‘The best news to come out of South Asia in a long time’
This is how a diplomat described the start of the peace talks between Sri Lanka’s government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Thailand on September 16th. With the help of Norwegian facilitators the meeting turned out to be succesfull, and three further rounds of talks were set. On the horizon is the perspective of an end to 19 years of war, which has killed some 65,000 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and stunted economic growth.
The chances for a lasting peace on Sri Lanka haven’t been so good in many years time. But the process towards disarmament, reconciliation, respect for human rights and democratization will be a long and difficult one. Within Sri Lanka NGOs have had a long history of being involved in the broad spectrum of activities which fall under the aegis of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, including the promotion of dialogue and communication between the different groups.
At the same time, it has to be recognised that the NGO community in Sri Lanka is not a homogenous one, but fragmented and spanning a broad spectrum of interests. The peace movement is constrained by internal debates and intergroup rivalries. What role can these groups play in helping to establishe a true and lasting peace on the island, and what can the international community do to support them in this role?
In September the ECCP’s latest publication Searching for Peace in Central and South Asia was published. This volume, with a section on Sri Lanka, is regarded as an important resource for the NGO community, linking informed analysis with discussions of strategies to contain or prevent violent conflicts in the region. The formation of strategic alliances among groups in different parts of the globe has been regarded by the ECCP – in its five years of existence - as a key to effective preventive action. The conference on the role of civil society actors in peacebuilding in Sri Lanka is organised at the occasion of the 5-year anniversary of the ECCP and the launch of the publication on Searching for Peace in Central and South Asia.
The Searching for Peace programme is a multi-annual regional programme on prevention and management activities in violent conflicts. It aims to fill the gaps in information, communication and co-ordination, and to promote effective conflict prevention and peace building strategies. The project offers a unique combination of background information, detailed descriptions of ongoing activities, and assessments of future prospects for conflict prevention and peace building. A major focus is on the efforts of regional organisations and NGOs to make civil society part of any peace process. The Searching for Peace programme started in 1998 and resulted in publications Searching for Peace in Africa (1999), Searching for Peace in Europe & Eurasia (February 2002), and Searching for Peace in Central & South Asia (September 2002). The last two volumes are published by Lynne Rienner.
Chair: Jan Hoekema, chair of the board of ECCP
9.00 Registration and coffee
9.30 Opening, by Jan Hoekema
Opening statement & presentation of the publication Searching for Peace in Central and South Asia, by Paul van Tongeren, executive director, ECCP
Key note address, by Ms Agnes van Ardenne, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Looking back at five years ECCP with
. Enno Hommes, former chair of the ECCP board
. Emmanuel Bombande, West African Network for Peacebuilding, Ghana, and
. Elena Sadovskaya, Center for Conflict Management, Kazakhstan
11.00 Introductions to the theme of civil society and peacebuilding in Sri Lanka, by
. Norbert Ropers, Berghof Research Centre, Sri Lanka
. Sunila Abeysekera, INFORM, Sri Lanka
13.30 Working groups
1. Development and conflict in Sri Lanka, with Aruna Dayaratna (Oxfam Sri Lanka) and Nick Lewer (Bradford University)
2. Comparative peace processes: lessons learned, with Catherine Barnes (consultant) and Sunila Abeysekera or Jehan Perrera (National Peace Council - NPC) as respondant
3. Role of civil society in Sri Lanka peace process, with Joe William and Sunila Abeysekera or Jehan Perrera (NPC)
15.45 Panel discussion with Norbert Ropers, Catherine Barnes, Aruna Dayaratna, Joe William, and Jehan Perrera / Javid Yusuf
17.15 Closing, by Jan Hoekema