Land

Mullikulam – Renewed struggle to regain Navy occupied village

First published at on http://groundviews.org/2017/04/06/mullikulam-renewed-struggle-to-regain-navy-occupied-village/ 6th April 2017

My father, my father’s father and my father’s grand-father have lived here. Mullikulam has been our home for generations now. Our church was made during my great-grand-father’s time, way before I was even born. There were four streams running through our village. We even had one stream just for bathing. When we couldn’t fish in the sea, we would fish in our streams. We had plenty of everything – paddy, cows, chickens and buffaloes, so we always had enough to eat and drink. We would gather together in the evenings and host drama and dance programmes. Everyone had a good time… We lived peacefully alongside our Muslim neighbours. Whenever there were troubles here during the war, we would go stay with them until it was safe for us to return home. I strongly believe that something good will happen for us this time around. Every day I pray that we will all live together peacefully. At least when I leave this earth I pray that we should all be united,” reminisces 88-year-old village elder from Mullikulam, M. Francis Vaz, who hasn’t been home since 2007.

M. Francis Vaz

On the 8th of September, 2007 the entire village of Mullikulam was unceremoniously evacuated by the Military with the promise of enabling their return within 3 days. Ten years later, these villagers are yet to be allowed to return to their homes and engage in their traditional livelihoods. Since their eviction from Mullikulam in 2007, the Navy North-Western Command Headquarters has been established there, occupying the entirety of their village. A decade-long relentless struggle comprising of multiple protests, petitions[1], discussions and false promises[2], have brought the villagers back to the streets.

Appeal letter signed by 136 villagers from Mullikulam, to former President Rajapaksa in Sept. 2011

Mullikulam villagers forced to set up in jungle – Malankaadu – June 2012 – pictures via NAFSO

They are inspired by the stories of other victims fighting for their rights, and supported by many others, irrespective of religious or ethnic backgrounds.

Village Elder Francis Vaz’s memories of living in peace with Muslims in adjoining Marichikattu, and supporting each other through difficult times has been re-affirmed as the people of Mullikulam chose to start their recent protest on the premises of a very supportive and sympathetic Muslim house, situated at the turn off to their ancestral village, from the main Mannar – Puttalam road.

The spate of continued protests demanding the return of military-occupied land and truth and justice for the disappeared breaking out across the North and East, appears in turn to have breathed new life into the struggle of the people of Mullikulam. Their only wish is to return to their village, illegally occupied by the Military since 2007. Some of the women elders from the village had discussed the ongoing struggle for the return of their lands while in Keppapulavu, at the Matha Kootam (Association of Mother Mary) meeting last month. It was decided that they too must renew their own struggle to return home. They had then told the village men of their decision, and the men too agreed to support them.

Currently there are approximately 120 families temporarily resettled in Malankaadu[3], and 150 families in Kayakuli. About 100 families (including extended family) left for India due to war and displacement, but are waiting to return if their village is returned to them.

We (about 50 villagers from both Malankaadu and Kayakuli), re-commenced our protest for the return of our lands, on Thursday (23 March) morning around 8am. The Navy came outside and asked us ‘why are you protesting here? Why not in front of the District Secretariat (DS) office? We will provide you with buses to go and protest there. You’re protesting against us even though we’ve helped you so much,’” said villagers. “They (the Navy) wouldn’t need to provide us with “help” if they just give us back our lands,” added the villagers.

Pic 1 and 2: Mullikulam villagers living in temporary shelters – Malankaadu, 2013

Displacement from Mullikulam and Aftermath

“When we left in 2007, there were about 100 houses in good condition and about 50 other self-made mud and thatched houses. From what we can remember, there was also our Church, the Co-operative building, three school buildings, a pre-school, two hospital buildings, a library, post-office, Fisherman’s Co-operative Society building, a teachers quarters, an RDS building, six public, and four private wells, and nine tanks,” recall the villagers.

