The Path of Freedom, AFRIEL 2014 Youth Gathering, successfully concluded today

Around 1,700 youths stepped out their first walk on the path of freedom despite of military intervention today at the Veerasingam Hall, Jaffna.

This was the biggest public gathering of women and youth after the end of the Civil War, said the participants. Chief Minister of the Northern Province C. V. Wigneswaran, S. G. Punchihewa, Mahinda Hattaka and S. Siva Kurunatham lighted the oil lamp for the programme. The northern youth’s theme song was launched under the participants’ witness.

A youth declaration addressing military intervention, land permit issues, illegal land acquisition and freedom of assembly and association was handed over to the Chief Minister by the youth representative, S. Vijitharan, after reading out together and accepted by the participants.

“We developed the declaration according to the conclusion of AFRIEL’s work engaging in the social issues about Northern youth in the past 1 year. This declaration is not merely a document, but a working plan that waiting for the youngster from south and north to implement jointly in the near future,” emphasized by S. Pradeep.

“Uniformed and civilized military harassed our organizers that this programme is not allowed to mention disappearance and human rights. The bus loaded AFRIEL youth from Mannar was blocked by the military’s truck. Participants from Mullaitivu were warned that do not attend our gathering. Even the Veerasingam Hall administrators were threatened by unknown persons for renting us the space,” Ravindra De Silva described the military pressure on this event. “Our youth asked a military personnel the reason of presenting in our programme, and the answer is he should protect the President’s cutout. Both the hall and military are public property, but our country is wasting the tax paid by people and misuse it.”

“We are not a violent group. We want to solve our problem peacefully. It was the reason why we brought issues revealed to government officers in the past 1 year. Sadly to say, their answers were always that we know it’s unfair and discriminated, but we cannot do anything,” he continued. “We want to see the smiles of retrieving the lost rights on the youth’s faces. This is our International Human Rights Day’s wishes.”

The northern community is tired with violence after the war and seeking for a place where their problem could be discussed and listened. People had been panicking about coming forward to fight for their rights. They’ve tried to solve their difficulties with many NGOs, but failed. Eventually, many of them laid expectation on political parties and wished politicians could wipe off the tears from their faces.

Unfortunately, nothing was happening, but now the Northern youths are finding a shelter for them after this event.

AFRIEL has conducted many mobilization activities in the past 1 year and encourage youth to actively devote themselves into social work. We created a new role of youth and passed the mission on them that is to purchase their rights without violence and weapons. Northern youth were inspired during each AFRIEL meeting where they could openly discuss about their personal problems and issues faced by their friends and families without hesitation.

Participants of the AFRIEL youth meeting in each District in the Northern Province gathered and unite as one today. Military intervention occurred as predicted, but the participants decided to face it fearlessly. In 1983, military had intervened the people’s movement, and Tamil people responded with arm. After near 3 decades of war, the military hasn’t yet learnt the lesson from history and did the same thing to us for this programme, while Tamil youth prove the world today that they are determined to follow non-violence while pursuing the basic rights that should be given to all the human beings.

The youth representative S. Vijitharan mentioned in his speech, “I am happy we gather like one. We could only face the military intervention by collective strength and non-violence. We should take real actions instead of empty talks.”

Tamil youth were blaming politicians’ inability of reconciliations, but today they realize the stakeholders who could settle the Northern human rights issues are the people themselves, through uniting the north and the south. They are shouldering citizens’ responsibilities and starting to supervise the authorities. They participated the AFRIEL gathering as Sri Lankan youth, no matter they are Muslim, Sinhalese or Tamil. People used to criticize the Southern people are not sensitive to the Tamil issues, but the Sinhalese Culture Team from Anuradhapura broke the myth and presented their Tamil peers’ life on the stage perfectly today.

Northern and Southern youth share many common issues, especially the unemployment. We both are ready to cooperate with each other and make us a brighter future. As the Chief Minister’s bless, “youth coming forward and protecting human rights is blossoming the heart of our whole society.”

We would like to say the success of this event comes from non-partisan and teamwork. The Chief Minister delivered his speech as a citizen of Sri Lanka as the other youth representatives. There’s no position and fighting within AFRIEL. We deeply understand everyone is the leader who makes the ideal come true.

It is people’s power.