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.

Why devolution of power is required by the minority communities - by R.M.B.Senanayake

The Kachcheri

During the colonial regime the public services at the village or field level were provided through the Kachcheris. There were also the Divisional Revenue Officers and the Village Headmen who had their offices to deal with the public.
The registration of births, deaths, marriages as well as land was done in the Kachcheri. The Government Agent was the head of the civil administration in the district. He even had some police power and was expected to read out the Riot Act before the Police could shoot to suppress a civil commotion.The British were primarily but not solely interested in maintaining law and order and collecting tax revenue to fund the government expenditure without being a burden to the home country. Only the technical departments like Irrigation and Survey had their own field offices under the control of their head offices. This system of governance based on administrative devolution or decentralization worked reasonably well to provide the limited services undertaken by the State. Any lapses were at the level of the village headmen. But it was not democracy at work. In a democracy the people who are being governed should have a reasonable say in the decision-making and should be able to hold the decision makers accountable to them. The British had introduced a totally bureaucratic system of governance with no place for the people to exert any influence in decision making or administrative processes.

The advent of the MP – Power without responsibility

After Independence and particularly after 1956, governance has been completely transformed although the structures may remain under different names. After the social mobilization of the masses in 1956 the elected Member of Parliament in the Sinhalese areas, began to play a dominant role in the district administration in the name of the local people. They began to exert pressure on the GA and the district and divisional level officers. The MPs interfered even in the internal administration of the Kachcheri and other field offices.
But the Tamil politicians had no such space to follow their Sinhalese counterparts. The Sinhalese MPs were a law unto themselves and nobody in the State machinery, not even in the police, could hold them to account. They now act with sole disregard to the law and are doing so with impunity. They failed to appreciate that public administration in a democratic state had to be carried out in a transparent manner and in conformity to the law and the Financial Regulations which bound all government officials. They became petty kings of the district and still are.
Was the system democratic? Not really since they were not accountable to the people. The people should control their elected representatives who exercise power in their name. This is done through the institutions set up by the people in the Constitution like the independent Judiciary and the Police who are required to act according to the Police Ordinance and the Criminal Procedure Code. But the MPs were able to prevail over these institutions of the people.
This system could not function since the role of the MP in district administration had no legal basis. In law he was a Member of Parliament and his duties were in relation to law making. But they preferred to exercise power at the district level where their political interest lay. But their interference undermined the efficiency of the services provided by the Kachcheris. Apart from any arguments for devolution to ensure the participation of the people, the district administration has to be made more efficient. This requires accountability of the bureaucracy to the people.
But the Member of Parliament cannot be equated to the people. The MP is only a creature of Parliament although attempts were made by SLFP governments to confer legal authority on them through the appointment of a District Political Authority. But this was not a structure compatible with democracy. It was giving power without responsibility – the privilege of the harlot. If we want active participation of the people then a considerable measure of devolution of power to the locally elected politicians is necessary as pointed out by De Tocqueville who also pointed out that the woes of local democracy requires more not less democracy.
But their power must be accompanied by accountability as the people must pay for the wrong doing of their representatives through local taxation. The gap in actual performance and the performance expected by the people cannot be bridged unless the people understand the processes of administration in a democratic framework where accountability is to be enforced not by tying up errant officials to trees but through due process of law and internal administrative procedures in organizations.
But they certainly need to be held accountable and the present structure of centralized governance is wanting in this respect. The present administration in the districts seems to be in disarray with politicians ruling the roost. The public have to learn how to control the bureaucracy and their elected representatives and this requires them to be empowered not individually but as a Council. The local councils should as far as possible be free from party politics in their decision-making.

The self interest of politicians

Politicians who get into power want to use their power for their self interest although they may pretend to serve the public interest. They serve the public interest only when such interest coincides with their own interest in pursuit of perpetuation of power, privilege and influence. So while the bureaucrats have to be held accountable so should the politicians. This requires a politically neutral police and an independent judiciary both in the Center and in the Provinces.
The colonial regime is often accused of practicing divide and rule. But after 1956 our politicians have done the same. They appealed to differences in caste, ethnicity and religion to win votes and come to power. In the process they alienated the minorities. Once in power they catered exclusively to those who had voted for them and sometimes took revenge on those who voted for other parties. All this is accepted as democracy although it flouts the very foundations of democracy.

