12/06/2016, 16.44
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Sri Lankan fishermen movement leader looks at 20 years of achievements and challenges

by Melani Manel Perera

Herman Kumara, a Catholic, heads the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement. Bridging the gap between southern and northern fishermen, and influencing public policy are some of the group’s achievements. Nevertheless, its members still receive threats, and deep ethnic differences persist.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) is taking stock of its actions 20 years since it was founded. During this time, it has had great achievements but also some failures and many threats.

Open to members of every religion, the group has emerged over the years as the voice for small fishermen and the defender of their demands, but it has not entirely overcome deep ethnic cleavages within its membership.

NAFSO national coordinator Herman Kumara, a Catholic, spoke to AsiaNews about his organisation. The latter has strived to improve conditions for ordinary people and break down ideological, ethnic, and religious barriers.

The association, which celebrated its 20th anniversary on 24-26 November, currently has about 15,000 members. Set up in 1993 as a branch of Caritas’s Social and Economic Development Centre (SEDEC), it became independent in 1997 under its present name.

Since then it has promoted the protection of the environment, the land and their resources. It upholds respect for human rights for all citizens, with particular interest for women and children.

Starting out with small projects centred on fishing communities, it has turned into a major actor for the promotion of a just and prosperous society where resources are equitably shared and human rights guaranteed for everyone, regardless of creed, race, gender, and caste.

According to Kumara, NAFSO’s two main achievements are its success in organising nation-wide representation for fishermen, and its ability to outline alternative policies on fishing.

As a multiethnic and multicultural body, the association has managed to bridge the gap between the north and the south of the island.

Still it has not entirely succeeded in overcoming discrimination and ethnic differences among fishermen.  This, the coordinator said, "is the greatest failure. Nonetheless, at least we brought reconciliation among our members."

Despite numerous death threats, acts of intimidation and harassment against NAFSO members, including Kumara, " work goes on. As a Catholic leader, I do my best and try to be an example for the other members."

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