A workshop for 30 Human Rights activists of 05 different organizations were held at Lewella Kandy from the 16th November - 18th November 20015.The workshop was facilitated by Mr. Basil Fernando and Sanjeewa Weerawickrama of the Asian Human Rights Commission Hong Kong. The focus of the workshop was on "Law enforcement and the improvement of Human Rights" Group discussions were centered around:
1. The Policing system
2. The Prosecution system
3. The Judicial system
4. The Penal system
A Torture case was also taken up for study which happened two days before the sessions in Katugastota Kandy road where a civilian was severely tortured, when stopped by the Katugastota police to check the license of the driver. The victim was then still at the hospital with chains and therefore, a letter of request was drafted to the National Human Rights Commission by the group and legal process of the case was in depth studied and steps were taken and taught by the facilitator in activating the newly formed Police and Human Rights Commissions.
The Role Of the prison offers in Rehabilitating and Integrating the Prisoners to the Society
A workshop for the prison officers of Pallekele open prison, Bogambara -Dumbara Prison, Wariyapola Prison was held on the 19th November 2015 for 30 prison officers. After an initial in put by Mr Basil Fernando of AHRC a lively discussion continued in protecting prisoners and providing basic basic facilities to the prisoners, adhering the UN document in following the basic , minimal standards in prisons.The prison officials openly spoke of the failure of the government to take into consideration the lack of space provided to the prisoners who are sentenced to long term sentences. The undue delay of judicial system was notee as one of the main causes for the over crowdedness in prisons. It was lso pointed out that there is no systematic method of rehabilitating the prisoners.Shifting of the Bogambara prison to Dumbara without basic facilities and the reason for the sudden shift was also discussed.
Mr Sanjeewa further reminded the prison officers of their duties in documenting according the legal requirements.
"Crisis of the rule of law in Sri Lanka and how it affects the Judiciary and the Lawyers”
A seminar was held with the above theme facilitated by Mr Basil Fernando on the 19th November 2015 at the Kandyn Art Residency for lawyers. With an input by Mr Basil Fernando the discussion continued in restoring the Judiciary and the role of the lawyers.The present court system where conses take priority to trial and the delay in filing indictments by the Attorney General's department due to the lack of staff was noted as a matter that discourages victims to seek justice and the justice system further being allowed to be defective.
The faith of the people in court system has completely being forced to loose as criminal cases are being heard for more than 12- 15 years. The lawyers appealed to the AHRC to intervene in the campaign to restore the judiciary.
A media conference was held at the Kandyn Art Residency on the 19th November by Mr Basil Fernando culminating the discussions that he had with the activists, Lawyers and Prison officers. Mr Basil Fernando pointed out the need for a constitutional reforms to restore the Rule of Law with adequate reforms in the policing system and the Judiciary. He spoke at length about the proposals to do away with the executive presidency citing the 1987 constitution that brought in the powers of the executive president.
Fr Nandana too joined the media conference to explain about the Torture case of Niroshan Rupasinghe as the police officers have given a different version of the incident.
Forty two Priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop in Lewella Retreat House in Kandy Sri Lanka from the 07th to the 10th July 2014, with the theme of “Promoting a Culture and Reconciliation” to study the pastoral letter of the Catholic Bishops Conference Sri Lanka that was released on the 08th December 2013.
The participants were from different dioceses and religious congregations in the country. Very. Rev. Fr. Rohan Silva, the provincial of the OMI congregation facilitated the sessions on the pastoral letter. The participants studied the pastoral letter in depth and made their comments; this was followed by group discussions and participants came out with practical suggestions to implement the guidelines given in the Pastoral letter. It was noted that the 2013 pastoral letter has still not being studied by the priests and religious and therefore the faithful in parishes have not even heard. Therefore the participants cautioned that what happened to 1984 pastoral letter would eventually happen to 2013 pastoral letter There are positives and as well as negatives in the PL. The theological and biblical section was explained by Dr. Shirley Wijesinghe.
