A Commissioner's Perspective: Citizens’ Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE
25 Nov, 2011 Chulani Kodikara
As one of the members of the Citizens’ Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE in October 1990 (Citizens’ Commission), it is my privilege and pleasure to say a few brief words on behalf of all the Commissioners on the occasion of the launch of our Report. The Citizen’s Commission was an initiative of the Law and Society Trust (LST) and its partners’ in the absence of an official government inquiry into the expulsion of Muslims from the Northern districts by the LTTE. Our mandate was to document comprehensively and in depth the experiences of the expulsion, the subsequent two decades of displacement and resettlement of the Northern Muslims as well as their expectations of the state and civil society.
The fact that this was conceived of as a ‘Commission’, I think has important methodological as well as conceptual implications. A commission of inquiry (CoI) is generally appointed by the Executive Branch to inquire and report on a particular incident or series of incidents, to verify facts and to determine responsibility. As opposed to judicial proceedings in a court of law, a CoI process provides a number of advantages. A CoI process is able to 1) investigate the underlying socioeconomic and political causes in addition to uncovering facts and assigning responsibility; 2)unlike court proceedings which are adversarial, where facts and legal arguments are presented by counsel, and there sis limited ability to investigate further, a CoI process allows for an inquisitorial approach which allows the Commissioners’ to to be open to a wider range of questions they want answers for as well as the witnesses who they want to hear and take account of; 3) lastly, it also has the ability to involve and inform the public in ways not available in judicial proceedings.
This initiative itself is a unique achievement, in that it is perhaps it is one of the few instances of such a broad-based CoI process being initiated by civil society in Sri Lanka. Our Commission brought together a diverse group of civil society members at the national level and the regional level as well as a number of community based organisations with roots in the Northern Muslim community. What we all have in common is a deep commitment to ensure that the voices of Northern Muslims are heard and that justice is ensured.
We know that official Commissions of Inquiry in Sri Lanka do not always yield expected results. A number of recent studies on Commissions appointed by successive governments have pointed out that they end up being tools to launch attacks against opponents, a way to deflect criticism of the government or a way to co-opt civil society members to white wash violations or all of these things at once. This is borne out, for example, in Kishali Pinto Jayawardene’s work on Commissions of Inquiry, which show how such commissions have largely served the interests of governments, and/or been a cover for impunity and therefore how counter-productive they can be. She does however, I think, make an important distinction between ‘bad’ commissions and ‘good’ commissions. While bad commissions, were patently political; had political appointees and arrived at political verdicts that suited the government of the day, good commissions did perform the function of telling the truth and did make good recommendations although never implemented. For example, the four Presidential Commissions of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons which functioned during the period 1994 – 2000, looked into thousands of complaints of disappearances and established that over 20,000 cases of “disappearances” had in fact occurred, most at the hands of security forces but, unsurprisingly, their recommendations were mostly ignored.
The methodology followed by us in our work and in compiling our report was multi faceted, including primary and secondary research as well the collection of close to 400 narratives from displaced persons. This research was complemented by several visits by us to different locations to meet with members of the Northern Muslim community, where we also heard first-hand accounts of their experiences and expectations. I think this process ensured a more nuanced analysis of the events of 1990 and the issues at stake. The diverse background of the Commissioners’ opened up a space to talk about the expulsion, its consequences and return and resettlement in an open and frank exchange. The presence of a number of women, both as Advisors and Commissioners allowed us to have a number of special meetings with women of the Northern Muslim community. Given that men used to dominate discussions at mixed meetings, this created an important space where women could talk about issues personal to them, including psycho social problems experienced by them. At one of the meetings, when the women learnt that one of the Commissioners (Gameela Samarasinghe) was a psychologist they opened up to her about their problems in a way they otherwise might not have, talking about their mental trauma and distress following displacement. Gameela was able to respond not just with empathy but with a deep understanding of the psycho-social implications of displacement. The presence of a retired High Court Judge Mr. Majeed, with a wealth of knowledge on land issues and land law, as a Commissioner, meant that those who came before the Commission could go deep into the critical issue of land separating perceptions and attitudes, myths and facts, and law and non law from one another. The presence of a member of the host community, Dr. Anes gave a necessary balance to the sittings in Puttalam where host – displaced community relations have been strained over the years. During our visit to Mannar, Dr. Nesiah’s recollection of Tamil-Muslim relations in Mannar during the time he was the Government Agent there (‘65-‘68) enriched our historical perspective, which has been a critical facet of the work of the Commission. My own work on Muslim Personal Law in Sri Lanka, opened up the space to talk about the ways in which women in the community are discriminated by laws endorsed by the ‘community’. We hope therefore that this process resulted in a genuine ‘truth’ seeking. We hope that it has catalysed a dialogue and discussion about the issues facing the Northern Muslim community in Sri Lanka across a number of civil society members and groups with a view to understanding and addressing those problems collectively.
The involvement of community based organisations rooted in the Northern Muslim community in this Commission ensured a high degree of community ownership of the commission process. The partner organizations were the Rural Development Foundation (RDF) the People’s Secretariat and the Community Trust Fund. It also ensured that our meetings were not always formal interactions. The Commission was welcomed into people’s homes for informal discussions over cups of tea and biscuits on numerous occasions, which gave us added insights to a number of questions. There was also an expectation that the diversity of people and groups involved with the commission would situate the problems of the Northern Muslim community within the larger socio-political context of Sri Lanka while linking different groups working on similar issues around the country. As expressed by the coordinator, Farah Haniffa, at the outset of this process, many of the issues that the northern Muslims face are common to most SL citizens affected by the conflict, whether it relates to the ration amount, accessing services or language difficulties. Muslims to date have unfortunately not been able to articulate many of their distinct causes as part of the wider concerns of affecting the Sri Lankan polity. We hope that this process was able to realise that expectation at least to some extent.
Finally, we hope that this process reaffirms and reclaims the role of civil society not just to hold government accountable but also in the process of furthering post-war reconciliation in Sri Lanka, in an environment often hostile to civil society. We hope that the insights generated by this report will add to the ongoing discussion to seek an equitable political solution which involves all communities. There is of course no guarantee that the State will pay heed to the recommendations of the report of the Commission. Nevertheless, we hope the report does fulfill its mandate of providing a detailed and inclusive account of the expulsion, displacement, resettlement and the hopes and disappointments of our many fellow citizens. Farah Haniffa, who coordinated this process deserves a special mention and congratulations for her efforts in facilitating our working together–not always easy–as well as putting this report together in a way that brought so many people, groups, ideas, and perspectives. We hope that this can serve as a model for other efforts of this nature. We truly hope that our work will herald new possibilities of justice for Northern Muslims and open the doors wider for justice and peace for all Sri Lankans.
THE CITIZENS' COMMISSION ON THE EXPULSION OF MUSLIMS FROM THE NORTH BY THE LTTE IN OCTOBER 1990
Devanesan Nesiah, Commissioner
Sri Lanka has been increasingly the scene of much ethnic violence. The Northern Muslims are the victims of the earliest large scale act of ethnic cleansing in our history. Close to 80,000 persons, constituting the entire Muslim population of the five Northern Districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Vavuniya, Mullaithivu and Kilinochchi were summarily expelled from the province by the LTTE on one fateful day in October 1990 at a few hours notice. The details of the constraints imposed on the victims varied from location to location depending on the degree of brutality of the local LTTE leadership, but nowhere were those evicted able to sell, transfer or otherwise secure or dispose of their property or to take with them cash or other moveable possessions. The operation was carried out so quickly and with such ruthless efficiency that there was little or no resistance. The state failed to intervene. Sadly, the protests of the national leadership, Tamil and non‐ Tamil, and of the national and the international community were muted. The Law & Society Trust (LST) together with the their partners have setup a Citizen's Commission to investigate they expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE in October 1990.
This initiative is a result of the untiring efforts of the Northern Muslim leadership and a few civil society activists coordinated by Dr. Farzana Haniffa. The Terms of Reference of the Commission, of which I am a Member, goes on to set out the objective as "to produce authoritative documentation of expulsion and its consequence", including in its coverage "the history of the expulsion, the experience of two decades of displacement and expectations, and in some cases the experience of resettlement". The largest numbers of those victims were from Mannar district of which I had, much earlier, been Government Agent for 3 years (mid 1965‐mid 1968). I have happy memories of close interaction with many families there, both Tamil and Muslim. Inter‐ethnic relations in Mannar were a model to the rest of the island. I have visited the district many times in 70s and 80s, and each time I found that inter‐ethnic relations continued to be good. There was nothing on the ground to explain why the Northern Muslims were selected by the LTTE for eviction. The distraught evicted persons who I visited in Colombo soon afterwards kept asking it of me and I had no answer. Clearly the reasons were rooted elsewhere. Did the LTTE pick on the Northern Muslims because they were the most vulnerable with no record of ever resisting Tamil leadership? Immediately after my service in Mannar I served 3 years as GA Batticaloa (mid 1968 – early 1971) and, much later, 3 years as GA Jaffna, then including Kilinochchi (mid 1981‐ mid 1984). Batticaloa and Jaffna districts also had large Muslim population and there too inter‐ethnic relations were very satisfactory. The diversity was salient, e. g. Kattankudy, the largest Muslims town in the island, has very distinctive cultural and economic features sustained over many decades.