Now, they have no access to the tanks, public spaces and limited access to some of their cultivation land. Only 27 of the 150 houses remain to this day, and are occupied by Navy personnel.[4] Villagers claim that the rest have been destroyed. They access the church via a side road, and claim that the existing short-cut via the reservoir bund, has been blocked off by the Navy. Most elderly people find it difficult to reach the Church at the times they wish to pray, and are now dependent on a Navy bus to take them to and from Sunday Mass. What used to be a 50-100 meter walk, is now 3 and 10 kms each way from the church to Malankaadu and Kayakuli, respectively. The Navy also provides a daily school bus to take children to and from school which teaches only up to Grade 9. Thereafter, children have to go to other nearby schools[5] on their own, or stay at hostels if the schools are too far away.

The Mullikulam people were primarily a farming and fishing community, so their proximity to the sea was essential. They had access to nine Paadu[6] (karavalai in Tamil – a term referring to a type of easement or license) to fish for prawns and other shallow water fish. Now they only have access to 4[7], with the most fertile Paadu being currently under Navy control. When the villagers were evicted from Mullikulam in 2007, they had left behind 64 each of the following; fibre glass boats, out-boat motors, nets and ropes and other fishing gear, 90 Theppams (Catamarans) and 3 drag-nets.

“If you don’t stop your protest, we’ll show you our power in the sea,” the Navy had threatened the villagers on the first day of the protest.

There was a high degree of surveillance [9] and intimidation of protesters and outsiders visiting them by the Navy and Silavathurai Police (including Traffic Police) during the first few days. But during the 2nd week of protests, Navy officers had been less aggressive and the Area Commander and other officers had indicated to the people protesting and Church leaders that they are ready to abide by any decision that the Colombo based Defence establishment would take. However Colombo has been silent for nearly two weeks, despite efforts by Church leaders to reach out.

Legal status of land and response of the DS

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka concluded that the Navy had occupied private land without due process and had recommended that if providing alterative lands, the people’s willingness should be considered and they should not be forced to settle elsewhere.[10]

The Divisional Secretary and his representative had visited the people on 23rd March, and told them that they won’t achieve much by protesting. They had asked the villagers to give them a letter with their demands, promising that they would hand it over to higher authorities for action. A majority of the lands in the village are owned privately by individuals and the Catholic Diocese of Mannar. The rest of the lands are held through permits and grants under the Land Development Ordinance (LDO), State lands and National Housing Development Authority (NHDA) lands.

Breakdown of Title Lands – Mullikulam – HRCSL Land Study Report June, 2011

The DS had also asked them why they were still fighting even after they had received alternate housing. The villagers categorically said that they had continuously fought for the return of their original lands, and had only reluctantly accepted alternate housing in the interim. “We have always maintained that we want to return home,” they said.

“We had everything… now we’re living in a jungle. How can we live like this? I have faith that we’ll get everything back, at least so our children and grand-children can see and enjoy the home we grew up in,” is village elder Francis Vaz’s only plea.


[1] Sky No Roof, Edited by Kusal Perera, Annexes – Letter by villagers of Mullikulam to the President dated 13th September, 2011https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzO8SAlmDKanZmN0TXRRdjNyR1k/view

[2] WATCHDOG, Sri Lanka Navy vs. the people of Mullikulamhttp://groundviews.org/2013/01/24/sri-lanka-navy-vs-the-people-of-mullikulam/

[3] Ruki Fernando, The struggle to go home in post war Sri Lanka: The story of Mullikulamhttp://groundviews.org/2012/08/01/the-struggle-to-go-home-in-post-war-sri-lanka-the-story-of-mullikulam/

[4] WATCHDOG, Mullikulam: The continuing occupation of a school by the Sri Lankan Navyhttp://groundviews.org/2012/09/11/mullikulam-the-continuing-occupation-of-a-school-by-the-sri-lankan-navy/

[5] Schools in Nanattan, Mannar town, Kondachchi, Silavathurai, Murunkan and Kokkupadayan.

[6] 1 Paadu = 450 meters.