The basis for the Bishops to issues of the country arise from the mandate given by Jesus Christ to be the light of the world and salt of the earth (Mt 5), which is a duty on the part of the Christians to be involved in bringing reconciliation in the post-war area. The PL defends the recommendations of the LLRC comes out openly for a new constitution to save the country indicating that the supreme authority given to the President is harmful. There is a comment on Human Right and a separate section on the open-market economy the dangers attached to it. There is unity in diversity which is essential for the pluralism in Sri Lankan society.
There is a need to strategize and to implement the recommendations given in the PL but is mostly for the Government of SL and not even for the people. There was a comment given in the public launching on the 10th December 2013, by the President of the CBCSL which was in line with government policy regarding the international involvement and inquiry. International involvement is clearly mentioned as harmful to sovereignty of the country in the PL. This point has to be bone of contention and point for future discussion and debate. It was also pointed out that in English very title of the PL seems to be discriminatory of the minorities when the term “Nation” was used to include all people living in Sri Lanka, both Sinhalese and Tamil. It is not clear about the terminology of the Sinhala and Tamil versions.
The first sessions began with introductions and sharing of experiences. Some of the experiences betray the fact that there is still harassment by the military at all corners of the life of the people – such as raping of the innocent, widows, rehabilitated youth who are forced to be conscripted to the forces No registration given to orphanages and all orphanages began by the Religious in the North and the East are forced (directly or indirectly to close down) – they circumvent this by starting boarding schools.
The Militarization is continued to this day – by forcing religious rituals (Buddhist pirith recitals daily) by antagonizing the majority of the minorities. It is asserting one –religion over the other. The armed forces have started farms and controlling the agriculture sector controlling the trading in the market affecting civilians. There is lack of freedom for the civilians in the war-tone areas is another visible element, the civilian population is unable to have meetings and even there is free mobility.
The Commemoration of the Dead forbidden for the Tamils on the 18th of May, while the Majority celebrate victory in the South by GoSL by calling the dead-soldiers as heroes. The Southern people do accept this situation and those of the HR activists who speak of the remembrance of the all the dead in the North and South are called traitors who sympathize with the Northern minorities. This fact is mentioned in the LLRC and the PL of the CBCSL.
The problem of the fishermen in Negombo, Kalpitiya and in the North and in the deep South was also discussed. There was no certainty in guarantee of the fuel subsidy by Government of SL. The co-operative sector in the Fisheris sector was discouraged by the Government of SL while they begin new groups on their own. Illegal fishing and the dispute with the Indian fishermen is continued to the detriment of the local fishermen.
Four exposures were organized to coincide with the program. The first group visited the newly build Dumbara prison in Pallekelle. The group was able to meet with the Superintendent Mr. Tissa Jayasinghe and discussed the major issues that the prisoners are confronted with.
The second group visited the tea plantation workers in Hantanea Estate in Kandy. The comments made by the participants revealed the depth of denial of rights to tea plantation workers despite their major contribution to the economy of the country. Though promises have been made by the successive governments to address land ownership issue, they all remained elusive. It was also mentioned that the numerous trade unions found in the plantations in
addition to rendering lip service to the workers, often obstruct any advocacy work done by outsiders including the churches. The participants also visited the Sinhala school in Hantane and found so many Tamil children being forced indirectly to study in Sinhala stream. The problems with low wages and many of the domestic workers emerge within this population without EPF facilities to these women, It was pointed out that in India that the domestics have an organization and they have proceeded to have a Convention for Domestic workers in ILO. There is no improvement for the housing for this Estate population.
The third group visited the new airport site in Maberitenna. The participants were able to visit some of the families who are supposed to be relocated. It was revealed that more than 200 families will be evicted from their houses. Air port is being built by the Air Force soldiers & the RDA at a place where there was a Government farm owned by the NLDB. The people in the area are not interested in the project as their source of income and the whole environment will suffer and the houses are already damaged due to drilling of rocks from the nearby construction site. People do have some hope that if they are evicted that they will be relocated in an alternate land nearby, within the estate.
