The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Another area which does not figure to any great extent in the National Human Rights Action Plan, but which is also of great concern currently, is that of former LTTE combatants. This is understandable for the intial draft of the Plan was prepared in 2009, and concurrently our Ministry was working, with ILO assistance, on a Rehabilitation and Reintegration programme for those combatants. So a field of action which seemed a temporary problem rather than something to be entrenched in a National Plan was omitted, since it should have been dealt with through special provisions.

Unfortunately that necessity too fell prey to the division of responsibilities between various Ministries. There had previously been a civilian Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, and in view of the mandate we had with regard to Human Rights, which seemed to me obviously to apply to those who had been conscripted, I had tried hard to evoke more concerted action. But it soon became clear that, with all his other responsibilities, as well as the difficulties of liasing with the Ministry of Defence when it had other major priorities, he simply could not handle the job.

Understandably too, when moved to action, he concentrated on the child soldiers, whose plight was obvious, but this meant neglect of the adults, who languished without much concerted support in a couple of centres that had been established. I should note that, when I visited the centre at Weli Oya, I found tremendous dedication on the part of the military personnel in charge, but without a clear plan, this did not seem likely to lead anywhere.

Things changed with the appointment of a dedicated Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, a military officer who proved visionary as well as characteristically efficient. He and his successors have done a great job, and my frequent visits to the Rehabilitation Centres, in recent times to check on the Entrepreneurship Workshops I funded through my decentralized budget, have resulted in moving interactions with youngsters who seem appreciative of what has been done for them, and keen to get on with productive lives, making use of what seems an unusually high level of talent. I should note though that the agency that conducted the programmes was highly selective, and would choose just about 30 from a pool of a 100 they were introduced to at the start of the programmes, so perhaps the others would not have been quite so dynamic. But that made it all the more important that we should have encouraged the leaders among them to develop businesses that would also have provided employment for the rest.

But with regard to employment and productivity once those who had been rehabilitated were back at home, little was done initially. Though the Commissioner General had a very clear mandate with regard to Rehabilitation, government had failed to make things clear with regard to Reintegration. The plan we had prepared with ILO support had dealt in great detail also with this crucial latter section, but that had been ignored when the Bureau of the Commissioner General was revitalized. Our efforts to suggest that the whole of the Plan be implemented, or at least that its scope be considered more actively and the goals it promoted actively pursued, proved vain.

Belatedly government has now realized that more needs to be done, and a large amount of funding has been made available for micro-credit. But more is needed, including a mentoring scheme, with a Bureau that studies job opportunities and ensures appropriate training based on actual requirements, that develops value adding and marketing and other business skills in producers of primary products, that establishes contacts with chambers of commerce in the rest of the country as well as in the North. All this could easily be done by the Bureau as at present constituted, given its close knowledge also of the youngsters who need support. Working together with the Rehabilitation Authority perhaps, applying its practical expertise under the guidance of an established civil institution, it could ensure that the excellent work it did in Rehabilitation does not go to waste.

Another area in which the Government also needs to do more is in providing information more clearly about the Rehabilitation programme, as well as its future plans for these victims of one of the grosser violations of basic rights inflicted by the LTTE. Recently I heard Callum McRae, of Channel 4 infamy, talking of over 11,000 former combatants being still in custody, with no one having access to them. This is plain nonsense, given that almost all have now been sent home, while families had access to them from the very start, and there were heaps of visitors each time I went to the Centres. But none of this is known, and publicity for the work seems to consist of pictures of great events at which visiting dignitaries hold centre stage, not the former combatants and their progress. It would be far more useful if the Bureau had a weekly release about the achievements of one or other of the former combatants, with pictures showing their progress, and interviews about their future plans.

Finally, more could be done to provide formal qualifications for these youngsters, which would also perhaps help with shortfalls in other areas where Rights promotion is needed. As is customary, we have concentrated on those at the higher end of the spectrum, those who did their Advanced Levels and got into University. But we need too to ensure Ordinary Level qualifications for more of the former combatants, since these are required for jobs in the private as well as the state sector, and unfortunately that level of education was neglected for many years in the Wanni. A simple programme of catch up education, languages, maths, vocational and aesthetic training, would facilitate basic Ordinary Level qualifications – which might also help with recruitment to the police, where Tamil speaking officers are in such short supply.

Daily News 4 June 2012 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2012/06/04/fea04.asp

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