It was much later that Tamil Muslim conflict in the East was promoted by outsiders who used Muslim home guards, as well as by the LTTE who sought to secure the subjugation of the Muslim population through a series of massacres. Despite these disruptions, most of the Tamil and Muslim populations of the North and East have, by and large, continued to live together in peace. My 3 years of very rewarding service in each of 3 districts with a combined Tamil Muslim population of over 1.5 million has equipped and motivated me to serve on the Commission. Whenever I go back I feel as comfortable and as welcome in Muslim towns and villages in the North and East as when I was the Government Agent there decades earlier. All this does not mean that there is no difficulty in reversing ethnic cleansing after a lapse of 20 years. That reversal should have been effected long ago. After a community departs from a locality, their properties progressively degenerate. Further, over the years, others move in to fill the vacant spaces created in the educational, social, economic and political life of that locality.
At the other end, the displaced populations get settled in to their new locations with new neighbours, new schools, new economic and social activities, etc. New relationships get established superseding, in due course the old. The younger generation may have no ties at all binding them to the earlier location. With every passing year, reversal of ethnic cleansing becomes more difficult. Without focused intervention, very few may go back. The appointment of this Commission is very welcome, though long over due. The task of reversing ethnic cleansing is difficult but necessary. As I see it, the main task of this Commission is to push for and facilitate the resettlement of displaced Muslims back in the locations from which they were evicted. The displaced population needs to be motivated and helped to return. The conditions, facilities and inducements must therefore be attractive and the obstacles to return must be minimized. Particular attention needs to be paid to promote acceptance of the return on the part of the local communities among whom the returnees will resettle. It will help to place each particular displacement and the return of the displaced in as broad a context as possible.
Every act of ethnic cleansing is unique, and so too the related circumstances. If the issue is seen as a zero sum game between the two communities immediately involved, mobilizing comprehensive support for reversal of ethnic cleansing may pose some difficulties. On the other hand if ethnic cleansing is viewed in a broad context as affecting those of all communities, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and that policies to counter and reverse ethnic cleansing will bring joint gains to all victims, it would be easier to secure comprehensive backing for such policies. A balance needs to be struck between highlighting the special features of each case and the common features of all ethnic cleansing. The principles on which the remedies to all acts of ethnic cleansing are based should be independent of the ethnicity of the perpetrators and of the victims. To permit any act of ethnic cleansing to stand would amount to withholding justice from the victims, to rewarding the perpetrators, to encouraging such acts in the future and, above all, to perpetuating a national crime and humiliation. On the other hand, no family or individual can be compelled to return to an inhospitable environment.
The focus therefore should be on promoting voluntary return. This requires designing and executing the programmes in close interaction with and the participation of both the displaced communities and local community into which they are to return. The remedies must be seen by all concerned as a step towards the restoration of the honour, not only of the victims and the perpetrators, but also of those who stood by and let the eviction occur. This Commission could play a lead role in spreading this message in relation to all acts of ethnic cleansing throughout the island.
CITIZENS' COMMISSION VISITS TO PUTTALAM
U. L. Abdul Majeed, Commissioner
The Independent Citizen's Commission visited Puttalam settlements on the 26th and 27th October, 2009. This was the first of a series of visits the commission intends to carry out. The purpose of the visit was to get first‐hand information of the history behind the expulsion of the Muslims in October 1990 by the LTTE from Mannar and Jaffna, from the people who were directly affected by such an expulsion, and also to find out their present living conditions and related matters. A few members of the Commission with Dr. Farzana Haniffa, (Commission Coordinator) and Mrs. Kaneeza Faris, (Project Coordinator) visited the Al‐Manar settlement at Kalpitiya. Mr. S. Bahardeen, the President of the 'Welfare Association" of this settlement and about 20 others assembled at the Al‐Manar 'madrasa' adjoining the Mosque. I was appalled and shocked
to hear the terrifying story of the mass exodus of the Muslims from the Thalaimannar Pier area on a compulsory expulsion order of the LTTE. Their horrifying experience, between life and death, has indeed left an indelible mark in the history of the Northern Muslims. Al‐Manar settlers, (the term IDPs, is inappropriate as they say they are Forcibly Expelled Persons), narrated their terrifying experience of fleeing from their native villages within 24 hours with their women and children. In October 1990, all these people (about 150 families) were ordered by the LTTE to leave their land, houses and employment within 24 hours. Whilst seeking a 'mother land' for the Tamil speaking people of the North and East, the LTTE terrorists, without any feeling for the Tamil speaking Muslims in the Thlaimamnnar pier, evicted them mercilessly from their land and
houses, for the simple reason that they are Muslims, in a process of 'ethnic cleansing'. They were unable to provide a good reason as to why the Muslims were subject to this forcible expulsion. Mr. Bahardeen, said that, "the original 150 families had land and houses in Thalaimannar pier; the fishing folk had 70 boats, businessmen had shops, 33 persons worked in the Ceylon Government Railway (CGR), and some others worked as laborers in Thalaimannar harbour. Our children lost their education. We lost our livelihood, houses, shops, schools, mosques and other buildings. These are all now destroyed by the terrorists". Before 1990, due to an armed conflict between the Sri Lanka Army on one side and the EPRLF and TELO on the other in 1987, Muslims in Thalaimannar had to flee from there and sought asylum in Pesalai and Erukkalampiddy, both adjoining villages in the Mannar district. But in 1990, when all the Muslims were ordered to leave from the entire Mannar area, they came by sea route to Kalpitiya. At the beginning they stayed in 'refugee camps' for about 5 years and thereafter they bought the present land in blocks of 10 perches for each family for Rs.20,000/‐ (of which 10,000/‐ was awarded by the Resettlement Ministry and the balance was their hard‐earned money). After 19 years, the population of the original150 families has increased to 500 families. These settlers are now facing tremendous problems and difficulties. They have problems with the 'local Muslims' in Kalpitiya, in relation to their employment, fishing, education, Jumma prayers and their day to day lives. They do not want to take any action against the 'locals' because of fear that such actions may deepen the tension and make their lives in this area more difficult.
The settlers are given a meager living allowance of Rs.1,260 for a family of five, which is hardly enough to cover their expenses for a day or two. This allowance has been static for the last 19 years without any increase. They have sanitary and health problems; each family has constructed their wells and the 'toilets' too close in an unplanned manner, resulting in the threat of polluted well water. Their children's educational quota system is also unsatisfactory; students are not given preference in either Puttalam or in Mannar. The educational quota system for selection to the university and to any skilled employment is begging political favour. Though they excelled at the examination scoring high results, the children face difficulties in the selection process. Unemployment amongst the youngsters is on the rise. Many of them prefer to go into manual labour work, than pursuing higher studies due to poverty. The overall picture of the situation and living conditions of these neglected settlers are harsh and unsatisfactory. The major issue facing the settlers is the resettlement in their native lands in Thalaimannar pier. After nearly 20 years, they still prefer to go back to their own village, because, they say, they may have more rights, freedom, livelihood opportunities and other facilities in their own village than in Kalpitiya. But the questions and doubts dominating their hearts and minds are (i) whether all these 500 families will find land in their native village (ii) If they go back what are the amenities that will be provided by the government to begin their lives there (III) Whether they will be paid compensation for their loss of property in their own villages (iv) whether State land will be provided for the 350 families. The government must find solutions for these questions.
Reflections on the Plight of the Forcibly Evicted Persons.
Javid Yusuf, Commissioner
Nearly twenty years has passed since the forcible eviction of Muslims from the North. They have reordered and rearranged their lives in less than satisfactory conditions. Yet their lives seem as insecure as ever. They lack a sense of purpose and direction that would characterize more normal communities. Almost one year after the defeat of the LTTE (at the time of our hearings) there is no sign of any change in their lives. Nor has the change in the scenario rekindled hopes that things are going to be very different or that they will be comfortably resettled in their homes.
Our conversations with these Forcibly Evicted Persons (FEPs) clearly revealed their uncertain frame of mind. Whatever steps are contemplated or are sought to be implemented by the State machinery are ad hoc. There is no clearly formulated policy on the resettlement of FEPs. Or if there is one there is no clear enunciation of same and the FEPs are left to figure out or second guess what such policy is. Even the adhoc measures that are taken by different arms of the State machinery are not known to the FEPs as there is little or no attempt to communicate the content or rationale for such measures. Consequently there are many misunderstandings and even allegations that different groups are being treated differently resulting in disquiet among the community.
Another striking drawback that one sees is that there is no concerned or committed leadership to guide and advise them on their best strategic options and how to influence and respond to initiatives of the State. Instead these lots of disadvantaged persons have become the playthings of politicos and dependent on their largess and patronage of politicians even to get their minimum requirements. The absence of a strong civil society leadership that can withstand the wiles and pressures of politicians and forcefully articulate the interests of the FEPs is a great drawback. This is not to discount the wide range of diverse and disparate civil society groups that have been working and are continuing to render invaluable services to alleviate the sufferings of these people during the last two decades. In fact it may not be wrong to say that quantitatively and qualitatively these groups with minimal resources have done more for the FEPs than the State, yet their efforts are scattered and adhoc. This inevitably deprives the beneficiaries of the full value of their efforts as they are not part of a well thought out, coordinated and planned strategy to address the fundamental needs of the FEPs.
