29 Priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop in Padaththarippu Retreat House Jaffna Sri Lanka from the 01st - 04th February 2016 with the theme of “Reconciliation among us and Communities” with 02 exposures held in two different locations: Mulaithivu and Kilinochchi on the 01st February. Prior to the workshop, there were 02 exposures for the participants of the workshop.
The first group that went to Mulaithivu who had an overview of the situation of the women-headed families of the area, were given a brief description by the coordinator of the various initiatives taken by some of them to alleviate their economic plight.
After lunch the group proceeded to Keppapaulu to visit a village that has been occupies by the navy. The entire village of nearly 200 families has been occupied by the navy, depriving the villagers not only access to their lands, coconut cultivation but also to their paddy lands as well as fishing in the sea.
On our way back from the village, the participants visited the location of the bunkers where Frs Neru & Mariadas spent their last days, caught between life and death, before they eventually surrendered to the forces on 19th May 2009. A painful reminder of what the people went through in the final stages of the war.
The group led by Fathers Jeyabalan and Nandana met the women-headed families, the victims of war, the expulsion and riots in the south of the country. Most of these ladies that had fled plantation areas in the hill-country during the riots starting from 1980, had settled down in the vicinity of Kilinochchi, only to be chased away successively from the lands they had cultivated. One lady, it was mentioned, has been relocated seven times and with the war, moved up to Mulaithivu from where they were housed in camps. Now back in lands, with no entitlements, managing to eke out a meager existence.
Small income generating projects have been introduced to them by the Church but are less optimistic as economic and employment openings are scarce and limited for their husbands and children, which applies equally to the other areas in Jaffna.
The meeting begun in the afternoon of 02nd commenced with the presentation of the reports by the two groups followed by a lengthy discussion. The discussion included the various initiatives taken by some of the members and the Encounter of the widows held in Kandy facilitated by Ms. Monica, a trained counselor. While 46 members attended the “Encounter”, from both communities, Tamil and Sinhalese, suffered the same trauma of the country. The ladies from the south were the wives and or mothers of the disappeared. The encounter was a step in the direction of “Reconciliation” and supporting each other in their effort to start life anew.
Day three was completely devoted for a discussion of the proposals for a new constitution to be submitted to the Constitutional Council before the end of March. The most important issues were discussed by the members. Father Jeyabalan and Ruki made a number of useful suggestions while leading the discussion. Father Nandana briefed the members of the submission that was already made by the Human Rights Office to the Constitutional Council in Kandy.
The Vicar General of the Jaffna diocese, Rev Fr Jebartnam joined the group, representing the Bishop and briefed the participants of the initiatives taken by the diocese for reconciliation.
On the final day, the discussion was centred around presentations of Ruki on the status of the recommendations made by the Human Rights Council and the response, so far, by the Sri Lankan government.
This was followed by a presentation by Fr. Jeyabalan on the new developments, an alternative approach to the national question, by some members of the Tamil community.
Both these presentations were followed by discussions. Father Nandana, updated the group on various legal interventions on behalf of a number of victims, including Rita a rape victim, whose case was dragged on for 14 years, and the acquittal of some illegally arrested persons. The last item being the ‘future structure and the form of the RPHR It was agreed that the present form be continued with the participation of laypersons in one of the meetings.
The days for the next meeting are: 25-28 July 2016 at Fatima Retreat House, Lewella – Kandy
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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