Inclusions in the Lessons Learnt and the Reconciliation Commission Final Report
The Report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation contains 9 Chapters. In those, Chapter Five: Human Rights, Chapter Six: Land Issue: Return and Resettlement, Chapter Eight: Reconciliation and Chapter Nine: Principal Observations and Recommendations include details from the submission made by the Citizens' Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province by the LTTE in October 1990.
The information can be found in Chapter Five under the sub heading "Muslim Community in the North and East" ( pages 192- 195), in Chapter Six under "Muslim families forcibly evicted from Jaffna and the Northern Province" (page 207- 208), in "Resettlement of Northern Muslims" (page 281-282) in Chapter Eight, and in page 370- 371 under "Grievances of the Muslim Community" in Chapter Nine.
Presentation made before the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) by Commission Project Manager and Convener Dr. Farzana Haniffa on 4th November 2010.
Northern Muslims in Post Conflict Sri Lanka
The entire Muslim community of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province – numbering approximately 75,000 persons, was expelled by the LTTE in a systematic and organized manner during a two week period in October 1990.
Northern Muslims were 5% of the Population of the Province and hailed from the five districts of Jaffna Mannar Kilinochchi Mulaitiwu and Vavuniya
Today, many of them remain displaced in dire conditions in areas outside the war zone. A 2006 UNHCR survey claims that there are 63,145 individuals living in 141 separate settlements in Puttalam district alone.
Muslim Concerns Today
October this year marks twenty years since the expulsion. And over one year since the war ended. Today the Northern Muslims are anticipating return after twenty years in displacement and the time that has passed since the expulsion has created conditions that are unique to the Northern Muslim experience.
Given that the LTTE is no longer a factor there is a real possibility of return without the threat of a repeated expulsion.
The possibility of resuming farming and fishing and moving out of a life of poverty in Puttalam and elsewhere seems an actual possibility for many.
Many are hoping for assistance to resettle and start livelihood activities and to rebuild Muslim communities in the North
The government seems to understand displacement as limited to those who were displaced from the Vanni during the most recent engagement between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces.In fact his Excellency the President announced to the UN General Assembly that nearly 90% of displaced people have returned. This number does not include the Northern Muslims.
The Old Case Load
Being far down on the list of priorities of the powers that be is not a new experience for the Northern Muslims.
At the moment of their expulsion the reaction from the state, the NGO community or the International community was minimal. And Northern Muslims depended on the Muslim host community of Puttalam for emergency assistance.
The overwhelming response of goodwill and cash after the tsunami and again in the aftermath of the LTTE’s defeat has only highlighted the fact that the Northern Muslims have always been and continues to be a low priority case load for the government, the humanitarian aid agencies and the International Community.
The lack of acknowledgement of their experience as well as their aspirations is causing great distress to the Northern Muslim community.
The Citizen’s Commission on the Expulsion of Muslims from the Northern Province
Given that the expulsion remains inadequately integrated into the history of the Sri Lankan conflict, and Northern Muslims feel that the state has not adequately acknowledged Northern Muslims experience of Ethnic cleansing at the hands of the LTTE a Citizen’s Commission has been formulated to investigate the history of the expulsion, the displacement experience and the experiences of return.
Northern Muslims want the state to formulate a presidential commission of inquiry into the expulsion and it is hoped that the findings and recommendations of the commission as well as submissions such as this will persuade the state to formulate such a commission to ascertain and address the needs of the Northern Muslims.
This submission is based on the findings of the Citizen’s Commission
The Displacement Experience of the Northern Muslims is different from Most other displacement experiences in the country. And the specificity can be understood as follows
A large Tamil speaking population located into an area where the administrative language is Sinhala
Over 50,000 people suddenly moved to a poor marginal, under-resourced district, and left there for twenty years with only minimal state assistance in the form of dry rations for the poorest segments of the community.
No hope of integration into the host community due to
Maintaining identity of displacement to access rations
Maintaining residence in the North and thereby losing all possibilities of accessing state services in Puttalam District and state jobs that come under the provincial administration of the North central province.
They have long been a captive community
Due to inability to access government jobs other than through patronage.