Resettlement of the Northern Muslims : Challenges.
E. Santhirasegaram, Commissioner
The forcible expulsion of Tamil speaking Muslim people from the Northern Province in October 1990 is one of the saddest events in Sri Lankan history. On and off throughout the last twenty years several people have expressed views on this event. Rajeswari Balasubromaniam expressed this view in one of her articles. “Every Srilankan Tamil should feel shame on this historical event” (Theni website Republished in Meelpearvai 2nd of November 2007)
These displaced communities have lived outside the northern province for the last twenty years and have undergone severe traumatic experiences during that time. The conflict forced these people to live outside the Northern Province. In this two decade of internally displaced life they faced serious difficulties in seeking employment, receiving healthcare facilities and several other basic requirements. Their past experience is bitter. But they can hope for a joyful future. Most of them are willing to return back to their original homes. However, still several factors obstruct their return. One area of huge concern is land issues. It is a very sensitive issue with complex legal problems and need to be addressed properly. It seems some administrative problems created by specific burucrates made this worse. In several instances people complained that some individuals in their official capacity were acting irresponsibly and preventing the resettlement of IDPs. It is further aggravated by the attitude of some people in the Tamil community. Majority in the Northern Province are Tamils. Muslims are 5 percent in this population and they live in pockets of areas in the Northern Province. Hence it is essential to rebuild the relationship between Tamils and Muslims.
At the moment it is very essential to restart a very good reconciliation process. Muslims were forcefully evicted due to the belief that they will work against Tamil nationalistic views. But it is important to remember that the Jaffna Muslims fought against Portuguese invasion with Tamil forces of the Jaffna kingdom in AD 1591. The Portuguese commander killed Muslims and some south Indians (vaddakar) in the belief that they may create riots. A saint called Sikkander was worshiped by Muslims and Hindus. (). Tamils and Muslims in Jaffna lived amicably for a longtime. (This is true for other areas also) However, the incident which happened on 29-10-1990 turned this relationship sour. At the moment the Muslims are slowly building up their resettling process. In this process it is happy to see that they are progressing well despite many obstacles. It is important to have a good Tamil- Muslim relation ship in the future. It is essential for Sri Lankan ethnic groups to realize that they cannot live alone in the modern social fabric. Every individual needs to interact with individual from other communities while maintaining their language, culture and religion; and at the same time they should respect each other. In my view, such an attitude will pave the way for a glorious future in Sri Lanka.
The Experiences of the Expelled Muslims
M S M Anes, Commissioner
The problems, difficulties & the losses of Northern Muslims during the Expulsion in October 1990 by LTTE is not an easy task to document comprehensively. This includes the problems of 70,000 forcefully expelled people of Mannar, Mullaithivu and the other Northern Districts who were expelled from their own villages, and were made to leave all their valuables in their homes, walk miles, and travel by sea within a short period of time. The people had to settle with empty hands in various other provincial villages with their children and the elderly. Most of them chose to settle in Puttalam.. People have had great difficulty finding any income to continue their lives after they were expelled from their homes under virtual gun point. This incident of people leaving behind their Tangible and Intangible assets and their own lands, who had to move out like orphans, will be considered one of the worst tragedies of Sri Lankan history in future.
They were forced to settle for nearly twenty years in an unfamiliar social and geographical environment.. They had to begin life in substandard rental houses, Camps & slums. They had to live in places like Anuradhapura and Puttalam with the help of some governmental organizations, NGO’s and host community people but they continue to struggle to create decent living conditions for themselves. No proper investigations have been conducted so far into the problems and the difficulties that were faced by the Northern Muslims since their expulsion. Even though information regarding the expulsion and the plight of the displaced were published in different forms such as articles and magazines; and requests made to the government and other relevant authorities to look into the issue, little progress has been made. The irresponsible actions of the authorities and the lawful governing bodies of this nation have disappointed the parties who greatly care for the Northern Muslims. This citizen’s commission has become a great solution to this continuously prevailing tragedy. This commission has been making investigations in this particular case and have responded to the voice of the innocent people during the field visits.
The Citizen’s Commission has successfully completed their investigations directly in Puttalam, Colombo and the several other parts of the country where expelled Muslims reside. The Commission plans to formulate a proper and a comprehensive written report regarding those expelled Muslims. As a member of the commission I witnessed directly the difficulties, sufferings and the mental stresses they faced since the expulsion and have listened to their own views. This was the first time I saw an investigation being conducted with the full support of the participants (Expelled Muslims) This commission has highlighted the difficulties, Hardships and the problems of the people in detailed form with the help of the hearings and testimony collections that were undertaken. This investigation has also highlighted the life of 20 years in displacement, the life of, sufferings, hardships, , Mental depressions and sadness of 20 long years and its original reasons have been brought to light with the help of direct surveys made with the affected people.. And since the involvement of village leaders helped to identify the relationship of the people between the hosting villages (For example: Puttalam) and the displaced people throughout the 20 years and how they had overcome their wants and the misunderstandings that prevailed with the host communities. The commission was also able to identify, how they have been together for the past 20 bitter years. The identification of how the arrival of the expelled had affected the economies & the revenues of the hosting communities and the steps taken to overcome these economical issues was one of the most important findings of the commission. The people also expressed their views on overcoming these issues.
The people spoke of their difficulties and requested assistance in the form of more funds for educational and employment facilities for them, they also expressed the problems that they are facing in case of them returning to their villages to the Commissioners directly. They seek help from both Government and international bodies to recover their lands Cows goats and other resources which they left behind. Most of the building are demolished and land has changed hands illegally. Most of the paths, roads and economical resources of the villages have been turned into secondary forests, and therefore they expressed these views with fear and Tears. This commission is trying its best throughout their sittings, having direct discussions with the participants about their ideas and the expected solutions to be reinvestigate and to get back the Northern Muslims basic needs and aspirations. This commission hopes to release recommendations for better solutions through the help of other researches and to write the sufferings’ of the Northern Muslims into the history of the country. LST is very helpful in conducting the documentation for this report in keeping with international standards. The process has assisted in clearing doubts, and addressing the dissatisfactions of those Northern Muslims regarding their plight, It will help to illustrate the suffering of the Northern Muslims after the expulsion. It is also useful to publish and make available the report to the local and to the international community. It is imperative that both constituencies are made aware of the problems of Northern Muslims. Therefore all those involved with the commission have great pleasure in anticipating the release of the final report of the commission by the LST organization. for all those involved in this commission as the attempts for the documenting this report into the final stage has been processing by this commission and as well as by the LST Organization.
Mental Health of Women in the Alankudah Camp
Gameela Samarasinghe, Commissioner
We arrived at a school in the Alankudah camp where about 30 women who had been expelled from Mannar in 1990 were gathered for a meeting convened by the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE. These women had been told to leave Mannar within 24 hours in October 1990. Most of them had traveled from Mannar to Vavuniya and arrived in Puttalam. Some came by boat. They had to pay Rs 500/- per person they said. Two hundred to three hundred families live now in the Alankudah camp. Most women work. They cultivate chillies. Some said that they still had land in Mannar. Others did not. Most women wanted to leave their belongings and go back to Mannar. Some of them did not have land in Mannar but yet wanted to return. Those who owned land, said that they would not be able to identify the land that belongs to them because the land has been abandoned for years and now resembles a ‘jungle’. In relation to their health issues, they had access to a dispensary and to the hospital in Kalpitiya miles away and not easily accessible.
Strangely, amongst the women who attended the meeting, most women’s husbands had abandoned them years ago. They were bringing up their children on their own, had found temporary employment or were involved in their own business and were coping as best as they could. Psychosocial Distress of Women in Camps However, in the group one woman appeared to be deeply depressed. She was sad and cried during the meeting. Apparently, she had received treatment from a psychiatrist but had not continued with the treatment because of the difficulties to access the services. After the meeting, she shared some of her feelings. She was unable to make decisions, initiate activity, or take an interest in anything. She often felt inadequate and worthless. She paused when she spoke and said that she derives very little pleasure in life. She was tired all the time, she said.
Many women in the group may have had similar experiences and feelings and may not have had an opportunity to express them. Some of them did not explain their difficulties in terms of hardships, although they sometimes appeared to experience potentially psycho-somatic complaints. Though it was not always possible to explain in depth the specific psychosocial consequences of the difficult and often extreme circumstances faced by these women, it was likely that many of the women in the group had experienced great distress. Some women spoke of ‘not knowing what happened’ to them following the departure of their spouse and most of them were very concerned about what their future would be like. Studies have shown that women living in camps have often experienced tremendous hardships and horrors. Most have lost family, friends, acquaintances, homes and material possessions irretrievably to war. Some women have been subjected to sexual assault. There are also often accounts of sexual harassment. Some women have been disabled and injured by gunfire, shelling, mines and torture. Many women have been separated from their families, children and spouses as they fled advancing battlefronts and were placed in ‘refugee’ camps. The material hardships of the camp, along with the withdrawal of personal freedoms and loss of privacy and personal dignity, are unbearable to many.
