Month: July 2016

On Rights and Justice: Some Perspective from Colombo

First published at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/taylor-dibbert/on-rights-and-justice-som_b_11250536.html on 28th July 2016

Ruki Fernando is a human rights activist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. In this interview, Mr. Fernando shares his thoughts on a range of salient issues.

Sri Lanka’s former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, took the country in an ever more authoritarian direction. How much has changed since Maithripala Sirisena became president in January 2015?

Authoritarianism has lessened and there is more space across the country for free expression, free assembly and free association. This was visible when Tamil people in the country’s North and East came out for the first time on May 18, 2015 — to grieve collectively and publicly for their loved ones who had died during the civil war. There was more space and less restrictions and less intimidation for this in 2016 compared to 2015. However, there have been regular incidents of surveillance, intimidation, harassment and threats on journalists and activists — particularly in the North and East, even though the intensity and regularity of these incidents appears to be less than it was during the Rajapaksa era.

I feel more safe and free, and now travel to the interior of the Vanni (in the country’s Northern Province). I also go home late at night on my own, using public transport — something I never did when the Rajapaksas were in power. But even after 18 months of “good governance,” I’m still under investigation by the Terrorist Investigation Department and my freedom of expression is restricted through a court order.

As a human rights activist, what issues are taking up most of your time? What projects are you currently working on?

There are too many things than I could mention! I have been trying to assist a few families of disappeared persons in their continuing struggles. I have been trying to engage critically with the proposed Office of Missing Persons (OMP). I have been monitoring and documenting recent abductions and arrests under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). I’m continuing to work with a few communities whose lands have been expropriated by the military. I am trying to critique militarized and large, business-oriented tourism, and to promote a more community-centered, reconciliation-oriented form of tourism. I’m also spending time discussing transitional justice issues with rural Sinhalese communities, and participating in radio and TV discussions in Sinhalese. In addition, I have been trying to support exiled Sri Lankan journalists and activists to return to Sri Lanka, and to support Pakistanis and Bangladeshis fleeing their countries and seeking refuge in Sri Lanka. Lastly, I have been giving talks and interviews, and have been writing about these issues.

In terms of the government’s wide-ranging transitional justice agenda, how much has been accomplished thus far?

Some political prisoners have been released, mostly conditionally. Some lands occupied for decades by the military have been released. Last year, there were significant judgements convicting soldiers for the rape of a Tamil woman in 2010 and a massacre of Tamil civilians in 2000.

There have been arrests of military and senior police personnel in some important and high-profile cases of killings and disappearances. The new leadership of the Human Rights Commission has asserted their independence and challenged the government, though an overhaul of the institution to be fully independent and effective will take much longer.

On the other hand, the military’s involvement in civilian activities in the North — such as hotels, shops, preschools, farms and airlines, among other activities, continues. Buddhist domination with the help of the military, in the predominantly non-Buddhist (mostly Tamil) North also continues. There has been an alarming rise of abductions and arrests under the PTA in the North and East during the last few months. Impunity reigns and accountability seems far away for tens of thousands of incidents, despite the availability of compelling evidence in some cases.

The positive progress is politically symbolic and matters a lot to ordinary people in their daily lives. But overall, progress has been too little and painfully slow. And there have been too many backward steps for the few forward steps.

How have public consultations (for the country’s transitional justice mechanisms) been going? What, if anything could be done to improve the consultative process?

Six months after the appointment of the Consultation Task Force (CTF), the consultations on transitional justice have commenced. But it seems the government has not thrown its political weight behind it, championing and promoting the process amongst Sri Lankans, using its vast infrastructure and extensive outreach through the mainstream and new media. The government doesn’t appear to be supporting the process financially, and it seems dependent on foreign funding from the United Nations (UN), which has resulted in delays.

In addition, the government had initiated a parallel process of drafting in secret, legislature in relation to transitional justice institutions, even before the consultation process started. There needs to be a convergence of expert drafting processes and popular consultations with ordinary people.

As it is, despite the best efforts of the CTF and subsidiary bodies, politically, the popular consultations appear to be an eyewash, designed to placate foreign governments and UN officials, and tick the box.

Do you believe that it’s important for Sri Lanka’s transitional justice process to include international participation? If so, why?

The reality in Sri Lanka is that most Tamils, who are a numerical minority, who have suffered the most, and who have historical grievances that led to the civil war, don’t trust a purely domestic process. Sinhalese who are the majority community, don’t trust international involvement. So if the transitional justice process is about all communities, we need to negotiate a middle way, acceptable to most communities and people. But there’s also a danger that the aspirations of the majority may prevail. Then there is also the issue of whether competency and experience to the extent needed is fully available in Sri Lanka.

Regarding the accountability mechanism to address alleged wartime abuses, what role (if any) would you like to see international actors play?

Personally, I believe it’s important to have the participation of international judges, prosecutors, investigators and defense lawyers. Their participation should go beyond monitoring, advising and training. But being international alone will not guarantee independence and credibility. It’s crucial to ensure that accountability mechanisms have the acceptance of all communities and thus, the government must play the major role in reaching out to all Sri Lankans — in particular to the Sinhalese-Buddhist community, to stress the importance of doing what’s right and principled, instead of bowing down to populist slogans. Tamil political and civil society leaders too must not get carried away with populist slogans and work towards solutions for affected people, considering the existing domestic and international political realities.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Black July, Government promises and our future

Transcript of sharing at the Black July commemoration in London, 25th July 2016, first published at http://groundviews.org/2016/07/26/black-july-government-promises-and-our-future/ on 26th July 2016

I’m thankful to British Tamils Forum (BTF) for inviting me to share some reflections and thoughts on this occasion.

Many of you gathered for this commemoration might be Tamils. Some may be survivors and families of victims of Black July and numerous other abuses which may have compelled you to leave Sri Lanka. Black July, and much of your sufferings have come at the hands of the Sinhalese dominated state, its military and police and an ideology of Sinhalese – Buddhist superiority. And also due to Sinhalese society’s refusal to acknowledge your identity and specific problems you have faced due to your ethnicity. As a Sinhalese, I share my thoughts today in a spirit of humility and introspection, but also with hopes of moving forward together towards a better future.

I understand that an apology from an ordinary individual like me might not mean much. But as a Sinhalese, I would still like to apologize to all those Tamil brothers and sisters who have suffered much during Black July and countless other such horrific incidents.

I regret I’m not in London to join this event in person. But I thought that being in Sri Lanka during these days would be more meaningful. The last few days, I had chances to share and reflect about Black July with group of Sinhalese journalists in Ampara and also be part of Sinhalese Radio program which was dealing with ethnic conflict, in which we talked about Black July. These were difficult but important conversations.

Riots against minorities in Sri Lanka

25th July 1983 is the day thousands of Tamils in Colombo and other Sinhalese majority areas were slaughtered by Sinhalese mobs, on the streets, in their houses, in vehicles. The killings and looting continued for several days. They were supported by the UNP government of the day, with an extremely powerful Executive President and massive 5/6 majority in parliament. The present Prime Minister and the leader of the UNP, Mr. Ranil Wickramasinghe, was a Minister at that time. I don’t know whether he actively or tacitly supported the riots like his leader, President J. R. Jayawardena, or whether he opposed and condemned the riots.

Sadly, riots against minorities in Sri Lanka are not a thing of the distant or recent past. Riots against Tamils have been reported in 1956, 1958, 1977 and 2006. The earliest and latest riots against minorities, specifically the Muslims, have been reported in 1915 and as recently as 2014. Sinhalese mobs, backed by the UNP or SLFP government of the day, have been responsible for these. Police and Military, the majority of whom are also Sinhalese, have actively participated in some of these riots or at times refused to intervene in a timely manner to stop the carnage. Some Buddhist Monks are also reported to have participated in some of these riots, and actually instigated and led the last one against Muslims in 2014.

Among the different riots, Black July had gained most visibility locally and internationally, and is remembered most often. It’s also probably the biggest factor that led to hundreds of thousands of Tamils to seek refugee overseas, leading to numerically, politically and financially powerful “Tamil Diaspora”. I understand that Black July also led to thousands of youth joining the LTTE, as a way of defending themselves from the Sinhalese state.

Black July and other such riots have not been spontaneous acts, but crimes that have been deliberately planned and executed. The state, which should be protecting the citizens, was behind the crimes or complicit. Electoral lists were a key weapon to single out Tamils during Black July. Even if triggers for some riots may have been violent or provocative acts by the LTTE or other individuals or groups, extra-judicial, barbaric collective punishment for whole groups of peoples, and that too repeatedly, is absolutely unjustified and unacceptable under any circumstances.

Massacre of prisoners 

Prisoners – suspects, those charged and those convicted – are amongst the most vulnerable in society. They are dependent on the protection and care of the state. How we treat them could indicate our humanity and civility. One of the most horrific parts of “Black July” was the massacre of Tamil detainees at Colombo’s Welikada Prison. 35 were reported as killed on 25th July and 18 more on 27th July. Tamil detainees were also killed in 1997, 2000 and 2012 in Kaluthara, Bindunuwewa and Vavuniya. In 2012 November, 27 Sinhalese and Muslim prisoners were killed in the same Welikada prison. Irrespective of their guilt or innocence, they didn’t deserve to be massacred. I know some of their mothers and family members are still awaiting justice. Today, let’s also remember them and their families in a special way.

Truth Commission & Apology for Black July

In 2001, then President Chandrika Kumaratunga appointed a Truth Commission to look at Black July.

Later, during a commemoration of Black July in 2004, President Kumaratunga made a historic public apology[1]. Nominal and symbolic compensation was offered to some survivors and victim’s families, which was reported to be on average Rs. 77,000 per person[2]. According to President Kumaratunga, the Commission’s work had indicated nearly 1000 persons killed, 1000s injured and 18,000 properties destroyed. She acknowledged that the scale of tragedy would have been much more, as all facts may not have been available to the Commission and many incidents would not have been reported. Coming from the head of state, this was important. But sadly, she didn’t apologize or even acknowledge massacres of Tamil detainees in Kaluthara and Bindunuwewa and numerous other abuses under her own presidency. Today, she leads the Office for National Unity & Reconciliation under the Presidential Secretariat.