Difficult to engage with administration due to language difference
Dependent on rations due to lack of livelihood options
Host Community Issues
No significant violent incidents BUT there are tensions
Very unhappily sharing limited resources
Labour able to work for less money due to rations.
Infringing on local university entrance quota
Assistance only to IDPs not for local poor
IDPs considered enterprising and better off. While locals are lagging behind.
The Experience of Return
The Northern Muslims are returning spontaneously. Given that there is no plan or policy for their return it is somewhat ad hoc and they are facing numerous problems.
- Many places that they are returning to are secondary forests and require clearing. Example Rasoolputhuveli, Periyamadu, (In Mannar district all places other than Mannar Island have to be cleared.)
- There are problems of snakes and wild elephants – Periya Madu, Marichchikatti, Kondachchi, Palakuli, Musali.
- They have received assistance in some places to build a shack -Kondachchi and Periyamadu. Roofing sheets promised by government.
- The shelter is inadequate and many are leaving families behind and are therefore accused of returning only for livelihood activities and not to resettle and that is somehow considered a low priority for assistance.
- There is no public transport to many of these areas. Marichchikatti and Kondachchi are examples
- There are also problems of infrastructure – no roads, Marichikatti Kondachchi Silawaturai, health care facilities and sanitation- Kakeyankulam.(MAdu Division) (Schools are functioning in Periyamadu, Musali and Mannar theevu, not enough facilities for all those returning.
- People are selling what little they may have accumulated in the past twenty years to return to the North since they feel that livelihood opportunities in the North are better than in Puttalam. But many are suffering due to difficulties in starting up in a place that no longer welcomes them. Fishermen in Silawatura are an example.
- Those moving to the North are compelled to discontinue rations in Puttalam in order to access them in the North. However, there are long delays in providing rations to these people in the North in both Jaffna and Mannar.
The following problems have been identified with regards to land.
- Identification of boundaries remains a problem
- Documentation regarding ownership is sometimes lost.
- Most have permit land
- Permit land has changed hands during the conflict
- Some have been coerced into selling their lands by the LTTE, other militant groups and their proxies.
- Some have sold their land for very low prices due to economic difficulties and because the war did not seem like it was ending. They now feel cheated and want some redress.
- Tenants have lost their rented premises.
- Some land and houses are occupied by others.
- Most houses are fully or partially destroyed.
There is also the problem of the returning landless. Due to natural increase the Northern Muslim population is three to four times larger than at the time of the expulsion and how can the increased population be accomodated?
Why have you come?
As stated earlier the ground situation is such that Muslims do not always feel welcome in the North.
The Tamil community leaders and government officials have generally welcomed the return of Muslims when talking to commissioners. However on the ground people feel that the administration is conducted by people who do not know the Muslims and are not sympathetic to their return. After all the North has been a mono ethnic place for twenty years. And integration may take longer than many of the Muslims anticipated. Some speak of how when they return some Tamil neighbours ask them why did you come?
The states own stepmotherly treatment of old IDPs is reinforcing the sentiment on the ground. The lack of assistance from the state is only exacerbating Muslims feeling of marginality and the local Tamil community’s own sense of entitlement to ask the Muslims – why did you come? The state must be seen to assist accomodate and facilitate Muslim return in order to ensure that the ethnic cleansing that occured in 1990 is over turned.
The extreme militarisation of many of the areas – especially in Mannar makes the returnees uneasy. Many have mentioned that they fear for the safety of their daughters due to harrassment by soldiers. Soldiers following the movement of young women with their mobile phone cameras for instance have been mentioned. (At the same time it must be mentioned that in Kilinochchi, especially in the Nachchikuda area, people said that it was with the assistance of the military that they were able to resettle and start even the minimal livelihood activities that they were engaged in. )
The Question of Integration
There is also a significant section of the community that is not willing to return.
Those who did not have much in the North but have been able to improve themselves while in displacement and now own property and businesses are not willing to return.
Those who have married into the host community and have access to livelihood activities in Puttalam are not interested in return.
Some communities that have been displaced into places closer to Colombo with access to job opportunities do not want to go back.
Then women who have been abandoned by their husbands and have been compelled to raise their children on their own barely eke out a living in Puttalam and are not able to conceive of the cost of return.