These studies also point out to the psychosocial consequences of living in camps. Women who have lived through the uncertainties of war and displacement for many years, often experience sleeplessness and recurring dreams of shelling and other threatening incidents in their lives. Women have spoken of how their lost family members are in all their thoughts and stay with them ‘even if [they] close their eyes’. “I hate the nights,” said one woman. Some women speak of sudden fright and ‘shivering’ at the sound of gunfire or aircraft, and say it is only death that will end their fears. Grief, loneliness and sorrow also deeply affect the lives of many women, resulting in them ‘crying all the time’. Others report forgetfulness and a numbness of emotion. They also speak of giddiness, loss of appetite and other physical complaints like chest pains that occur when they think about what happened to them. For some women, their experiences have caused crises of faith and they have abandoned prior beliefs in astrology and stopped visiting places of worship. Others have renewed faith in their god or gods. Inappropriate Psychosocial Support – Rethinking Strategies for Psychosocial Care The Northern Muslims left the war zone since 1990. However, their life has been one of uncertainty as was clear from many of the stories that we heard. The distress that many suffer due to the lack of any stability regarding their future, when they would be able to return, where they would live etc. was apparent and it was evident that many have difficulties coping. These women did not have access to psychosocial support. And very few women confirmed that they had access to the attention of psychologists or psychiatrists.
Psychosocial services when in place tend to target seriously psychologically distressed persons. As mentioned earlier, in the Alankudah camp, the majority of the displaced women suffered from the lack of any stability and the inability to think of the future. No services were available where they could express their emotions and talk about their difficulties, if they sought such services. As a result, they developed coping strategies in the absence or non accessibility of professional care. For example, they would meet with other persons who had had similar experiences and shared their grief and anxieties with them, or they would confide in a religious leader. Even though counseling is a form of intervention that is widely advocated, sometimes those coping mechanisms developed by the women themselves can be more helpful to them as they are accessible, chosen by them and not unfamiliar. Counselors are not always equipped to deal with such cases. Their training is often cursory and rarely involves any significant period of practical work. They are often not trained to work with vastly differentiated problems they encounter amongst the populations they work with.
In addition, the medical understandings of the distress of women, also widely advocated, does not necessary capture what these women are going through. Talk-orientated or medicinal therapies valued by the biomedical model of care are often not what these women want. Within the ‘rehabilitation’ discourse, a distressed person is described as an object upon which a procedure leading to normalization, renewal or improvement is performed. That is, ‘rehabilitation’ is seen as something that must be done to people for them to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. Their current condition is considered somehow inappropriate and abnormal, when they are perfectly normal given the abnormal situation (i.e. displaced) they have not chosen to be in. Although distressed persons sometimes do lead lives that border on the intolerable, interventions with this orientation can hardly affirm the self-esteem of persons who have successfully borne terrible suffering for many months or many years. In Alankudah, the women have played an active role in their process of recovery. A comprehensive and subtle integration of support practice into wider development initiatives may provide the means of redressing the failings of current psychosocial work in Sri Lanka. The deployment of available resources in this manner could allow for more appropriate, meaningful and extensive support to be provided to displaced and distressed women.
Citizens’ Commission Visit to Jaffna on 9th - 11th March, 2010
U L Abdul Majeed, Commissioner
As arranged, on 9th March, 2010, the Citizens’ Commission comprising Dr.Nesiah and myself with the members of the staff of the Citizens Commission at the LST- M/s Ashar Khan, Harees and Sabreen, arrived in Palaly by air at about 9.00 a.m. After a short delay at the Palaly air port, we came to Hotel LUX ETOILES where our accommodation was arranged. Later, in the evening Ms. Shreen and Ms. Juwairiya joined us. On the way from Palaly to Jaffna, we first came to Katuwan. Upto Katuwan, the area looks like a war torn area where several destroyed housed could be seen. This was a populated area before the war but, now looks like a jungle with mainly ipil ipil, margosa and other wild trees grown. Within the houses, tree are grown in huge sizes which indicate these houses are abandoned over 20-30 years by the Tamils. The fertile cultivable gravel soil has been neglected due to the war. Now, this is a high security area and we can see the movements of the army personnel. and their vehicles only. Even the bus transporting the passengers from air port to Katuwan is driven by a army personnel.
From Katuwan Junction to Jaffna, we could see Tamil people are living in partly repaired houses and cultivating tobacco and other vegetables. This area looks very green and movements of the people and their cultivation of vegetables give the impression that living condition of the Tamil people in these area has almost come back to normal, but not fully. The first programme we had for the day was a meeting with the Government Agent of Jaffna, Mr. K. Ganesh. We met him at 11.00 a.m., and explained to him the purpose of our visit to Jaffna.He was very understandable of the difficulties and needs of the Muslims, who have returned to Jaffna. According to him, about 106 families have returned to Jaffna from Puttalam, out of them 56 families have registered their names with the authorities and getting relief items. Some Muslim traders who come for business purposes stay in the Mosque and go, as they have no place to stay.
The G.A., said that the Muslims have a right to come back to their old places. Since there are no LTTE or pro-LTTEs, there is no group now existing against the returning of the Muslims. Certain Muslims do business without any problem. The Nallur beef stall is given on tender to a Muslim trader. Those who come back have to be provided with;
(i) dry rations for 6 months,
(ii) shelter – a house, with tin sheets.
(iii) Education for the children
(iv) Health facilities
(v) Water and electricity.
These three items, according to him, are available in Jaffna. He said that those who do not have their deeds for their lands, could get them from the Land Registry at Jaffna. He was also of the view that unauthorized or unlawful occupation of lands belonging to Muslims can be taken back, and if necessary the existing law must be amended for that purpose.
We suggested to the G.A. that since their old houses are destroyed and boundaries of the lands are not traceable, action must be taken to identify the lands and to have them settled in a decent manner and without unnecessary delay. He agreed to take action to expedite the settlement process. We observed from the manner the G.A. spoke to us, has a limited resources and authority to do the things with regard to resettlement and compensation. He has to get provisions and directions from the Rehabilitation Ministry in Colombo or the Task Force under Mr. Basil Rajapakse, Presidential Advisor. This Task Force is in charge of Re-settlement, Development and Security. All actions should be taken through this Task Force. Even the Resettlement Ministry, in this regard, has less power. He expressed the view that Muslims in Jaffna are not united. If they want actions to be expedited they must have good rapport with the Task Force, and the Ministry of Rehabilitation. The G.A. suggested that when resettlement takes place, priority should be given to Muslims. However, along with the Muslims, the Tamils who were evacuated from the High Security Zone in Jaffna after the 1983 riot, must also be re-settled, in order to balance the expectation of both Muslims and Tamils without any criticism from any corner. He concluded that the Muslim Leaders must make a united attempt to succeed in their efforts to get resettlement process expedited, in addition to the work by the relevant authorities.
After meeting with the Government Agent, we went to Osmania College. We went through Vannarponnai, a one time densely populated Muslim area. To go to Osmania College, we had to go through Asad Road and Muslim College Road. On either side of these roads, we were told, about 3000 houses belonged to Muslims existed before 1990. Now all those houses have only the wrecked remnants of the walls and foundations. On the road side, we found heaps of scrap iron, brought by Muslim traders from various places to be transported to Colombo. Most of the traders are indulged in this business. There is slow movement in this business as they find difficult to get permission from Defence Ministry for transportation from Jaffna to Colombo. Osmania College: This was a popular Muslim school in Jaffna, where, about 1900 students studied before October, 1990. Now there are only 165 students. We met the Principal, Mr. M.S.A.M.Mukthar, a native of Jaffna, who also fled in 1990. The science laboratory and other class rooms are all destroyed. The front main upstairs building is without roof and other structures. Recently, a partly destroyed building had been renovated and classes are conducted there. This college now have classes up to O/L. Before 1990, it was a boys school, but now it functions as a mixed school. These 165 students who are the children of the few returned IDPs, are coming to school from various places where they are staying with their parents in some houses of others as tenants.
According to the principal, this school was re-opened on 25.09.2003 after the cease-fire agreement of 2002. At that time, only 30 families came back to live and 50 students joined the school. At the beginning they had classes from Grade I to Grade 5, and later, as students started to come, classes were increased to GCE O/L. In December 2009, 4 students have sat the GCE (O/L) examination and two girls have passed the (O/L) Exam. There are 14 teachers teaching at this school, out of them, except the Principal and a Moulavi teacher, all others are Tamils. This Moulavi teacher has been appointed about 2 weeks ago under Moulavi teacher appointment scheme by the Ministry of Education. We were taken to the class rooms where we found a handful of students in each class room. All the destroyed class rooms could be renovated with less money by putting the roofs and erecting the damaged walls. Behind the School is the Jinnah Ground, the play ground of the school, where, in October 1990, all the Muslims were gathered by the LTTE and were ordered to leave Jaffna within 24 hours. This play ground looks like a shrub jungle now.
