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Sri Lanka: recovering from conflict

27-05-2010 Operational Update

One year on from the end of hostilities, Sri Lanka is in transition from conflict to reconstruction and recovery. For the ICRC a lot remains to be done to meet the needs of conflict victims, including detainees and their families, amputees and other disabled people, displaced people and returnees.

May 2010. A disabled man who recently left a camp for internally displaced people waits for a bus in Vavuniya. 


The ICRC has extensive experience in working in countries in transition from conflict to recovery and development. In Sri Lanka, ICRC delegates visit places of detention countrywide to ensure that conditions of detention are adequate and in line with domestic laws and regulations. Through its family-visit assistance programme the ICRC provides travel allowances to families who come to its offices in Jaffna, Vavuniya and Colombo seeking help to visit their detained relatives.

With daily life slowly picking up in areas of the north and north east, where only a year ago fighting was taking place, it is becoming easier for people to move around. Re-opened recently after a three-year closure, the A9 road -- the main artery linking the north and south of the country – is busy with traffic, including tourist buses.

In Jaffna town, the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation receives amputees and other patients with disabilities from as far away as Killinochi in the Vanni, and Batticaloa in the east of Sri Lanka. The ICRC provides the centre with technical and material assistance for the production of prosthesis and mobility aids, such as crutches and wheelchairs.

The ICRC also supports the efforts of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society to provide services for displaced people in camps, and to carry out its traditional activities countrywide. These include first-aid training, and dissemination about the mandate and fundamental principles of the Red Cross. 

ICRC activities between February and April 2010 included the following:

 Visits to places of detention and family visit assistance  

With the agreement of the authorities, the ICRC visited places of detention, including police stations, countrywide. It helped detainees and their families keep in touch through the exchange of Red Cross messages and the family-visit assistance programme.

Over the past three months ICRC delegates and staff have carried out the following:

  • made 56 visits to 53 pl aces of detention and met privately with over 2,000 detainees;

  • provided detainees in temporary places of detention with toiletries, clothes and games;

  • paid for 16 detainees to return home by public transport following their release

  • collected nearly 800 Red Cross messages and distributed just under 500, mostly between detainees and their families;

  • provided just under 10,000 people with allowances within the scope of the family-visit assistance programme.

 Dissemination of international humanitarian law  

As part of its efforts to promote international humanitarian law (IHL), the ICRC arranges for representatives from the armed forces, academia and the authorities to attend regional seminars and training programmes. In addition, briefings on IHL are conducted for the military, including the Sri Lankan army’s peacekeeping units preparing for deployment abroad.

Since the beginning of the year, participation in IHL conferences, training sessions and briefing programmes on IHL have been organized as follows:

  • three participants, one each from the attorney general’s office, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Human Rights, attended a regional conference on IHL in Bangladesh;

  • a lecturer teaching IHL in the department of international relations at the University of Colombo attended the 16th South Asia Teaching Session on IHL, organized by the ICRC regional delegation in New Delhi in April;

  • at the request of the Sri Lankan army, two pre-deployment briefing programmes on IHL were conducted for the army’s peacekeeping units. The first was in March for over 200 military personnel going to Lebanon. The second, in April, was for 250 personnel from the support battalion to the main peacekeeping contingent deployed to Haiti.

Support to the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation

The ICRC provides the Jaffna Jaipur Centre for Disability Rehabilitation with technical and material assistance, including raw materials such as polypropylene and other prosthetic components. Since the beginning of 2010, the centre has served 465 patients. In addition, over the past three months it has:

  • provided over 120 prosthesis to amputees;

  • provided micro loans to help individuals start income-generating activities;

  • produced 60 crutches, walkers, wheelchairs and other mobility aids.

Cooperation with Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners

The ICRC views its cooperation with the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society as an essential part of the Red Cross Movement's shared vision to help the most vulnerable. As part of its capacity building initiatives, the ICRC has recently supported the National Society in the following activities:

  • workshops for National Society volunteers responsible for coordinating activities to promote IHL and humanitarian principles;

  • water trucking, ambulance services and mobile clinics in camps for displaced people;

  • the re-opening of two National Society branch offices in the Vanni.

The ICRC coordinates notifications to the Ministry of Defence on behalf of Red Cross Movement partners wishing to travel to Jaffna on the A9. Personnel either travel in ICRC cars or join ICRC convoys using their own vehicles. Since the beginning of the year there have been 23 convoys, and the travel a rrangements of 77 expatriate and national staff from the American, Canadian, Danish and Finnish Red Cross Societies, and the International Federation, have been facilitated.

Human resources

Currently, there are 38 expatriates and over 300 national staff based in the main ICRC delegation in Colombo, the two sub-delegations in Jaffna and Vavuniya, and the office in Mannar.