[7] WATCHDOG, Mullikulam: Restrictions on fishing, cultivation, access to the church and school continuehttp://groundviews.org/2013/03/15/mullikulam-restrictions-on-fishing-cultivation-access-to-the-church-and-school-continue/

[8] List of property left behind in 2007 as compiled by 61 villagers from Mullikulam (2012) – https://drive.google.com/open?id=0BzO8SAlmDKanaTZDNFlGSFo3VzA

[9] Heavy surveillance by #Navy Intel & #Police at #Mullikulam protest today. OIC asked us who we were & why we had come – https://twitter.com/Mari_deSilva/status/845184613085462529 & https://twitter.com/Mari_deSilva/status/845187308412272643

[10] Sky No Roof, Edited by Kusal Perera, Private Land Occupied by the Security Forces – Mullikulam, study report by the National Protection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons Project of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, June 2011, Pg. 5 – https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzO8SAlmDKanZmN0TXRRdjNyR1k/view

[11] Sky No Roof, Edited by Kusal Perera, Private Land Occupied by the Security Forces – Mullikulam, study report by the National Protection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons Project of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, June 2011, Pgs. 2&3 – https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BzO8SAlmDKanZmN0TXRRdjNyR1k/view

Military Occupation: documenting civilian protests and the struggle of the newly resettled

First published at http://groundviews.org/2017/03/16/military-occupation-documenting-civilian-protests-and-the-struggle-of-the-newly-resettled/ on 16th March 2017

Editor’s Note: Since early February, Ruki Fernando and Marisa de Silva have been joining protests against land occupation by the military (security forces) in the North.

This is an immersive photo story written by them, compiled using Microsoft Sway. Click here to access it directly, or scroll below.

https://sway.com/s/PYeLhcgFAhWbpcTH/embed

Sellamma returns home after Army occupation

First published at http://groundviews.org/2017/03/14/sellamma-returns-home-after-army-occupation/ on 14th March 2017

We first met 83 year old grandmother Sellamma when she was part of a protest fast outside the Puthukudiyiruppu Divisional Secretariat. At that time, her land and house across the road had been occupied by the Army for eight years. She was protesting along with her neighbours, mostly women, whose lands and houses had also been occupied by the Army. Even after a meeting with the Prime Minister in the early stages of the protest, they had vowed not to give up their protest, until their houses and lands were handed back to them.

After a month’s protest, Sellamma and some of her neighbours, were successful in forcing the Sri Lankan government and its’ Armed forces to return some parts of their village back to them. It was joyful occasion to meet Sellamma, her son, relatives and neighbours back on their own lands and houses last week.

But rather than talk about their victory in making the Army relent, Sellamma talked to us about the pitiful state in which they found their houses and the land, upon their return. She personally took us around to show us all the damage done.

“They (the army), must have been angry with us because we were protesting and asking for our homes back, so they destroyed our houses. We heard them (the army) breaking things whilst we protested across the road. I don’t know why they would do this to us? When we stepped into our home for the first time since 2008, there was shattered beer bottles and other glass pieces covering the entire floor. Our houses were stripped of its doors, some windows, kitchen sinks, the glass from our cabinets, and electrical fittings. Some window grills and glass were broken or removed all together, and entire roofing sheets had been removed from my son’s house. The toilet mirror has been taken, and the toilet is also not in working order anymore. They (the army) have cut our coconut trees and built summer huts in our garden. A few houses in our neighborhood have been razed to the ground. When we were brought back after the war to see our houses in 2014, these houses were all intact.” Sellamma told us.

“This was our ancestral house where my seven siblings and I grew up with our parents. The army has bulldozed our main house and kitchen to the ground post-2011, when we were last brought here to see our homes. We had a separate kitchen because there were so many of us to feed. I don’t understand why they would do this? The Army had built an outdoor kitchen complex in our garden, with a pipe leading straight from the kitchen to the well. The waste water from the kitchen has also gone back along the pipeline to our well and contaminated it. Our well is also now infested with insects and snakes, so we have covered it up, as the smell too is unbearable and the water is unusable,” said another returnee, of her recently released home in Puthukudiruppu.