By the side of the Jinnah Ground is situated the Muslim Burial ground. It was surrounded by a boundary wall nut the wall are no more. Sufiyan Moulavi. MMC, told us that there is a move in the offing to have a Housing Scheme, on a portion of the burial ground to construct 30 houses for the homeless Muslims who have returned to Jaffna. But he did not give us any detail as to who will finance this project and when will be constructed. Kathija School: This was a girls school functioned before 1990. But now there only abandoned devastated buildings standing. A one time famous Muslim girls school in Jaffna town, is now turned to be a refugees centre. We found 10 families are temporarily sheltered in the roof- less class rooms. The occupants narrated their tale of woes, which is very pathetic. They all came with their families to have a good living in Jaffna but they received only disappointment and no relief from government sources. This shows the unplanned re-settlement scheme of the authorities, where people were asked to return without first providing basic amenities for their living. We went to see Pommanveli Housing Scheme. This scheme had been started in 1978. After the Muslims left this area in 1990, the whole area has become vacant, and the destroyed houses therein have no clear boundaries. There were 148 houses stood here, but now none of them could be seen.
Thereafter, we went to Puthukudyiruppu, where Muslims and Tamils lived amicably before 1990. Shaffi Nagar and Parischchenai are two other places where no Muslims are now living. Their lands are now occupied by the Tamils. At the Jinnah Road, some Muslims have sold their houses to Tamils. We came to Manipay Road Grand mosque which is now being renovated. Muslim traders who come to do business in the Jaffna town do stay in this mosque, as they have no other places to stay. The houses belonged to Muslims situated on both sides of Kathi Aboobucker Road are now destroyed. Similarly, in Kamal Mosque Road too all the houses on either side are destroyed. None of these houses are in occupying condition. The following day, morning at 7.a.m., I went with Moulavi Sufiyan and others to “MANKUMPAM” a one time Muslim village, now a “no man area”. Dr. Nesiah did not come with us. There were 55 families lived here. There was a primary school functioned before 1990 in this village, with 125 students and 4 teachers, which is now completely destroyed. Moulavi Suffiyan told me that about 25 families have their own lands and for others who have no lands, a housing scheme is envisaged. About 2 months ago 3 families came back from Saltern, in Puttalam. I noticed a bus plying from Jaffna to Koorathurai and Kukadduwan, two villages away from this village, passing through this village. The persons who have come back to this village have no proper employment. The houses stood around the mosque and the school are now destroyed.
There is an ancient mosque built in 1308 Hijri year and renovated in 1966. A caretaker by the name, N.M. Mohamed Hussain looks after the mosque. Bus loads of Muslims, numbering about 2500 came to this mosque last month for the Prophet Muhammad (Sal) birth day celebrations. A few Muslims who came for the celebration stayed back but many of them had returned to Puttalam from where they came. Right round this mosque there are lands belonging to the mosque and private citizens available for settlement. Meeting with Religious dignitaries: We had the rare opportunity of meeting with the Nallur Kandaswamy Kovil Kurukkal, Jaffna Nagar Vihara High Priest and the Bishop of Jaffna. All these religious leaders expressed the view that Muslims who were one time residents of Jaffna must come back to their old places of residence. They also expressed their willingness to do whatever possible on their part for the resettlement of the Muslims. We appealed to them to make a joint statement in that regard, which they all agreed to do so and to make public their full co-operation for the resettlement of the Muslims.
At the meeting we had with the Bishop of Jaffna, the Secretary of the People Council for Peace and Goodwill in Jaffna, Mr. Paramananthan and the Fisheries Officer Mr. Rajaram also participated. They contributed many suggestions with regard to the re-settlement of the Muslims. Mr. Paramananthan suggested that the following matters must be carried out in implementing the resettlement.
1. To trace the deeds, the assessment numbers. issued by the Municipal Council for the existed houses, and voters lists may be used to trace the lost deeds of the Muslims.
2. Government must pay adequate compensation to the Muslims who suffered by the forcible evacuation.
3. must have a team effort.
4. UN guidelines must be followed
5. Hitherto the money spent on war materials can now be diverted to pay compensation to the IDPs, as the war is ended.
6. Assessment of compensation must be done in a fair manner.
7. Transparency of the foreign donations must be observed..
8. Correct data base to be established 9. Tamils who were expelled after 1983 riot must be resettled in the High Security Zone.
The consensus opinion of all was that the resettlement process must be done without further delay and the settlement of the Muslims must be given priority. Meeting with the Vice Chancellor of Jaffna University: The Commission members met with Prof. Shanmugalingam, Vice Chancellor, University of Jaffna. This was an open discussion on educational problems of the present day students, which touched on the Muslim students’ admission to the University and the quota system. The V.C. said that still the 1981 quota system for admission is being followed by the UGC. There are some Muslim students presently following courses in this University. The Islamic Civilization, Christian Civilization-two departments functioned earlier in this University before 1990, are not functioning now. Not only students are not admitted to these department but also there are no lecturers available to teach the subjects. Now the trend adopted by students is to seek admissions to Colombo or Peredeniya Universities. South-Eastern University is also conducting new courses which attract students admission to that University.
Chavakachcheri Town: We went to Chavakachcheri town and the mosque. Before 1990, 65 Muslim families had their prosperous business and happy living in this town. Out of these 65 families, 17 lived in houses built on lands belonging to the Chavakachcheri town mosque. All these families have left due to compulsory expulsion by the terrorists. Now 7 families have come back and three of them are living in makeshift houses which are partly damaged and situated within the mosque lands. The ‘Imam’ of the mosque, Moulavi Nilamdeen told us that almost all the Muslims who were in Chavakachcheri have sold their lands, except one, which is occupied by a Tamil family, who is prepared to leave the place when demanded by the owners of the place. Moulavi Nilamdeen told us that there is a dispute over one of the lands sold by a Muslim. The land is worth 25 lakhs but was sold to a Tamil at 4 ½ lakhs. A Muslim lady, who is the daughter of the owner of this land stated to us later about this dispute. She said she had complained to the Mediation Board about this dispute, which has advised her to seek legal remedy as there is no possibility of a settlement. Other than this, there are no disputes between Tamils and Muslims. The Chavakachcheri mosque is now partly renovated by Muslim well wishers and prayers are conducted. There are 10 shop premises belonging to the mosque, which are now occupied by the Tamils. Mosque trustees negotiated with them and asked to pay Rs.3,000/ per month as rent, whereas the occupiers agreed to pay Rs.1,250. The mosque is demanding more. We advised Moulavi Nilamdeen to tell the trustees to agree to a reasonable amount which will help them to maintain the legal right of the mosque to the shop premises as long as the occupants continue to stay as tenants and pay rent.
Inter communal relationship: The relationship between the Tamils and Muslims in Jaffna, Chavakachcheri and other places appears to be excellent. Presently, Tamils have no objection or ill-feeling against the Muslims who have come back to re-settle. In Chavakachcheri, we were told that when the call for prayers (Adhan) was made in a silent manner within the mosque premises, the Tamils in the neighbourhood had requested the Imam to have it by amplifiers as they did earlier. Thereafter, it is done by means of amplifiers. This is a good sign of inter communal relationship. In the Jaffna town too, we saw several Muslim hotels and tea boutiques are run by Muslims in full scale and most of the patronizing customers of these places are Tamils. Muslim ‘returnees’ told us that the Tamils who occupy their abandoned places and houses shown their willingness to leave those places when demanded. Similarly, Muslims are also occupying places belonging to Tamils with mutual agreement, as tenants or otherwise. All in all, the situation prevails in Jaffna and other places recognizes the existence of inter communal co-operation and peaceful co-existence between the Muslims and Tamils. Even at the meeting we had with the G.A., Nallur Temple Kurukkal and the Bishop of Jaffna, this sentiment was expressed by these religious leaders. General opinion among the Tamils is that the Muslims who were subject to forcible expulsion have a legal right to come back and therefore they must be resettled. It appears that there is good will and reconciliation prevailing in the minds of the general public, the bureaucracy and the religious dignitaries.
Discussion with the “Returnees” On 9th and 10th evenings, we had separate meetings with the male and female ‘returnees’ to find out from them their experiences, their needs and other related matters. On the first day we met the males. They told that they like to stay in Jaffna and wanted the relief measures to be expedited. They want their lands to be identified and houses are erected as soon as possible. On the second day evening when we met the women folk, like the men they too like to stay in Jaffna. They assert their right to their lands and occupation. The general feeling and aspirations of the returnees can be summarized as follows:-
(i) They like to live in Jaffna in whatever condition, because, they say it is their birth place.
(ii) Every one wants a house as the primary requirement and other amenities added thereto..
(iii) Landless persons want lands and houses for their occupation.
(iv) All wanted compensation for their lost houses and other amenities.
(v) Resettlement must be effected as early as possible.
(vi) Those who are trading in scrap iron want permission from the G.A. to transport their collection to Colombo. Getting MOD from Colombo is not an easy task for them.
(vii) They want a Muslim Grama Sevake for their area as the G.S. who functioned earlier had gone on transfer to Negombo, and thereafter no G.S. is appointed in his place.
(viii) People who have come back must be provided with dry rations and other relief items.
My views and observations on the situation
1. Every Muslim who returned wants to be resettled as early as possible. But before doing so, the basic requirements must be fulfilled, and made available.
2. The most important requirement of the returnees is a house to live. Men, women and youths expressed their desire to have a house on their own.
3. Those who do not have houses on their own must be provided with lands, and houses must be provided according to their living conditions. Housing schemes are the solution for this.