Latest government promises 

This year, we remember Black July, after the new Sri Lankan government has announced an ambitious transitional justice agenda, with commitments for truth seeking, reparations, criminal justice through prosecutions and measures to guarantee non-reoccurrence. Plus a new constitution, which is expected to address power sharing and degree of autonomy for Tamil majority areas.

Black July this year could indicate the genuineness of government’s commitments and provide yet another opportunity for the country to move forward. President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe are leaders of the two major Sinhalese dominated political parties which have ruled Sri Lanka since 1948 and under whose watch, and with whose support, all the riots have happened. In fact, both have been Ministers when riots against minorities were unleashed. Today, there’s a unique opportunity for them to go beyond what President Kumaratunga did, by jointly acknowledging the riots against minorities and extending a formal public apology.

Beyond acknowledging and apologising, Black July anniversary could be an opportunity to assess damages and plan towards awarding meaningful reparations, going beyond the rather measly compensation offered for some survivors and families of victims of the Black July under the Kumaratunga presidency.  It’s very late, but not too late to try and make up for wrongs done.

Today would also be an opportunity to initiate fresh investigations and initiate arrests and prosecutions against those responsible for Black July and other such incidents. Not just those responsible for their implementation, but politicians and high level military, police and prison officials who would have planned or supported these atrocities. Or deliberately turned a blind eye and ensured others responsible did the same.

More than rhetoric and promises, it’s such actions that will indicate to survivors and victim’s families, and minorities as a whole, that this government is sincere towards reconciliation.

Individual Sinhalese heroes and Collective responsibility of Sinhalese society

Riots against minorities will forever be a black mark against Sinhalese as a community. Despite the many heroic acts by individual Sinhalese to save Tamil lives and their properties during Black July. There were also Muslims and Burghers who had come forward to save Tamils. We must acknowledge and appreciate these individual acts of solidarity beyond ethnic lines, at a most critical and dangerous time. But we must not let these individual acts cloud the collective responsibility of Sinhalese society, for allowing Sinhalese majoritarian racism and superiority complexes to flourish, leading to historical and structural discrimination, domination and violence against minorities. Till today.

Black July and other riots are just part of the story of Tamils in Sri Lanka. We cannot forget the systemic atrocities committed during the last months of the war in 2009 and throughout the three decade war. Extrajudicial executions, disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, sexual and gender based violence and mass and multiple displacements are part of the history of Tamil peoples of Sri Lanka.

Even under the good governance and reconciliation agenda of this new government, there are reports of initiatives to dominate and assimilate Tamils, such as continued occupation of Tamil’s lands and building of new Buddha statues and temples in areas where there are no Buddhists. The military is complicit in these. Till today, military is involved in many civilian affairs such as pre-schools, farms, tourist centres, hotels and shops in the Tamil majority North. Tamils still complain of being under the jackboot of a pre-dominantly Sinhalese military, which stands accused of very serious crimes and human rights violations against Tamils. There had been an alarming rise of abductions and arrests under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in the 3 preceding months.

Appeal to Tamil brother and sisters

As a Sinhalese, I struggle to come to terms with horrific crimes unleashed by political, military and religious leaders from Sinhalese community against Tamils and the complicity of Sinhalese society as a whole. But I also would like to make an appeal to my Tamil brothers and sisters, which I hope you will consider, even though some may be offended or ask “who are you to ask us”.

It’s important that you remember the atrocities against yourselves and your community. But please don’t ignore and forget the “minorities” in the North and East and along it’s borders. And the horrific crimes committed against them by the LTTE, an almost exclusively Tamil group, who claimed to represent the Tamils. Stories of people I have met in Sinhalese “border villages” which has seen horrific massacres by the LTTE appear to be as gruesome as stories I have heard from Tamils who had survived riots at hands of Sinhalese state and mobs. When I listened to families and neighbours of Muslims massacred at the Kathankudi Mosque and Muslim friends forcibly evicted from the Northern Province, both by the LTTE, it sounded as terrible as experiences narrated to me by Tamils who had survived riots in 1983. In my visits to interior villages of the Vanni, I have heard stories of hill country Tamils and their marginalisation, frustrations and difficulties living in the North, after having fled due to riots by Sinhalese. I believe remembering, acknowledging and reflecting on these will deepen our experiences of Black July and help understand and address broader patterns of discrimination and oppression.

Looking towards the future

Discrimination, domination and marginalisation of Tamils by Sinhalese dominated state are the root causes of the conflict and led to war. During the war, horrific abuses were committed against Tamils as well as against Sinhalese and Muslims, by the state and the LTTE. Today, there appear to be some opportunities to address these through political and legal processes in Sri Lanka. Despite terrible experiences with series of failed mechanisms of the past, problems with today’s processes, ongoing violations such as the ones I noted above and indications of lack of seriousness and sincerity on the part of the government, I believe these are opportunities that should not be missed. It would be good to analyze and reflect on opportunities and limits of the present moment and other alternatives available for survivors and victims of violations, before deciding to engage or disengage or limits of engagement.

I also believe it’s important for ordinary Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims in Sri Lanka, along with Diaspora and international friends, to join hands to take measures that will lead to truth, reparations, justice and non-reoccurrence. We can’t move forward by sweeping tragedies of the past under the carpet and forgetting about them. That’s why commemorations such as Black July are important. Despite efforts by the previous government and to lesser extent by this government, to restrict remembrances, people, especially survivors and families of victims of violations, have refused to forget. We will need to accept what we had done to each other, and what has been done in our names, without being selective. Despite the horrific experiences of the past, I hope we can walk together in pursuit of an equal, free and dignified future.


[1] http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/papers/BlackJuly2004.htm

[2] https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2004/08/sril-a06.html

Broken promises: Kepapulavu displaced to restart fast unto death next week

First published at http://www.ft.lk/article/554936/ft on 15th July 2016

The people of Kepapulavu decided this week (11) to restart their fast unto death on 19 July, as they have lost all confidence in Government authorities, and the false promises given to them by the Chief Minister of the Northern Province C.V. Vigneswaran in March, this year.

The people called off their previous fast unto death on 24 March, upon the Chief Minister’s promise to look into the matter and provide them with a solution within three months. Three-and-a-half months since then, villagers are still awaiting the new Government to release their lands, under the occupation of the military since the end of the war in 2009.

In May this year, villagers were able to get a glimpse of their houses when the Army opened roads for limited time during an annual temple festival.

“Every year more and more changes are done to our lands. Some houses have been destroyed. The wells have been closed. Other buildings have been put up. Boundaries have been demarcated differently. But the jack and coconut trees which we have planted have started bearing fruits,” says Santhraleela, a community activist, upon seeing her old village.

However she is determined that all the villagers should be allowed to go back home. “They will have to release our lands. We will return. Even if they have destroyed our houses, we want them to release our lands,” says Santhraleela.

History

“When I enter my home, it feels as fondly familiar to me as the love of my mother and father…” – a village elder from Kepapulavu who is longing to return home.

The Kepapulavu Grama Niladhari division is situated in the Martinepattu Divisional Secretariat in Mullaitivu district.  It comprises of four villages – Sooripuram, Seeniyamottai Kepapulavu, and Palakudiyiruppu. Some inhabitants who are mainly farmers and fishermen told us they trace their history for more than six decades while others were reported as landless families settled by the LTTE. Kepapulavu is known for its fertile red soil, fresh water wells, and marine resources.

The villagers were amongst the hundreds thousands displaced during the last phase of the war in 2009 and illegally detained in Menik farm.

Despite appeals to go back to their own homes, in September 2012, around 150 families were allocated quarter acre of new lands to each, irrespective of how much they owned before displacement. They were thus re-displaced, to an area originally known as Sooripuram situated adjacent to their original villages. This is now called the ‘Kepapulavu Model Village’. People said they felt as if in the middle of nowhere. With no assistance to put up shelters by authorities, people on their own constructed shacks with scrap material they brought in from Menik farm.

The 150 families were requested to sign an application accepting their new lands by the former Government Agent of Mullaitivu. Although two of the 150 families refused to sign the document, they too were compelled to stay in the alternative plot of land and subsequently received a temporary permits. Around 146 other families had stayed with host families and relations and settled in Sooripuram in January 2013. They were not asked to sign any land permits upon their arrival. A total of 59 families from Sooripuram, 55 families from Pilavu Kudiviruppu and 159 families from Kepapulavu are currently displaced, due to the military occupation of their lands. The displaced families now reside in the Kepapulavu model village. In March 2013, 16 families were allowed to return to their original lands in Seeniyamottai.

The land which was once theirs

The housing lands of these displaced occupied by the military spans about 520 acres. Homes of people are now being used for settlements of military personnel and their families. In addition to the houses, school and church premises already in place, many pre-fabricated houses too have been installed within the settlement to accommodate military families.

In March 2014, the military had built and handed over 287 temporary houses for the people whose lands and buildings they had occupied1. When the former Deputy Minister of the Resettlement Ministry Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan inaugurated this housing scheme in 2013, he was reported to have told the people not to plant any trees, as it was only temporary housing.

Further, in 2014, when the Commanding Officer of the area had handed  over the houses to the people, he too had told the people that these were only temporary lands and that if the political situation changes, that they would get their lands back.

Around 25-30 families do not live in the military built houses as there is inadequate water in that area. “We had large wells brimming with cool, clear water. We could bend over, and scoop water in a jug to quench our thirst. Now we have to walk long distances with buckets to collect water to have a bath,” reminisced village elders, who seem to be suffering the most, with vivid memories of home.

