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The continuing surveillance of civil society events - NPC

2014 Aug 19

The issue of security forces personnel in uniform and intelligence officers in plain clothes performing surveillance of civil society activities in the North and East has been widely reported in the post-war period.   There are reports that this surveillance includes social functions such as weddings, puberty ceremonies, memorial services in addition to seminars and workshops organized by civil society organizations in the North

On three occasions in the past month, the National Peace Council regrets to note that activities under its inter-religious reconciliation programme have been subjected to surveillance by the security forces. Two of these events have been outside the former war zones of the North and East, which suggests that the practice of surveillance is encompassing the entire country.

In Kandy, where we were conducting an inter-religious dialogue inside a private hall of a reputed civil society organization of long standing, we were informed that intelligence personnel had entered the hall in civvies and were recording the discussion. In Galle, where we held a programme that brought children and their parents together from all communities, we had invited the local police to attend, and also informed the Mayor.  However, another police team came to investigate the programme.  They left after the local police explained the programme to them.  In Addalaichenai in the East, where we held a youth amity camp, we had once again informed the local police and local government authorities.  But despite their presence, uniformed military personnel with weapons had come and questioned the organizers of the programme on three separate occasions over a two day period.

The National Peace Council is only involved in advocacy and promoting reconciliation in the post war environment.  One of the most devastating legacies of violent conflict is the polarization of social relationships. A perpetuation of the conditions of insecurity will contribute to the creation of a lasting social mistrust between the communities and jeopardize reconciliation and lead to the emergence of forces that have no faith in peaceful methods to rectify their grievances as happened in the 1970s when the extremists displaced the non-violent Tamils who believed in negotiations rather than violence.

Hence engaging with the people in the North and East are essential requirements for social reconciliation.  We think the support of the civil society in the North and East is necessary for the pursuit of reconciliation. This is in the best interest of promoting a single united State including the peoples of the North and East. We do not think it is in the interest of reconciliation and the cause of promotion of a single Sri Lankan State to isolate the people of the North and East from those in the South who are interested in their problems including those relating to their human rights. So we ask the question from those who impose surveillance on us when we meet with the people of the North and East, and hold inter-religious events outside the North and East, whether it is in the interest of the promotion of peace and reconciliation.

In the Inter-Religious programme the National Peace Council works with the clergy of all religions as recommended by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and by the National Human Rights Action Plan, both of which the government has pledged to implement.   The inter-religious committees supported by NPC are meant to promote reconciliation and strengthen relations between the different ethnic and religious communities.  We make it a point to invite similarly motivated government officials to join us in this work, and in those committees.

The government needs to recognize that the surveillance of civil society activities by members of the security forces strikes fear and resentment in the minds of people, and especially those of the ethnic and religious minorities.  It leads to self-censorship and reluctance to voice their grievances which remain bottled up to fester within the hearts of people who feel they are the victims of injustice.  Ultimately this will lead to a breakdown in feelings of affection towards the government which will make the reconciliation process harder to achieve.

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