4. Several returnees are in a position to indentify the location of their lands and houses but they have no means to put up their own houses therein. They need financial assistance.
5. Until infra-structure facilities are provided or made available before hand for the resettlement of the Muslim refugees, who now live in Puttalam and other places, they should not be asked to return to their native places in Jaffna. Proper shelter and other arrangements are vital for these refugees to start a new living. Many of the returnees are languishing in makeshift tents and other unprotected places with their small children.
6. Once all the evacuated Muslims return with their families and resettled, Muslim schools in Jaffna will get sufficient student population. Damaged schools must be renovated soon and educational facilities must be provided therefor.
7. Inter-communal relationship and co-existence prevail in a very satisfactory manner between the Tamils and the Muslim returnees in the Jaffna Peninsula. This is a good sign which shows Muslims and Tamils can live as neighbours in a close and good relationship. This relationship must continue.
8. Only few mosques are partly renovated and functioning. Others must be renovated.
9. Health facilities are available for the returnees as the hospitals are functioning in Jaffna.
10. Water and electricity are available for the returnees.
11. Employment appears to be is not a problem. Muslims did a few selected type of jobs or work earlier. They can restart those jobs and employments without any competition from Tamil community. Even now most of them are doing their hotel trade, scrap iron business, hawking and other employments without any resistance from Tamils.
12. Most of the Tamil leaders and civilians have no animosity against the Muslims who have returned to Jaffna to live. The Tamil people, appears to have understood, that the Muslim settlements are not ‘new settlements’ but only revival of the existed ones. They have realized the rights of the Muslims to come back to live in co-existence cannot be challenged, and that is why they in a good spirit have welcomed the arrival of the Muslims.
13. I have observed that the Muslims in Jaffna are divided due to political affiliation. There should be unity among them to achieve their task with regard to successful resettlement. The Mosque trustees too play their role in a different way.
14. Resettlement cannot succeed without the State assistance and participation. The Task Force headed by Mr. Basil Rajapakse, as stated above, plays an important role.
Reflections on return
Cathrine Brun, Commissioner
“When I saw there was nothing left of my old house in Mannar, I felt sick and I felt like returning to my house in Puttalam”. These were the words of one of my friends in 2003 when I visited her in Puttalam. The ceasefire from 2002 had enabled many Northern Muslims to go back to their homes for the first time since the expulsion in October 1990. My friend, together with many Northern Muslims, went back to see the places they were displaced from. It was a shock to see the place where their house had been. The home which they left lived on in their mind as an image exactly as it was, when they had to leave. However, the place which they lived on as an image during displacement was no longer there. It was a ruin, looted, polluted by other people who had violated the privacy of the former home. The place had become an overgrown plot, a damaged school, a mosque without a roof and a place with new neighbors or no people at all living there. In other words, return did not mean to return to what they left in October 1990. The places and the homes once left had changed – and so had the Northern Muslims who left.
The years between 2002 and 2005 can be seen as an intermediate stage when people returned to see their village and contemplated permanent return, but mostly waited to find out what would happen with the conflict. This intermediate stage prepared many Northern Muslims for thinking about and considering in more realistic terms whether to return or not. When the war was ‘officially’ over in May 2009, return became much more of a realistic option. And many people have decided to return, now with more understanding of what they are actually returning to; not the house and home once there, but a plot and a place in need of much hard work to become a place suitable for family life. After having followed the situation of the Northern Muslims since I first met them in Puttalam in 1994, I want to reflect on the meaning and process of return here. ‘Return, in this case is a difficult idea. In many discussions of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), ‘return’ and ‘repatriation’ are the main words used for when refugees and IDPs go back to their villages after forced displacement. In Sri Lanka, in official terminology, the word used is ‘resettlement’, which is in many ways a better term. Talking about ‘return’ is like thinking that one is going back to what was there before. But as most Northern Muslims have experienced by now, going back home is not like returning to what was there before, even though it is going back home, home has changed – but it is still their place.
Earlier this year I had the privilege to meet some of the Northern Muslims who had returned to their villages in the North. People are so happy to be back home. However, coming back home is a struggle involving many unsolved challenges. Disappointment about slow progress in the recovery process were often expressed among the people I met. Many families have had to split their members between Puttalam and the North because schooling facilities are limited, and their houses are in bad condition or other infrastructure restrictions are there in the village. Going back home is like starting all over again. One of my friends who has gone back to his native place said his life ‘goes in cycles’. First he married and spent 20 years building up a farm in the north. Then he was displaced, lost everything and started all over again in Puttalam. In Puttalam, he has spent 20 years raising his family, building houses for the daughters and making a family life. Now he has just started the ‘third cycle’; clearing the land, building up the farm, cultivating. This time, he says, he feels tired – it has been a lot of hard work doing two cycles of starting and establishing a decent life for himself and his family. Starting the third cycle feels like too hard work. It will be up to the next generation to complete this circle my friend thinks. But it is not only the place that have changed. The Northern Muslims themselves have changed too. There are many more families now than when they left the North. Marriages have taken place between different villages, the new generation that grew up in Puttalam do not remember much of the North – some of them feel more attached to where they live in Puttalam than to North. Displacement has made some of them to loose some skills, like paddy cultivation, but obtained other skills more appropriate for making livelihoods in the semi urban settings in Puttalam area rather than in the North. Going back home involves challenges for current and future livelihoods. How can the generation who grew up in Puttalam get the skills to live in the North? If – that is – they want to return.
Some young people are very determined to return. The Northern Muslims have been successful at maintaining a collective identity, of giving their children an understanding of their history and of their homes in the North. But some do not want to go to the North, they have grown up in Puttalam, what is there for them in Mannar, the Wanni or in Jaffna? What is taking place today may be interpreted as two parallel processes. Returning to the North on the one hand, and maintaining the link to Puttalam on the other. People would like to have the option of return. Many families have registered their return, but many of the same families would like to have the option of staying in Puttalam. The family which was forced to leave the North in 1990 is not the same family which has to make the decision about returning to the North or to stay in Puttalam. Maybe the part of the family who actually left in 1990 would like to return, but the next generation might not have the same attachment to North. The attachment to the North for the second and third generation is more through their parents and relations. So while people register to return, they would also like to keep their connections with Puttalam for many years to come: the connection to Puttalam is important because rebuilding life in the North will take a long time and children and adolescents should not have to keep their lives on hold while waiting for schooling and other options to reach the standard they have obtained in Puttalam. The connection to Puttalam is important because people will continue to have relations, friends and livelihoods in this area after having lived and worked there for more than 20 years. In many discussions about how to make solutions for refugees and IDPs, the way some Northern Muslims are building their lives in the North but maintaining connections in Puttalam are called ‘trans-local’ strategies, in other words, maintaining links with two or more places. These trans-local strategies are emphasized as very useful ways of making solutions for the people who have been displaced for so many years that their connections with the place of displacement are also well established. Such trans-local strategies will not necessarily be ideal for everyone. Some people want to stay in Puttalam, some want to leave Puttalam behind and settle in the North. Others, however, think that keeping connected with both places and pursuing a trans-local strategy is the most feasible option that will make return to the North more gradual, easier and will create less dramatic changes for the people involved. No-one actually needs to tell this to the Northern Muslims, because many are already pursuing these strategies. However, perhaps agencies and officials assisting people to return could also consider trans-local strategies as a more relevant way of allowing people to determine where they want to live in the future.
A MAJOR PROBLEM FACED BY THE MUSLIMS, FORCIBLY EVICTED FROM THE NORTHERN PROVINCE BY THE LTTE IN OCTOBER 1990
U. L. Abdul Majeed , Commissioner
It is no gainsay that the ordinary people of a country are affected and become refugees of civil wars, without themselves being actively involved in such wars. When a war breaks out between nations or between groups of persons and government in power, using fire arms and other military equipments, the innocent people become desperate and in the look-out for shelter for their safety and security. They are forced to leave their traditional homes and lands and shift their families to safer places with whatever immediate belongings they could carry with them. History of the nations reminds us that it has become the common phenomenon that when a war between nations or a civil war breaks out within a nation, ordinary civilians are on the run for safety and security.
But when a group of people were forced to leave their homes, lands, shops and working places at gun point, they have no alternative but to obey to the ‘order’ given by the ‘group’ which was mighty at that time. In Sri Lanka, this situation prevailed as far back as October, 1990. The confrontations between the LTTE and the government forces and later between the LTTE and the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) in October,1990 and thereafter, created a mass scale of exodus of the people from the Eastern and Northern provinces. In the case of the Northern Province Muslims were forcibly driven out of Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Kilinichchi, Mannar, Vavuniya and other places by the LTTE. As a result of this forcible expulsion, Muslims were forced to leave their residences, business places, cultivable lands and other belongings, leave alone their mosques and schools. Innocent Muslims have lost not only their valuable properties but also their lives. History of this country will never forget or forgive this heinous crime of the LTTE on the innocent Muslims.
History of the forcibly evicted Muslims from the Northern Province reminds us how they became refugees under dire circumstances of no fault on their part. It was due to the inhumane and barbarous acts of the LTTE terrorists committed on the innocent Muslims. In Mannar and Jaffna, Muslims were forced to leave their places of abode within 24 hours. Mercilessly, they were chased out of their permanent places of abode without allowing to take with them any of their personal belongings, cash, jewellery etc. The mental and physical agony and the sufferings the Muslims had undergone, are severe and immeasurable.