Farming families struggle to cultivate their lands as they have to walk seven to 10 km from the new settlement to reach their paddy lands, which was nearby their houses in their original villages. Cultivation and home gardening used to be family activities, but now, with the increase in distance, often women and children stay behind to look after the house.

“Around 3½ km stretch of beach is occupied by the military, that we are not permitted to use,” said Kaliappan Maheswaran, President of the Fisheries Society. The fishermen cannot dock their boats in this stretch of the coast. Fishing or throwing of nets is prohibited in 50ms of sea area touching the occupied coast. He states that prior to displacement the coast was around 150ms from their houses. Now fishermen have to cross 700ms in order to reach the sea.

Due to these barriers, fisher-folk go to sea only once in two or three days. Hence their income too have shrunk. Maheswaran also said that he used to cultivate peanuts so that even when it was off season for fishing, he would have a steady income coming in. However now he says this is not possible as water is only available in the common wells in the model village.

Due to change of lifestyle and lack of employment opportunities the villagers state the youth have become restless. People brew and drink illegal liquor. Police carry out regular crack downs, but as the fines are very low, the brewers merely pay off the fine and revert to their activities the very next day.

Women have taken on some of the income burden of their families. Young women leave to Colombo to work in garment factories and others travel far to find work. Women coming home late in to the night is creating frictions within families. Two women have joined the military as well.

Protests/appeals 

The families of Kepapulavu had held at least five protests between 2012 and 2016 demanding that their lands be released.  In the course of 2015, the people had also met with the Resettlement Minister, D.M. Swaminathan and Minister of Industry and Commerce, Rishad Bathiudeen regarding their demand to return to their places of origin. They have also written an appeal to the Presidential Secretariat and sent a letter to the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, along with copies of 60 land deeds.

A single mother of two is the only remaining Plaintiff who continues a legal battle to win back her land, though three others had initially filed cases to reclaim land. She doesn’t live in the temporary house provided as she feels unsafe. She says she has thus far persisted in her Court case amidst intimidation, threats and even, on occasion, verbal abuse and degrading treatment by the then Area Commander Samarasinghe.

According to her, the five acres she owns include both paddy and housing lands. “The military has built a bakery, kitchen, hospital and two wells on my land. I was told that whenever senior Army officers visit, they are put up at accommodation on my land,” she said.

When the Courts and the Divisional Secretariat had asked her to accept alternative land, she had insisted on getting her own land back. “If only more people had filed cases, we could have been stronger and more effective. I also haven’t attended any more meetings with Government officials, as I’m very angry,” she added defiantly.

With all their previous attempts to get back their lands having failed, the people resorted to a fast on to death on 24 March. Santhraleela, a community leader who has been actively campaigning for her people, states that representatives from political parties inquired into their situation during this protest which lasted for three days.

On the third day the Chief Minister (CM) of the Northern Provincial Council via a letter had promised to look in to the matter and provide a solution within three months. Upon this promise, the fast was terminated. Three weeks after the fast, a team of five people were dispatched by the CM. Santhraleela says they asked general questions about their situation, but no undertaking was given to them about getting back their land. However, the three-month period has long past, and the villagers are yet to hear from the Chief Minister regarding a solution to their problem.

Struggles to reclaim lands 

Coincidently in the month of March this year, after several years of protests and court battles, the people of Panama in the south eastern coast forcibly entered and reclaimed their lands, which had been occupied by the Navy, Air Force and Special Task Force since 2010. Communities across the country are continuing their struggle to reclaim lands which have been unfairly and illegally grabbed from them in the name of security and development. The new Government has taken the initiative to return a few of the illegally-occupied lands, but will they respond positively and allow all the displaced to go back home?

Footnotes

1 Ministry of Defence – Sri Lanka, Army completes construction of houses in Keppapilavu Model Village – http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=Army_completes_construction_of_houses_in_Keppapilavu_Model_Village_20160303_04

 

Tourism in Sri Lanka: Catalyst for Peace & Development or Militarization & Dispossession?

First published at http://groundviews.org/2016/07/11/tourism-in-sri-lanka-catalyst-for-peace-development-or-militarization-dispossession/ on 11th July 2016

This week, there is a major international conference on tourism, in Pasikudah, in the Batticaloa district, Eastern province of Sri Lanka. The theme is “Tourism: a Catalyst for Development, Peace and Reconciliation”. It’s organized by the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), “the UN agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism”, along with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) and the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs. The Sri Lankan President is due to attend.

Local community’s involvement in the conference

Pasikudah is a fishing village. It’s an area severely affected by the war and tsunami, with many having been killed, disappeared, injured, tortured, detained, displaced and with large number of war widows and women headed households. It had also been a popular beach for local and foreign tourists. Before the advent of large hotels owned and staffed primarily by outsiders, many local people had tried to develop their economy through small scale guest houses.

When we met fisherfolk and local guest house owners and staff last month, they didn’t know about this event, had not been consulted or invited. Organizers have opted to recommend high-end hotels owned and managed by outsiders for conference participants to stay, instead of local guest houses. Local civil society groups that we met in Batticaloa, the district capital and the closest major city to Pasikudah also didn’t know about the conference.

Those seriously affected by the three decade old war have been totally left out at a conference claiming to discuss peace, reconciliation and development. There doesn’t appear to be any opportunity for participants to listen to them and how they may view tourism and their expectations. There is also no space or focus in the agenda on gender issues.

Misleading participants 

The material provided for participants by organizers, is misleading as it withholds key information about the context and background of peace and development in Sri Lanka and Pasikudah. Language has been a key issue that led to war and the organizers are incorrectly portraying that the language of the majority, Sinhalese, as the official language, at a conference held in a pre-dominantly Tamil area ravaged by the war. Numerous reports by local and international groups and the UN about the human rights situation in the past and present finds no reference in extensive pre-conference materials featuring images of sunny beaches.

Proposed pre & post conference destinations include Kandy and Nuwara Eliya, districts which grow much of Sri Lanka’s famous tea. The visit itinerary includes visits to tea factories and plantations. But it doesn’t include a visit to “line rooms”, the cramped and basic shelters where workers live. The visitors are not likely to be given opportunities to learn about the historical and ongoing socio-economic-political marginalization of tea workers, many of whom are women, on whose sweat and blood the tea industry is built on, with very little benefits to themselves.

Some major concerns about tourism and local communities 

In major tourism development areas such as Pasikudah, Kalpitiya (Puttlam district, North Western Province) and Kuchaveli (Trincomalee district, Eastern Province), local communities have not been consulted and inadequate information had been provided to them about large scale tourism projects that affects their lives. Some had learnt of proposed tourist projects through prohibition notices restricting their freedom of movement. Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities, men, women and children, have all been negatively affected.

Historical landscapes have been changed and mangroves destroyed due to large scale tourism projects in different parts of the country. Environmentalists had reported that the Colombo “Port City” project, which aims at high end tourists, will cause serious damage to the environment. In Kuchaveli, community playgrounds, community centres, wells close to the sea and a Hindu temple had been occupied due to tourism projects. In Kalpitiya, access to a Catholic Church had been blocked and, local communities have complained about water shortages for drinking and everyday use, due to high water consumption in hotels.

Tourism initiatives, by the military and private companies, had resulted in local populations losing their traditional lands, seriously affecting community life and cultures. Individuals and whole communities in Kuchaveli, Kalpitiya, Jaffna (Northern Province) and Panama (Ampara district, Eastern Province) have lost their traditional lands and villages due to tourism projects.

Fisherfolk in Pasikudah told us that their fisheries centres and moorings have been displaced multiple times due to building up of large hotels. The hotel hosting the conference, Amaya Beach Resort, is situated where their fisheries centre was located. The Pasikudah fisherfolk have been compelled to walk several kilometers to the present day mooring. Over 300 fisherfolk have to share a very small 300m section of the 5km long beach. In Kuchaveli nine access points to the sea has been blocked and fisherfolk have to walk about 3km to the sea. Most permanent employees in hotels appear to come from outside. Fisherfolk in Pasikudah also told us that large hotels in Pasikudah don’t purchase fish from them, but do their purchases through intermediaries. There are also questions about adequate compensation, social benefits and rights to unionize of workers employed in major hotels.

Militarization of tourism

There is a strong military presence and involvement in Northern Sri Lanka and this also extends to tourism. It’s a military which stands accused of serious and systemic human rights violations, by the local population, domestic and international human rights groups and the UN. Despite some releases in last 18 months, it continues to illegally occupy large swathes of lands belonging to Tamils. Some lands of Muslim and Sinhalese are also occupied by the military.

The military runs farms, pre-schools, shops, tourist centres, tourist resorts, restaurants, boat tours and airlines. According to organizers, conference participants will also travel by a “passenger vessel of the Navy”. In Panama and Jaffna peninsula, people were deceived into believing the Navy and Army had occupied their lands to build military bases, but subsequently discovered that these lands were used to build military run resorts.

The military has also built many monuments glorifying itself, despite many local Tamils considering them as being responsible for mass atrocities in the past. The military had bulldozed cemeteries and destroyed memorials of Tamil militants. Efforts of civilians to remember those killed and disappeared, led by Tamil political and religious leaders had been met with threats, intimidations, restrictions, surveillance and court orders banning them. Despite some improvements in last 18 months, there is no positive environment for civilian initiatives for monuments and remembrance events. Government initiatives for remembrance remains focused also on the military.

Tourism and international experiences of memorialization

Across the world, monuments of past tragedies had become major tourist attractions.Holocaust memorial in Auschwitz and across the world, Constitutional Hill (former prison) andApartheid Museum in South Africa, Tuol Sleng Genocide museum in Cambodia and thememorial at the massacre site in Gwanju, South Korea are just very few examples. They play a very important role in retaining memory, educating visitors (domestic and international) and conveying stories of experiences of survivors and victims of human rights violations and war.

