all over the country.

But there is also a difference.  The people of the Vanni are particularly disempowered and poor, and they are marginalized and cut off from the mainstream of social and political life. Although living in the north, they are differently situated from even from the people of Jaffna who have relatives abroad who can support them, and have access to infrastructure facilities that war has not destroyed.  Even without much government assistance, Jaffna is a constantly developing city, with private investment coming in, which is transforming its appearance.  But the Vanni requires special attention. 

At a time when the government is spent millions to light up Vesak for the Sambuddhattva Jayanthi and is prepared to spend billions for the bid to host the next Commonwealth Games in the President’s hometown of Hambantota, surely the government is duty bound to give some priority to this section of its people who have been the worst victims of the war. So far it has not.

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