In much of the rural communities in the North and East, people still lack access to information pertaining to laws that affect their livelihoods and the environment they habit. But even the poorest or smallest community contains resources and networks that can be harnessed to build a healthier community and environment if capacitated and empowered with the knowledge to do so. Communities in these parts are for the most part unaware of their rights and responsibilities preventing them from safeguarding the ecosystems services available to them.
Until recently, the environmental and other resources of the North and East Provinces of Sri Lanka remained untouched and relatively unexploited in commercial scales. However, with the newly gained freedom the scale of commercial activities have increased significantly and in some parts at an alarming rate.
A network of community based organizations has been developed by the Forest Department of Sri Lanka in the North and East. This network allows the Forest Department to increase the flow of information that reaches the individual communities. In addition, these networks allow each of the communities to interact with each other, resulting in new experiences where they discuss the issues that affect their day to day lives as well as learn from the peers. One of the major concerns brought to our attention by the Forest Department among other institutions was the problems faced by the communities in dispute resolution and reconciliation. It was apparent that the lack of awareness on the Basic Civil Laws of the Country was causing rifts among community members as well as with the authorities who facilitate and encourage jurisdiction in the region.
With the financial assistance from The Asia Foundation (TAF), the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL) carried out a series of awareness workshops in the North and East Provinces of Sri Lanka through the community based organizations of the Forest Department. Contributors to the workshops included the Community Mediation Boards of the Ministry of Justice.
The aim of the workshops were to empower individuals and communities with the knowledge of even the basic laws of the country and the importance of safeguarding and maintaining an environment that supports improved livelihoods, and a greater understanding of their responsibilities to themselves and the nation. Workshops were conducted in Mannar, Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Ampara and Batticaloa.
Overall feedback from the participants suggests an overwhelmingly positive outcome, where they learnt about the Basics of the Legal System and Constitution, Civil Law, Fundamental Rights under the Constitution, Our Environmental Rights and responsibilities, Dispute Resolution. There were several requests to conduct the programs again, where we would go into more detail on some of the components. The feedback suggests the “dispute resolution” component of the workshop to be the most useful as well as insights into the Basic Civil Laws.
Capacity Building Workshops on Laws of Sri Lanka for Community Based Organizations in the North and East Provinces
North and East Provinces