One of the most striking of such memorials is in Derry, in Northern Ireland, which was badly affected by the “troubles”. A walking tour of “Derry Bogside” retraces parts of the original march and visits places where the dead and wounded fell on “Bloody Sunday”, examining its’s political and social repercussions and offering onsite experience and insights. It’s curated by the son of one of the victims and offers a unique perspective to tourists. The Museum of Free Derry tries to tell the city’s history from the point of view of the people who lived through, and were most affected, instead of “distorted version parroted by the government and most of the media”, as a step towards understanding of elements that led to the conflict.  

Tourism in Sri Lanka is far from such initiatives. Less than an hour away from Pasikudah, Satharakondan and Kathankudi, there are monuments to remember massacres by the government forces and LTTE, which local Tamil and Muslim communities have built and maintain. No visits to such sites are planned in this conference to discuss “peace and reconciliation tourism”, to learn from war-affected people and express solidarity and offer encouragement and support. Instead, organizers are offering “technical tours” of several hours, to war affected Trincomalee and Jaffna. The itineraries indicate that the aim is to highlight the beauty of the place and sweep under the carpet serious human rights violations and social, economic issues affecting local people, such as unemployment, caste and gender based discrimination and violence.

Towards a more meaningful tourism

Tourism must be centered on local populations and war affected peoples. Consultations with them is crucial if tourism is to act as catalyst for peace, reconciliation and development. Tourism projects should take into account their sufferings, aspirations and support their struggles for truth, justice and economic development in a sensitive way.

Tourism must not destroy or damage socio-economic-cultural practices of local communities and uproot them from their traditional lands and livelihoods. They should not be marginalized and denied economic opportunities presented. Environmental protection is linked to community life and livelihoods and thus this is a crucial factor in any tourist projects.

Only very few individuals have obtained redress for lands they lost due to tourism projects, by going to courts. It would be important to have accessible, effective and independent grievances mechanisms, which could prevent abuses in context of tourism projects by the state or private companies, or provide redress to victims.

Government and military must not use tourism as means to promote their political agendas and propaganda. Memorials and other remembrance initiatives by local communities must be promoted and government must also initiate official monuments and remembrances focusing on civilians and all those affected.

Post-war tourism in Sri Lanka has been dominated by large scale hotel chains, investors and a powerful military machine. It’s driven by neo-liberal, capitalist economic and development policies and majoritarian Sinhalese – Buddhist ideology. It has exploited and left behind local populations in tourist sites and war affected survivors and victim’s families, in dark shadows of dispossession, displacement and marginalization. Will this conference rubber stamp and encourage this stampeding tourism train running over all before it, or will it genuinely attempt to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Sri Lanka through tourism?

Sources:

Visits and meetings with local communities by authors and colleagues

Authors visits to sites of “peace tourism” overseas

Dark Clouds over the Sunshine Paradise – Human Rights & Tourism in Sri Lanka”, Society for Threatened Peoples

Sri Lanka’s new Missing Persons Office and the Catholic Church

First published at http://www.ucanews.com/news/sri-lankas-new-missing-persons-office-and-the-catholic-church/76381 on 28th June 2016

Catholic priests are among the over 65,000 people who have been reported as disappeared in Sri Lanka. Included among that number are also many journalists, human rights activists, and the Vice Chancellor of Eastern University of Sri Lanka.

Father Jim Brown, a Tamil Catholic priest, disappeared on Aug. 20, 2006. He was last seen going into the navy controlled Allaipiddy area in the northern city of Jaffna. Wenceslaus Vimalathas, a lay associate who was with him, also disappeared.

Father Brown had tried to protect civilians during heavy fighting between the Sri Lankan army and Tamil rebels by offering them shelter in a church. It didn’t work. Many civilians were killed and injured when the church was eventually attacked. Father Brown had pleaded with the navy to take the injured out of the fighting zone but was reportedly rebuffed.

Father Francis Joseph, another Tamil Catholic priest, also disappeared. He was last seen being taken away by the Sri Lankan Army in Mullaitivu on May 18, 2009, the last day of war.

He had brokered the surrender of some rebel Tamil leaders in return for assurances of their safety. But those leaders too disappeared and their Habeas Corpus cases have dragged on for several years in the courts.

Till the late 1980s, most of those disappeared were Sinhalese. Since then, the majority have been Tamils. Muslims also have disappeared, including Pattani Razeek, a good friend of mine. Razeek was one of the few whose body was found.

Groups led by Catholic priests and nuns in the predominantly Tamil-Hindu areas in the North and East have been documenting disappearances, supporting families, and raising their voices against the crimes and the culture of impunity. But these are exceptions. Most church leaders have stayed silent. Why?

Those that have campaigned against the disappearances have faced intimidation, threats and arrest. A Catholic priest and myself were arrested in 2014 for investigating the disappearances. A few months later, a private discussion between affected families, activists and diplomats at a church-run center was disrupted by a mob led by Buddhist monks. The police refused to assist us.

Successive governments have set up numerous bodies to address the disappearances. Affected families and activists have engaged with them more out of desperation than good faith. But truth, justice, and reparations have been elusive.

The latest government effort has been to establish an Office of Missing Persons (OMP). It was one of the significant commitments the government made when they co-sponsored the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka last October. But the development of the O.M.P has been shrouded in secrecy with very little consultation, despite promises made to the contrary.

Father Brown’s distraught mother passed away without knowing what happened to her son, and his lonely father has told me that his only hope is to hear news of his son before he dies. Families whose breadwinners have disappeared need financial and material support, while others continue to demand justice.

To fulfill such expectations, the OMP will have to be more victim centered, transparent, independent and a well-resourced office, which will also facilitate the rights of families to reparations and justice, along with the right to truth. There are still opportunities to do this by influencing the draft legislation to establish the OMP, which awaits parliamentary approval.

But this may only happen if families, activists and U.N. officials make strong demands. Church leaders should also join such efforts, demanding truth and justice for those like Fathers Brown and Joseph.

Ruki Fernando is a human rights activist and consultant to the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in Sri Lanka. He is also a member of the Asia-Pacific chaplaincy team of the International Movement of Catholic Students.

Continuing abuse under PTA: Abductions, Arbitrary Arrests, Unlawful Detentions and Torture

First published at http://groundviews.org/2016/06/28/continuing-abuse-under-pta-abductions-arbitrary-arrests-unlawful-detentions-and-torture/ on 28th June 2016

On 30th March, 2016, a suicide jacket, explosives and other ammunition was found in Chavakachcheri, Jaffna. Since then, as at 28th June, the arrest of at least 28 persons have been reported. All of them have been Tamils from the north and east of Sri Lanka. All were men, except one woman whose husband was been arrested. A further 2 persons, (also Tamil men) were given “chits” (pieces of paper) at the international airport summoning them to the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) of the Police for inquiry. They were questioned and released on the same day.

Of the 28 arrested, 24 had been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The other 4 appear to have been arrested and detained on matters not related to the incident above, although they are ex-LTTE cadres. One of those arrested under the PTA was arrested inside the Human Right Commission office in Trincomalee, whilst he was lodging a complaint.

The people in Chavakachcheri that we spoke to said that around 10-12 youth, both male and female, have been continuously called for questioning at various places in the Jaffna District between April and June 2016, in addition to those who had been arrested. A sense of fear prevails in this village, and amidst families of those arrested. People who used to move around quite freely now look at each other with suspicion and doubt.

A human rights lawyer claims that many of the arrests are related to 5-6 motorbikes reportedly found around the house where the explosives were found. There also seems to be a trend of the TID tracking phone numbers that have been in contact with those already arrested, and calling them in for further inquiries, whilst also arresting some of them. This had led to people refraining from lending their phones to anyone else.

As of 23rd June, 2016,

  • At least 23 of the 28 persons who have been arrested have not been charged with any crime.
  • No arrest receipts were issued at the time of arrest in at least 10 cases.
  • In most of the cases, the arresting officers claimed to be TID officers and were dressed in civilian clothes. They hadn’t provided any form of identification, but had given a land phone number and told families to call it and clarify if they wanted to.
  • Suspects were not produced before a Magistrate (as specified in the PTA) within 72 hours in at least 23 cases. In most cases, Detention Orders are issued directly to the detainee whilst in detention, so families and lawyers are not always aware of its issuance.
  • Families were not notified of place of detention for more than 48 hours in at least 5 cases.
  • At least 15 of those arrested are former LTTE cadres, with at least 7 having gone through rehabilitation and been released.
  • Detainees were not offered opportunity to contact lawyers for more than 48 hours in at least 23 cases, with lawyers having restricted access even thereafter. It’s mostly families that are in contact with the lawyers.
  • Of the 28 arrested, we have come to know that 4 have been released unconditionally, 2 have been released on surety bail and 1 has been sent for 1 year in rehabilitation.
  • After visiting their detained family members, several have reported that detainees appear to have been tortured.
  • Private property of detainees and family members were confiscated and held without receipts being issued in at least 5 cases. Property includes, mobile phones, vehicles and at least Rs. 100,000 in cash.
  • Although, in accordance with Section 28 of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) Act[1], most arrests and detentions are being communicated by the TID to the HRCSL now, the HRCSL is still not being kept notified of detainee transfers and changes in detention facilities.[2]
  • Family members and lawyers reported that they had restricted access to the detainees.
  • Family members have also been reported as being detained, subjected to intensive interrogation, harassment and/or intimidation.

Below are the names and brief details of the 28 reported as arrested and 2 reported as having been summoned to TID, questioned and released. Information is valid as of 23rd June, unless otherwise stated.

