Shreen Saroor Short Documentary

INTERNATIONAL: Women: Leaders of Peace

Shreen Abdul Saroor has experienced war and forced displacement. She grew up surrounded by violence in Sri Lanka, where Tamil militants expelled Muslims from the north in 1990, forcing her family to escape their Mannar Island home.

She understands the costs of war and, in particular, the vulnerability of women.

“The safety of women and girls has been one of the casualties of the long war in Sri Lanka,” she has said. “Soldiers and members of paramilitary groups rape women with impunity. Rape has been used as a tool to torture political detainees.”

Not one to sit by idly, Shreen formed two organizations to assist women affected by conflict — and, by extension, to help the population at large: Sri Lanka’s Mannar Women’s Development Federation, which provides microcredit and education to Muslim and Tamil women, and Mannar Women for Human Rights and Democracy. Shreen knows that there cannot be true, lasting peace without the participation of informed and civically engaged women.

On September 21, World Peace Day, we at Search for Common Ground saluted Shreen along with three other women — Indonesia’s Electronita Duan, Nepal’s Purna Shova Chitrakar and Timor-Leste’s Filomena Barros dos Reis — who are receiving this year’s inaugural N-Peace Awards. Search for Common Ground is working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to implement these N-Peacehonors — recognizing those who “Engage for Peace, Equality, Access, Community and Empowerment”– which were established to acknowledge that women are often in the frontlines of conflict, but rarely make the headlines. Their efforts toward building peace and creating cohesion in their communities are too many times overlooked.

Today, we want these women in the headlines.

Electronita has been involved in numerous programs to empower women in Indonesia and helped develop Politeknik Perdamaian Halamahera, an institute of higher education for those whose studies were interrupted by conflict. Electronita knew that normalcy could never return to conflict zones without a skilled and educated population.

Purna, among other activities, created the Ban Landmines Campaign Nepal (NCBL) in 1995 to promote an international ban on the use, production, transfer and stockpile of landmines. Purna worked to teach families, students and teachers about the risks of landmines in their communities, especially in rural areas. She often had to struggle to reduce mines in the face of opposition, continued conflict and arson. She worked tirelessly to outlaw these indiscriminate weapons of war and in June of this year Nepal was declared landmine free.

A human rights and justice activist, Filomena is a project coordinator for peace building development with the Asia Pacific Support Collective in Timor-Leste, a country that is continuing to rebuild and overcome its tragic history. Even before Timor-Leste secured its independence, she worked tirelessly to ensure a credible truth and reconciliation process for her country and to ensure that human rights are protected, sometimes dressing as a nun and carrying religious material to protect her true purpose in documenting horrific human rights violations.

Each of these women has helped her community get closer to peace, security and normalcy. Moreover, they have empowered more women to do the same.

At Search for Common Ground, we believe strongly in the positive roles that women can play in their communities and in compassionate leadership for the whole. SFCG recognizes that war has a disproportionate impact on women and girls, and their potential for sustaining peace often goes unrealized and untapped.

Working with governments, women’s organizations and individuals to expand women’s political participation throughout the world, particularly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, we are training women politicians in leadership skills and use of media, and women mediators for peaceful settlement of election results. We are encouraging women to engage as local and national leaders through economic training, participatory theater, peace forums and dialogues. In addition, we convene women for conferences on empowerment, bolstering local, national and regional networks of women dedicated to conflict transformation.

Women, who tend to be more inclusive in their approach and represent slightly more than half the world’s population, are essential to lasting peace and secure communities. It is only by empowering women and giving them a place at the table that we can hope to find solutions to conflict that last.

Source: Huffington Post Date: September 26, 2011

Theme: Participation – General, Violence Against Women – General

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Forum Human Rights in Sri Lanka and Australias Role Speech by Dr.Sam Pari

Part 01

Part 02

Sri Lanka rejects conflict criticism

Calls for war crimes inquiry over 20,000 civilian deaths in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka faced new calls for a war crimes inquiry today after an investigation by The Times revealed that more than 20,000 civilians were killed – mostly by the army – in the latter stages of the war against the Tamil Tigers.