“Our house used to be over there,” said an old amma (mother) pointing across to what now resembled a field. “They (the army) have mined so much sand there, that the land has become all marsh land now. It’s covered in overgrown grass and water, s0 that we can’t even access it anymore. Our house too has been destroyed,” she said sadly.

While Sellamma’s struggle and victory is inspiring, the sad reality she has had to return to, would have serious implications on the reconciliation process.

Firstly, why must elderly women like Sellamma resort to fasts and protests for the government to fulfill basic commitments it has made to the people and the UNHRC, such as releasing military occupied land?

Secondly, why did the Army destroy and loot these houses and properties prior to returning them to their rightful owners?

Thirdly, why is there zero government support for recent returnees, now returning home after eight years of displacement due to military occupation?

Fourthly, when can returnees expect compensation/reparation for the use of lands and houses by the Army, loss of income generation due to the occupation, destruction of property and trees, and losses as a result of looting by the Army?

Lastly, all the land releases so far, have been partial releases. In Puthukudiyiruppu, only about 7 acres of lands out of 19 been handed over, after a month long protest fast. Villagers told us that the Army had committed to release another 10 acres in 3 months time, and another one acre after 6 months. But will these promises be kept?

Sellamma’s struggle is one of many struggles against military occupation of lands in the North that gained prominence last month. Sustained, indefinite protests had led to release of lands in Pilakudiyiruppu and Paravipaanchan, which were released a few days prior to the Puthukudiyiruppu land release. When we visited these villages, we saw the trail of destruction left by the occupiers – the Air Force and the Army. We were told that there was no support at all from the government towards resettlement. We experienced and heard of continued intimidation and surveillance by the Air Force in these areas. At the same time, protests demanding the return of military occupied lands continue in areas such as Keppapulavu.

Celebrating Sellamma’s and others’ victories, as a result of sustained fasts and protests is still difficult, in the backdrop of returnees struggling to cope with military destruction of their homes, receiving no support from the government, including basic shelter and livelihood support, and continued protests of others displaced to regain their land still under military occupation.

Sellamma & her struggle to reclaim her house and land in Puthukudiyiruppu

First published at http://groundviews.org/2017/02/20/sellamma-her-struggle-to-reclaim-her-house-and-land-in-puthukudiyiruppu/ on 20th February 2017

Sellamma is 83 years old. She has a house in Puthukudiyiruppu (PTK) East, Ward no. 7, in the Mullaitivu district in the Northern Province. It’s opposite the PTK Divisional Secretariat (DS). But for more than two weeks, she has been braving the hot sun and cold nights on the street, opposite her house. Because her house and land is occupied by the Army. In fading light of evening, and beyond an Army watchtower, she showed me her house. I was tempted to take a photo of her house, as I had her – the owner’s – permission. But I restrained myself to avoid potential trouble.

Sellamma’s son and son in law were killed by the Army during a massacre in 1985. They were amongst the 24 killed that day by the Army. Her husband died in 2014. She wanted to keep his body and have the funeral in their own house and land. But she couldn’t as the Army was occupying her land. She had tried to douse herself in kerosene oil and burn herself in protest, but others had stopped her.

Sellamma is feeble now. She has one wish before her death. “I want to live and die in my own house and land”, she told me. “I had a lot of coconut trees in the garden. But now, the Army plucks them and I have to buy coconuts. And the Army lives in my house and I have to pay a rent of Rs. 8,000 now” she also told me.

Magaret Karunannathan is 68. She says there were 42 coconut trees in her land. In the same village as Sellamma. Her husband was also killed by the Army in the 1985 massacre.

Both of them, and the whole village, and district, was displaced in 2009. They suffered a lot. Later, they were detained in Menik Farm. They were eventually released, but never allowed to return to their own homes and lands. While they were displaced and detained, the Army had occupied the lands of 49 families spanning 19 acres. Till today. I was told some of the villagers have legal documentation such as deeds, permits and grants.