  1. Kebriel Edward Julian (alias Ramesh) – According to Julian’s lawyers, at about 7.30pm, on 29th March, approximately 20 Police, Special Task Force, army and TID personnel, had arrived in 4 army vehicles, and surrounded Julian’s house in Chavakachcheri. As Julian had not been at home, the personnel had eventually left at about 9pm after having arrested Julian’s wife, Kebriel Thusyanthi, accompanied by her 6 year old step-daughter. The cache of explosives and suicide vest were discovered at Julian’s house the following morning (30).[3]Julian was arrested on the 30th of March, 2016. According to his lawyers, on the 31st of April, police, army and TID personnel had brought Julian back to his house in a van, but his family had not been allowed to meet him. They had notified his family that Julian had been arrested on the 30th. Julian was a former LTTE cadre.As far as his lawyers are aware, no Detention Order has been served, and Julian was not produced before the Magistrate or JMO as at 23rd of June. Mobile phones belonging to Julian, his father and wife, Julian’s motorcycle and TATA Batta van, their vehicle documents, and account books were all confiscated by the TID. No receipt was issued following the confiscation of these possessions and none of them have been returned as yet.[4]
  1. Rasathurai Jeyanthan, a former LTTE cadre, was abducted from his home in Nunavil, Chavakachcheri on the 10th of April, 2016, by men in civilian clothing, who claimed they were from the Police.[5][6]They interrogated and handcuffed him, refused to identify themselves, refused to tell his family members the cause of arrest and where they were taking him to, took him away in an unmarked white van, detained him for two days at locations unknown to the family, and confiscated two motorcycles registered under Jeyanthan’s brother’s name and 3 mobile phones belonging to him, his wife and mother. More than 2 months since his arrest, none of their personal property has been returned to the family. Neither have they received a receipt for the confiscated property. The notice of arrest was sent to his family only about a week following his actual arrest. The HRCSL, however, had received a routine fax notifying the Commission of his arrest, as mandated in Section 28(1) of the Human Rights Commission Act of 1996. Having been detained at the TID office in Colombo for 2 days, he was transferred to Boossa on the 12th of April, 2016 and is still detained there as of 23rd.
  2. Ganeshapillai Arivalahan (alias Kalaiarasan), a former LTTE Intelligence chief, was arrested on the 26th of April, 2016, whilst lodging a complaint at the HRCSL, Trincomalee.[7] On the 25th of April, 3 men dressed in civil had visited Arivalahan’s home whilst he was at work, and asked his wife where he was, where he worked, which route he took back home etc., As there had been a spate of arrests of former LTTE cadres at the time, they had gone the very next morning (26th) to a legal aid organization in Trincomalee. They were then advised to lodge a complaint at the HRCSL in Trincomalee.When getting into the three-wheeler from the legal aid office, Arivalahan’s wife had noticed 3 policemen in uniform standing on the opposite side of the office (sea-side), but hadn’t taken too much notice of them. However, as soon as they left the office, they saw a white and grey van with tinted windows following them. At one point, it had even tried to overtake their three-wheeler. The van too arrived at the same time as the three-wheeler at the HRCSL office, so Arivalahan had run into the HRCSL out of fear. One man in civil had gotten out of the van and followed Arivalahan inside and apprehended him. At which point a lady working at the HRCSL had asked the man from the van, who he was. He had responded that he was from the TID in Colombo. Meanwhile, 4 other men in civil too had gotten out of the van and walked into the HRCSL. Also, a police jeep with 3 police officers in uniform had arrived at the Commission and walked inside. When asked by the lady who they were, they had said they were from the Trincomalee Police.The lady at the HRCSL had got the first TID officer who had apprehended Arivalahan, to record his (the officer’s) details in a book at the Commission. By this point, the police had issued a receipt of arrest to Arivalahan’s wife, citing that he’s being arrested under the suspicion of reviving terrorist activity. As at 23rd June, he was being detained at the TID office in Colombo. His wife visits him weekly, but says that they are not able to speak freely as TID officers are always in the vicinity. They had even told the wife during one of her visits, that her husband would be released in two months.
  1. Muththulingam Vijeyakumar Ketheeswaran, was arrested in Kilinochchi town in the Kilinochchi district on 10th He had previously been detained in May 2014, while sitting for his A/L examinations as an 18 year old and released in November 2015 on bail. As he could not go back to school, he had requested his father to try and raise funds to buy him a three wheeler. His father had reportedly sold his cattle and transferred funds to his son’s bank account. Ketheeswaran has now been detained on the suspicion that he had received funds in relation to the explosives found in Chavakachcheri.When the father had visited his son in Boossa, it had appeared that the son had been severely beaten whilst in detention in Vavuniya and Boossa. The family has lodged a complaint (HRC/KI/056/2016) at the HRCSL in Kilinochchi, on the 11th April.Ketheeswaran’s sister, a student at the Eastern University, had received numerous abusive calls from persons claiming to be from the TID, from this phone number 021-2283707, following her brother’s arrest. The University has arranged some security measures for her, and she has lodged a complaint (HRC/BCO/99/2016) at the HRCSL in Batticaloa.
    Ketheeswaran’s father and another brother, a school boy, have also been repeatedly summoned to an unmarked TID office in Kilinochchi after his detention.[8] He was being detained as at 23rd June.[9]
  1. Muthulingam Jeyakanthan, a former LTTE cadre, from Mullaithivu, who had sought employment overseas after the war, was detained and interrogated for almost 7 hours by the TID, at the Katunayake international airport on his return to Sri Lanka on the 12th of April, 2016. He was then released and asked to report to the 2nd floor of the TID office in Colombo, on the 19th of April, for further interrogation.[10] According to his sister[11], they had taken Jeyakanthan into the office at about 11.15am, and at around 2.15pm, informed her that he had been arrested, but his family had not been given any document with regard to his arrest. The TID had refused to let his sister see Jeyakanthan that day, and had told her to come and visit him on Sunday (24th) April instead. Jeyakanthan is a father of two and had gone overseas to help support his family. He was last detained at the New Magazine Prison, and was ordered 1 year rehabilitation at the Poonthotam Rehabilitation Centre, Vavuniya, on the 22nd of June, 2016.
  2. Former LTTE commander Ithimalasangam Arichandran (alias Ram), was reported as abducted from his home in Thambuluvil, Ampara, on the 23rd of April, 2016. Two days later, on the 25th, the Police Spokesperson was quoted by media as having acknowledged[12] that Ram was in the custody of the TID, and was being detained at the TID office in Colombo for further questioning. Ram too had been rehabilitated after the war in 2009 and released in 2013, and has since then been reported as having been involved in agricultural activity.
  3. Another former LTTE colonel, Krishnapillai Kalainesan (alias Lt. Col. Prabha) was reported as arrested from his home in Batticaloa, on the 2nd of May, 2016, and taken to the TID office in Kalmunai for further questioning. A father of two, he was working with his wife at a canteen at the time of his arrest.[13][14] Initially registered to have been disappeared after the war, he was found to be in custody of the military and then underwent rehabilitation from 2009, till his release in 2013. He was being detained at the TID office in Colombo as at 23rd
  4. Kanapathipillai Sivamoorthy (alias Nakulan), a former LTTE commander, was abducted[15] in Jaffna on the 26th of April, and subsequently found to be in the custody of the TID in Colomb. Co-Cabinet Spokesperson, Rajitha Senaratne was reported in the media as having acknowledged[16] that Sivamoorthy, was one of many rehabilitated former LTTE cadres who had been arrested in April, in relation to a cache of weapons found in the North. He was reported as being detained by the TID as at 28th
  5. Thamotharampillai Jeyakanth, was reported as arrested under the PTA on the 20th April, 2016, from Murukandi, Kilinochchi, and being detained at the TID HQ in Colombo, as at 23rd[17]
  6. Mahadevan Prasanna and Jesuratnam Jegasamson, were arrested under the PTA on the 06th of April, 2016, from Puvarasamkulam (Vavuniya district), and are being detained at the New Magazine Remand Prison in Colombo, as at 23rd[18] A Mr. Nagulan too has been arrested in connection with this same case, and a human rights lawyer told us that his last known place of detention was at the Narahenpita Police station. However, his current whereabouts are unknown. All 3 of these suspects have been arrested and detained in relation to allegedly being in the possession of a military hat belonging to former intelligence head of the LTTE, Pottu Amman.[19]
  7. Sathyaseelan Jeyanthan Fernando, was reported arrested under the PTA on the 1st of April, 2016, from Kilinochchi, and is being detained at Boossa, as at 23rd[20]
  8. Seethagopal Arumugam, was arrested on the 29th of April, from Nedunkerny (Vavuniya district). A tractor and motorbike belonging to him, and Rs. 100,000 in cash, was confiscated by the TID, without a receipt, upon his arrest, and none of it has been returned to the family. He is being detained at the TID office in Colombo, as at 23rd[21]
  9. Sankaralingam Sasikaran, a father of two and local NGO worker, was reported as arrested[22][23] on the 30th of May, 2016, from Bharathipuram, Kilinochchi district. His current whereabouts are not known.
  1. Magalingam Vasantharasa, was arrested on the 31st of May, 2016, at the Katunayaka International Airport, and is being detained at the TID office in Colombo, as at 23rd[24]
  2. Kanagalingam Kamalakannan, who runs a money exchange centre in Jaffna, was reported as arrested from Jaffna, between April-May, in connection to the weapons discovery in Chavakachcheri. He is being detained at Boossa as at 23rd[25] 
  1. Suppramaniam Janakaraj and Suppramaniam Chandrakumar were two brothers who were arrested from their home in Akkaraipattu, Ampara district on the 6th of April, 2016. They were both released on bail on the 8th, and released unconditionally on the 12th of April, 2016. Their lawyers believe that the two brothers were arrested in order to get to their eldest brother, Suppramaniam Devathas, who was arrested on the 7th of April, and being detained at Boossa as at 23rd[26]
  1. Subramaniyam Sivakaran, Secretary of the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) Northern Province Youth Organisation, was arrested under the PTA, by the TID, in Mannar on the 27th of April, 2016. He was released,[27] on bail, with two personal sureties of Rs. 100,000, on the following day (28th). He was also barred from leaving the country for one year from the date of his release.[28]
  1. Pathmanathan Rameshkanthan and Subramaniam Kokilan, were arrested under the PTA, and having spent almost 2 months in detention without being charged, were released unconditionally on the 2nd of June.[29]
  1. Kireniyar Sebathasan, was returning to Sri Lanka from Qatar where he went on work, was given a chit at the Katunayaka International Airport summoning him to be present at the 2nd floor of the TID office in Colombo-01, on the 18th of April, 2016 at 10am. The chit was signed by the OIC of Unit III. He was questioned and released on the 18th[30]
  2. Gunasekaram Vijaykumar, was summoned for an inquiry by the TID, from Kilinochchi (where he resided,) on the 27th of April, to the TID HQ in Colombo. He was questioned and released later that day.[31]

Other arrests of dubious nature

Three men, Ramachandran Kanesh, Navarathnarajah Ranjith and Mutthulingam Yogarasa,have been brought back to Sri Lanka from the Maldives after having finished serving a jail sentence, and are currently in detention in Welikada prison. Neither them, nor the prison officials one of the authors spoke to, had any idea of the reason for their continued detention, and under what laws they were being detained.