Out of 260 families around 115 families are Catholics; however the numbers are not confirmed. The Parish not ready to be involved in the issue, there was a suggestion to send a letter to the Bishop of Kandy and to be discussed at the Presbyteral gathering and there was also a suggestion to call for an investigative journalist which was turned down for the moment.
The forth exposure group that visited the Kalpitiya explained about the Tourist Industry in the Kalpitiya Islands and the future of the Catholic fishermen.
A working committee was appointed to follow up the suggestions and the next meeting was fixed for February 2015 to be held in the north or in the east.
Taking into consideration the need for a “listening presence” among the people affected by the war, a group of young ladies were selected by Fr. Jeyabalan and Fr. Nerhu to be trained as ‘BeFrienders’. The Human Rights Office Kandy with the assistance of Sr. Christabel a psychological Counselor and a therapist from Mannar, trained the group in three sessions.
The first part of the workshop was held in Kandy at the Lewella Fatima Retreat House from the 03rd to the 08th of November 2012 and the second session from the 08th to 14th February 2013. The final part of the workshop was in Mannar Keeri Gnonothayam from April 19th to 23rd 2013. The award ceremony was held after the completion of the 03 workshops.
For nearly three decades Sri Lanka has been scarred by a bitter civil war driven by ethnic tension. Much of the Mannar district was under the control of rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam for many years. The Mannar district was affected the most by the civil war in the North.
BeFriender training originated in the 1980s to provide skilled pastoral care and the importance of the BeFriender Ministry is that BeFrienders themselves are on a journey of developing and growing each day. BeFrienders are a “listening presence.” And there is a healing power in telling one’s story. BeFrienders know the value of active listening which is a critical component of training. BeFrienders listen with compassion and they understand the importance of hearing another’s story from another perspective. Respect and empathy allow them to listen and respond without judgment. BeFrienders are caring and not curing.
BeFriender Training begin with Physical exercises, Relaxation and Meditation. Life giving sources of the workshop were Input sessions, group Sharing, group activities and art therapy. One hour of games in the afternoon was not only for relaxation and socialization but also a means of value education and personality formation. At the final part of the workshop co-counseling and counseling practicum were facilitated with a group of children. BeFrienders were also trained in facilitating group counseling.
Towards the end of the workshop with the process of their inner healing Befrienders showed signs of steady personality improvements. The session on “Saying Good Bye to their unfinished business” brought a great relief to the many losses of their life. A sense of relief and a general tone of joy prevailed as they achieved the much desired closure at the end of the award ceremony on the last day of the workshop.
The awarding of the certificates was a landmark in the lives of the BeFrienders certifying that they are qualified to be in the BeFriender service in society. The Director of the Human Rights Office Fr. Nandana Manatunga, Fr. Jeyabaln and Fr. Nerhu and the superior of the Oblate House, parents of the awardees were present for the celebration that was organized by Befrienders.
The 09th Justice and Peace Workers (JPW) network meeting was held in Fatima Retreat house in Lewella, Kandy Sri Lanka from 03rd – 09th September 2013 organized by the ACPP in Hong Kong in collaboration with the Human Rights office in Kandy Sri Lanka. It included an exposure program in the war affected and highly militarized Northern Province. The meeting was attended by 32 participants from 16 countries in Asia & Pacific.
The theme for the meeting was : “Church and Human Rights: Building Solidarity with the “Joys and Hopes, the Grief and Anguish” of Asian Peoples”.
With the constant reminder of Pope Francis, of the need for social justice, we were convinced that the JPW network meeting could help to strengthen the participants and our network for Justice and Peace at this time of both uncertainty and optimism in the Church. The meeting gave an opportunity for workers of Justice and Peace in the Asia-Pacific region to come together, discuss, share, reflect and come up with a plan for more collaboration and solidarity at the regional level to work and promote Justice and Peace.
