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Sri Lanka: Memorandum by North East Coordinating Committee to UNSG

(UN photo: UN Secretary-General meets with Officials in the North (2 Sep 2016, Jaffna)


We the North East Coordinating Committee working towards ensuring implementation of a rights based approach in the transitional justice initiatives have gathered today (September 2, 2016) at the ‘Paadhukaavalan’ hall in Jaffna with people’s representatives from the eight districts of the North and East to warmly welcome his Excellency.

We extend our sincere appreciation for the measures taken to bring about peace and reconciliation in addition toprotecting and promoting minority rights and human rights in Sri Lanka. Change of government in January 8, 2015 and the political climate in Sri Lanka has increased hope and trust in the Sri Lankan government by the international community including the UN. Based on this trust that your Excellency has approved the United Nation’s Peace Building Fund also known as Secretary General’s Fund to Sri Lanka.

By this means, USD 1.2 million was provided for resettlement as Immediate Response Fund. Therefore, the aim of the first phase of resettlement is to release the residential lands in the North (Jaffna)and East(Trincomalee)which were taken by the military declaring the area High Security Zonesand resettle the people in their own lands. This phase must be completed within June 2015 and December 2016.

UNHCR and UNICEF are overseeing the project. However, the following information points out to the fact that the resettlement process did not take place the way the affected communities and the international community anticipated:In the North,

1)2630 hectares of land within the 24 GN (Grama Niladhari or village officer) divisions in the Valikamam North, Jaffna district has not been released for resettlement and is still under the control of the military. More than 10,000 families are yet to be resettled. Out of the 10,000 families 1318 families are living in 38 temporary shelters or welfare centers.(United Nations Peace Building Fund, SriLanka Overview, http://www.unpbf.org/)  Myliddy harbour and the surrounding 12 km long coastal land spreading across areas such as Palaly, Oorani, and Kankesanthurai have not been released for public use.

2)The only hospital that treats TB patients in the Jaffna district is located in Myliddy, Valikamam North. Since the hospitalis under the control of the military patients are unable receive treatment.

3)Military camps still exist and their presence can be seen in certain areas that have been released for resettlement in Valikamam North. The military camp in a private land located in the middle of the people’s settlements in Varuthalaivilan village is yet to be removed while the owners of this land continue to live welfare centres. These temporary shelters in resettled areas lack even the basic facilities and the people who live here, especially the women fear for their security. Likewise, the military camp, the police station and the military eating house located nearby Nadeswara College in Mavittapuram are in private lands belonging to the people. The tourist hotel named ‘Thal Sevena’ in Kankesanthurairun by the military is also located in a private land.

4)Besides, the wells in private lands belonging to the people is also controlled by the military and thousands of liters of water is drawn on a daily basis for the surrounding camps. As a result,people are facing water shortages. The water crisis exists in resettled areas, islands and in various parts of the Jaffna peninsula.

5)Even now there are shops run by the military in different areas in the Jaffna district especially with the intention of attracting the Sinhala people who visit the North and to prevent them from going to Tamil shops. It raises the question how such measures could encourage and promote reconciliation?

6)Villages such as Mullikulam in the Mannar district and Keppapulavu in the Mullaitivu district were declared High Security Zonesand continue to be under the control of the military. Similarly, the island of Iranaitheevu in the Kilinochchi district is entirely under the control of the navy.

7)Navy has illegally acquired private lands(a total of 02 acres and 02 purchases) belonging to 23 persons in the Pallimunai village in the Mannar district. Nineteen of them have land deeds for the said land and they have filed litigations against the navy. However, the government has failed up hold legal requirements by taking measures to survey the land for the use of the navy.

8)In the same way, the security forces control many private and public lands in the Jaffna district.This is a measure carried out to ensure continuous military presence in the North. We wish to point out that such action would disrupt the affected people from getting back to normal life.

9)When affected minority communities living in the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts see military victory monuments, symbols and museum;they tend tolose faith in the reconciliation process.

In the East,

1)People of Sampur fully abandoned their lands when hostilities broke out in 2006. At that point when people were displaced,the government ignoring the legal provisions in the law, went ahead and illegally acquired 818 acres of land owned by the people and later gave the land on long term lease to a private company. When the present ‘good governance’ government came into power in 2015,the long term lease agreement with the private company was cancelled. Without providing any basic facilities the displaced people were resettled in two phases in their own lands on 19.08.2015 and 25.03.2015. However, the ownership of the land have not been transferred to the resettled people and continues to be aproperty of the government. Also, facilities for resettlement were not provided.

2)When the people of Sampur had been displaced in 2006, the navy had put up a training camp in 176 acres of the land belonging to the people. On 25.03.2016 this camp was removed. It was decided at the Trincomalee Development Committee meeting that 40 acres of alternative land will be provided between Sampur Seaand Villukulam to put up the camp.But, in addition to the approved 40 acres, a further 245 acres of land from the Sampur coastal area and 32 acres of people’s land including the Neelakerni Sri Murukan Temple land (totaling 277 acres of land) was taken over by the navy for the above purpose. As a result,coastal fishing in the Sakaravattavan area in Sampur and fresh water fishing in the Villukulam area in Sampur has been banned.The 505 acres of land allocated for construction of a coal power plant includes 110 acres of private land. Furthermore, the allocated land comprises 15 water tanks used by public and 395 acres of forest land used by tribal communities for their livelihood purposes.

3)Military controls a number of lands in the Eastern province and more land is being illegally acquired for the purpose of putting up Buddhist temples and monuments.