In May 2007, they were found by Maldivian Authorities in the territorial seas of Maldives and were arrested for possessing firearms. The detainees stated that they were kept in custody and were interrogated by Maldivian Authorities, Sri Lankan Authorities and Indian Authorities. The trial and sentence had been concluded in one day. The detainees stated that they did not know their charge or their sentence until after the Court proceedings had concluded as they had been provided with only one interpreter who was fluent in Malayalam and did not speak Tamil, which was the only language the detainees understood. When they were taken away from Courts an Officer had told them, that they were charged and convicted for possessing firearms. The appeal process for their release was on-going when the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Maldives visited them in prison and asked them if they were willing to be transferred to Sri Lanka. He also promised them that once in Sri Lanka they would be released in April 2016 with the Sri Lankan New Year. As the appeal process would have dragged up to September 2016, the three prisoners decided to abide by the Ambassador’s advice.

The prisoners were brought to Sri Lanka in April in a Navy ship. They said they travelled for two days. Once they landed in the Colombo port, they were sent directly to Welikada prison. Few days later they were transferred to the Magazine prison where they are now. No one apart from a few lawyers and their family has met them.

All three admitted to being part of the LTTE. However only one admitted to have joined them voluntarily. One of the detainees were recruited by the LTTE when he was 16. According to them they were sent on a mission to transport weaponry from a ship to Sri Lanka in 2007.This is when they were caught by the Maldivian Authorities. According to them they did not possess any weapons when they were caught. However they also said that three of them together with another boatman were on the boat when the Maldivian Authorities open fired. The boatman had died at sea.[32]

Velauthapillai Renukaruban’s family claims that on the 2nd of June, 2 men had arrived on motorbikes, at their home in Jaffna, assaulted Renukaruban in the presence of his mother and older sister, and then forcibly taken him away in a van. The family claims that they had only discovered his whereabouts several days following his arrest[33], when they found out that he was being held at the Jaffna Remand Prison. Following a motion for bail being filed on the 15thof June, he was produced at the Chavakachcheri Magistrates Court on the 16th of June, and released on surety bail. The courts issued a travel ban on him till the conclusion of his case, and he also had to surrender his passport to the Courts.

According to his lawyer, on the 22nd of June, Renukaruban was charged with trespassing and assault, he pleaded not guilty, and the Trial date was set for the 1st of July. In a previous trip to Sri Lanka in January 2016, Renukaruban, his uncle and 3 others had allegedly trespassed the premises of, and assaulted the complainant. Renukaruban had apparently not known of the case filed against him, and so had left the country. However, as there was a warrant out for his arrest, the Police had arrested him as soon as he returned to Jaffna. He is a British national.

Whilst being held at the Jaffna Remand Prison, there had been a clash between some of the prisoners, and Renukaruban had run outside his cell wearing only his sarong. Having seen the tiger tattooed on his chest, he claims that the Sinhala prison officials had then assaulted him, explained Mr. Punethanayagam. As there are CCTV cameras fixed inside the prison now, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find out what took place, the lawyer added. As Renukaruban had been injured due to the assault, he had been hospitalized for a few days.

His lawyer had lodged a complaint with the Jaffna Police regarding Renukaruban’s alleged assault by prison officials.

The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations (ER)

The PTA and ER gives wide authority to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID), the Police and the Minister of Defense on arrest, detention, interrogation and extraction of confessions. A mere suspicion on the part of the Minister can warrant an arrest. Anything from taking a person from place to place for interrogation, seizing property can be done without the judicial oversight. The Minister can extend a detention order up to eighteen months. In practice, persons detained under the PTA have been kept in detention almost indefinitely till the case is concluded. Last year, two Tamil women were acquitted as not guilty, after being detained for more than 15 and 7 years respectively. Torture in custody is common practice and it’s rarely questioned in Courts. Even if it’s is brought to the notice of the Magistrate, the Magistrates have rarely taken proactive steps to safeguard the rights and welfare of the detainee. Under the PTA the Magistrate has no powers to intervene and hence. The PTA makes the judiciary is subordinate to the Minister of Defense under the Act. [34]

In May this year the Human Rights Commission has issued directives[35] to be followed by authorities when making arrests under the PTA. These include issuing the detention order in the language of the detainee upon arrest, identifying the person making the arrest to the arrestee and providing receipts for property seized. However it is yet to be seen whether these recommendations will be implemented. The President too has issued Directions to the Police and security forces, reiterating many of the directives issued by the HRCSL.

On the 13th of June, 2016, media reported that the government will introduce a new Act – the National Security Act – that will soon replace the PTA.[36] In addition, the government also hopes to enact two other counter-terror Acts – namely – the Prevention of Organized Crimes Act and the Intelligence Act.

On the other hand, there has been no mention of the review of the Public Security Ordinance (PSO) which the government committed to as part of the UN resolution it co-sponsored on 1st October 2015. It’s under the PSO that Emergency Regulations with provisions equally draconian as the PTA was in force for around 30 years.

It is the authors’ position that all crimes must be dealt with under ordinary law, with due checks and balances and judicial discretion and appeals. We strongly feel that the PTA should be repealed and fresh anti-terror laws should not be brought in, given that they tend to take away checks and balances, undermines judicial discretion and protection, severely undermines rights and liberties of persons and can be used to suppress peaceful and legitimate dissent. We also feel that the PSO should be reviewed and amended, to ensure that deceleration of emergency regulations are only in exceptional situations, are for specified short terms, subjected to strict parliamentary and judicial supervision with due checks and balances including eight of appeal, to ensure rights of persons are not infringed on.

‘‘ කේප්පාපිලවු ’’….. ගේ දොර කරා ආපසු පැමිණීමේ ඔවුන්ගේ අරගලය (Kepalulavu..their struggle to go home)

First published at http://ravaya.lk/?p=14056 on 19th June 2016 (Also published at http://www.vikalpa.org/?p=27559 on 29th June 2016)

‘‘මා මගේ නිවසට ඇතුළුවන විට එය මට දැනෙන්නේ මගේ මවගේ හා පියාගේ ආදරය බඳු සුරතල් ලෙන්ගතු බවකිනි…’’ –

ආපසු නිවසට පැමිණීමේ අපේක්ෂාවෙන් බලා සිටින කෙප්පාපිලවු ගමේ වැඩිහිටියෙක්.

මෙම වසරේ මාර්තු 24 වෙනි දින කෙප්පාපිලවු ගම්වැසියන් විසින් ආරම්භ කරන ලද මාරාන්තික උපවාසයේ පටන් මාස දෙකක් පුරා ගම්වැසියෝ නව ආණ්ඩුව ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම් නිදහස් කරන තෙක් අපේක්ෂා සහිතව තවමත් බලා සිටිති. මැයි මාසයේ වාර්ෂික කෝවිල් උත්සවය සමයේ හමුදාව සීමාසහිත කාලයකට පාරවල් විවෘත කරනු ලැබූ විට ඔවුන්ගේ නිවාස යන්තමින් දැක බලා ගැනීමේ හැකියාවක් ගම්මුන්ට ලැබිණ. ‘හැම අවුරුද්දකම අපේ ඉඩම්වල වඩ වඩාත් වෙනස් කිරීම් කරනු ලබනවා. සමහර නිවාස විනාශ කරලා තිබෙනවා. ළිං වසා දමා තිබෙනවා. වෙනත් ගොඩනැගිලි ඉදිකර තිබෙනවා. සීමා මායිම් වෙනස් විදියට ලකුණු කරලා තිබෙනවා. ඒ උනාට අප හිටවපු කොස් හා පොල් ගස් පල දරන්න පටන්ගෙන තිබෙනවා’ යි ඇගේ පැරණි ගම දැකීමෙන් පසු ප‍්‍රජා කි‍්‍රයාකාරිනියක් වන ‘චන්ද්‍රලීලා’ පවසන්නී ය. කෙසේ වුව ද ඇය සියලූම ගම්වැසියන්ට ආපසු ගමට යාමට ඉඩ දිය යුතු බවට අධිෂ්ඨාන සහගතව සිටින්නී ය. ‘ඔවුන් අපේ ඉඩම් නිදහස් කළ යුතුව තිබෙනවා. අපි ආපසු එනවා. ඔවුන් අපේ ගෙවල් විනාශකර තිබුණත් ඔවුන් අපේ ඉඩම් නිදහස් කිරීම අපට උවමනා යි’චන්ද්‍රලීලා පවසන්නී ය.

