In October 1990, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) expelled the entire Muslim population of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Within a period of 48 hours the LTTE systematically chased out close to 75,000 Muslims residing in the districts of Kilinochchi Mulaitiwu, Jaffna, Mannar and parts of Vavuniya. The LTTE expulsion of Muslims from five Northern districts in October 1990 has not been adequately integrated into any mainstream historical narrative in Sri Lanka. Most commentators routinely get the date of the expulsion wrong and few give the event the status of a highly significant historical event that it warrants. Northern Muslim civil society leadership has worked hard to highlight the issue and have had to face numerous obstacles including the disinterest of the larger civil society community in Sri Lanka.
The Law & Society Trust in partnership with three Northern Muslim organizations and an advisory group of prominent Muslim civil society actors are conducting a truth seeking initiative in the form of a Citizens’ Commission. The objective of the exercise is to produce authoritative documentation of the expulsion and its consequences that is sanctioned by the community, and to list the community’s grievances through a document endorsed by a Commission consisting of eminent civil society actors. The Commission’s broadly defined terms of reference will look at a) the history of the expulsion, b) the experience of two decades of displacement, and c) expectations, and experiences of resettlement. Northern Muslim Community has long anticipated the establishment of an Official Government Commission of Inquiry. The Citizens’ Commission has been established in the context of the absence of such an official commission.
It is hoped that the report of this commission will help towards the establishment of such a government Commission of Inquiry as well. The Commissioners are eminent persons from civil society who are outside the Northern Muslim community. At this moment the Commissioners number ten persons‐ they are Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Dr. M.S.M Anes, Dr. Catherin Brun, Dr.Gameela Samarasinghe, Dr. E Santhirasegaram, Dr. Nimalka Fernando,Mr. Javid Yusuf, Ms. Chulani Kodikara and Mr. U.L.A. Majeed. The final commission report will be a document that is endorsed by this group of eminent persons. The members of the advisory group assisting the project are Ms. Shreen Saroor, Ms. M. Juwairiya, and Ms. Faizun Zackariah. Since the first Commission sitting with the Northern Muslims who are residing in Colombo in September 2009, the commission has made four visits to the Northern Province and has held seven sittings in Puttalam and one sitting in Negombo where Northern Muslims currently reside. Several of the Puttalam sittings were especially designed to elicit the participation of representatives from all five districts in the North, women from the Northern Muslim community, young people from the Northern Muslim community, and representatives from the host community in Puttalam.
The Commission has concluded its investigations and the report is now complete. The report entitled “The Quest for Redemption: The Story of the Northern Muslims” was launched at the International Center for Ethnic Studies auditorium on the 3rd of November 2011. The report was very favorably received. The commentators at the launch were Manouri Muttetuwegama, Barrister, Attorney-at-Law, former Commissioner, Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, and Chair of the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal/ Disappearance of Persons (All Island 1998- 2000), and Seelan Kadirgamar, human rights activist and former Senior Lecturer in History, University of Jaffna. Views were also expressed by Mr. A.R .Ashar Khan, the representative of RDF, one of the partner organizations, on the objectives and the Successes of the Citizens’ Commission and Mrs. M. Juwairiya, the member of the advisory group on her experience with the Citizens’ Commission Process. The project staffs are now working on the translation of the report into both Tamil and Sinhala. The report is currently available for sale at the LST.