Displaced people call for panel to monitor progress

refugeeA letter has been forwarded to the High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Al-Hussein by a group calling itself, ‘The Organisation for Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Vali North’, on 27 June to “monitor and report the progress on resettlement, relief, and restoration of the sociopolitical and economic structures.”

The letter states that measures to release lands are deliberately slow, work on acquiring lands for the expansion of the Palaly airbase and military requirement is taking place rapidly and that the time frame given for resettlement has long expired and we have lost faith in the government. Therefore, we look to the international community to ensure our resettlement.

The organisation request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to emphasise on the need to immediately hand over the lands in Valikamam North back to its original owners and also to release the harbour and coastal land for people to carry out their day to day activities during your oral submission on June 29, 2016. In addition, we request you to appoint an expert panel to monitor and report the progress on resettlement, relief, and restoration of the sociopolitical and economic structures.

Read letter:

To the attention of His Excellency, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights:

We the inhabitants of Valikamam North of the Jaffna district in the Northern part of Sri Lanka were internally displaced from our villages on June 15, 1990 due to increasing military activities. Gradually the military took over certain parts of the land and finally took control over the entire area.

The military took over the houses we built through our hard work, the fertile cultivation lands surrounded by trees like mango, jack fruit and coconut planted and nurtured by our forefathers, palmyrah resources which is a pride of place, marine resources and land in which our livelihood depended on, livelihood tools & machinery, traditional properties, places of worship, and community buildings .

For the past 26 years some of us have been living in temporary shelters while others were given shelter by relatives and friends. Once we lived with dignity in our own lands as farmers and fishermen but today we are desperately in search of employment to support our families. IDP camps lack sanitation facilities, the State has denied food and relief and it seems we are heading towards starvation. Our generation spent its entire life in lack and desperation.

At this stage, on April 27, 2013, Valikamam North was declared High Security Zone. According to Section 5 of the Public Security Ordinance, when the country is in a state of emergency, the President is under the obligation to inform the public about declaring high security zones through gazette notification. This did not take place when Valikamam North was declared High Security Zone. However, when emergency was lifted in 2011, the notice circulated under Section 2 of the Land Acquisition Act stated that one of the reasons for acquiring land was due to High Security Zones. Therefore, we wish to point out that the Land Acquisition Act does not apply in this case.

Military continue to occupy our houses. They are cultivating our lands and are involved in other economic activities. Since the military took control of the land in 1990, our houses and public buildings were not destroyed. But after 2013, our properties including buildings and trees were removed and the landscape has completely changed. Only the buildings that is being used by the military survived.

We carried out many peaceful protests calling on the Government to release our lands. We wish to point out the assurances given by the then opposition leader and current Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe who participated in the campaign calling for resettlement of IDPs in 2013. He stated that all measures would be taken to resettled people in their own lands, if and when he is in power. Similarly, the current President visited the Konaapulam IDP camp in Mallakam on December 12, 2015. Seeing the plight of the people during his visit, assurances were give that we will be resettled in our own lands within a period of six months. We believed that the governmentwill resettle us in our lands very soon based on the promises given by both the President and Prime Minister of our country.

However, there were no positive indications by the government to uphold the promises given by our leaders. While measures to release lands are deliberately slow, work on acquiring lands for the expansion of the Palaly airbase and military requirement is taking place rapidly. The people became increasingly frustrated and began a fast unto death campaign and once again the President reassured that the people will be resettled soon. The timeframe given for resettlement has long expired and we have lost faith in the government. Therefore, we look to the international community to ensure our resettlement.

A total of 12 kilometers long coastal land including key areas such as Mailiddy harbor and surrounding areas Palaly, Oorani and Kankesanthurai have not been released for people’s movement. Nearly 2630 hectares of land located within 24 GS divisions in Valikamam North has not been released for settlement and is still under military control. Out of the 10,000 families yet to be resettled, 1318 families live in 38 IDP camps.

Your Excellency, during your visit to Sri Lanka, we wish to recall your visit to Sabapathy and Kannagai Amman IDP camps in Maruthanar Madam on February 6, 2015. You studied the situation of the people and informed us that you would like to see us resettled in our lands during your next visit to Sri Lanka. Following your visit to our country, you had also mentioned about the plight of IDPs in your report.

Therefore, we request you to emphasize on the need to immediately hand over the lands in Valikamam North back to its original owners and also to release the harbour and coastal land for people to carry out their day to day activities during your oral submission on June 29, 2016. In addition, we request you to appoint an expert panel to monitor and report the progress on resettlement, relief, and restoration of the sociopolitical and economic structures.

Organization for Resettlement and Rehabilitation of Vali North.
June 27, 2016

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