We are at the threshold of hope

wigneswaranAddressing at the  ceremony in Jaffna, to distribute title deeds of lands released from the High Security Zone for resettlement of people in the North held in Valalai on 23 March 2015 Northern Provincial Council Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran, urged the Government to address the  issue of Land and Property based on well-established international principles and rights as outlined in the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons, Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The event was held with the participation of President Maithiripala Srisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, senior minsters and Diplomats.

His full speech is as follows:

Your Excellency the President, Honourable Prime Minister, Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, distinguished Diplomats and guests, my dear brothers and sisters!

We are at the threshold of hope. A hope that those who have been denied what was due to them since the war ended, would be returned to them. There could be various official reasons trotted out to legitimize the delay in returning what is rightfully the lot of the people of these areas. But they are not reasons at all.

Despite the end of the war in May 2009, vast swathes of private lands and property remain under the control of the security forces and central government aligned entities while thousands languish in temporary camps with no end in sight to their plight. In vast majority of the cases the actions of the security forces and the central government has resulted in the creation of long term IDPs, many of whom have spent over two decades in temporary housing in so called welfare camps, without the ability to exercise their right to return.

Some of the most fertile lands in the Peninsula have not been returned to the owners but had been used by the Military to cultivate vegetables and fruits for themselves. No rentals nor compensation have been paid for so using their lands for so long. Up to the year 2013 their houses in these areas were still in place. None had been destroyed. But around the time our election to the Northern Provincial Council drew nigh almost all the houses and buildings in these areas had been destroyed.

Let me take the case of Myliddy.

Myliddy Vara Siddhi Vinayagar Temple was razed to the ground. Myliddy Kalaimagal Vidyalayam and the Roman Catholic School were simply bulldozered. When I as the first citizen in this Province tried to gain entry to see the condition of Temples and schools I was politely refused permission to enter the high road leading to the places of desecration. I was asked to obtain the permission of an all powerful Secretary of Defence having his headquarters in Colombo.

I have been given maps of Myliddy as well as Vasavilan and certain other places out of the areas that are being released or earmarked for release.

In the map of Myliddy despite the complete vandalism that has taken place to reduce all living quarters to rubbles every house that lay there in Myliddy and which have been destroyed, have been identified through satellite photographs taken. Inter alia the bakery, the market, the schools, the hospital and the Temples where they once proudly stood have been identified. Today the citizens of these areas stand devoid of their residences and their market places and hospitals and schools uncared for in so called Welfare Centres. 38 such Welfare Centres exist and majority if not the entirety come from Grama Sevaka Divisions 251,248 and 246 which form Myliddy area more or less, 254 and 255 which include Palaly area, 247 and 249 which fall under the village of Oorany and 241 and 250 which have been identified as Thyiddy area.

In other words if those who were residents of Grama Sevaka Divisions 246, 248, 251 and 255 are resettled we would be able to almost strike off the existence of the 38 Welfare Centres closing them down. These Welfare Centres were given dry rations by World Food Program but were discontinued when WFP was stopped from functioning in these parts. The Northern Provincial Council with the help of local Donor organizations came to their help but did not have enough to keep them all succoured and satisfied. People of Myliddy were once the providers of one third the fish needed for the whole Island. Mirissa and Myliddy were the Fishing Harbours of the Island in the South and the North.

If we are to really get these unfortunate humanity who were once so rich and prosperous back on their feet we must consider releasing the Harbour area because they need to live close to the Harbour to restart their fishing; they must be provided with transport facilities; schools and hospitals must be set up, their livelihood needs must be attended to. I am only speaking about one particular area of which only some Grama Sevaka division areas are to be released today. I believe it is Grama Sevaka Division No; 237, 238, 241, 244, and 242 which are being released now. Lot more need to be released. They all need to be resettled. Their fertile stretches of lands should not be the playing grounds of military ploughshares anymore.

I have been also given sketches pertaining to Vasavilan. In fact I visited the area last afternoon in the company of Reverend Fathers belonging to the Catholic Church. 197.6 acres of land was to be released in Grama Sevaka Division 244 in Vasavilan East. When I went on Tuesday last to Valalai I was taken by the Army Officer in Charge Mr.Tillakeratne from Valalai through the Atchuveli Road to the Palaly Road junction. Yesterday I was told that last Friday a barbed wire fence had been erected releasing only about ninety acres out of the 197 odd promised keeping the balance to the Army and worst of all the Atchuveli Road has been barricaded refusing traffic to Palaly Road. Those who have to go to the Divisional Secretary’s office or to Schools on the Palaly Road have to travel about twenty to thirty kilometers round merely because the Army has closed traffic on a two kilometer stretch of the Atchuveli Road.

I tried to visit the Tholagatti Farm within the two kilometer stretch but was informed that I cannot do so without obtaining authority from the Commanding Officer Udawatte who was unavailable on phone despite many calls. The areas now allowed to the people are unproductive lands. Onlookers said within the areas retained by the Army they see maize, manioc, carrots and plantain growing. Naturally the Army has got used to cultivating on other people’s lands and they find it difficult to give up their hold on other’s lands! Unless Grama Sevaka Divisions 244 and 252 are released in full as promised earlier, what has been gingerly granted today would hardly be of any use to the few families now selected to enter their erstwhile denied lands.

It may not be out of place for me to mention here of the land grabs taking place in the Vanni not only by the military but also by certain Politicians who wielded power earlier and who continue to wield power now, may be more so. They still influence in selecting inappropriate beneficiaries for the Indian Housing Schemes.

Similar to the plight befallen on our IDPs, thousands of refugees in India and the West too have seen their land and property rights being sacrificed in the past by government aligned politicians in the pursuit of commercial and political objectives. In the above backdrop I urge the issue of Land and Property be addressed based on well-established international principles and rights as outlined in the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons, Geneva Conventions and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addressing the needs and wants of the affected persons the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons, which was approved by the UN SubCommission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in August 2005, should be used as our benchmark governing the effective implementation of housing, land and property restitution programmes and mechanisms so that this nation can comprehensively address the long standing land issues once and for all.

Today, we are no doubt glad a start has been made to give back our people’s lands. But their expectations had been far in excess to that seen on the ground today. Let us hope humane thinking will ensure the restoration of our people’s lands and the withdrawal of the armed services from our areas except to keep a minimum surveillance in the area in line with International norms and standards.

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