Even in instances where they have land in the North they cannot think of moving back due to the nature of the environment there. Clearing the land for cultivation and conducting cultivation requires the ability to live in tents in elephant and snake infested jungle and the women with children say that they cannot do it on their own.
Many poor women say that they have some ways of making ends meet in Puttalam and cannot anticipate a move.
Young people whose parents were from particular places with particular cultures of communal living do not want to return to those ways of life. Example erukulampitya and Jaffna Those who have gone back were a little taken aback by the very small and crowded spaces of Jaffna for instance, and are unwilling to think about life there.
There are many more who are not clear about the comparative of advantages of staying and going. They have been in Puttalam and elsewhere for twenty years and have formed connections and ties and have material possessions about which they have to make difficult decisions. Some are wanting to wait and see. One school master in the Kalpitiya region told us that it took him twenty years to get to the point in life in Puttalam that he now enjoys. He eels that if he goes back it will take him another twenty years to build up in the North. If the situation in the North improves many may move. For instance, they would like their children to take advantage of the low cut off mark for university entrance in certain sections of the Northern Province, they want to benefit from the development activities that have been planned.
It must be noted, however, that all of those who do not want to go back, or have not yet decided whether to stay or go also want the acknowledgement of their losses and want compensation.
New Developments that are of Concern
The following activities of the state are distressing the Northern Muslims and many feel that their predicament is not adequately appreciated by those making the rules.
The latest circulars on voter registration have stated that there will be no more cluster polling in Puttalam and that they will have to vote in the North if they are registered there and if they want to vote in Puttalam they would have to register as voters of the Puttalam district.
There will be a census in 2011
The new local authorities bill aims to create wards in keeping with population numbers. Currently, the Jaffna Municipal Council for instance, has representatives from the displaced community. And they are assisting in the return and resettlement of people. They fear that they may no longer be able to have representation if the bill is passed and implementation done speedily. What would then happen to Northern Muslims’ return? They would not have the meager representation that they currently have.
The lack of information, lack of discussion about their options and the consequences of choosing this or that option is distressing many northern Muslims and they feel thta the state is not interested in their plight.
In summary then the Northern Muslims feel marginalised by the fact that the state has no policy on protracted displacement, no public acknoweldgement of the old IDPS and their needs,
No cash grants for resettlement assistance, no commitment to assist with housing, no provision to address damage to property due to twenty years of neglect due to no fault of their own, no provision to address damage to social networks due to the conflict and the expulsion, no assistance with livelihoods, no plans for compensation. The northern Muslims are also distressed by the fact that they maybe absent from the government’s development plans for the North. They fear that they census and the local authorities bill may marginalise them by not taking into account the virtual limbo in which many of them currently live.
Recomendations From the information that has so far been gathered by the commission and presented in this submission the commission recomends the following.
- Have a uniform state policy on protracted displacement and a durable solution. This may be resettlement or integration with dignity into the host community.
- Provide the finances needed to implement such a policy on a durable solution.
- Provide clear information to Northern Muslims on such a policy and the means by which they can access assistance.
On the ground
- Inform local officials to assist and accomodate Northern Muslim return.
- Formulate assistance package for protracted displacement.
- Provide livelihood assistance.
- Plan a return process in stages.
- Provide housing assistance.
- Appoint a land commission with an adeuqate mandate to address land issues.
- Plan a compensation or reparations package in keeping with international standards.
The End of the war augured many expectations among the people that a normal life and a life of prosperity with peace of mind could be anticipated. But for the Northern Muslims who have waited for this moment for twenty years now, the promise is yet to be fulfilled. It is hoped that this Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Process will lead the way in the state acknowledging the problems of the Northern Muslims and providing speedy redress.
Letter forwarded to LLRC on 3rd May 2011
New issues facing the displaced Muslims of the Northern province residing in Puttalam
We thank the commissioners for their attentive hearing on the issue of Northern Muslims that was presented by the Citizen’s Commission. We write to update you on a further development concerning the Muslims. We would also be grateful if you could arrange for a meeting with the commissioners at which we can present more details regarding their present situation. The Secretariat for Displaced Northern Muslim (SNDM) informs us that according to their records 95% of the Muslims registered in Puttalam have deregistered and moved to the North. They tell us that it is only a matter of time that the remaining 5% too will either leave for the north or register as residents of Puttalam. The Northern Muslim IDP issue in Puttalam will then cease to exist. The reality however is much more complex. Although many have cancelled their IDP registration in Puttalam, have foregone their rations and registered as returnees in the North, many have not physically moved out of the Puttalam area.
