Monday, August 30, 2010

Local Initiatives in Bridging & Strengthening Relationship among IDPS and the Host in the District of Puttalam, Sri Lanka

Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen 1

This article highlights the conflict transformation and peace building initiatives in the District of Puttalam, where local initiatives have facilitated the building up of relationships among existing communities as well as facilitating the process of integration of the Northern Muslim IDPs in Puttalam. Even though the District of Puttalam remained somewhat away from the main macro conflict area, the issues of forced migration of IDPs from the North in 1990 as a result of the conflict, and the Muslim political issues in this context were constantly highlighted in the Sri Lankan conflict related literature. Existence of this long term IDPs have resulted in a complex situation between the IDPs and the host community. Competition for limited resources as well as political differences has brought about tensions in the IDPs and host relationships2.Integration as a durable solution has posed varied issues resulting in conflicts, especially between the IDPs and the host community3. The area has been prone for conflicts. The article grounds on the art of peacebuilding as propounded by Lederach. This includes conflict transformation and peacebuilding initiatives that had an impact at all levels of the society through individual or group initiatives that have been a part of the process of transforming conflicts into positive relationships. These initiatives may be small, but have had an immense impact on the longer run. Most of the initiatives are initiatives that took root within the communities, nurtured by the community and remained a part of the community as Lederach emphasized as ‘moral imaginations’- based on imagining new possibilities, creativeness and being developed within particular contexts.

Local initiatives have been in existence throughout the District of Puttalam and have played a key role in addressing conflicts/tensions within their respective communities. Some of these initiatives have been facilitated by NGOs and INGOs in trying to respond to conflict/tension situations thereby easing out such situations which could otherwise have escalated into higher levels. NGOs and INGOs led initiatives have been implemented through the creation of peace committees, forums for discussions and multi-ethnic development projects for peacebuilding within communities.

Local Interventions in Facilitating Relationship Building among Communities

Conflicts in the district of Puttalam were understood in the context of; i) conflicts between the locals and the IDPs. ii) conflict between different ethnic/religious groups within the local communities. iii) intra-family conflicts, and iv) intra-group conflicts.

Conflicts were bridged through local informal dispute resolution mechanisms. The motivation to seek redress for their issues or conflicts depended on the informal dispute resolution mechanisms available. The factors that determine which mechanisms aggrieved parties approach for redress depended on the type of disputes, mandate and strength of the peace committees or village committees, ethnicity and religion of disputants, access to law enforcement and judicial authorities and the impact of the conflict on the local socio-political environment4.

Religion and the ethnicity are factors that determine to a larger extent on the mechanisms used to resolve conflicts. In Kalpitiya, the Grand Mosque played a key role in resolving disputes. Kalpitiya had the most of the IDP influxes since 1990. As most of the community members belonged to the Muslim community, the Mosque played a vital role.

Development initiatives formed to uplift the community have been an integral part in the development of the Puttalam District. These initiatives that are conflict sensitive, which take into account the multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition of the communities and gender, have been more successful in bridging communities.

Local initiatives were also dependent on local leaders. The local leaders played a dominant role in an individual capacity or as members of community base committees5. Usually these leaders were prominent, educated, wealthy, or are religious members. They are usually elected by the committees on the acceptance of their status in the communities that they served in.

In many instances political influences have impeded the work of local initiatives. These influences have prolonged the conflict resolution process. When local initiatives have been unsuccessful, resolving conflicts have gone beyond the local level mechanisms and turned to the state justice systems.

Issues such as the mandate, impact and sustainability remain key issues in donor driven village or peace committees. This does not mean that donor driven initiatives are unsuccessful. Many of such initiatives have been successful, where initiatives were emerging within the communities that they serve in. In some cases such issues posed challenges in the community. Donor driven initiatives with a specific mandate limits the activities of the initiatives. It may limit to the process while not focussing to the impact into the society. There is also the lack of sustainability. With the project ending, the committees formed too can end. Hence this requires a proper assessment of the local needs, available local resources such as knowledge and skills, coupled with realistic peacebuilding expectations. Hence there is a need to strengthen local development initiatives that are already in existence and proven (Mosque committees/village committees), which can have a greater impact in bridging communities). These initiatives are not only cost effective but also long lasting and sustainable.


1.The article is based on the paper, ‘In the pursuit of peace in Sri Lanka - through conflict transformation and peace building initiatives: A study on the role of local initiatives in bridging and strengthening relationships among different communities in the District of Puttalam’. The paper was prepared to be presented at the conference, ‘Enmity and Amity in South Asia’, The Centre for South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge (23rd-24th June, 2010). The author works as an Independent Consultant for Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding Projects in Sri Lanka.
2.An insightful analysis on the Northern Muslim IDPs in the District of Puttalam is elaborated by Hasbulla (2001), Thiranagama (2007) and Brun (2008).
3.For an analysis on the provisions of durable solutions to end displacement, see: Badurdeen (2010), ‘Ending internal displacement: the long term displaced persons in Sri Lanka’, Paper presented at Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford for an analysis on the provisions of durable solutions to end displacement.
4.See the study on Informal Dispute Resolution in North East and Puttalam for a more elaborated study on mechanisms used for redress by community members.
5.Cejka And Bamat (2003), ‘Artisans of Peace: Grassroot Peacemaking among Christian Communities’, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, USA.

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