The villagers had protested several times before, demanding their lands and houses from the Army. They started another protest on 3rd Feb. 2017. This time, they were determined not to give up the protest till they were actually allowed to go back to their lands. They cook by the roadside, sit there during the day and sleep there during the night. And stare at their houses and lands across the road.

They were suspicious of me when we went, and asked whether I was also from the Army.  Later they became more friendly. They were tired of talking to visitors and repeating their story. But they still told it.

On 9th Feb., some of them had travelled all the way to Colombo and met the Prime Minister (PM). Despite the Army occupying their lands and killing some of their family members, the people had suggested to the PM to let the Army stay in adjoining state land. According to them, the PM had spoken to the Government Agent (GA) for the Mullaitivu district and promised to attend to the matter after a trip to Australia. The PM had asked them stop the protest. People had told him that they will stop the protest when they were allowed to go back to their lands. The PM had apparently no answer to that, and told them they can continue their protest, but requested them not to cause any obstructions. I wondered whether the PM can tell the Army not to not to obstruct people from going back to their own houses and lands.

Into the 3rd week of protesting and 10 days after meeting the PM, there has been no positive response from authorities. So the people have escalated their protest to a fast, taking turns to fast. They are not asking any favors. They are only asking a wrong to be put right. To be allowed to go back to their own lands and houses.

Their struggle is just one of many struggles of displaced people to go home. Since the new government came into power, some of the lands occupied by the military have been released. But tens of thousands of displaced Sri Lankans await the military to move out of their lands and allow them to go home. From nearby Kepapulavu to Mullikulam to Ashrafnagar to Panama to Jaffna. And more. The list is long. They have been protesting, appealing to authorities, filing court cases. And still waiting.

For Sellamma and all these peoples, reconciliation is about being allowed to go back to their houses and land. Whether and when they get their lands back will be a major factor in Sri Lanka’s reconciliation and transitional justice processes. Government and others say these processes takes time. But for Sellamma, time is running out. She would like to go back to her house and land before her death.

UN Chief’s Visit to Sri Lanka Does Little to Address Struggles of Those Awaiting Justice

First published at http://thewire.in/65729/un-secretary-generals-visit-and-tears-of-sri-lankan-survivors/ on 13th September 2016

Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged the “big mistakes” the UN made in relation to Sri Lanka under his leadership, but is yet to lay out a concrete rights-based strategy for the country.

bankimoon_reuters

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in Colombo. Credit: Reuters

Madushka De Silva disappeared on September 2, 2013 in Anuradhapura – Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-Buddhist heartland in the North Central Province. The third anniversary of his disappearance coincided with Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to the country. On that day, the UN secretary general was so close, and yet so far from De Silva’s wife, Mauri Inoka.

While Inoka, along with about 12 activists, was confronting a hostile police on the streets of Colombo, who claimed to be concerned about the security of the secretary general, Moon was at the nearby Hilton Hotel with his delegation, politicians, government officials and some of Colombo’s diplomats and civil society activists. The secretary general, or even a member of his delegation, had no time to drop by and spend a few minutes with Inoka, who had submitted a formal complaint about the disappearance of her husband to the UN. When she went to the hotel to attend the secretary general’s “public” lecture, she was turned away, as she was not on the list of “public” who were invited to this “public lecture”.

Beyond the physical distance and barriers, Inoka’s frustrations with the new government appeared to be in stark contrast with the secretary general’s optimism and praise for the new government. Or perhaps, it showed the distance between the diplomatic niceties of the UN and the tears of Inoka and her children along with the tens of thousands like her.

 Attacks on freedom of expression and assembly

Inoka had spent the previous night and day on Colombo’s popular beachfront, Galle Face Green, observing a 24-hour protest vigil. For three years, she had been calling on authorities to investigate the disappearance of her husband and provide some interim relief to her and her children. However, she hasn’t receives any answers in the past three years and they don’t appear to be forthcoming in the future.