ඉතිහාසය

කෙප්පාපිලවු ග‍්‍රාම නිලධාරි කොට්ඨාසය පිහිටා තිබෙන්නේ මුලතිවු දිස්ති‍්‍රක්කයේ මාර්ටිනේපත්තු ප‍්‍රදේශීය ලේකම් කොට්ඨාසයේ ය. එය සූරියපුරම්, සීනියමොට්ටයි, කෙප්පාපිලවු හා පලකුඩියුරුප්පු යන ගම් හතරෙන් සමන්විත වෙයි. ප‍්‍රධාන වශයෙන් ගොවීන් හා ධීවරයින් වන ඔවුන්ගෙන් ඇතැම් නිවැසියන් ඔවුන්ගේ ඉතිහාසය දශක හයකට වඩා ඈතට දිවෙන බව අපට පැවසූ අතර අනෙක් අය ඉඩම් නැති පවුල් වශයෙන් එල්ටීටීඊය විසින් පදිංචි කරවන ලද බව වාර්තා විය. කෙප්පාපිලවු සාරවත් රතු පස, පිරිසිදු ජල ළිං හා සමුද්‍ර සම්පත්වලට ප‍්‍රකට ය.

මෙම ගම්මු 2009 යුද්ධයේ අවසන් අදියර සමයේ ලක්ෂ ගණනින් අවතැන් වූවන් අතරට අයත් වූ අතර මැණික් ෆාම් කදවුරුවලවල නීති විරෝධීව රඳවා සිටියහ.

තමන්ගේ නිවෙස්වලට ආපසු යන්නට ඉල්ලීම් කරද්දීත් අවතැන් වීමට පෙර ඔවුන් කෙතරම් ඉඩම් ප‍්‍රමාණයක් හිමිව සිටියේ ද යන්න ද නොතකා පවුල් 150 කට පමණ එක් පවුලකට අක්කර කාල බැගින් අලූත් ඉඩම් වෙන්කර දෙනු ලැබිණ. මෙලසෙ ඔවුන් ඔවුන්ගේ මුල් ඉඩම්වලට යාබදව පිහිටි මුලින් සූරියපුරම් යනුවෙන් ප‍්‍රකට ප‍්‍රදේශයකට නැවත අවතැන් කෙරිණ. මෙය දැන් හඳුන්වන්නේ කෙප්පාපිලවු ආදර්ශ ගම්මානය යනුවෙනි. ජනයා පැවසුවේ ඔවුන් ඈත එපිට පදිංචිකර තිබේ යයි ඔවුන්ට හැගෙන බව ය. නිවාසස්ථාන ඉදි කර ගැනීමට අධිකාරීන්ගෙන් කිසිදු සහායක් නැතිව ජනතාවට මැනික් ෆාම්වලින් ගෙන එන ලද අහක දමන ලද දේවලින් පැල්පත් ඉදිකර ගැනීමට සිදුව ඇත.

මුලතිව් හිටපු දිසාපතිවරයා විසින් පවුල් 150 ගෙන් ඔවුන්ගේ අලූත් ඉඩම් භාර ගැනීමේ අයදුම්පතකට අත්සන් කරන්නැයි ඉල්ලා තිබේ. පවුල් 150 න් පවුල් දෙකක් ලියවිල්ලට අත්සන් කිරීම ප‍්‍රතික්ෂේප කරනු ලැබුවේ වුව ද ඔවුන්ට ද විකල්ප ඉඩමෙහි පදංචි වෙන්නට බල කෙරී තිබුණ අතර පසුව තාවකාලික බලපත‍්‍රයක් ලැබී තිබිණ. 146 ක් පමණ අනෙකුත් පවුල් සත්කාරක හා ඥාති පවුල් සමග නැවතී සිටි අතර 2013 ජනවාරිවල සූරියපුරම්හි පදිංචි වී ඇත. ඔවුන්ගේ පැමිණීමේ දී කිසිදු ඉඩම් බලපත‍්‍රයකට අත්සන් කරන්නැයි ඔවුන්ගෙන් ඉල්ලා නැත. සූරියපුරම්වල පවුල් 59 ක් ද පිලාවුකුඩියිරුප්පුවල පවුල් 55 ක් ද ‘ වල පවුල් 159 ක් ද ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම්වල හමුදාව පදිංචි වී සිටීම හේතු කොට ගෙන වර්තමානයේ අවතැන් වී සිටිති. අවතැන් වූ පවුල් දැනට වාසය කරන්නේ කෙප්පාපිලවු ආදර්ශ ගම්මානයේ ය. 2013 මාර්තුවල පවුල් 16 කට සීනියමොට්ටායිහි ඔවුන්ගේ මුල් ඉඩම්වලට ආපසු පැමිණීමට අවසර දී ඇත.

කාලයක් ඔවුන්ට අයත්ව තිබූ භූමිය

හමුදාව විසින් අත්පත්කර ගනු ලැබ තිබෙන මෙම අවතැන් වූවන්ගේ නිවාස ඉඩම්වල වපසරිය අක්කර 520 පමණ වේ. ජනයාගේ නිවාස දැන් යොදා ගනිමින් තිබෙන්නේ හමුදා පිරිස්වල හා ඔවුන්ගේ පවුල්වල පදිංචිය සඳහා ය. මෙවන විටත් තිබෙන නිවාස, පාසල් හා දේවස්ථාන පරිශ‍්‍රවලට අමතරව යුද හමුදා පවුල්වල නවාතැන් පහසුකම් සඳහා පදිංචි ප‍්‍රදේශය ඇතුළත බොහෝ පෙර නිමි නිවාස ද ස්ථාපනයකර තිබේ.

2014 මාර්තුවල හමුදාව ඔවුන් අත්පත්කර ගෙන තිබුණු ජනතාවගේ ඉඩම් හා ගොඩනැගිලි සඳහා තාවකාලික නිවාස 287 ක් ඉදිකර භාර දී තිබුණි.(ශී‍්‍ර ලංකාවේ ආරක්ෂක අමාත්‍යාංශය, හමුදාව කෙප්පපිලායි ආදර්ශ ගම්මානයෙහි නිවාස ඉදිකිරීම නිම කරයි – http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=Army_completes_construction_of_houses_in_Keppapilavu_Model_Village_20160303_04) නැවත පදිංචි කිරීමේ කටයුතු පිළිබඳ හිටපු නියෝජ්‍ය අමාත්‍ය විනයාගමූර්ති මුරලිදරන් 2013 දී මෙම නිවාස යෝජනා ක‍්‍රමය සමාරම්භ කළ අවස්ථාවේ දී එය තාවකාලික යෝජනා ක‍්‍රමයක් නිසා කිසිදු ගසක් නොසිටුවන්නැයි ජනතාවට කී බව වාර්තා වී තිබේ. තව ද 2014 දී ප‍්‍රදේශයේ හමුදා අණදෙන නිලධාරිවරයා ජනතාවට නිවාස භාර දෙනු ලැබූ අවස්ථාවේ දී ඔහු ද මේවා තාවකාලික ඉඩම් පමණක් බවත් දේශපාලන තත්ත්වය වෙනස් වන්නේ නම් ඔවුන්ට ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම් ආපසු ලැබෙනු ඇති බවත් පවසා තිබුණි.

ප‍්‍රදේශයෙහි ප‍්‍රමාණවත් තරම් ජලය නොමැති නිසා පවුල් 25-30 අතර ප‍්‍රමාණයක් හමුදාව ඉදි කළ නිවාසවල වාසය නොකරති. ‘‘අපට සීතලෙන් පිරුණු පිරිසිදු ජලය සහිත විශාල ළිං තිබුණා. අපට පිපාසය නිවා ගන්න නැමිලා ජෝගුවකට වතුර ගන්න පුළුවන්කම තිබුණා. දැන් අපට මූණ කට සෝදා ගන්න බාල්දි අර ගෙන හුගාක් දුර පයින් යන්න සිදු වෙලා තියෙනවා’’ යි සිය නිවෙස්වල පැවති විවිධ වූ මතකයන් සිහිපත් කරමින් වැඩියෙන්ම පීඩාවට පත්ව සිටින බව පෙනුන වැඩිහිටි ගම්මු සිහිපත් කළහ.

අලූතෙන් පදිංචි වූ ප‍්‍රදේශයේ සිට ඔවුන්ගේ මුල් ගම්වල නිවාසවලට ආසන්නයේ පිහිටි ඔවුන්ගේ කුඹුරුවලට කිලෝ මීටර 7-10 පමණ පයින් යා යුතුව තිබෙන හෙයින් ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම් වගා කිරීම සඳහා මහත් පරිශ‍්‍රමයක් දරන්නට ගොවි පවුල්වලට සිදුව ඇත. පෙර දී වගා කටයුතු හා ගෙවතු වගාව පවුල් කටයුතු වී තිබුණ නමුත් දැන් දුර වැඩිවීමත් සමග බොහෝ විට ස්තී‍්‍රන්ට හා ළමුන්ට ගෙදරදොර බලා කියා ගැනීමට ඒවායේ නැවතී සිටීමට සිදුව ඇත.