Misunderstanding the State

The State is different from society and stands apart from it. Our politicians educated in Swabasha do not understand what constitutes the State. The State refers to the aggregate of relatively permanent institutions of governance. The police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy are structures of the state. Like Louis XIV of France our Presidents after 1978 think they are the State. They think what is in their interest is the same as the public interest. So the Attorney General withdraws criminal cases of murder and rape against members of the ruling party. There is no longer any Rule of Law. In this set up the minorities don’t count and can be dispensed with and that has happened since 1958 riots.
Our ruling politicians also see the state as an autonomous institution, autonomous from society as well as from the UN. Since they are the state it means they are autonomous and sovereign too. They believe in a centralized state which gives them unlimited power. But the centralized state has not filled the aspirations of the people – be they Tamils or Sinhalese. Ask any Sinhalese in the villages whether he is satisfied with the state offices he comes into contact with and you will invariably be told that the police, the grama sevaka or the District Secretary’s office are unsatisfactory. Just imagine how they would treat the Tamils or Muslims when the Sinhalese themselves get shoddy treatment.

Need for Devolution to ensure rights

It is in this set up that the minorities need an entry point into this politicized state which will ensure them some consideration. They need such an entry point below the level of the centralized national government. They have been asking for Provincial Councils as provided for in the 13th Amendment. They need to have such a Council to ensure that business can be carried out in the Tamil language and through Tamil speaking officers. They need to control the bureaucracy not in the way that the Sinhalese politicians do but in a democratic way through lawful methods of accountability. There is no place for para-military autocrats in their midst. They need elected bodies and such bodies should function in the usual ways that democracies function.
These elected politicians can then articulate their policies to reflect their needs and priorities. A dual control of the bureaucracy both by the central government and the provincial council will not work. No man can serve two masters. Dual control will lead also to divide and rule management. This doesn’t mean that the local politicians can ride rough shod over the local bureaucracy as is the case among the Sinhalese. While the colonial rulers manipulated the diverse ethnic groups into a functional state, the post Independence custodians of power have merely intensified the hatred and widened the divide between the communities. Outwardly there is no sign of ethnic disunity because the north and east are under tight control through the military. There is no freedom from fear since the buck stops at the military and the civil administration is playing second fiddle to the military
Hegemonic nationalists oppose any devolution. They assert that any relaxation of direct control or authority introduces the possibility of secession. But safeguards can be put in place both constitutionally and administratively. This problem has to be addressed but it is no fundamental ground for rejecting devolution. The removal of the concurrent list is not enough. The Provincial Council offices should rank as equal to the Ministry offices of the central government and their field offices should not be in a position to give orders to the latter. The best course is for the Central Government Ministries to work through the Provincial Council offices in respect of functions within their purview.

Mobile Friendship

The estate Tamil population who lives isolated from the Sinhala speaking majority of the rural population needs to be recognized as a significant section of the Sri Lankan society. However, the gap between Sinhala and Estate Tamil communities has not yet minimized. At present, the post war phase, there is a need for a program to bring them into a united alliance. However, the Estate Tamils have been confined to their estates in the past, under the present complex social conditions; they have to make contacts with the wider society to fulfill their needs. Is this arena, the rights that are enjoyed by the rural citizens should also be given to the estate population. The Estate Tamils who are the citizens of this country are also entitled to all the civil rights enjoyed by other people. There should be adequate opportunities for them to approach the government officers to acquire necessary government services that are available. Estate populations, who sell their labor for livelihood needs, have no idea or understanding about their civil needs.

The issue of citizenship rights of these people began with the neglect of the citizenship of up country Tamils by the unitary constitutional provisions of 1947 and the Sri Lanka Citizenship Act of 1948. Though the majority of Estate Tamils have got there citizenship by 1990’s, there are many unsolved problems of their citizenship rights.  Although, awareness about their rights was created through the support of the Grama Sewaka’s, yet the distance between the Superintendent and the Estate population provided no space for such services. Even though they have made aware of their civil needs, still they need to travel a long way to the divisional secretariat office. If they go for such services there is always the risk of losing their daily wages. Since there work cannot be completed in one day they need re-visit these offices several time. By doing so, these daily wage earners are at a risk of loosing their day’s pay and most of their work is hindered due to language barriers. Considering the above factors a mobile a program was organized to provide National Identity cards and Birth certificates to the Edurapola Estate population of Bulathkohupitiya D.S area of Kegalla district.

The problem was coordinated by Bulathkohupitiya social activists in collaboration with the Bulathkohupitiya D.S office. The first task of this program was to focus the attention of the people on important documents and services such as Birth Certificates, National Identity cards, voting rights WPF and WTUF. By this program their approach to other services and other civil rights was enhanced. The program provided them the necessary documents to face security checks without any fear. The Estate workers also became aware of their voting rights, which they were longing for a while; they were relieved from the problem of getting their rights. Minimizing the gap between the government officers and the Estate workers along with other communities paved way to build trust and friendship among them.


President Mahinda Rajapaksa replied to his government’s detractors at the second anniversary celebration of the war victory over the LTTE.  Although the President showed no signs of anxiety that his government was under siege by sections of the international community on the issue of human rights violations in the last phase of the war he sought to address those concerns.  He argued that the war victory and elimination of terrorism had established genuine human rights in the country.  What was important, he opined, was to liberate the people so that they could enjoy their human rights.  In addition, the President stressed the importance of ensuring development for the people and emphasized the role of the victorious troops in this development process.

