Deploring the mounting toll of people, especially children, killed and injured in the zone of combat between Sri Lankan Government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels, EI expresses its strong concern about the violent response by both sides in the continuing conflict in Sri Lanka.
“Conflicts, whether between countries or within countries, cannot be resolved by violent or military means, particularly as the real victims are innocent civilians, women and children,” says Fred van Leeuwen, EI's General Secretary.
Already in March, the EI Asia Pacific Regional Committee called on “both sides of the on-going conflict in Sri Lanka to refrain immediately from their violent response and to find a lasting and peaceful solution.”
The exodus of about 110,000 people in a very short space of time has posed considerable logistical challenges in terms of shelter, food and other basic services such as education. In adopting a “Declaration on recognition of schools as safe sanctuaries”, EI has called on “the international community and governments to recognize and respect the right of all children and adults to a safe education in a peaceful learning environment, and to respect education institutions as safe sanctuaries. EI has also called on governments to take all possible practical measures to protect students, teachers, education officials and union members from the full range of deliberate violent attacks on their way to or from, or at their places of learning; and to take all possible measures to deter such attacks.”
EI demands that the authorities put the highest priority on the re-establishment of the school system and that the international community provide assistance to the authorities to that end.
EI has always promoted policies and activities to create a dialogue and a better understanding between communities. In 2005, the EI/NOVIB school reconstruction project after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka included this feature. Some of the 8 schools that EI and Oxfam-NOVIB built were multi-ethnic and multi-religious, like the Welihena Kanishta Vidyalaya school in Matara district in the deep South providing basic education to all three communities: Sinhala, Tamil and Muslims. Another project undertaken by EI, the Nilaveli school in the Trincomalee district, offers advanced education for Tamils (both Hindus and Christians) and Muslims. These schools provide education to over 8,000 children.
EI will continue to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka with its affiliates in order to assess the situation and the immediate needs of the teachers and their families affected by the conflict.