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Have NGOs failed in peacebuilding? An interview with Jehan Perera

I recently interviewed Dr. Jehan Perera, Executive Director of the National Peace Council. Jehan is also a columnist for the Daily Mirror and the Lanka Monthly Digest in Colombo. He holds a Doctor of Law degree from Harvard Law School and a BA in economics from Harvard College.

Based on his significant experience as a civil society activist, I asked Jehan whether NGOs in particular had fostered any appreciable difference in the quality of governance in Sri Lanka. Jehan stated that after a quarter century of working in civil society, he was acutely aware how little impact it had in shaping the political agenda in Sri Lanka and could in no way compare with the power and reach of a politician or political party.

Jehan noted that the fundamental issue was for Sri Lanka’s continued strife was the confusion of majority rule with democracy. Agreeing that while the LTTE is close to defeat militarily, he also stressed the need to address the underlying causes of what gave rise to the LTTE. Without this he noted, combined with support from sections of the Tamil diaspora and the continuing grievances of the Tamil people, the LTTE could retain a presence in the country and act as a spoiler to any peace and developmental process.

Jehan spoke about the challenges of peacebuilding in a context of war and violence, the power of NGOs to shape the political and peace agenda, possible scenarios after the military defeat of the LTTE, his hope for the growth of dissent, the chances of legitimate Tamil grievances being addressed and the need for a united Sri Lanka that recognises the right to self-determination.