So far the main showpieces of the government’s success in achieving development have been in the area of infrastructure development.  The claims of high rates of economic growth have been vitiated in the minds of most people due to the high inflation that has eaten away at their purchasing power.  But the hope of future prosperity has been sustained by the infrastructure projects, that include the new port built at Hambantota, the power plant at Norochcholai and the international airport being constructed at Weerawila. Without a doubt the most widespread sign of infrastructure development has been the road network being upgraded in different parts of the country.

A black and gleaming road with white lines in the middle can transform the appearance of an area. Parts of the hill country have been a beneficiary of this investment, with the carpeted roads in lush green and terraced surroundings making a beautiful picture. The approach road to the town of Mannar in the north west extremity of the country is another such example, though it is the sea that provides the background not mountains.  Mannar is a town that has long being neglected both on account of having been in a war zone for three decades and being far from the mainstream of the economic life of the country. However, the new road that connects Mannar to the rest of the country, and the long bridge that connects Mannar Island to the mainland, is an impressive sight that conveys an impression of modernity.


Residents of Mannar concur that the town has seen more development of its infrastructure in the past two years after the end of the war than in the decades that came before. During most of the war period, Mannar Island on which the town of Mannar is located, remained under the control of the government.  There was also a brief period in the early 1990s when it came under LTTE control.  It became a site of heavy fighting in the battles for its control. At that time the population evacuated setting a precedent for later evacuations in other parts of the north that culminated in the tragedy of the last phase of war, with its hostage and human shield situation that was exploited by the LTTE. The scars of war can still be seen with the shells of buildings destroyed in the fighting still remaining. 

The upgraded road to the important Catholic shrine of Madhu Church is a part of the development that has taken place in Mannar. The Madhu shrine is an important symbol of the links that bind the north and south, Sinhalese and Tamils together, as it is a place of common religious worship.  During the war period, Madhu was home to one of the largest welfare centres for internally displaced persons.  Even today there still remain a few thousands of internally displaced people in the area.  But overshadowing their presence is the fact that the Madhu shrine has once again become a site of pilgrimage for people from all parts of the country.  This also enhances the prospect of Mannar as a tourist destination in the future. 

The tourist potential of Mannar Island will be further enhanced once the railroad to Talaimannar are laid again.  The railway lines were sabotaged during the war by the LTTE, and used to make bunkers.  The railroad bed has now been cleared of jungle and land mines with the assistance of the Indian government.  Once the railway is functioning it will be possible to restart the ferry service to India, from the Talaimannar pier which is the closest point to India.  It was reported that Indian workers have been at work, including Sikhs with their turbans, which makes them unmistakable.  A complaint that community leaders in Mannar made was that so far employment opportunities for the local people on the rail road project have been limited and it is hoped that this will change.


Despite the impressive signposts of development, there is a problem of reconciliation that festers.  There still remains a problem of thousands of LTTE cadre held incommunicado by the military.  The government has failed to provide the name lists to their families.  As a result no one knows whether they are living or dead.  The lack of closure which prevents families from closing the door to the past, creates bitterness and frustration which is the reverse of reconciliation that is needed after war.  The government’s focus on infrastructure development is not going to resolve this problem, which requires a commitment to human rights that is implemented at the community level in accordance with the vision spelt out by President Rajapaksa in his latest victory speech..

Another problem that requires attention is the competition between adherents of the different religions who wish to stamp their identity and ensure their place.  In Mannar, with its predominantly Catholic population, it is the Catholic Church that is taking a leading role in consolidating its presence. This is causing tension with the Hindu and Muslim adherents. A Christian statue that has come up on public land at the entrance to the town is an example of a phenomenon that takes place in other parts of the country as well, where the majority religion of the area asserts itself. Another source of inter religious tension is the activity of the omnipresent military which is putting up Buddhist shrines, especially in locations where there are Bo trees.  A new temple is coming up at Murunkan on a piece of land that has a small Hindu shrine where there is a Bo tree.

With the military dominating civil governance in Mannar, as it does in the rest of the north and east, the people find it difficult to look to the government to be a neutral arbiter in resolving these conflicts.  Until such time as the government restores civil administration in Mannar, and indeed the rest of the north and east, it is likely to be only NGOs and civil society groups that could do such peace and reconciliation work with credibility.  However, they are not given permission by the government to form community groups for such purposes. It appears that the government is concerned about anti-government and pro-LTTE ideologies being imparted to people that could stir up trouble in the future.  Even in death, and amidst victory celebrations, it appears that the ghost of the LTTE haunts the government and reconciliation is yet to come.