4)Besides, as a result of people being displaced for many years, their lands which had become unrecognizable with shrubs and over grown vegetation are now being forcefully acquired by the Department of Forest Conservation. Participants of the meetings held by the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission  68,750 acres of land have been taken over by the Department of Forest Conservation.

Resettlement was tabled by the government itself as one of the key issues that needs to be addressed in the 100-daywork program. For this reason,your Excellency provided the Immediate Response Fundand therefore, the facts mentioned above points towards breach of agreement by the Sri Lankan government—an agreement which was made with the UN Secretary General. His Excellency Secretary General, Establishing transitional justice mechanisms in compliance with international standards is the principal of the four prerequisites in providing the UN Peace Building Fund.For that reason the Sri Lankan government put forward four mechanisms and went ahead and passedt he Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) bill in parliament.3However, the bill was approved by the Cabinet before the National Consultation processcould take place.Further, the reasonable concerns and recommendations put forward by thew ar affected people and the initiatives taken up by the government seem to lack relevance. We wish to draw attention to the contents of the Interim Report of the National Consultation Task force on Reconciliation Mechanisms.

As stated in the guidelines of the United Nations Approach to Transitional Justice tabled by your Excellency in March 20105indicates working towards a solutioncan only take place after shedding lighton the root causes to the conflictand all the rights violations that led to the causes. The root causes for the conflict in Sri Lanka is ethnic repression and gross human rights violations perpetrated to suppress minorities. This has brought uncertainty to the Tamil people living in the North and East, thusstretchingto the extent ofethnic cleansing. The peopleliving in the North and East have lost faith in government’s efforts and commitment to protect and promote the rights of minorities and bring about a lasting solution to the ethnic question.

It is well evident through the fact that there has not been any decrease in militarization in the North and East and state security forces and intelligence officers freely go about doing their day to day tasks, while the people struggle to get back to their normal lives.There have been no changes in the structures that come with militarization and arbitrary and illegal arrests, detention, inquiries, and torture continue. We wish to point out that the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission have put forward general recommendations in view of such activities.6The work on reintegrating ex-combatants into the community is yet to take place. On the contrary, they are under constant surveillance and their movements are being monitored thus making them and their families live in fear. Rehabilitation must take place with the consent of the person involved where his/her abilities will be further developed for reintegration.Since rehabilitation of ex-combatants in Sri Lanka is a militarized detention with the intention of further punishing the person;integration into communities cannot take place in an efficient manner.

Families of disappeared persons and witnesses face various forms of threats and intimidation by the military and the intelligence unit. Women in particular are the most affected due to such intimidation. Representatives of the non-governmental organizations involved civic engagement activities and human rights defenders become victims of continuous surveillance and inquiries.

Moreover, the government failed to give assurance that justice will be meted out to the victims who faced rights infringements and violence during the war. The State is continuing to turn a blind eye to the hardship and problems faced by the people of the North and East in the post war context. Such issues are listed below:

1.Information must be disclosed on the victims of enforced disappearance, disappearance of surrendees with white flag, families that handed over their loved ones to the military and the surrendees themselves.

2.Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) must be repealed without delay. We wish to point out the Public Statement of June 22, 2016 by the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission which states that the PTA must be repealed and replaced with a national security law compliant with international standards.

3.Justice must be meted out for the victims of massacres thatoccurred in the Northern and Eastern provinces. (Ex. massacre that happened in the Kumuthini boat, Kumarapuram massacre, Mylanthanai massacre)

4.Justice must prevail for political detainees charged under PTA who are languishing in various prisons for prolonged period of time. We draw reference to the sixth policy recommendation of the Public Statement of June 22, 2016 by the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission stating that prisoners who have detained for a lengthy period of time must be pardoned and released.

5.Detained and rehabilitated ex-combatants must undergo proper medical treatment and be provided with counseling and livelihood assistance and job skills.

6.Justice must be done for women who have faced gender based violence (victims of rape, sexual assault etc.,) during and after the war.

7.Relief, compensation and livelihood facilities must be provided for women headed households who have lost their husbands in the war.

8.Providing proper medical treatment and livelihood facilities to victims who are disabled and sustained injuries due to the war. 9.Children who lost their parents to the war should be given special attention in terms of their education, health and well being. All their basic needs must be met.In general, the people of the North and East are yet to fully experience the change of political climate and have not been recognized as partners of the transitional justice process. Acceptable space and opportunity is being denied to the affected communities to become partners of the transitional justice initiatives carried out by the government and activities and developments of the processis not informed clearly to the affected communities.In this respect, UN’s role and contribution in the transitional justice process of its member state Sri Lanka must not be limited tothe extent of‘technical assistance’ alone; in order to ensure that the process is consistent with international standards and that the rights of the affected communities are upheld, UN must become a joint partner in Sri Lanka’s transitional justice process.

Just as UN had memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Public Statement, Human Rights Commission of SriLanka, 22 June 2016.
countries such as Guatemala and Sierra Leon to become joint partners in the Transitional Justice initiatives, UN must also consider having a MoU with Sri Lanka and become an active joint partner.

(This appeal was read and tabled with corrections to more than 800 people’s representatives like the victims affected by both the war and the PTA, war widows, families of enforced and involuntary disappearances, IDPs living in welfare centres, women’s organizationsand civil society organizations from the eight districts of North and East who are present at this gathering. The appeal was drafted based on their valuable input.) North East Coordinating Committee (NECC)‘ Paadhukavalan Hall’ Jaffna September 02,2016

Copies:1.His Excellency Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, High Commissioner for UN Human Rights Council

2.Mr.Pablo de Greiff,UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence3

.Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission

4.National Consultation Task force on Reconciliation Mechanisms

Read the memorundam on line here


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