In desperation, Inoka, together with 12 friends and supporters, organised a peaceful and silent march towards the Presidential Secretariat and the Hilton Hotel. “We were armed with only photos of Madushka and banners. Vehicles and pedestrians passed by us freely, with absolutely no disruption. But despite our pleas, we were stopped by the police, violating our rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” she said. “After we were compelled to disperse, a lawyer and an activist at the protest were stopped and subjected to intimidation by the police when they were leaving.”

Instead of expediting the investigation into her husband’s disappearance, the police have started investigating Inoka and some activists who were supporting her. She and at least four activists have been summoned to the Fort Police Station on the morning of September 14. Some of the activists have expressed fears of being arrested.

On August 31, hours before the secretary general arrived in Colombo, several university students were reported to have been hospitalised due to the teargas and water cannons used by the police to disperse them from staging a protest march against a private medical college and demanding an increase in the university intake.

On the day after the secretary general left from Sri Lanka, the police stripped a young man on the road and assaulted him on charges of being a drug user. When a journalist challenged the police conduct, he too was assaulted.

Although the space for freedom of expression and assembly has increased since January 2015, such incidents have happened regularly in the past 20 months, especially in the highly militarised North.

Despite these incidents, the secretary general chose to unreservedly welcome the good governance initiatives of the new government.

Long wait 

More than 100,000 Sri Lankan families, who have reported missing relatives since the 1980s, share the pleas of Inoka.

Like Inoka, nearly all families await truth, justice and reparations. When the secretary general visited the war-torn Jaffna, several Tamil families of the disappeared, from across the North, lined up the streets with photos of their loved ones, placards demanding truth and justice, and with tears in their eyes.

Protesters rally as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visits Sri Lanka. Credit: Reuters

Protesters rally as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visits Sri Lanka. Credit: Reuters

A few days after the secretary general left, a young Sinhalese boy was reported to have disappeared in the Southern city of Hambantota after last being seen in police custody. The day before the arrival of the secretary general, an ex-LTTE cadre – a Tamil – was reportedly abducted in a white van, in the highly militarised Northern city of Kilinochchi.

He was later reported to have been found in police custody, just like several other Tamils who were abducted earlier this year. The whereabouts of at least two other Tamils who disappeared from the North earlier this year remain unknown despite complaints to the authorities.

Ironically, the abduction of the ex-LTTE cadre was reported to have happened on the International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances, in the same month parliament approved the setting up of an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) – the government’s latest initiative to address disappearances – and three months after Sri Lanka ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

Despite serious concerns being expressed about the “consultation” process and the OMP by families of disappeared, byactivists and by the government’s own Consultation Task Force, long before and even during his visit, the secretary general chose to welcome both.

Tamils, whose lands are occupied by the military, also took to the streets of Jaffna when the secretary general present. Some of them travelled several hours and over hundred kilometers and were probably consoled by the fact that the secretary general had called for speeding up process of return of land so that they could return home.

Before the secretary general arrived in Colombo, families of the Welikada prison massacre and eyewitnesses who were being threatened and intimidated appealed to him for a meeting. They also pleaded with him to highlight the lack of progress in investigations and prosecutions in his private meetings and his public remarks to the media. While the contents of private discussions are unknown, there was no reference to impunity in relation to this single largest post-war massacre in any of secretary general’s public remarks.

He, however, did emphasise that the victims deserve to have their voices heard, that they deserve credible, transparent and solid transitional justice mechanisms and that they cannot wait forever. He also indicated that he had stressed the importance of these with political and military leadership.

UN’s failure and attempts to move on

The secretary general was forthright about what he called the “big mistakes” that the UN made in relation to Sri Lanka under his leadership, and that if the organisation had been more engaged, they could have saved several more human lives.

Despite this having been acknowledged in 2011 by the secretary general’s panel of experts and subsequently by a UN internal review report, the secretary general personally acknowledging this in Sri Lanka was of significance. He, however, stopped short of apologising for this monumental failure under his leadership and avoided facing those who were abandoned by the UN, despite some of them lining up the streets in Jaffna while he was there.