The Citizen Commission, of which I am serving as a member, has visited several places in Kalpitiya and Palavi in Puttalam. Our first visit was on 26.10.2009, much after the end of the war. The Commission visited several settlements out of which the ‘Al Manar settlement”, “Dharussalam – Alankuda settlement, Dharussalam Welfare Centre, Akkaraiveli,HijrathNagar, Hidayath nagar, in Kalpitiya These are a few settlements that can be mentioned here. Subsequently, I also visited with other members of the Commission the Muslim refugees in Negombo and Jaffna where the forcibly evicted Muslims are now living.
In our discussions with the refugees, they wanted us not to designate as “refugees”, but prefer to be called as “Forcibly Evicted Muslims”. The discussion mainly, focused on their land issue. They narrated their story how they were evicted and how they finally landed in the places where they are settled. Every one had untold episodes of experiences in the unfortunate eviction. They all expressed in an unanimous voice that, “although they were evicted in October, 1990, up to now no proper action or a scheme has been drawn up by the Government for their re-settlement.
The land issue which is the major issue of the Northern Muslims cannot be solved unless the assistance and patronage of the government. Unfortunately, even after the war is ended about two years ago, the government and the relevant authorities have shown no genuine interest in the matter. While actions being taken to resettle the Tamil people who were evicted from Mullaitivu and other places during the last stage of the war in 2009, the forcibly evicted Muslims still languishing in settlements and camps for over two decades.
Incidentally it must be mentioned here that when we visited Jaffna, we had the opportunity of meeting the Chief Hindu Kurukkal of the Nallur Kandaswamy Temple, the Chief Priest of the Buddhist Viharaya in Jaffna, The Bishop of Jaffna, Mr. Ganesh, the then Government Agent of Jaffna and other community leaders. All these dignitaries expressed the view that they welcome the Muslims to come back to their own lands. However, this was not the attitude of the cross section of the citizens of Jaffna in reality. The general public do not want the Muslims to come back to their lands. But they must understand that the Muslims have a legal right to go back to their lands and are seeking re-settlement in their original places not as new immigrants but to their rightful birth places as their home lands. It is common sense that when a person is forcibly evicted from his land by unlawful means, he has a legal right to claim possession.
Providing a few tin sheets, wooden poles, cement bags and Rs.25,000 in cash cannot be construed to mean re-settlement. This is what the government did for the re-settlement of the Muslim who preferred to go back to their original places. It is a fact that the Muslims have no houses or any building to occupy. We the commissioners saw with our naked eyes that in the Moor Street, and other places in Jaffna where the beautiful houses of the Muslims stood, are now monuments of destroyed structures of those houses. As a matter of fact all those who were forcibly evicted must be provided with houses and basis amenities.
Muslims who had their paddy lands in the Tamil area were compelled to abandon cultivation of their lands because of lack of security for their lives. There were numerous incidents of abductions and killings of Muslim farmers on their way to their paddy lands. There were also instances where the Muslim farmers, while transporting paddy bags from their paddy fields after harvest, were way-laid and their paddy bags were robbed in day light by the terrorists. Many Muslim business men had been abducted by the terrorists and released on payment of ransom and, if ransom was not paid, were killed. There was no law and order in the area and only the law of the jungle ruled
In certain areas, Muslims on their own had to abandon their traditional homes, lands, cattle and other movables due to lack of security for their lives and properties. Muslims who lived side by side with the Tamil community had to leave their homes as there was no trust and confidence prevailed between these two communities. Some border Muslim villages and pocket Muslim villages surrounded by Tamil areas are a few examples to this situation.
There is another problem. In some cases, the father might have died leaving the children and his wife. They may not have the documents to assert their title to the lands left by them. These persons have their right to their father’s land by inheritance. This matter must be looked into by the authorities favourably. No of people who were evicted has now been increased. During the last twenty years, more persons are added to the original number. For example, from Pesalai (Thalaimannar) about 350 families were evicted in 1990 but when we went to see their settlement in Kalpitiya, we were told that this number is increased to about 500 families.
Responsibility of the State
When there is a calamity, whether natural or man made, which created an alarming situation among the people of the country or in a particular area of the country, it is the duty of the government in power to take suitable action to bring the situation under control. If the existing law is not sufficient to meet the situation, new laws or amendments to the existing laws must be enacted, in order to maintain law and order in the country or in the area affected by the calamity. These laws are necessary not only to protect the lives of the people but also to protect their rights to properties.
There were instances in the past where the State had moved into to fill the vacuum in the Rule of law. It is relevant to mention here of certain laws passed by the Parliament recently to fill the lacuna in our legal system to meet certain ad hoc circumstances. These special laws were brought in as the existing laws were not sufficient to meet the requirements of the situation. Before touching on the laws relating to land issue, I wish to mention here certain other laws passed by Parliament to safeguard the rights and property of people, which are relevant in connection with our topic.
1. THE ‘REPPIA’ ACT No. 29 of 1987
Coming back to the present crisis, we are aware that the war against the LTTE had its roots with the killing of 13 army personnel in Jaffna in 1983, which culminated in the communal riot of July, 1983, in Colombo and the suburbs. After four years, the Rehabilitation of Persons, Properties and Industries Authority Act No. 29 of 1987 (REPPIA) was brought in to meet the disastrous situation created by the communal riot in July, 1983. This Act was enacted to establish an Authority to assist in the rehabilitation of certain persons and for the repair, restoration and rehabilitation of certain ‘affected properties’, shops, industries and businesses. The REPPIA Act, though came into force after four years, was a timely legislation, enacted purposely to protect the rights of certain persons, such as tenants of rented premises, shops and industries. This Act also made provisions with regard to the rights of owners and landlords and to rehabilitate those affected properties. Section 26 of this Act defines what is meant by “affected property”, “affected business or industry” and “affected person”.
The relevant date for the operation of this Act was, July 24th 1983. By this Act, certain restrictions were placed on payment of rent by the tenants, ejectment of tenants and sale of affected properties by owners during the relevant period. The relevant period is on or after July 24, 1983, and prior to August 8, 1983. Termination of tenancy of destroyed or burnt shops and buildings, otherwise lawful under normal law, were prohibited by this Act
2. Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) Act No. 2 of 1995
In 1995, a special law was passed by Parliament of give effect to register deaths of persons who were reported missing or presumed to be dead if they were not heard of for a period exceeding one year. The Preamble to this Act states that, “Whereas several persons have died in the course of the civil disturbances that took place due to terrorist and subversive activities in Sri Lanka, and whereas there are certain practical difficulties impeding the registration of such deaths under the provisions of the Births and Deaths Registration Act (Chapter 110).”
As a matter fact, this Act came as a solace to several persons who lost their kith and kin due to the civil war in the country. Relatives of those persons who were missing due to civil disturbances or presumed to be dead if not heard for over one year, were able to get the deaths of those persons registered under the provisions of this Act and were able to get death certificates, and compensations thereto.
3. Tsunami Special Provisions Act No.16 of 2005
The Tsunami was a natural calamity experienced by the people in the coastal belt of Sri Lanka, which caused unexpected disaster to several families. The Tsunami Act, which came into operation on 13th June, 2005, declares a National Policy of the State to ensure and grant adequate protection to those adversely affected as a result of the Tsunami that took place on December, 26, 2004. The 2nd and 4th paragraphs of the Preamble to this Act state that, “Whereas those persons affected by the Tsunami are unable to exercise certain rights and enjoy certain benefits afforded under existing laws, and are also subjected to certain impediments and disadvantages as a result of their inability to comply with certain existing legal requirements”.
“And Whereas there now exists an immediate need to make special legal provisions to enable those persons affected by the Tsunami to overcome prevailing legal obstacles and existing legal barriers and to ensure the protection and safeguarding of their rights and privileges”. The Tsunami Act provides a mechanism and procedures to deal with matters relating to the issue of death certificates, custody of children and young persons, rights of tenants, actions filed and pending under Section 66 of the Primary Courts Procedure Act regarding property situated in the Tsunami affected area during December 26, 2004 and December 26, 2005, and prescriptive rights of parties and adverse possession of properties in the affected areas during the said one year period. Here too a period is prescribed in the Act.
Making use of the provisions of the Tsunami Special Provisions Act, members of the families who were affected by the Tsunami, were able to establish their rights to affected properties and other rights and were able to get assistance from the government and NGOs.
4. Resettlement Authority Act. No. 9 of 2007
The recent law passed by the Parliament in relation to settlement of “Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is the Resettlement Authority Act No. 09 of 2007. The Preamble to this Act, which was certified on 23rd March, 2007, states as follows- “An Act to provide for the establishment of an Authority to be called the Resettlement Authority: to vest the authority with the power to formulate a National policy and to plan, implement, monitor and co-ordinate the resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees: and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”.
Part II of this Act deals with the objectives, functions and powers of the Authority. Section 14 speaks of the functions of the Authority in carrying out the objectives of the Authority. The following sub-sections, among others, are relevant to mention here.
