Since December 2015, ACTED and its partners SOND and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka have been implementing an EU-funded project aiming at strengthening fundamental rights and freedoms in the East and North of Sri Lanka. Through this project, which will come to an end in March 2018, ACTED has supported more than 8,800 people. The project benefitted the overall population of the two target districts of Sri Lanka, Batticaloa and Jaffna.
The former armed conflict in Sri Lanka damaged the social fabric that held civil society together, especially in the Northern and Eastern provinces, and resulted in loss of understanding and respect of fundamental rights and freedoms. Media personnel lack awareness regarding freedom of expression, and lack knowledge or capacity in terms of ethical reporting; furthermore, many journalists are subjected to threats and suppression for decades.
To address these challenges, ACTED and its partners have been conducting awareness raising sessions on freedom of expression, media rights and the right to information for media professionals. As a result, an empowered media is fostering inclusive dialogue with both civil society and government officials as well as supporting freedom of expression and democratic reporting in Sri Lanka.
Through this project, ACTED and is partners supported young lawyers (with often less than 5 years’ experience) and judges, in order to strengthen their capacities. In Jaffna and Batticaloa Districts, over 10 years after the end of the conflict, vulnerability prevails, exacerbated by intercommunal tensions, gaps in respect for human rights, and lack of practical knowledge on fundamental rights and freedoms among lawyers and judges. To address these issues, ACTED coordinated trainings and workshops by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka on practical aspects of fundamental rights, as well as civil and criminal law for lawyers and judges, going beyond the theoretical curriculum of law courses, so as to enhance the provision of high-quality legal support for vulnerable communities.
As part of this project, mobile legal clinics reach remote villages of Jaffna and Batticaloa districts, where lawyers provide free legal advice to vulnerable communities, while documentation clinics are designed for government officials to help citizens obtain official documentation, often destroyed or lost during the 26 years of civil war or the 2004 tsunami.
Husejin is a lawyer who provides legal support to people coming to ACTED’s mobile legal clinics. “In the Northern and Eastern Provinces, people from rural communities are often not aware of their rights and need support in navigating legal procedures to solve their issues”, Husejin explains.
Despite the end of this project, and its valuable impact in terms of fundamental rights, Huseijn acknowledges that significant needs still remain. He hopes that mobile clinics, which are implemented once a year within the framework of ACTED’s project, could be conducted every three or six months through a future project.
I want to continue and help more people. More clinics are necessary, not only in the North and East but in all of Sri Lanka. In this way, more people would be able to receive legal help and claim their rights”.