From the Building Peace in Sri Lanka: A Role for Civil Society? By CAMILLA ORJUELA (2003). The article explores the possible role of civil society in peacebuilding and in the same time mention the challenges that civil society faced.
Sri Lanka Context and conflict’s history:
After the Independence from British rule in 1948, national restorations by Sinhalese/Buddhist start to revive the suppressed local language, culture, and religion, during the colonization (Orjuela, 2003). These restorations worked against the foreign rulers and against the minority population Indian Tamils (about 5% of the population) in 1948 (Orjuela, 2003). The post-independence nationalist politics did many disenfranchising practices against the Tamil like making Sinhala the only official language which restricts employment opportunities in 1956 and university entrance 1971 for the Tamil-speaking minorities (Orjuela, 2003). In Tamils, there were moves and protest against discrimination and violence and from the 1970s and onward revolutionary groups, and the call for a separate state, rather than for equal rights (Orjuela, 2003). As the paper mentioned, there was also conflict between the main political parties in the south which add to the complexity of the conflict, “as opposition parties have often ‘played the nationalist card’ to defeat a government attempting to ‘solve’ the ethnic problem”(Orjuela, 2003, p.198). On the other hand, India faced difficulties with armed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and by the late 1980s, India’s tries to mediate ended up violence in Sri Lanka (Orjuela, 2003). Since February 2002, the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government have agreed to a ceasefire and showed the good intention for the Norwegian-facilitated peace process is under way.
The role of Civil Society in Sri Lanka:
In Sri Lanka villages there were collective organizations to look for people’s concerns however it got controlled by international or local NGO with a top down approach (Orjuela, 2003, p.199). And in”Early democratization forced upper-class politicians into an alliance with the rural lower middle class, which gave way to political patronage (Stokke, 1998). Also, Mayer comments in that ‘people have developed a passive “receiving-mentality” rather than the awareness to actively demand the fulfillment of certain needs from the respective authorities’, that is, political patronage substitutes for a demanding civil society (Mayer, 2000: 167).
In the 1970s in response to ethnic rebellions and government repression, a lot of nongovernmental organizations were formed focusing on peace, human rights, and democratic reform (Orjuela, 2003, p.199). However, the real peace movement momentum started 1994–95 (Orjuela, 2003, p.199). In 1995 hundred of different civil-society organizations delegates participated in the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, with the purpose of unified civic groups concerned about peace under one umbrella (Orjuela, 2003, p.200). This National Peace Council and other civil-society groups for peace were doing conflict resolution training, advocacy work and even traveled across the country to raise the awareness about the roots of ethnic conflict and the need for political reform (Orjuela, 2003, p.200).
The role of the Civil Society association varies from;
“Awareness-raising and peace education, Organization of peace marches rallies, and other manifestations for peace, Bringing together persons from different ethnic groups, Advocacy work, Research and information, Informal diplomacy (Key actors from the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE or persons close to them) and Reconstruction of war-torn areas, mobilizing people to satisfy their own basic needs”(Orjuela, 2003, p.200)
Challenges faced the CSOs in Sri Lanka:
- The small influence of CSOs in the society because of the politicization society between the LTTE supporter and the government (Orjuela, 2003, p.198).
- The passive reaction and perceptions among ordinary people of what politicians deliver (Orjuela, 2003, p.198).
- The lack of mass contribution from the community or activities in civil society peace work because most people at a grass-roots level are anxious with their day-to-day and one economic source for poor rural families is payments from the armed forces(Orjuela, 2003, p.200).
- The mono-ethnic of most of the NGOs and civic groups and their contact with the political parties (Orjuela, 2003, p.200).
- Lack the democratic structures in some CSOs which decrease the grassroots participation in decision-making, accountability, and transparency. And that reflect on their work and demands (Orjuela, 2003, p.201).
- Some limitation of outreach peace education, the slow nature of attitude change (Orjuela, 2003, p.202).
- The big obstacle was the profitability for many people that make it hard to convince them about the peace. (Orjuela, 2003, p.206)
Worth mentioning that with all the challenges the power of the NGOs, peace activists and the groups that reach different parts of the country and different euthenics is a potential factor in massive popular mobilization (Orjuela, 2003, p.202).
According to (Orjuela, 2003), the role of civil society in peacebuilding and political transition is crucial but the approaches used were not enough and thus lead us to the necessity of the change the top-down approach of the civil mobilization( p.208). And that massive support and legitimacy for peace processes and agreements ‘from below’ required;
- Change the short and small-scale activities such as workshops, conflict resolution training and the importance of having ‘from below’ dynamic mass-based social movement (Orjuela, 2003, p.210).
- The important in getting the society trust by being a good model for the issue you advocate like democratization and cross-ethnic association in structure and work which was the case for most of the organization (Orjuela, 2003, p.210).
- The clear relation and connection between small-scale activities and large-scale developments impact.
Orjuela, C. (2003). Building peace in Sri Lanka: A role for civil society?. Journal of Peace Research, 40(2), 195-212.