The meeting was ceremonially inaugurated by Bishop Vianney Fernando, the Bishop of Kandy and the Chairman of the Commission for Justice, Peace & Human Development of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka. In his inaugural address, the Bishop quoting the text of Exodus, recalled that God head the cries of the people and appointed Moses to deliver the people. The Bishop also said that in the face of discrimination we ought to question the oppressive structures.
Mr. Rukshan Fernando made an introduction to the SriLankan Human Rights situation, which was further elaborated by a visual presentation made by the Human Rights office.
Participants met with families of those who had disappeared in Mannar, families of political prisoners in Vavuniya, the displaced community in Mullikulam and also visited war affected people in Mullativu, where the bloodiest last phase of the war took place.
Before these interactions, the Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph addressed the participants and explained the plight of the people more than four years after the end of the war. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, a leading human rights defender from the Northern province elaborated the sufferings of the people due to militarization and briefed the participants about the significance of the exposure in the light of the recent visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Back in Kandy, participants had a sharing with human rights defenders around Kandy, who are very involved in supporting victims of violations and their families. The participants celebrated Eucharist with the locals at the Padiwatte church, followed by a cultural programme and community meal.
Rev. Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando gave inputs on the Vatican II and the Social Teachings of the Catholic Church and participants from 16 countries made presentation on issues that they grapple with as Justice & Peace workers back in their own countries.
After intense discussions, the JPW network the participants agreed to focus on two issues of Militarization & Migration-Human Trafficking as regional priorities. At the same time, participants also agreed to extend solidarity and support to each other in their struggles.
Thirty-two priests and Religious joined the Human Rights workshop in Lewella Retreat House in Kandy Sri Lanka from the 08th to the 11th July 2013, to reflect on the present day realities, human rights violations in particular from a Christian perspective. The participants were from different dioceses and religious congregations in the country. Bishop Vianney Fernando, the Bishop of Kandy also graced the occasion and shared with the group his own concerns in the matter of the Rule of Law in the country. He also took the opportunity to stress on the need to have more and more persons committed to upholding the Rule of Law and the dignity of all persons without any distinction. The participants expressed their appreciated of the stand taken by the Bishops on the matter of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
The second group visited the tea plantation workers in Mooloya Estate in Hewaheta. The comments made by the participants, revealed the depth of denial of rights to tea plantation workers despite their major contribution to the economy of the country. Though promises have been made by the successive governments to address land, housing, education and health rights, they all remained elusive. It was suggested that the Church commits itself for advocacy work given the fact that tea plantations workers are found in five dioceses in the country. It was also mentioned that the numerous trade unions found in the plantations in addition to rendering lip service to the workers, often obstruct any advocacy work done by outsiders including the churches. In Wattegama Church, the third group met a group of the relatives and parents of the disappeared. They all had horrific stories to narrate. Brief narration of the dreadful knock on the doors, forceful entry, grabbing of the victims followed by abductions while the helpless family members left behind for unending tears and an elusive hope, appeared to have evoked similar sentiments among our own participants from the north and the east.
What however surprised everyone was the vigor with which the lives of these relatives are characterized. They all articulated nicely the courage with which they are facing life now following the sessions of healing and counseling. Besides, the small self-help projects initiated with the intervention of Fr. Nandana and his team has further buttressed that sense of confidence and the need to go on living for themselves and their family members. They were then explained the situation prevailing in the north and east which inhibits any form of sharing, healing or even conducting memorial services to the dead. A need to work together to alleviate each other’s suffering and struggling together for justice appeared to be a feeling common to all.
The last sessions were devoted to discussions on what we all could do both as individuals and a group. The workshop ended with the resolution for a meaningful prayer to be adopted both to seek divine intervention to safeguard the dignity of all persons and to enlighten the people of the pressing justice issues. Dr. Shirley Fernando, Dr. Philip Setunga & Fr. Nandana Manatunga facilitated the workshop while Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, Fr. Ananda Fernando, Fr. Nihal Abeysinghe & Sr. Vijaya Joseph made presentations on issues that were discussed during the plenary.