Instead, the secretary general remarked that the UN had learnt “very hard lessons from Sri Lanka where the fog of war had obscured the centrality of human rights” and that the UN had taken steps to ensure that human rights were at the centre of all its decision-making. He squarely attributed the Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative as a response to the mistakes the UN made in Sri Lanka and the lessons they had leant.

Looking ahead

If the UN’s HRuF were to become a reality, a good place to start would be Sri Lanka – the tragedy that led to the initiative. The report of the panel appointed by the secretary general helped kick start subsequent actions on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council and by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). However, a coherent rights-based strategy from the UN towards Sri Lanka is not yet visible.

The new government has improved relations with the UN and intensified engagement with UN officials. But despite this, the secretary general doesn’t appear to have elicited a major commitment from the Sri Lankan government during the visit, such as ways to engage with the Human Rights Council beyond March of next year, or establishing an OHCHR field office in Sri Lanka.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to engage with UN officials and the member states, especially to get a response for people like Inoka, the families and eyewitnesses of the Welikada prison massacre and the many survivors and families of victims from the North who ask, “will the UN listen to us, what they will do for us?”

Last week I choose to be with Inoka at her vigil and forego the meeting with the secretary general. But, despite survivors, families of victims and some activists trying to communicate reports of continuing violations, and the limited progress in addressing impunity to the UN, rights issues didnot feature prominently in the secretary general’s public remarks.

Neither was there much symbolic action expressing solidarity and support for the struggle for rights by Inoka and others like her.

The UN, especially the incoming secretary general should be careful not to get carried away with the “charm offensive” of the Sri Lankan government and its ambitious promises. Changes for the better, after an end of a three decade brutal war and a decade of authoritarian rule, should not lead to Sri Lanka being prematurely marketed as a “success story,” even before the survivors and the families of victims experience tangible changes in their lives.

While much of the reform must happen within Sri Lanka, the UN officials and member states still have an important role to play beyond praising the positive initiatives and the progress made. The secretary general, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN’s various mechanisms and institutions should try to provide an objective picture of the situation in Sri Lanka to the UN member states, find ways of continuing engagement over the next few years and give a central place to the tears, cries, struggles and expectations of Inoka and others like her.

Sri Lanka’s Transitional Moment and Transitional Justice

First published in the report “Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka: 17Aug 2015 – 17 Aug2016” by INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre on 18th August 2016

Within the first month after winning the parliamentary elections in August 2015, the new Government made a series of commitments related to transitional justice. These were articulated through a speech by the Foreign Minister at the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council.[1] These commitments were also reflected in the resolution on Sri Lanka that was adopted by the Human Rights Council on 1 October 2015.[2] The resolution came just after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had published a report which alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE.[3]

Government’s commitments 

The present Government’s commitments included setting up an Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a Commission for Truth, Justice, and Guarantees of Non-reoccurrence, a Judicial mechanism with Special Counsel, which will have the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, investigators and defence lawyers, and an Office for Reparations. The Government also committed to reduce the military’s role in civilian affairs, facilitate livelihoods, repeal and reform the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), criminalise disappearances, ratify the Enforced Disappearance Convention[4] , review the victim and witness protection law, and range of other actions. Consultations to seek people’s views on transitional justice is underway across the country, under the leadership of some civil society activists.

The Enforced Disappearance Convention was ratified in May this year and the draft Bill to create the OMP was passed by Parliament on 11 August. There are positive features as well as weaknesses and ambiguities in the Bill[5]. Due to a history of failed initiatives, the minimal ‘consultations’ that occurred during drafting process and the lack of information on details, there appears to be very little confidence in the OMP amongst families of the disappeared. This is likely to be the case for other mechanisms, unless there’s a drastic change in approach from the government.

Reactions to transitional justice within Sri Lanka

Currently, the transitional justice agenda appears to be polarising Sri Lankan society. Opinion polls, and my own impressions, indicate that the Tamil community, particularly in the North and the East, who bore the brunt of the war, appears to favour strong international involvement. But the majority Sinhalese community appears to reject international involvement. Varying opinions have been expressed about forgetting the past, memorialisation, prosecutions, and amnesty. There are also different or contradictory opinions and expectations within each ethnic community and amongst survivors of violations and families of victims.