14(a) to formulate and implement a resettlement policy in consultation with the Ministry of Resettlement for the internally displaced persons and refugees;
(d) to assist the internally displaced persons and refugees to obtain lost documents such as Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates, Identity Cards, Deeds relating to property and any other documents which they may require from any government department;
(f) to implement resettlement programmes including housing schemes to facilitate the resettlement and relocation;
(h) to facilitate in solving problems relating to ownership and possession right of movable and immovable assets.
(i) to facilitate the restoration of basic human rights including cultural rights to empower internally displaced persons;
(j) to receive representations on the needs of the displaced and to make representations regarding the same to agencies mandated to find solutions.
The highlighted clauses provide provisions for resettlement of the displaced persons, and to enable them to obtain Birth, Death and Marriage certificates, Identity Cards, Deeds and other documents. There are provisions for housing schemes for displaced persons, ownership and possessory rights of their movable and immovable properties and their basic human rights including cultural rights. Section 35 of this Act interprets the words “Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)” to mean, “Persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict situations of generalized violence.”
This Act, though appears to be not exhaustive with regard to restoring the rights and ownership of the immovable properties that were left by the IDPs, yet it can be made use of to resolve the problems of the displaced Muslims, to regain their habitual homes and lands. The Resettlement Authority created by this Act has been empowered to take necessary steps to resettle the IDPs in suitable places. With regard to the abandoned houses, cultivable lands and other immovable properties, which are now alleged to be unlawfully possessed by other persons, the Act has not provided any clear procedure to reclaim those lands and properties. There is also no provisions relating to prescriptive rights of parties in this Act.
The operation of the provisions of this Act is limited to a period of six years from the date of its coming into operation. (Section 32).
As a result of the forcible eviction, the land problems of the Muslims of the North can be summarized as follows:-
1. Destruction of houses.
2. Destruction of shops and other business places.
3. Loss of title deeds, permits and other documents relating to their lands.
4. Tenancy and lease rights
5. Lands sold at very low price due to unavoidable circumstances.
6. Forcible and unlawful occupation of their lands by others.
7. Loss of possessory rights and prescriptive rights.
Some Problems of the displaced Muslims
Every case of a displaced Person be scrutinized and categorized. In doing so, the following matters may be considered.
1. There lands belonging to the Muslims are just lying fallow without cultivation for number of years in areas where there is still fear of lack of security provided by the State. Security for business and cultivation is a priority for peace of life of the Muslims.
2. Certain lands are reachable by the owners but they are unable to cultivate or sustain their possessory rights individually or collectively due to fear of adverse and suspicious elements still prevailing against them in those areas. It is an admitted fact that the lands of the Muslims in Pottuvil, Manmunai, Paduwankarai, Kinniya, Mutur, Thmpalakamam, Kanthalai, Kuccheveli and Pudavaikattu in the Eastern Province and in the Mannar, Murungan, and other areas in the Northern Province were forcibly occupied by the terrorists. Now the war is over, and the State must provide security for the farmers to return to their respective lands without any fear
3. There may be lands of the Muslims, but they may not have the deeds, permits or grants with them to assert their title and ownership thereto due to their displacement. These valuable documents to establish their title to the land might have lost when they forcibly evicted. Consideration must be given to establish their rights by circumstantial and other evidence.
4. In certain areas where lands of the Muslims have been forcibly cultivated by the Tamils and when the Muslims claimed ownership for them, their lives were threatened. There were instances of Muslims males who went to cultivate their lands were abducted and murdered by the Tamils.
“Land grabs” by other community in the East and the North were rampant during the terrorists dominance of the areas, which helped a few unscrupulous Tamil people to enjoy unlawful occupation and cultivation of the lands of the Muslims. A mutual understanding and trust must prevail between the communities. Unless proper legal protection is given, regaining the lost lands will be a problem.
The land issue of the forcibly evicted Muslims must be looked into entirely in a different angle. The eviction took place over 20 years ago. Unless special laws or amendments to the existing laws are passed by the Parliament, certain legal problems cannot be solved under the existing laws.
Having understood the gravity of these problems, The Law Commission of Sri Lanka initiated action to bring amendments to the relevant laws. On 20th February, 2009, a meeting was held at the Commission’s Secretariat, where the writer of this note also participated, among others, contributed valuable suggestions on various matters. In order to have a wider discussion on the suggestions made by the participants, the Commission adjourned its sittings to a further date, but regrettably, the Commission never had any discussion thereafter. No follow up action has been taken on this matter up to this date.
It is the Law Commission that must take some fruitful action to bring either new laws or amendments to the existing laws. Hence, the government must activate the Commission to embark on this task. It must be noted here that certain laws need amendments to meet the situation of the land issue of the Northern Muslims. The Prescription Ordinance plays an important role in this matter.
Muslims in the North and the East have left their residences and cultivable lands about 20 years ago. It means that they have lost possession of their lands and houses over a period of two decades. Section 4 of the Prescription Ordinance states that, “It shall be lawful for any person who shall have been dispossessed of any immovable property otherwise than by process of law, to institute proceedings against the person dispossessing him at any time within one year of such dispossession….” In the case of dispossession of the forcibly evicted persons, this section cannot help them as the period of dispossession has exceeded over one year. Therefore, the IDPs cannot seek remedy by filing “possessory actions” under these provisions against the persons who are now unlawfully possessing their lands. Even Rei Vindicatio actions or actions for declaration of title to their properties cannot succeed in view of the existing provisions of the Prescription Ordinance. The adverse parties may claim rights to the lands occupied by them under the present Prescription Ordinance. Hence these provisions need suitable amendments.
It is common ground that no one has the right to take or occupy another person’s land or house against the wish or consent of the owner. The forcibly displaced persons are also confronted with the provisions of section 3 of the Prescription Ordinance, which prescribes the period of adverse possession over 10 years. That is to say, “a possession unaccompanied by payment of rent or produce or performance of service or duty or by any other act by the possessor from which an acknowledgement of a right existing in another person would fairly and naturally be inferred is to explain the character of the possession which, if held without disturbance or interruption for ten years, will result in prescription”.
Pleas of prescription are set up against a plaintiff by adverse parties for the reason that the plaintiff did not take steps within the time prescribed by law. But if the delay was not due to his own fault, he must be helped only by new laws passed by the Parliament. In this respect, the Resettlement Authority Act, as it stands now, also needs amendments to exempt the lands of the displaced persons from the provisions of the Prescription Ordinance. Under normal circumstances, the law never helps those who are ignorant of the law or have slept over their rights. But if some persons are prevented from possessing their lands due to some reason beyond their control, such as a natural disaster or calamity or war situation as in the present case, can those persons be deprived of their houses and lands by applying the ordinary law of prescription? As in the case of communal riot in July 1983 and the Tsunami in December 26, 2004, where rights of affected persons were protected by special laws, it is necessary to bring special laws to safeguard the rights and ownership of the displaced Muslims to their immovable properties.
It must be borne in mind that when Muslims were forcibly evicted in October, 1990, they left their houses, cultivable lands, shops, schools, mosques and other places. All these places were destroyed by the terrorist. On our visit to Jaffna, we saw to ourselves the nature of the destruction caused to the said properties. In this respect, a massive re-settlement project has to be carried out by the government.
The Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka declares and recognizes the fundamental rights of a citizen to engage himself or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise.
If the fundamental rights of a person or group of persons are affected or hindered by some calamity without the fault of those persons, they are legally entitled to ask for restoration of their fundamental rights to carry on with their occupation, trade, business or enterprise. The Muslims who lost their business and cultivation in their original places have, therefore, a legal right to be resettled and their lands must be restored to them to restart their occupation and cultivation thereof.
As far as the land resettlement is concerned, the problem must be approached in an analytical manner. When we visited some settlements in Kalpitiya and Puttalam, the displaced Muslims told us that it took over 15 years for them to collect funds and materials to have a decent house to live. Their children who are now grown up ones, have a fear that when they return to their native place, they may not be able to get the facilities, such electricity, water and other amenities, which they now they enjoy in the settled houses in Kalpitiya and Puttalam. There is meaningful truth in this fear.
As provided for in the REPPIA Act, (i) The Resettlement Authority Act must be amended, to empower the Resettlement Authority to issue direction in writing to the Police to eject the unlawful occupiers who unlawfully occupy lands of the Muslims.
(ii) Tenancy of Muslims who occupied some shops belonging to Tamil landlord has been terminated by the landlords under guise of the war. These tenants must be restored to occupation.
(iii) TSUNAMI Act provides safeguards for possessory rights, tenancy and lease rights. Similar provisions must be made in the laws to protect the rights of the displaced Muslims
(iv) Compensation must be paid to the person whose residential property and shops were destroyed.
(v) As in the case of other IDPs, new houses must be built for the Northern Muslims who lost their houses and no houses to live in.
. (vi) In this respect, the Primary Court Procedure Act (Section 66 thereof) must not be made applicable to the disputes affecting lands of the displaced Muslims and outsiders.
(vii) If necessary, steps must be taken to identify the lands and boundaries with the help of surveys etc.
The question of land settlement is one of the most critical issues, which should be resolved as early as possible to avoid future misunderstandings or communal disharmony between the Tamils and Muslims. State intervention and the involvement of community leaders in this regard are very important and essential for a comprehensive solution for communal harmony.