A new report by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) concluded that over 12,500 acres of land remains occupied by the Sri Lankan military and called for reparations and the restitution of land to its rightful owners.
The report, “Land occupation in the Northern Province: A commentary on ground realities and recommendations for reform”, was based on four months of field research and interviews, with data from divisional and district level government actors that was cross-checked with civil society activists.
“Research findings indicate to land in the Northern province occupied by the army, air force, police and navy, among others,” said the report.
Though the CPA “encountered gaps in the availability of data and in some instances a reluctance to disclose exact figures of occupation,” it stated that a total of "12,751.240783478 acres of land... continues to be occupied in the Northern Province, with lack of clear information in many cases as to whether there is actual acquisition in adherence to the legal framework in Sri Lanka”.
“As the research demonstrates, the rights of a significant population in Sri Lanka continue to be violated due to the occupation of land,” the report said.
This placed a significant burden on the task of reconciliation it continued, stating that the “establishment of durable solutions for the displaced should be addressed as part of reconciliation policy”.
“Restitution of land is critical to peace-building as it recognises the violations and ensures the restorations of rights, such as the right to freedom of movement, right to self-determination, right to property, right to an adequate standard of living and a right to work,” it added.
CPA also drew on its previous work, stating that the continued occupation exacerbated “fears of using land to change ethnic demographics”.
“CPA has documented efforts by previous governments to change demographics in the North, including land settlements schemes that create fears of ‘Sinhalisation’ of areas that were predominantly Tamil,” it said. “Continued land occupation by the military and police, fuels suspicion of plans to use land to effect demographic change and ultimately, impact electoral representation of the area”
The report went on to detail examples of reparation frameworks from Colombia, Bosnia and South Africa.
“In the Sri Lankan context, land is a critical aspect of one’s identity and belonging, with many having links to the land and community, which cannot be quantified,” it said.
“Displacement also results in the breakdown of social relationships and support systems, issues that must be addressed when initiating reconciliation and reform agendas. Furthermore, reparations and restitution of land will give people confidence in the State and its institutions, recognising them as equal citizens with the same rights and entitlements.”
See the full text of the report here.
Also see: Occupation of land will ‘never lead to reconciliation’ warns Chief Minister (15 Mar 2016)