‘‘මුහුදේ සිට කිලෝ මීටර 3 1/2 පමණ තීරුවක් හමුදාව අත්පත්කර ගෙන තිබෙන නිසා එය අපට පරිහරණය කරන්න අවසර දෙන්නේ නැහැ’’යි ගොවි සමිතිතියේ සභාපති කාලියප්පන් මහේශ්වරන් පැවසීය. ධීවරයින්ට ඔවුන්ගේ බෝට්ටු මෙම වෙරළ තීරයේ නවතා තැබිය නොහැකි ය. අත්පත්කර ගෙන සිටින වෙරළ තීරයේ සිට මීටර 50 ක මුහුදු ප‍්‍රදේශයක මසුන් ඇල්ලීම හෝ දැල් දැමීම තහනම්කර තිබේ. අවතැන් වීමට ප‍්‍රථම මුහුදු වෙරළ පැවතියේ ඔවුන්ගේ නිවෙස්වල සිට කිලෝ මීටර 150 ක් පමණ දුරින් යයි ඔහු පවසයි. දැන් ධීවරයින් මුහුදට ළ`ගා වීමට මීටර 700 ක් පමණ දුර යා යුතු ය. මෙම බාධක හේතු කොට ගෙන ධීවර ජනයා මුහුදු යන්නේ දින දෙකකට තුනකට වරක් පමණි. එහෙයින් ඔවුන්ගේ ආදායම ද හැකිළී ගොස් තිබේ. එසේම මහේශ්වරන් පැවසුවේ රට කජු වගා කළ බව ය. ඒ නිසා එය ධීවර කටයුතුවල නොයෙදෙන කාලයක් වුවත් ඔහුට ස්ථාවර ආදායමක් ලබා දුන් බව ය. කෙසේ වුව ද දැන් ඔහු කියන්නේ ආදර්ශ ගම්මානයෙහි වතුර ලබා ගත හැක්කේ පොදු ළිංවලින් පමණක් නිසා එය කළ නොහැකි බව ය.

ජීවන රටාව වෙනස් වීම ද රැුකියා අවස්ථාවල හිගය ද මගින් තරුණ ජනයා විවේක රහිත තත්ත්වයට පත් කර තිබෙන බව ගම්මු පවසති. ජනයා නීති විරෝධී මත්පැන් පෙරීම හා පානය කිරීම කරති. පොලීසිය නිතිපතා කඩා පැනීම් කළ ද දඩය ඉතා අඩු එකක් වන අතර මත්පැන් පෙරන්නෝ දඩය නිකම්ම ගෙවා දමා ඊළග දවසේ සිටම සිය කටයුතු ආපසු පටන් ගනිති. එමෙන්ම ස්තී‍්‍රන්ට ඔවුන්ගේ පවුල්වල ආදායම්වල බරෙන් යම් කොටසක් දැරීමට සිදුව ඇත. තරුණ ස්තී‍්‍රන් ඇගලූම් කම්හල්වල වැඩ කිරීම සඳහා කොළඹ පැමිණෙන අතර අනෙක් අය වැඩ සොයා ගැනීම සඳහා එහෙ මෙහෙ යති. ස්තී‍්‍රන් රාති‍්‍රයෙහි ප‍්‍රමාද වී ගෙදරට පැමිණීම පවුල් ඇතුළත ගැටීම් ඇති කරයි. ස්තී‍්‍රන් දෙදෙනෙකු හමුදාවට ද බැඳී ඇත.

විරෝධයපෑම්/ආයචනා

කෙප්පාපිලවු හි පවුල් 2012 හා 2016 අතර ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම් නිදහස් කරන ලෙස ඉල්ලා යටත් පිරිසෙයින් විරෝධයපෑම් පහක් පවත්වා ඇත. 2015 කාලය තුළ ජනයා ඔවුන්ගේ මුල් පදිංචි ස්ථාන ආපසු ලබා දෙන ලෙස කරන ඔවුන්ගේ ඉල්ලීම පිළිබඳව නැවත පදිංචි කිරීමේ අමාත්‍ය ඞී. එම්. ස්වාමිනාදන් හා කර්මාන්ත හා වාණිජ ආමාත්‍ය රිෂාඞ් බදුයුද්දීන් මුණ ගැසී තිබුණි. එසේම ඔවුන් ඉඩම් ඔප්පු 60 ක පිටපත් සහිතව ජනාධිපති ලේකම් කාර්යාලයට ලිඛිත අභියාචනයක් ද අනතුරුව එවකට ජනාධිපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂට ලිපියක් ද ඉදිරිපත් කර තිබුණි.

මුලින් ඉඩම් නැවත ලබා දෙන ලෙස තවත් තිදෙනෙකු නඩු ගොනුකර තිබුණ ද ඇගේ ඉඩම නැවත ලබා ගැනීමේ නීතිමය අරගලයක් දිගටම කර ගෙන යමින් සිටින එකම පැමිණිලිකරු වන්නේ දරු දෙදෙනෙකුගේ තනිකඩ මවකි. මෙම කාන්තාව තනිව විසීම අනාරක්ෂිත යයි ඇය සලකන නිසා තාවකාලිකව සපයන ලද නිවසෙහි වාසය නොකරයි. එවකට ප‍්‍රදේශයේ අණදෙන නිලධාරියා වූ සමරසිංහ විසින් කරන ලද බිය ගැන්වීම්, තර්ජන හා ඇතැම් අවස්ථාවල වාචික බැනුම් හා අවමන්කාරී සැලකීම් මැද්දේ ඇය මේ දක්වා ඇගේ නඩුව නොපසුබටව කර ගෙන ගිය බව පැවසුවා ය.

ඇයට අනුව ඇයට අයිති අක්කර 5 හි කුඹුරු හා ගොඩ ඉඩම් යන දෙවර්ගයම තිබේ. ‘‘හමුදාව මගේ ඉඩමේ බේකරියක්, කුස්සියක්, රෝහළක් හා ළිං ඉදිකර තිබෙනවා. ජ්‍යෙෂ්ඨ හමුදා නිලධාරීන් පැමිණි විට ඔවුන්ට නැවතීමේ පහසුකම් සලසන්නේ මගේ ඉඩමේ බව මට කියා තිබෙනවා’’යි ඇය පැවසුවා ය.

අධිකරණය සහ ප‍්‍රාදේශීය ලේකම් කාර්යාලය විකල්ප ඉඩමක් භාර ගන්නැයි ඇයගෙන් ඉල්ලා තිබූ අතර ඇය තරයේ කියා සිට ඇත්තේ ඇයගේම ඉඩම ඇයට ලබා දෙන ලෙස ය. ‘‘පුද්ගලයින් වැඩි දෙනෙක් නඩු පවරා තිබුණේ නම් අපට වඩාත් ශක්තිමත් වීමට ද ඵලදායක වීමට ද හැකි වන්නට තිබුණා. එසේම මට බොහොම කේන්ති නිසා මම තවදුරටත් ආණ්ඩුවේ නිලධාරීන් සමග සාකච්ඡුාවලට සහභාගි වුණේ නැහැ’’යි ඇය දැඩි ලෙස කියා සිටියා ය.

මෙම ජනතාව ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම් ආපසු ලබා ගැනීමේ පෙර උත්සාහයන් අසාර්ථක වීමෙන් පසු 2016 මාර්තු 24 වෙනි දින මාරාන්තික උපවාසයක් ආරම්භ කළහ. ඇගේ ජනතාව වෙනුවෙන් කි‍්‍රයාකාරී ලෙස අරගලයේ යෙදී සිටියා වූ ප‍්‍රජා නායිකාවක් වන චන්ද්‍රලීලා දින තුනක් පැවති මෙම විරෝධයපෑමේ කාලය තුළ දේශපාලන පක්ෂවල නියෝජිතයින් ඔවුන්ගේ තත්ත්වය පිළිබඳව විමසීමෙහි යෙදුන බව ඇය පැවසුවා ය. තුන්වන දිනයේ උතුරු පළාත් සභාවේ මහ ඇමතිවරයා ලිපියක් මගින් කාරණය පිළිබඳව කටයුතු කිරීමට ද ඉදිරි මාස තුන ඇතුළත ඊට විසඳුමක් ලබා දීමට ද පොරොන්දු වී තිබේ. මෙම පොරොන්දුව මත උපවාසය අවසන් කෙරිණ. උපවාසයෙන් සති තුනකට පසු මහ ඇමතිවරයා විසින් ජනතාව මුණ ගැසීමට පස් දෙනෙකුගේ කණ්ඩායමක් යවනු ලැබ ඇත. එම කණ්ඩායම ඔවුන්ගේ තත්ත්වය පිළිබඳව පොදු ප‍්‍රශ්න ඇසුව ද ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම් ආපසු ලබා ගැනීම පිළිබඳව කිසිදු පොරොන්දුවක් දුන්නේ නැති බව චන්දාලීලා පවසන්නී ය.

ඉඩම්වලට නැවත හිමිකම් කියාපෑමේ අරගල

අවුරුදු ගණනාවක විරෝධයපෑම් හා උසාවි අරගලවලින් පසු අග්නිදිග වෙරළේ පානම ජනතාව මේ හා සමගාමීව මෙම අවුරුද්දේ මාර්තු මාසයෙහි 2010 සිට නාවික හමුදාව, ගුවන් හමුදාව හා විශේෂ කාර්ය බලකාය විසින් අත්පත්කර ගෙන තිබෙන ඔවුන්ගේ ඉඩම්වලට බලහත්කාරයෙන් ඇතුළු වී ඒවාට නැවත හිමිකම් කියා පෑහ. රට පුරාම ප‍්‍රජාවෝ ආරක්ෂාව හා සංවර්ධනයේ නාමයෙන් අසාධාරණ ලෙස හා නීති විරෝධී ලෙස ඔවුන්ගෙන් අත්පත්කර ගන්නා ලද ඉඩම්වලට නැවත හිමිකම් කියාපෑමේ ඔවුන්ගේ අරගලය අඛණ්ඩව කරගෙන යමින් සිටිති. නව ආණ්ඩුව නීතිවිරෝධීව අත්පත්කර ගන්නා ලද ඉඩම් ස්වල්පයක් ආපසු ලබා දීමට මුල පුරා ඇත්තේ නමුදු සියලූම අවතැන් වූවන්ට සාධනීය ලෙස ප‍්‍රතිචාර දක්වා ඔවුන්ගේ නිවාස හා ඉඩකඩම්වලට ආපසු යාම සඳහා ඉඩ සලසන්නේ ද?

රුකී ප‍්‍රනාන්දු, මරිසා ද සිල්වා හා ස්වස්තික අරුලිංගම් විසිනි