The IDP identified schools continue to function with no significant drop in the numbers of students attending, there are no empty camps in Puttalam that indicate the mass movement as recorded in the SNDM’s numbers. In fact it is fair to say that there is no significant indication at all of Northern Muslims moving out of the area. This is presenting a variety of problems for the northern Muslims as well as the local administration. Northern Muslims that we have spoken to say that they registered in the north out of fear that they may not be able to do so if they did not do it immediately. They were informed that they should register so that the government will have some sense of the numbers that want to return. They tell us that they have not gone back—despite registering -- because many of them don’t have land, houses or jobs in the north, and there isn’t enough infrastructure to provide education and health care services for their families.
We have heard from the northern administration that the Northern Muslims are only coming back to receive their ration amounts and resettlement assistance provided by the government; that many don’t have any intention of resettling. The Northern Muslims who have deregistered in Puttalam, but have not moved, have no status or standing in Puttalam. In fact they are invisible to the local administration. Therefore any routine Gramasevaka certification that they may require cannot be obtained in Puttalam but in the place in the north where they are registered as returnees. Recently, applications were due for the year 5 scholarship examination. For this students were required to provide information of their parents’ income. Some principals required that they bring a letter to that effect that was certified by the GS. Many families traveled to Jaffna and Mannar to obtain this certificate. Obtaining this certification or any other is not guaranteed in Mannar and Jaffna either. The administration there looks askance at these people whom they see as cheating the system and are not willing to give them the letters. This is a problem for a variety of reasons and requires urgent solutions. We recommend the following.
1.The Northern Muslims living in Puttalam should not be compelled to visit the North for all their administrative matters, at least in the short term. A temporary GS office should be set up at least in the SNDM for an additional six months.
2.If northern Muslims are residing in Puttalam , and have no immediate plans to move to the north even if they have currently registered in the North, they should be encouraged to register as Puttalam residents.
3.If many of them are deregistering purely out of fear that they may lose their entitlement to resettlement assistance, an alternative package must be offered to those taking up permanent residence in Puttalam. The justification for such a package is that they will be giving up their status as IDPs and their entitlement to rations. They should be given some assistance as a temporary stop gap measure. This will also discourage people from seeking the resettlement assistance in the north when they have no intention of returning to live there.
4. Puttalam remains an area poor in resources and income opportunities. Although registration as Puttalam residents will bring Northern Muslims important access to government jobs under the provincial administration, these are but a small number.
Therefore it is essential that the government and NGOs start some programs that provide livelihood assistance to those Northern Muslims who will be choosing to integrate locally in Puttalam. The most fundamental need is of course to look at the current resettlement assistance provided to Muslims and the infra structure facilities that are being considered for the areas to which Muslims are returning. Access to land is an issue, lack of adequate housing is an issue, and the lack of even basic shelter facilities and sanitation facilities is an urgent issue in Mulaitiwu for instance. The government is providing assistance, sometimes the same assistance that was given to returning Tamils. This is appreciated. However, in some instances the needs of those returning twenty years after they left are different from those more recently displaced. Whole villages have to be rebuilt, schools, mosques, public buildings, roads transportation services, water electricity and sanitation services all need to be rethought.
Villages such as, Veppankulam, Mantharaveli, Kondacchi, Marrichchikatti in Musali Division and Periyamadu, Sornapuri in Manthai West Division are few examples from Mannar District on new resettlements. It is very commendable that the government is undertaking massive infrastructure rebuilding projects for the entire region. Care should be taken to ensure that Muslim villages – that were virtually off the map for the past twenty years --do not fall through the cracks and get left behind in the development of the former conflict affected areas. We urge you to take this matter up in your recommendations and also to urge the government to take the measures necessary to bring about some durable solutions to the problems of the Northern Muslim IDPs.