The army dismissed that figure as an exaggeration and repeated the Government’s assertion that not a single civilian was killed by government forces in the final assault on the northeastern conflict zone.

Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, a military spokesman, declined to say how many civilian deaths had been confirmed, but insisted that they had all been caused by the Tigers, also known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“This is an exaggerated story. Whoever has put up this report has been paid by the LTTE,” he told The Times. “There can’t be any civilians killed by government forces in that area. How can the UN know about this? It had no people on the ground.” The UN, however, described its figures as “well-informed estimates”, adding that it did not have “precise, verifiable numbers” because of a lack of access to the conflict zone and the camps holding refugees from the area. “The UN has publicly and repeatedly said that the number of people killed in recent months has been unacceptably high and it has shared its estimates with the Government as well as others concerned,” said Elisabeth Byrs, of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “The point is the UN has not been shy about the scale of human suffering and civilian casualties,” she said. “It has been ringing the alarm bells for a long time.” Sri Lanka officially declared victory in its 26-year civil war with the Tigers early last week after killing almost all of their leadership, including Velupillai Prabhakaran, their founder, in a tiny patch of coconut grove on the northeastern coast. Backed by China, Russia and other allies, Sri Lanka also easily defeated a proposal for a war crimes inquiry at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday. The new civilian death toll figure has prompted new calls for an inquiry, which could still be ordered by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, or by Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Managala Samaraweera, a former Foreign Minister who left the Government to become an opposition politician in 2005, told The Times that an inquiry was the only way for Sri Lanka to repair the damage to its international reputation. “As Sri Lankans, we’re extremely concerned about what happened during the last stages of the conflict,” he said. “The Government must immediately initiate an independent inquiry. Only by doing so will Sri Lanka be able to clear up its good name.” Human rights groups, aid workers and numerous civilian witnesses have accused the Tigers and government forces of repeatedly firing on non-combatants in violation of international humanitarian law. The Tigers have also been accused of using civilians as human shields and recruiting children forcibly, while the army has been accused of deliberately shelling hospitals in the conflict zone. Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told The Times: “There’s no doubt there’s a need for a war crimes inquiry. The whole operation has been done in secret and the scale of deaths is so large that it has to be investigated. This is not going to go away.” The UN and the Red Cross also complained today that the Sri Lankan Government was still refusing to provide aid workers with full access to the former conflict zone despite a direct appeal by the UN Secretary General.

Source : TimeOnline

Army closes in on Tamil Tiger separatists – 18 May 09

The Tamil Tigers separatist movement is all but defeated as fighting in Sri Lanka’s northern war zone claims the life of the man who led the group’s 26-year revolt, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

But among the Tamil population there is still a sense of injustice born out of unresolved grievances which began the conflict in the first place. Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reports.

UN expert on genocide prevention calls for end to conflict

United Nations, New York, 15 May 2009 – Daily Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General. Statement on Sri Lanka from the Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Francis Deng.

Why the Sri Lankan government won’t listen

Colombo, Sri Lanka — The best efforts of the international community to bring the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka to an end through its diplomatic interventions seem to have come to naught. The joint visit of the British Foreign Minister David Miliband and his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner was full of controversy, but seems to have yielded little other than that. Vocal sections of the government, media and the general public saw bad faith in these European moves and did not hesitate to make their views known.

This perception also seems to have induced the government to deny a visa to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, prompting him say that the Sri Lankan government’s attitude was exceedingly strange and to reject an invitation to visit Sri Lanka at a later date. For the past 50 years, Sweden was one of the most generous development supporters of Sri Lanka, but from next year this partnership is to end, and the recent mishap will do little to facilitate a positive review of this situation.

