In a groundbreaking development analysis of satellite images conducted by the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), at the request of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice (SLC), has revealed that a large area of land seized by the Sri Lankan Army is not being used for its stated purpose. The 25 square kilometre stretch of land in the northern Jaffna peninsula used to be home to at least 2,000 Tamil families who were driven out by Sri Lanka’s civil war. It is now out of bounds to anyone except for the Sri Lankan Army and those they allow to enter. The owners have been petitioning the Sri Lankan court system to have the land returned to them, but the Sri Lankan army has been refusing, claiming it needs the land for “public purposes”. However analysis of satellite images by AAAS revealed:
- Only 7.77 square kilometres of the land, around 30%, was seemingly going to any form of institutional use. The major use of the land was for farming. Around 2,150 new houses have been built in the western half of the zone. These do not seem to be part of any military base. There are at least four sizeable seemingly commercial developments within the zone, including the Thalsevana holiday resort. Many of the original houses in the zone have fallen into disrepair or been reclaimed by the vegetation.
Fred Carver, Campaign Director for the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, said: “This shows that the Sri Lankan Army have been claiming the land under false pretences. At least 2,000 people have had their houses taken from them and now we discover that the “public purpose” for which they have been made homeless is to line the pockets of the Sri Lankan Army. “More seriously it suggests that the Sri Lankan Army is still keen to ensure that it’s military are a visible and active presence within the day to day life of Sri Lanka’s northern Tamils – a form of state oppression which, combined with systemic human rights abuses, we have previously deemed an ongoing crime against humanity.” Eric Ashcroft, AAAS senior project coordinator, said: “Over the study period, most of the growth in structures occurred outside of potential public-service areas and consisted mostly of new house-like structures, which could indicate that the land is not being used for a public purpose.”
You can read the report in its entirety at http://www.aaas.org/geotech/sri-lanka-2014
You can read further analysis by the Sri Lanka Campaign, and view pictures and an interactive map of the HSZ at https://blog.srilankacampaign.org/2014/08/arial-photographs-show-that-high.html