I am no expert on Sri Lanka, which explains why my review of this chapter written by Kumar Rupesinghe focuses more on those sections that address conflict early warning.
This chapter, like all others in this book on Third Generation Early Warning, makes important contributions to the field. My constructive criticism below in no way changes my opinion regarding the importance of this book. In fact, if I have spent close to a week carefully reading this book and now blogging about each chapter, it is precisely because this book merits no less.
The Foundation for Co-Existence (FCE) applies the concept of human security to conflict prevention. (Please see this post for an excellent paper on human security and early warning). Rupesinghe notes that “documentation about victims and past violence play a central role in human security [because] proper records are necessary for the truth to be acknowledged and […] for human rights protection in the future.”
There is inherent value in documenting past instances of mass atrocities. That said, I am (so far) unconvinced that monitoring human rights indicators today will help protect these rights in the future. Documentation by itself does not necessarily save lives. What’s perhaps missing from the above citation is the supposed causal loop between documentation and conflict prevention.
Kumar writes that the FCE employs a “combination of workshops, meetings and focused group meetings to map conflicts in volatile as well as potentially volatile areas in the Eastern Province. Further to the mapping exercises, the FCE engages different ethnic, religious and social groups in intra-community and inter-community meetings,” where “basic concepts of conflict resolution and mediation” are addressed.
The purpose of these meetings at the outset is to establish Co-Existence Committees (CECs) and action committees, which “pave the way for conflict mitigation even in the most volatile areas in the East.” The added value of FCE’s approach to conflict early warning is that project brings together three types of activities that would otherwise be kept separate.
“First, it undertakes Early Warning and Early Response at a local level. Second, the FCE’s data collection and analysis is akin to what some human rights monitors provide. And third, FCE attempts to undertake a ‘Track 2’ diplomacy, whereby information at a local level is conveyed to top-level leaders who are asked to respond with their subordinates at a local level.”
I think this is an excellent approach and one that I too employed in the development of Timor-Leste’s conflict early warning and response network in early 2008. I also value the FCE’s emphasis on making the “information collection and dissemination process faster using modern technology.” Indeed, the Foundation plans to explore “voice to e-mail systems” to convert speech to text.
In closing, I fully support Rupesinghe’s call to host international symposiums on Third Generation Early Warning/Response systems.