“Constructing a development based strategy for durable solutions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of conflict is now essential,” UN rights expert says.
COLOMBO/GENEVA, 11 December 2013: “After having made impressive strides in rebuilding infrastructure destroyed during the conflict, post conflict reconstruction in Sri Lanka should also focus on addressing durable solutions for all IDPs and those who have returned to their areas of origin on a comprehensive basis,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of IDPs, Chaloka Beyani, said at the end of his visit to Sri Lanka from 2 to 6 December 2013.
The IASC Framework on Durable Solutions for IDPs, which was discussed with the Sri Lankan Government in 2008, is more relevant than ever to address the durable solutions needs of IDPs in conditions of safety and dignity. It is important to set out a cohesive policy brief with benchmarks to bring real closure to the issue of internal displacement in Sri Lanka. “It is essential to ensure that the durable solutions process is done voluntarily, with the informed consent and participation of IDPs, with all durable solutions, that is return, local integration or settlement elsewhere in the country as available options,” stressed Mr. Beyani. Meaningful consultation and participation of IDPs in shaping solutions to their displacement are essential to guarantee the durability and legitimacy of solutions. The follow-up action plan to the Lessons Learned Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and recommendations formulated in the Human Rights Action Plan provide valuable guidance as well.
In the context of transition from relief to development in the aftermath of conflict, when many humanitarian agencies and donors are scaling back their activities, it is essential for the Government and development actors to engage in resolving the issue of IDPs, and to address their durable solutions needs and livelihoods in development plans, rule of law, human rights, and good governance programmes.
Government efforts together with humanitarian partners supported the return or settlement in the North and East of the country of over 450,000 IDPs displaced during the conflict. In a period of four years after the end of the conflict in 2009, the Government has made great progress in fostering economic development and building infrastructure, including in those areas the country which bore the brunt of the armed conflict. Demining in return areas, the rebuilding of roads, bridges, schools, hospitals and houses, as well as the release of some land to their original owners allowed many IDPs to return and go back to their traditional livelihood of farming and fishing.
However, a significant number of IDPs still live in protracted displacement, and tens of thousands others who have returned or have been settled elsewhere in the North live in very precarious conditions and need more durable housing, access to social services, and the creation of livelihood opportunities. Of equal importance is an environment allowing the resettled and remaining IDPs to exercise their property rights, receive information on missing family members and access legal services. While former fighters have been formally demobilized and rehabilitated, they continue to face difficulties in terms of durable solutions as monitoring and control measures by security forces limit their ability to find employment.
“I welcome the agreement to conduct a Joint Needs Assessment (JNA) which will be vital for establishing jointly agreed sets of statistical data on the number of IDPs that have returned or been resettled. There is a need to expediently complete this exercise to establish how many people are still displaced, and also how many still do not have access to their land of origin. It is essential to have data, disaggregated by gender and age, on internal displacement, for adequate planning, as well as a survey of intent in regard to durable solutions,” noted Mr Beyani.
Key issues to address include protection of the physical integrity and bodily autonomy of women and girls and their reproductive rights, of children, feasible access to land, and a proportionate balance between justifiable military concerns of national security and freedom of movement and choice of place for IDPs seeking to return to their original places of residence. Transparent information on plans to release land currently under military control and withdrawal of the military from all civilian functions would help to find durable solutions for people in conflict-affected areas. While significant numbers of IDPs secured their residential plots of land, some still need access to their original farmland or fishing areas to sustain their livelihood. Displaced and resettled communities seem to remain vulnerable to recurrent shocks. Their situation is exacerbated by growing food-insecurity and indebtedness in the Northern Province, partly due to the lack of sustainable livelihood opportunities.
“The situation of single female headed households and of orphan girls is particularly preoccupying. While some received assistance to rebuild their houses, others live in extreme poverty, without adequate access to services and livelihood,” added Mr Beyani.
“Another critical element is creating conditions for IDPs and returnees to get back to normalcy after 30 years of conflict. Peace- building alongside post conflict reconstruction, national reconciliation and healing, making available information on missing relatives, empowering local elected authorities, and ensuring that law enforcement activities are carried out by specially trained police services, are particularly vital to anchoring durable solutions in the long term,” said Mr. Beyani.
“Similarly, civil society should be allowed to operate in accordance with international norms, namely without undue restrictions and interference from the authorities including in terms of monitoring and reporting.
During his visit, the Special Rapporteur met with representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka in Colombo, Jaffna and Mullaitivu; UN humanitarian agencies; NGOs as well as development partners. The Special Rapporteur extends his appreciation to the Government for having invited him to visit the country, for their cooperation, assistance, and hospitality. He also thanks the UN Country Team, including UNHCR who have kindly facilitated this mission. He is deeply grateful to the IDPs and returnees, and civil society organizations who shared their insights with him.
Chaloka Beyani, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2010. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.