Those who oppose international intervention in the humanitarian crisis in the country believe that their motive is to force a ceasefire upon the government in order to extend the life of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. A week ago, under heavy Indian pressure including a fast by the aged chief minister of Tamil Nadu, M. Karunandhi and members of his political party, the government declared an end to combat operations and to the use of heavy weapons and air power. But barely had the statement been issued, and the fast in Tamil Nadu ended, than evidence began to be provided that the fighting on the ground was continuing as before, with air strikes included.

With both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE holding determinedly to their positions, the war is set to reach its inevitable conclusion. During their visit to Sri Lanka the two foreign ministers stressed, albeit without much success, that their sole concern was that of the civilian population trapped in the battle zone and not any petty political advantage to themselves with their domestic electorates. They also denied that they had any ulterior motive in trying to give the LTTE a breathing space so they could revive but were only seeking a way out for the civilians.

The desirability of a negotiated end to the war that would save civilian lives is not only a European position. Even activists from the Third World with an anti-imperialist orientation hold to the same view. A view of the current situation from the distance that foreign countries have is that the war is ended, and there is no more need for killing or trapping people. The LTTE is hardly in a position to revive its fortunes with its territorial control, which once extended to 15,000 square kilometers, now whittled down to less than six square kilometers.

However, the perceptions of the Sri Lankan parties to the conflict are different, and this is what finally matters in determining what happens on the ground. There is a worry in one section of the population, and a hope in another, that the LTTE under its leader Velupillai Pirapaharan is capable of repeating the past so long as he remains alive and in combat mode. The past experience has been of the LTTE fighting its way back to a position of strength from a position of weakness.

One example was when the Indian Peace Keeping Force battled them into the jungles in the period 1987-90, and again when the Sri Lankan army recaptured most of the north in 1995-97. On both those occasions, the LTTE withdrew into the jungles and reemerged to take back control over the territory that they had lost. The role played by the LTTE leadership in any revival in the near or distant future is what is in question today.

The other insight into the Sri Lankan belief as to what really works comes from the experience of the two Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, or People’s Liberation Front, insurrections. At the conclusion of the first insurrection in 1971, the lives of nearly all of the top leaders were spared. They were captured, charged in courts of law, imprisoned, rehabilitated and pardoned. This all happened in textbook fashion in terms of process and the sequence of events.

But the outcome was not a change of heart. A decade and a half later they plotted, were provoked, planned and launched a second and bloodier insurrection and exacted a much heavier price from Sri Lankan society. At the conclusion of this second insurrection, virtually the whole of the JVP leadership were eliminated. Two decades later, with their militant leadership decimated, there is no sign of another militant revival by the JVP.

Today, it is this double experience from Sri Lanka’s past that seems to be shaping the government’s thinking and with it that of the majority of people who are behind the government in its military mode of conflict resolution. There is no doubt that the government leadership, which is in close touch with the international community, is aware of the frustration and disfavor with which its military solution is being viewed in much of the world. But it is still going ahead because of its conviction that there is no other way.

The tragedy is that by its conduct in keeping the civilians hostage, and by its refusal to accept its defeat on the battlefield, the LTTE is adding to the conviction of the government and the majority of Sri Lankan people that there is indeed no other way to end the war. Now the die appears to have been cast to the military option. In these circumstances, the best that can be done is to secure the lives of the civilian population who have already crossed over into the government-controlled areas.

The international community, which is critical of the government’s military mode of conflict resolution, is nevertheless providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to these people and is prepared to provide even more. Japan’s one-time peace envoy Yasushi Akashi was the latest international dignitary to visit the government’s welfare camps for the displaced in the north, and to pledge Japanese assistance. There is much goodwill and desire to help that needs to be accommodated in the best interest of the victim population and in keeping with the values of democracy.

(Dr. Jehan Perera is executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, an independent advocacy organization. He studied economics at Harvard College and holds a doctorate in law from Harvard Law School. ©Copyright Jehan Perera.)

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