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Development without participation of the communities concerned ?

| by Shanie

"Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty."

(September 10, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) El Salvador is the smallest but the most densely populated countries of Central America. It is also one of the poorest in the region. From the late seventies, the country was traumatised by a civil war and right wing death squads backed by the military killed tens of thousands of her citizens. The Roman Catholic Church then headed by Archbishop Oscar Romero came out strongly against the death squads and the general repression of the poor. In late 1980, Romero appealed, unsuccessfully, to the then President of the US to stop providing military aid to the Salvadorean government which was using that aid to kill, maim and injure her own citizens. Two months later, Romero himself was assassinated as he celebrated Mass in a small church in Sal Salvador. Archbishop Romero was essentially an apostle of peace and struggled relentlessly for the liberation of his people. The words quoted above are from one of his sermons. In another of his sermons, he was to say: "Liberation that raises a cry against others is no true liberation. Liberation that means revolutions of hate and violence and takes away lives of others or abases the dignity of others cannot be true liberty."

Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was assassinated while celebrating Mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital in the country’s capital, San Salvador.
Archbishop Romero’s vision of true liberation and peace was built around the recognition of the dignity of the poor. Any plan, developmental or otherwise, affecting the people cannot be sustained if there is no consultation with the affected people and there is transparency in its implementation. In 2001, a Conference was held to work out a National Policy for Sri Lanka on involuntary re-settlement, a subject that is of considerable interest today in the context of the planned re-settlement of Colombo urban poor. At that conference, the keynote address was given by Mahinda Rajapakse, then Minister for Fisheries. His speech was that of a true visionary. He stated: "Politicians and officials are often in a hurry when dealing with development projects. They have no time for the procedures that guarantee the authentic participation of the people in them. Participation, if at all, is symbolic, ritualistic or cosmetic – not authentic, organic or real. Such projects designed and implemented in a hurry without time for ‘people’, are destine to follow a tortuous course,littered with roadblocks and land mines. As such they reach their goals – if ever they do so – much later than would ave been the case had they been designed, planned and implemented with the authentic participation of the communities concerned." Rajapakse went on to state that there should be absolute transparency, meaning a free flow of information with the communities concerned at all stages of the programme.

Principles for resettlement

Following on the Conference, the cabinet of President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on 24th May 2001 adopted a National Involuntary Resettlement Policy, This policy laid down certain policy principles to be followed. Among others, they were: Involuntary resettlement should be avoided or reduced as much as possible. Where it was unavoidable, the affected people should be assisted to re-establish themselves and improve their quality of life. They should be fully involved in the selection of re-location sites, livelihood compensation and development options. In addition, common property resources and community and public services were to be provided to the affected people. Resettlement was to be planned as a development activity and those without documented title to land were to receive fair and just treatment. Finally, vulnerable groups were to be identified anf given appropriate assistance to substantially improve their living standards.

In the case of Colombo’s urban poor, there is no indication that these principles so eloquently articulated by Mahinda Rajapakse in 2001 are being followed. Certainly, there has been no transparency, no consultation and no ‘authentic participation’ with and by the affected people. The poor and the vulnerable are treated as if they do not matter. There have been a few religious persons, Christian and Buddhist, who have withstood intimidation to assist the. But sadly there have no Archbishop Romeros in Sri Lanka. They seem happily ensconced in their episcopal ‘palaces’ urging their faithful to believe in a happy after-life!

Violence and the Rule of Law

But it is not only the urban poor who are under pressure. There have been disturbing reports from many parts of the country of violence and a disregard for the rule of law. The phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘grease devils’ has further exacerbated the situation particularly in the villages of the North and East. There have been reports of men prowling in the villages in the night and, when detected, taking refuge in military camps. In the most serious of these incidents recently, five men were seen in the village of Navanthurai in Jaffna. When detected,they ran and entered the nearby army camp. The villagers gathered and agitated outside the camp and shortly after, saw an army vehicle being driven out with the offending intruders inside, one of whom contemptuously waved a knife at the villagers. This was followed by the villagers throwing stones at the army vehicle. A few hours later, shortly after midnight over one hundred army personnel had entered the homes in the village, dragged out the menfolk,including young teenage schoolboys, and severely beaten them up; loaded all of them on to army trucks and delivered over one hundred of them to Jaffna Police. Some eight hours after the assault, they were produced before the Jaffna District Judge as suspects in unlawful assembly and violence. The District Judge remanded all of them but ordered all to be admitted to the Jaffna Hospital, calling for a medical report from the hospital authorities.

In a related statement, the Women’s Action Network has stated: " Many women in the north and east have been attacked individually, and the female population terrorized more generally, by unidentified men, attackers now colloquially referred to as ‘Grease Yakas’. These incidents and the response of law enforcement and government agencies indicate a larger problem in the law and order situation in the north and east: the systemic failure of the rule of law and the consistent inability, or unwillingness, of law enforcement authorities and the state to hold the assailants accountable. The statement goes on to state, whilst giving details of several incidents: "While people have alleged that there is a connection between the military and the attackers, this is yet to be proven. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that neither the army nor the police have taken any action in many cases and in several instances provided the assailant protection without arresting or interrogating him. To date none of such assailants captured and handed over to law enforcement authority have been brought to court. The police officially maintain that there are no such people as "grease devils". However, contradicting themselves, police in several instances have provided information about "grease devil" issues in different parts of the country and in several cases have had meetings and asked the public to call a number if they catch the "grease devils". People in frustration have sought to take law in to their own hands. This has led to several attackers being beaten by the villagers; and the military, in turn, retaliating and shooting randomly at the villagers. There were many reported cases of death, the latest being the loss of life of a policeman in Puttalam on 21st August 2011. This situation has also resulted in innocent people being attacked by the villagers on mere suspicion and some of the villagers who captured or chased the "grease man" being beaten up by the military and police. This lack of law and order is deplorable.

"The north and east have been very tense the last few weeks due to local frustration and anger at being attacked and the lack of protection and the impunity with which the assailants have been able to function. This has caused severe friction between the villagers and the army/ navy and the police."

As this column has commented earlier, it is just not good enough to dismiss all these reports as being imaginary or the result of a conspiracy. The public are getting sceptical of every wrong doing by state agencies being explained away as a conspiracy or by raising the bogey of the LTTE. If there is nothing to hide and if all suspicions of complicity are to be allayed, it will be in the interests of the government to appoint a three-person committee comprising individuals respected by all communities to investigate these incidents and to issue a public report.

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