The workshop came to an end with the dates for the next meeting being fixed for 03rd to 06th February 2014 in Madhu.
"A glimpse of hope at the sunset of life"
When the embryo forms in the womb there is a new hope in the universe of the arrival of a new life. With its first cry the Baby is born into the world. The infant grows into childhood, develops into adolescence and then slowly reaches adulthood. The body grows into its full form and slowly with adulthood the body ceases its growth process. It is marvelous and fascinating fact that although the growth of the body comes to a halt, it is possible for the mind, heart and the spirit to be fully alive. The grandeur of adulthood is its life force of the mind, heart and spirit. It has the potential to remain “Ever Green” until a man or a woman departs from the world he or she was born into. And this is not with a cry of wailing but with a glimpse of hope.
Most of the family members of the disappeared are at the stage of adulthood and late adulthood. They lost their loved ones during the JVP insurrection in late 80’s and early 90’s. The best part of their life was spent in tears, full of uncertainty about the ambiguous loss of their loved ones. They went through a memorial burial service of funeral rite s last year in 2011 , organized by the Human Rights office and now they are at the threshold of searching for a glimpse of hope for the rest of their life.
To search and to unfold the potential of being fully alive with a meaning in life, the family members of the disappeared entered into a three day workshop from the 18th to the 21st of November 2012. The workshop was held at Lewella Fatima Retreat House and around 40 members took part in a soul searching process in order to have a glimpse of hope at the sunset of their lives.
At the beginning of the workshop guidance was given to place themselves at the present moment “The Now” of their life with the aid of visual presentations of their journey of life through pain and suffering and their process of healing coinciding with the journey.
Then they were directed towards “Forgiveness”. To forgive their perpetrators who were responsible for the disappearance of their loved ones. The sense of forgiveness and the good will of pardon helped the group members “To forgive and be forgiven”. The rest of days were geared towards inputs and hope building activities to be fully alive in mind, heart and spirit.
The group was very enthusiastic in participating in the soul s searching reflections and creative in producing art in their groups. Their sharing was very open and enriching. According to their evaluation of the process of the workshop all the participants had drawn maximum benefit from the workshop.
They enjoyed the creative talent show. They re-created joy happiness and became messengers of joy to one another.
The culmination of the workshop was the address of the director of the Human Rights Office, Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga. In his special address to the gathering, he encouraged them further to continue their search for hope and appreciated the good will in their search.
Dawning of a New Horizon
When a seed is planted it sprouts into a plant and slowly spreads its branches growing into a tree. It shelters all animals, birds and humans regardless of the species. As part of their process of healing, the survivor group of the Human Rights Office decided to go beyond themselves to reach out to the war-torn areas in the North.
The exposure at Nedunkerney in Vauvniya District was an indelible experience to our survivor group. The people they visited had so much to share, especially about their traumatic experiences. But the language difference set a barrier in communicating with the people. After the language problems at Nedunkeney the suggestion of the survivors was to train a committed Tamil speaking group to listen to the people to ease their pain and suffering.
The suggestion was presented at the Human Rights Workshop in September 2012 at Galaha Retreat House. The priests of the Mannar diocese gave a hearing, took up the challenge and cooperated fully. Thereby 15 Youth of Mannar and Vauvniya were sent to Lewella Fatima Retreat House Kandy to be trained as “Befrienders”.
The workshop on “Befrienders” was conducted by a psychological counselor and a therapist from Mannar. The expertise she had gathered in the midst of the war, working with the war survivors is invaluable and this fact greatly enriched the workshop.
It will be a 15 day workshop consisting of three parts. The first part of the workshop was held in Kandy - Lewella Fatima Retreat House from the 3rd to the 8th of November 2012. The other two parts will be continued in the year 2013. The workshop consisted of input sessions, group work, personal reflection, games and relaxation exercises.
