A leading Jaffna based civil society organisation was yesterday denied access to a meeting with UN Humanitarian Chief John Holmes, placing further doubt regarding the transparency of the meeting, after the Centre for Policy Alternatives condemned the event for its heavy military presence.
The People`s Council for Peace and Goodwill (PCPG), an organisation headed by religious and community leaders in Jaffna, was not given an invitation for a meeting on humanitarian affairs with Mr. Holmes, which took place at the Jaffna Public library amidst military presence.
The UN said the government organised the event and was responsible for inviting humanitarian and civil society groups for the meeting. `The UN played no role in this`, UN Chief Communicator, Gordon Weiss told the Daily Mirror yesterday.
Representatives from the UNHCR, UNDP and the UNICEF attended the meeting along with workers attached to some NGOs in the north, while Government officials and heads of government departments in Jaffna were also present.
`People`s representatives must be allowed for such meetings to represent the ground situation in Jaffna. Government officials cannot come out openly and express shortcomings. There is no point having these meetings if the actual ground situation is not told`, a spokesman for PCPG who wished to remain anonymous told the Daily Mirror.
The PCPG was expecting an invitation for the meeting, as it had participated at previous meetings of similar nature with UN Children and Armed Conflict Special Representative Alan Rock and US South Asian Affairs Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher.
`We are an independent group and don`t dabble in politics. Our sole aim is to propagate the needs of the people and rectify shortcomings of the government and other organisations for smooth living. We must be allowed to air our views because the people are suffering`, the spokesman said.
The PCPG was established in 1996 after the Chemani mass grave tragedy, and is considered the primary civil society organisation in Jaffna. Among its patrons are Jaffna Bishop Rt. Rev Thomas Saundaranayagam and the Hindu Chief Priest. Former Jaffna University Vice Chancellor Prof. P. Balasundarapillai is the current PCPG president.
The CPA in a letter to Mr. Holmes said, `We have learnt that your attempt to meet civil society representatives during your visit to Jaffna was marred by the heavy presence of the military at the Public Library where the meeting was held`.
It said the day before Mr. Holmes` visit to Jaffna, the military commander had instructed NGOs and civil society representatives not to refer to human rights issues, and restrict themselves only to issues of humanitarian assistance.
`We condemn this type of military interference in matters relating to civil society and NGO activity. This completely undermines existing practice in which visiting UN officials meet with civil society groups during country visits, insisting on privacy for such meetings, even going as far as declining invitations when these conditions are not met` the CPA stressed, adding that it was also deeply concerned of the security implications for those who attended the meetings.
`The steps taken by the military in Jaffna to restrict your access to information can only reaffirm concerns in the international community that there is no transparency and accountability of the government, and of the military, when it comes to both human rights and humanitarian issues in the conflict-affected areas of Sri Lanka` the CPA said.