Displacement in Valikamam north a crime against humanity

By: V. S. Ganeshalingam

Home for Human Rights (HHR) made submissions to three UN bodies on behalf of 20,917 families, consisting of 67,930 persons, who from 1983 onwards, have been forcibly evicted by the state from their homes in Valikamam North. HHR forwarded its submissions to the UN Sub Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to Adequate Housing and the representative of the Secretary - General on IDPs.

What is more, the state continues to deny IDPs their right to return and to resettle. Prior to 1983, Valikamam North Division had a population of 83,618 individuals, or 25,351 families, who were all Tamils. About 60% of the population were farmers, and another 30% were fishermen, while the remainder were employed in white-collar jobs, in industries etc.

Located within the Division was a civilian airport at Palali, which was converted into an air force base with one of the biggest military camps in Sri Lanka, and a harbour with an army camp at Kankesanthurai. Problems arose during the early part of 1983, when the government commenced working on a hidden agenda of expanding the army camps at Palali and Kankesanthurai by systematically evicting those living around the camps by constant shelling, mostly during the night and by imposing a ban on fishing.

The first phase of the eviction commenced in 1983 and continued until July 1987, when the Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) arrived in Jaffna. During this period, the constant shelling and air raids on the villages on all four sides of the army camps resulted in the entire population being evicted and the army camps expanded. Approximately 430 acres were taken from the people in this fashion forcibly. From July 1987 to April 1990, the IPKF was in control of the area. During this period a few of the evicted families returned to their original homes but they were again forced out during the second phase of evictions.

The second phase of forcible eviction started in 1990, following the withdrawal of the IPKF, and continued until 1993. During this period, the remainder of the population was forcibly evicted, again by constant shelling and air raids on the villages on all four sides of the camp. By the end of 1993 the eviction was complete.

This was followed by the demolition of houses, schools, churches, and the hospital. After the eviction was complete, the army moved in to occupy the deserted villages. They occupied the lands and premises, ransacked the houses, schools, and places of worship, and took over whatever they wanted and either destroyed or burned what remained.

In 1996 when the government regained control in Jaffna, it permitted resettlement in about 12 villages located on the southern periphery of this Division. At the same time, it declared the area comprising of 30 villages within the Division to be part of a High Security Zone (HSZ) and thereby denied the inhabitants of these areas the right to return or to resettle in those villages.

To aggravate matters, the government by a gazette notification issued on 8th June 1999, declared under Section 5 of the Land Acquisition Act that 397 allotments of land totalling about 261,7365 hectares in the HSZ was needed “for a public purpose and will be acquired under the provisions of that Act.”

No notice of the army operation was given and the people were taken totally by surprise. The army moved with bulldozers, to raze all dwellings, except the houses they required for their own use, and put up bunkers and defence lines. They then opened new roads through formerly thickly populated areas. They avoided using the existing roadways for fear of land mines. As this Division was fairly economically developed, every family had a house of their own, built entirely with their own savings. More than 75% percent of these houses were built with cement and mortar.

Even though the eviction commenced in 1983 and was completed in 1993, the Government has never made any attempt to date to assess the damage caused by these evictions in terms of loss of lives and property. Even the media, which were occasionally taken to the North on government-guided tours, were not given access to this area and the government activities have not been published. However according to NGO reports during the first phase, well over 400 individuals were killed. No reliable figures are available as to the loss of lives during the second phase.

The displaced have been denied the right to return to their lands in violation of their rights and humanitarian law and for the last decade have lived as IDPs. The agenda of successive governments has been to marginalize Tamil resistance by weakening them economically by deprivation and at the same time by expanding the two camps of the army that are in the heartland of Tamil resistance.

Those of the displaced of the low income group who managed to live elsewhere within the District of Jaffna, either in State run ‘welfare centres’ or with friends and relatives, survived on the meagre dry rations provided by the state and on the basic facilities provided by humanitarian agencies, mostly international. Their children, who were desirous of continuing their education, found accommodation in the schools in the areas in which they live are terribly overcrowded and they have no choice but to sit on the floor and study. Considerable numbers do not attend school at all due to the problems caused by displacement.

Humanitarian agencies report considerable malnutrition among the displaced children.

Those of the displaced who live within the District of Jaffna whose monthly income exceeds Rs.1500 and those who live outside the district irrespective of their income are discriminated against in that they are not entitled to receive any assistance, unlike the IDPs who live within the district. However, the government has drawn a distinction between those evicted by the LTTE, who are Muslims from Jaffna and now live as IDPs in Puttalam District and in South Sri Lanka and provide them assistance.