The Government’s transitional justice commitments have been criticised by the former President and his supporters. Even the release of a few political prisoners, the release of small amounts of land occupied by the military, and the establishment of the OMP to find truth about missing persons have been framed as an international conspiracy that endangers national security and seeks revenge from “war heroes”.

There does not appear to be an official Government policy document on transitional justice. The Government’s commitments have only been officially articulated in Geneva by the Foreign Minister and not in Sri Lanka . The Foreign Minister has been the regular advocate and defender of these commitments. Some of the meetings with local activists have been convened by him and the Secretariat for Co-ordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) is housed in the Foreign Ministry. All these contribute to the process being seen as emanating and driven by foreign pressure. Outreach on the Government’s transitional justice plans appears to focus on the international community and not towards Sri Lankan people.

The President and Prime Minister have not been championing the Government’s official commitments. For example, the duo have publicly stated that the commitment to have foreign judges in the judicial mechanism will not be fulfilled. Even this has not satisfied the critics alleging foreign conspiracy, and has disappointed some activists, especially Tamils, as well as survivors and victims’ families.

Developments on the ground

Monuments erected to honour the Sinhalese dominated military during the Rajapakse time continue to dominate the Tamil majority Northern landscape. Army camps that were built over some of the cemeteries of former LTTE cadres that were bulldozed by the Army after the war are still there. The loved ones of those whose remains were in these cemeteries have no place to grieve, lay flowers, light a candle, or say a prayer. While the numbers have reduced from those under the Rajapaske regime, intimidation and reprisals on families, attacks, and threats and intimidation of activists and journalists continue to occur. Limited progress on issues, such as the release of political prisoners, land occupied by military, continuing military involvement in civilian affairs in the North and East, reports of continuing abductions, and arrests under the PTA have raised doubts about the Government’s commitments. Although a few military personnel have been convicted and some others arrested on allegations of human rights abuses, the lack of progress in thousands of other cases only reinforces calls for international involvement for justice.

Towards Rights & Democratization beyond Transitional Justice framework

Unemployment, debt, and sexual and gender-based violence is widespread in the former war ravaged areas. The new Government’s economic and development policies are focusing on trade, investment, and mega development projects, which privilege the rich and marginalise the poor. Pre-war rights issues, such as landlessness, sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination, caste, rights of workers, including those working on tea estates, still need to be addressed.

A consultation process towards a new constitution drew a large number of public representations, dealing with many of the issues mentioned above. But the next steps are not clear, particularly in finding political solutions to the grievances of the country’s ethnic minorities.

The political leadership will have to reach out to all Sri Lankans, especially to the Sinhalese majority, about its reform agenda, while taking principled actions to win the confidence of numerical minorities such as Tamils and Muslims. At the national level, the coming together of the two major political parties and support of the two major parties representing Tamils and Muslims, makes this a unique opportunity to push towards radical reforms.

It will also be a challenge to go beyond a conventional transitional justice framework and use the transitional moment to move towards reconciliation, democratisation, and sustainable development, by addressing civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights in a holistic manner, considering the yearnings of war survivors, victims’ families, and the poor, for truth, reparations, criminal accountability, and economic justice.

[1] Speech by Hon Mangala Samaraweera at the 30th session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, 14 September 2015.

[2] Human Rights Council Resolution, Promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka, 14 October 2015, UN Doc. A/HRC/RES/30/1 (adopted 1 October 2015).

[3] Human Rights Council, Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL), thirtieth session, 16 September 2015, UN Doc. A/HRC/30/CRP.2.

[4] International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted 20 December 2006, UN Doc. A/61/488 (entered into force 23 December 2010) (“Enforced Disappearance Convention”).

[5] For more on OMP, see http://thewire.in/42687/sri-lankas-disappeared-will-the-latest-missing-persons-office-bring-answers/

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.

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

‘‘ 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