| A statement issued by the Peoples’ Alliance for Right to Land
( March 16, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) This note prepared by the Peoples’ Alliance for Right to Land (PARL) Sri Lanka – a network of civil society organisations and individuals campaigning on issues of land-grabs and landlessness across Sri Lanka – highlights through selected case-studies from the North and East, the lack of respect for the final recommendations of the presidential Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on issues of land in the context of return and resettlement.
Urgent action is required to protect the rights of marginalised and vulnerable communities in the North and East; and to advocate with the Government of Sri Lanka for full and speedy implementation of all LLRC recommendations towards ensuring “justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans”, as called upon by Resolution 19/2 adopted by the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 22 March 2012.
The LLRC observed in its final report that the “displacement of persons as well as loss of land and homes were major conflict related outcomes, and affected all communities throughout the period.” The LLRC concluded that “measures and policies ensuring legitimate land rights, especially among the returning IDPs, would contribute significantly to restoring normalcy and promoting reconciliation” (Chapter 6.2).
Some relevant recommendations of the LLRC report include:
- All families who have lost land and/or houses placed within officially declared [High Security Zones], or even within small plots of land locally identified and used for security purposes, be found alternate lands as a matter of utmost urgency and that any compensation due to them is also paid promptly (Chapter 6.65);
- Immediate needs of women, especially widows who most often have become heads of their households must be met ... [including] economic assistance by way of providing them with means of livelihood and other income generating means (Chapter 9.87);
- Remove any remaining restrictions on visiting places of worship (Chapter 9.117);
- Any citizen of Sri Lanka has the inalienable right to acquire land in any part of the country, in accordance with its laws and regulations, and reside in any area of his/her choice without any restrictions or limitations imposed in any manner whatsoever. The land policy of the Government should not be an instrument to effect unnatural changes in the demographic pattern of a given Province (Chapter 9.124);
- Confine the participation of security forces officers to expediting the release of maximum extent of lands being utilised for security purposes (Chapter 9.134);
- Apply strict controls to prevent any alienation of State land other than for IDPs until the programme for regulation of state lands in the North and East is implemented (Chapter 9.140);
- Two existing High Security Zones in Palaly and Sampur, as well as small extents of private land currently utilised for security purposes in the districts, be subject to review with a view to releasing more land while keeping national security needs in perspective. All families who have lost lands and/or houses due to formal HSZs or to other informal or ad hoc security related needs be given alternate lands, and/or compensation paid, according to applicable laws. The Commission further recommends that provision of alternate lands and or payment of compensation be completed within a specific time-frame (Chapter 9.142);
- Arrive at a bi-partisan understanding that restitution of land is a national issue and will not be used as a tool by political parties to gain narrow political advantage (Chapter 9.152).
The Government of Sri Lanka’s National Plan of Action to Implement the Recommendations of the LLRC (July 2012), does not adequately address all of the findings and constructive recommendations of the LLRC. However, those LLRC recommendations reproduced above have, with the exception of 9.87, been accepted and included in the National Plan of Action.
Nevertheless, the four case-studies below, based on first-hand information gathered through site-visits and interviews with affected communities by PARL network member, the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), suggests that the Government of Sri Lanka is not even honouring its own Action Plan.
Case One: Valikamam North (Jaffna, Northern Province)
Owing to the High Security Zone established by the military in Valikamam North division (especially around Tellippalai) of the Jaffna peninsula in 1990, some 9,905 Tamil families consisting of 33,353 individuals continue to be displaced according to the government’s own statistics. The HSZ encompasses 24 grama niladhari divisions, out of which 16 are completely out-of-bounds to their former residents. The HSZ also includes 18 kilometres of coastline between Naguleswaram and Myliddy. These Tamil families, who were traditionally dependent on farming and fishing for their livelihood, face severe hardship. The Myliddy fisheries harbour is occupied by the navy and not accessible to civilians. The Catholic churches in Kankesanthurai, Myliddy and Urani are inaccessible for worship and pastoral care.
Case Two: Sampur (Trincomalee, Eastern Province)
Sampur was initially declared as a High Security Zone, and later re-gazetted as a Special Economic Zone for the construction of a coal-power plant and industries owned by Indians. More than 500 houses were destroyed and their Muslim and Tamil owners are prevented from access to their former agricultural lands and fishing areas. The areas proposed for their resettlement are of poor quality for farming and other livelihood activities. Iralkulam is marshy land, which floods and remains inundated for prolonged periods during the rainy season. There is not even 100 acres that is suitable for paddy cultivation. Access to water remains a significant issue in Iththikulam. There are 1262 families (or 4036 individuals) still in four IDP camps: namely Kilivetti, Pattiththidal, Manatchenai and Kattaiparichchan. More than 2,500 acres of productive paddy land are lost to cultivation and more than 2,000 families have lost their livelihoods.
Case Three: Thiru Murugandi (Killinochchi district, Northern Province)
Three hundred and eighty-two of the original 463 Tamil families in Thiru Murugandi grama niladhari division have still not been resettled, since their most recent displacement in 2008. Five hundred acres of land is occupied by an army camp. These lands belong to 120 households among the displaced.
Case Four: Mullikulam (Mannar district, Northern Province)
Three hundred and seven Tamil families from the Mullikulam grama niladhari division within Musali Divisional Secretariat have been displaced due to the establishment of a naval base in that area. Owing to this informal High Security Zone, nearly 1000 acres of land and 5 irrigation tanks are now inaccessible to farmers. Families of Sinhala naval personnel have been settled in that land. Two hundred and six households have temporarily settled in the forested area of Marichchikattu; while 54 families are living in Kayakuli village. These households lack decent shelter, sanitation, potable water and livelihoods in both areas. The people of Mullikulam have been displaced at least four times since 1990.
- Immediate shelter, livelihood and infrastructure assistance to ‘old’ and ‘new’ IDPs in the Northern and Eastern provinces, especially women-headed households;
- The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and international standards on long-term housing and property restitution be adhered to by local, provincial and central government authorities;
- All the final recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission should be implemented, including on demilitarisation, impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, and the devolution of power to the provinces.