Another distinction is that these Muslims have not been permitted to register as voters in the area in which they have lived for the last decade as IDPs but continue to be enlisted in the voters’ register in the Jaffna District and vote for candidates who contest in Jaffna. But as far as the Tamils displaced from the North are concerned, even though there is no such legal prohibition, administratively it has been made difficult for them to be registered as voters in South. Even though they are citizens of the country they are denied the right to vote because of their displacement.

By Emergency Regulations which came into force on 4th January 1996, President Chandrika Kumaratunga established the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Authority of the North (RRAN) to assist in the resettlement and rehabilitation of persons displaced in the Northern Province, to repair and reconstruct their damaged houses and public utilities and to assist in the recommencement of economic cultural activities etc.

However, this RRAN had turned down requests for resettlement on the grounds that this Division had been declared a HSZ, where resettlement is not permitted, and had also denied access to the IDPs to commence economic or other activities.

RRAN had formulated an essentially arbitrary, unrealistic and discriminatory scheme for the payment of compensation for the damaged houses. The compensation does not constitute even 25 percent of the damage assessed and is not sufficient to repair or reconstruct. Furthermore, the scheme does not provide for any compensation for loss of income derived from land use.

Under the scheme public servants and state corporations employees whose houses were destroyed are entitled to a maximum compensation of Rs.150, 000 whereas others are only entitled to a maximum of Rs.100, 000 or 20% of the damages assessed – whichever is less. Even under this scheme it is only a few influential public servants and corporation employees who have received any payment.

In any event, none of the displaced persons applied for compensation for their lands, instead they chose to make public that they wanted the return of their lands, which is more than a commodity and are sacred to them.

Sri Lanka has acceded to a number of international conventions, including the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Convention Against All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The forced displacement by coercive means, the destruction and /or appropriation of the property and possessions left by the displaced as a form of collective punishment, continued denial of the right to return to their lands and resettle in their original places and the failure to provide appropriate compensation for the loss of property and possessions and redress for victims of violation constitute, flagrant breaches of the principles of the human rights, particularly the right to life, and grave violations of the principles of international humanitarian law and international law.

Further more, as confirmed by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, deportation or forcible transfer of population without grounds permitted under international law, in the form of forced displacement by expulsion of their coercive means from the area in which the persons concerned are lawfully present, constitute a crime against humanity.

The Human Rights Committee has held in ICCPR General Comments 29 that “the legitimate right to derogate from article 12 of the Covenant during a state of emergency can never be accepted as justifying such measures.”

A number of articles of UN Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) have been violated including: right to life, liberty and security of person (Art 3), right to equal protection of the law (Art 7), right to an effective remedy (Art 8), right to freedom of movement and residence (Art 12), right to property (Art 17.1), right not to be arbitrarily deprived of property (Art 17(2)), right to take part in the government of the country (Art 21), right to work (Art 23), right to an adequate standard of living including food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services (Art 25).

Articles of the ICCPR violated include: to take steps to respect and ensure ICCPR rights (Art 2 (1)), to take measures to give effect to the rights recognized (Art (2)), to ensure an effective remedy (Art (3)), right to life (Art 6), right of movement and freedom to choose residence (Art 12(1)), right to privacy, family and home (Art 17), freedom to manifest religion - UN HRC General Comment No. 22 (48)) (Art 18(1)&(3)), right to election (Art 25), equal protection of the law (Art 26) and minority rights (Art 27).

Articles of the ICESCR violated are: non-discrimination (Art 2 (2)), right to work including the opportunity to gain a living by work (Art 6 (1)), protection of the family (Art 10), right to adequate standard of living (Art 11), right to health (Art 12) and right to education (Art 13).Articles of the CERD violated include: right to equality before the law (Art 5) and to assure effective protection and remedies (Art 6).

Articles of the CRC violated are: right to life (Art 6), right for a child not to be separated from parents (Art 9), protect the child from physical and mental violence (Art 19), deprivation of family environment Art 20), right to adequate standard of living (Art 27) and right to education (Art 28).

In addition action by the government violates the UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1993/77 on ‘Forced Evictions,’ CESCR General Comment No. 7 (1997) on ‘Forced Evictions,’ CESCR General Comment No 4 (1991) on ‘Adequate Housing’ and Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Resolution 1998/9 on Forced Evictions. Besides, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, General Assembly Resolution 56/164 on the ‘The protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons’ and UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2002/56 on ’Internally Displaced Persons’.

HHR has sought the following relief for the IDPs of Valigamam North Division. To request the Sri Lankan state to:

    • adhere to its international human rights and humanitarian legal obligations;

    • to apply and adhere to the ‘UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement’;

    • to permit resettlement and withdraw all impediments for settlement;

    • to pay compensation for damages caused to dwellings and properties and redress for victims of violations of human rights;

    • in the interim to ensure that all IDPs are guaranteed their full range of civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights in accordance with the State’s international obligations, in particular that everyone is guaranteed an adequate standard of living including food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services.

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