The participants were open in their sharing and were bold enough to go through a process of inner healing. Saying “Good Bye” to the unfinished business was a very emotional experience where the participants grieved over their losses. A sense of relief and a general tone of joy prevailed as they achieved the much desired closure.
With the theme “Equal in Dignity of all Persons" 33 priests and religious from north and south of Sri Lanka gathered for a workshop from the 30th July to the 02ndAugust 2012 at Santhana Retreat House in Galaha Kandy Sri Lanka. Mr. Philip Setunga facilitated the workshop that was organized by the Human Rights Office Kandy. The participants from different parts of the country were with experience working with detainees, prisoners and Human Rights activists defending and safeguarding the marginalized and those affected by the civil war.
The group divided itself into two for the exposure that was had on the 31st July. Visiting the Torture victims /persons detained under the PTA around Balagolla and Teldeniya Area. Visiting the worker at Asgiriya estate in Matale district.
All participants introduced themselves with the work they were engaged in, especially the recent experiences that they had in protecting the Rights of different communities. There was a long discussion about the situation of the people of Mullikulam and further the resolutions of the last workshop held in Madhu were also reviewed.
It was the occasion, as expressed by some of the participants, for each one to express freely and in a constructive manner the realities lived, challenges faced, reactions emitted and hopes held out as members of the believing community. All the sharing is reflected in the resolutions adopted at the end of the meeting.
The next workshop scheduled from the 04th to the 07th February 2013 in Madhu.
The second training program on Testimonial therapy was held at Galaha Retreat House from the 17th to the 23rd of July 2011 organized by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) – Hong Kong, Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) – Denmark and Human Rights Office Kandy the local organizer.
The training workshop was facilitated by Inger Agger of RCT Denmark along with Shyamali Puvimanasinghe as the co- facilitator. There were 20 participants for the training workshop and most of them were new to the testimony therapy except those from H.R.O and Jansansadaya.
A ceremonial opening was done on the 17th July by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, by lighting the traditional oil lamp and addressing the gathering, explaining the purpose of the training workshop. There were several inputs, group discussions and role plays on the procedure of the testimony therapy and Mr. Baseer from AHRC added a new vitality to the program.
Visuals on Testimonial therapy ceremonies of Kandy, Janasadaya and Cambodia were screened to the participants and they were a rich experience to the participants.
They were so much insightful, the participants were able to role play a ceremony before the closing of the program. It is also remarkable that there were few graduates taking part in the programs and on the whole group was in a better standard to master the knowledge of the therapeutic process and therapy as a whole.
The first training program on Testimony therapy was conducted by Ms. Inger Agger in 2008 at Beruwela and since then several victims of rape, Torture and persons in detention have gone through the process of healing with the Testimonial therapy in Sri Lanka.
The workshop for the priests and religious organized by the Human Rights office in Kandy with the theme 'Voiceless as the Basis for Dialogue in Life' was held at Retreat House Lewella from the 18th - 21st July 2011 with 29 participants from the north and south of Sri Lanka. The participants were also exposed to the dysfunctional judicial system as they attended the Rape case of Jresudasan Rita, a rape victim, who struggle for Justice since 2001 August 12th. The participants sat at the High court at Nuwara-Eliya on the 19th July on the second day of the workshop to witness the cross examination of the witness Jesudasan Rita by the counsel of the accused.
A days' session on documentation was conducted by Mr. Rukshan Fernando of the "Law society and Trust" and the biblical background" Evolving a theology/ spirituality for Peace, in the context of Sri Lanka was presented by Dr.ShirleyWijesinghe.
Discussions were focused on detainees without trial both in prisons and in detention centers and the use of the democratic space to seek justice on behalf of the victims. Several deliberations were agreed upon by the participants as a follow-up until the next meeting in February 2012 schedule to be held in Mannar. Mr. Philip Setunga and Fr. Nandana Manatunga facilitated the workshop.
Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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