“Violence and extremism go hand in hand. It is propelled by various ideologies. These ideologies don’t happen in a vacuum. The majority of Sri Lankan youth identify themselves only as ‘Sri Lankans’ or as ‘human beings’ without other divisions. However, they still consider the ethnic factor as important, ” said Prof. Gamini Keerawella, Executive Director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS).
He expressed these views at a function held in Colombo on 17 September 2019, to launch a study on ‘The Potential Role of Young Leaders and Volunteers in Preventing Violent Extremism in Sri Lanka’. The study was conducted by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), commissioned by United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Volunteers (UNV) with the assistance of UN Peacebuilding Fund.
The field study was carried out pre-Easter Sunday attacks, from November – December 2018, with a sample size of 2,800 young people between the ages 15-29 years from the Northern, Eastern, Southern, and Central Provinces. The findings revealed that 25% of Sri Lankan youth from the four provinces believed that their peers are attracted to ideologies of violent extremism, a communique of the UNFPA said.
Addressing the gathering after the launch of the report of the study, Prof. Keerawella pointed out, “Sri Lanka is sitting on top of a volcano when it comes to violent extremism and its potential to lure in youth. While a majority of young people are of the view that conditions within the country have improved since the end of the war, we cannot be complaisant. A well-coordinated plan of action at national and provincial levels to utilize skills and capabilities of youth leaders and volunteers must be systematically set up.”
He further said, “Findings show that In post-war Sri Lanka, there is a long way to go in building inter-ethnic relations and mutual understanding among youth and in dispelling ‘enemy images’ towards other ethnic groups.”
“Addressing systematically the issue of lack of proper role models for youth through through education and media is key in preventing violent extremism,” Prof. Keerawella added.
V. Sivagnanasothy, Secretary to the Ministry of National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training and Skills Development and Youth Affairs, said, “As a nation, we must ensure that systematic approaches are in place to harness the energy of young people to ensure peaceful coexistence. Youth play a crucial role in sustaining peace, and we must engage them in the peacebuilding process. I commend UN agencies for mobilizing young people to build peaceful societies.”
Addressing event, UN Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Ms. Hanaa Singer, said, “You are the young people from around the island who have been selected to spiritedly push forward activities of peacebuilding and social cohesion within your communities. We are hopeful that your work over the next few weeks, months, and years, will consistently help to prevent sentiments of violent extremism from gaining traction. Hatred can only be ceased by love.”
Ms. Ritsu Nacken, UNFPA Representative in Sri Lanka said, “At UNFPA, we strive to ensure that every young person achieves their fullest potential. This means providing an open and safe space for youth to exercise their right to actively participate in decision-making and sustaining peace. We have seen how misinformation about sexual and reproductive health have instigated communal violence. Through the Youth Peace Panel, we hope that young people will be more informed in order to shape a more equitable, peaceful, and just future for all.”
The event also saw the launch of the ‘Youth Peace Panel’, introducing 30 young advocates for peace from all nine provinces, selected through an open-call process.