The National Peace Council's (NPC) main focus area is peace education. Through training, workshops and seminars, NPC tries to explain to the participants that in Sri Lanka there are different ethnicities living with different histories, stories, interests and aspirations, and how these different aspirations and interests, when difficult to meet, leads to the conflict. Also NPC finds that to enable people to internalise what they learn intellectually, there has to be face-to-face interactions between different ethnic groups. Accordingly they do inter-cultural and inter-ethnic exchange programmes. NPC believes that this is one of the best ways to understand that it is possible for people to live together with their different interests. These activities focus on the community level and aim to reach individuals.
In addition, NPC engages in advocacy that reaches the entire society and international community through its media unit, using publications, interviews and journals. In the workshops NPC reaches the community level leaders who are the opinion makers at community level. And they form district level and regional level committees, composed of these civil society actors, religious leaders and politicians who provide leadership to peace activities at the local level.
Given the current situation of the national peace process of Sri Lanka, NPC sees its relevance at a symbolic level. As they see it, it is very difficult to contribute to the larger peace process when the government of the country is adopting a negative stance to the work NPC does. This leads NPC’s role to be marginalised, relegated to a small level. As NPC’s vision of peace is not shared by the government, NPC has a symbolic presence at the moment, striving to keep the discourse on peace alive. This is perceived as being significant as otherwise the peace discourse stands the risk of totally dying out. Thus, NPC sees value in keeping the discourse alive in the present circumstances and keeping continuity among those who are already working involved through trust building and accommodation of each other's interests.
• Even at the height of the war NPC was able to mobilise hundreds of community leaders to publicly give their name to sign a petition saying that there is a better way to resolve the conflict than the war. These were published in the national newspapers several times.
• NPC has created a network of committed activists throughout Sri Lanka. NPC has 'district networks' in most areas of the country, including north and east. These have been set up and functioning successfully for the last several years.
• As the Executive Director of the NPC Dr Jehan Perera has already received three international awards:
- Japan: Sakai Peace Price – 2008
- Sweden: Non Violence Award 2007
- India; interfaith harmony foundation of India. 2006
• NPC started publishing a monthly news paper in 2009 which they send to the libraries and sell copies.
NPC learning points
It is important to maintain a balance through out all work for peace: If we are building bridges between the communities we need to maintain the trust of all the groups. So we need to take all the groups with us. In a way we (NPC) have been labelled, as pro-Tamil, LTTE and anti-government. Once the label is there it is very difficult to get rid of it and it makes NPC’s work difficult. These labels are intensified at times like this when the government is strongly against our vision.
In peace work there is a tendency to downplay hard issues like human rights violations because people want to maintain good relations with everyone. But these need to come to the fore because otherwise those wrongs will never be corrected.
“Filling in the gaps of what the government is doing is much easier than opposing the government. But sometimes you have to do it. This is one of those times.” Dr Jehan Perera, Executive Director, NPC. 17 September 2010.