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Sri Lanka: Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

Posted by African Press International on November 5, 2013

Subair and his family call their home of more than 20 years “temporary”

COLOMBO/BATTICALOA,  – Years after fighting ended in Sri Lanka – up to more than 20 years for some – tens of thousands of people are still unable to return to their homes, a situation researchers say is unlikely to change soon.

recent report by the Colombo-based advocacy body Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2013 estimated that at least 94,400 “protracted” internally displaced persons (IDPs) who come mostly from minority Tamil and Muslim communities displaced by conflict, have not been able to return in a “meaningful” and “sustainable” way to their home villages.

Report author Mirak Raheem said the number may be higher due to the complex nature of protracted displacement where family members born in displacement have swelled the numbers of original IDPs.

The northwestern district of Puttalam is home to some 75,000 Muslims forced out of the Northern Province in 1990 by ethnic Tamil rebels who feared their rising political power.

Despite their large numbers, long-term IDPs – and their families – have received less attention than more recent displacements, Raheem said.

“There were and still are strong perceptions that the issue of protracted IDPs was not urgent and that they had found a solution… through settling in their place of displacement,” he told IRIN.

According to Raheem and researchers who worked on a report about the expulsion of Muslims published in November 2011, despite years of living with host communities, protracted IDPs still find themselves marginalized and bereft of assistance.

“Most of us still find it difficult to get a proper job, a proper government document, even 25 years since coming here,” said Abdul Matheen, a community leader working with Muslim IDPs in Puttalam. He fled his native Jaffna in October 1990.

Empty villages

In the eastern town of Valechchenei, Batticaloa District, Nahoor Lebbe Subair, a 36-year-old day labourer, said he struggles to provide for his family of six, including four school-aged children.

Displaced from his village, Vakaneri, in 1990 – just 4km from where he now lives – Subair said he and 25 other families cannot return because of lack of infrastructure back home.

“There is no water, schools or electricity there. Here we eat once to twice daily. Sometimes we just go hungry,” Subair said. He makes US$4-$4.50 on days he can find work, but says he needs $4.50 for food alone. To make ends meet he has borrowed heavily from relatives and neighbours.

“The only collateral we have is trust,” he said.

The nearby village of Jabbar Thidaval (Vakaneri Division) is largely empty of the 1,500 families (Tamils and Muslims) who fled violence in the late 1990s.

Former resident Islama Lebbe Mohamed Musthafa, 50, told IRIN residents’ land deeds were not honoured.

“We went back in 2002 and by 2004 had eviction notices on our doors.” Two families have unofficially resettled.

Government response

Piencia Charles, the top government official in Batticaloa District, which includes the above villages, told IRIN she has instructed village level officials to collect all relevant data on the displaced who are still unable to return.

She acknowledged there have been “complications” in recognizing returnees’ land deeds. “Some don’t have deeds, but have voter registrations. In other cases there is a deed, but someone else is living on the land and registered as a voter,” Charles said.

“Once we collect the data [on the displaced], maybe by early next year, then we will decide what we can do to resettle these people. We might have to set up a special land unit to [examine and settle disagreements over] the deeds and other documentation,” she added.

Government officials in Northern Province said there are no “special” plans for protracted IDPs, but that anyone returning to their villages can apply for housing and other assistance once they prove displacement, said Rupvathi Ketheeswaran, the top government official in the northern district of Kilinochchi.

Up until late 2012 IDPs received $200 worth of supplies when they returned to their villages. This has been discontinued, since officially there are no more IDPs. For housing, the maximum grant financed by the Indian government is 550,000 rupees ($4,200) for full construction and Rs 225,000 for repair ($1,700).

With donor funding in the north and northeast dwindling, Raheem said, the situation for those like Subair may worsen.

“Donor financial support has played a crucial role in humanitarian work and now it will be incumbent on the government to fill the gap.”

Three successive appeals by the UN and Sri Lankan government for reconstruction work in the former conflict zone have run into shortfalls of over $430 million since 2010. The next appeal is expected in early 2014.

A survey by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in June conducted in six northern districts found that over a quarter of the 990 families interviewed said they were still not able to access their own land, primarily due to military occupation, a grievance the military has questioned.

“The Armed Forces are very sensitive to the issue of land as we understand very clearly that it is a matter that affects the population sentiments. We will not hold on to any land that is not required to safeguard national security interests,” military spokesperson Ruwan Wanigasooriya wrote in a recent note sent to journalists.

UNHCR also reported 32 percent of surveyed people living in their pre-war homes, 57 percent in transitional or emergency shelters, while the remainder were with host families.

Report author Raheem said the government can ease difficulties for the still-displaced by streamlining the issuance of new legal documents, to help them prove land ownership, for example.

The national government maintains there are no longer any IDPs since the country’s largest IDP camp closed in September 2012, a claim community workers – and the 1983-2009 war-affected themselves – strongly dispute.

“It’s a lie. Who are we?” asked Subair, speaking from Valechchenei.

ap/pt/cb source

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Marginalization and sexual abuse of women: Who is to blame for their pain, And who can fix it?

Posted by African Press International on October 23, 2013

Who is to blame for their pain? And who can fix it?

COLOMBO,  – A UK-rights group has accused the Sri Lankan government of failing to address the marginalization and sexual abuse of women living in the country’s former war zones in the north and east, an allegation officials dismiss as coming from a “diaspora-led false propaganda machinery”.

report recently published by the London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) said rape and sexual harassment of women in former war zones in the north and east are continuing even after the end of a 26-year civil war in 2009, and that 89,000 widows (based on a 2010 government estimate) – including some 40,000 female-headed households – are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment, exploitation and assault by army personnel, domestic tourists and others due to the women’s poverty.

In a general culture of impunity, MRG authors wrote, Tamil and Muslim women (the two largest ethnic minorities in the former war zones, 12 and 8 percent of the general population, respectively) have feared reporting crimes to police.

The report cited data from Jaffna Hospital in the north of 102 reported cases of rape and “severe violence” against women and girls from Northern Province in 2010, 182 in 2011 and 56 in just February and March of 2012.

MRG’s South Asia expert, Farah Mihlar, wrote: “Tamil and Muslim women are especially concerned for their safety and freedom, and yet have little course for redress since they fear reporting attacks against them to the authorities.”

The island’s military spokesman, Ruwan Wanigasooriya, told IRIN that of 125 people found guilty in civil courts of perpetrating sexual violence in the north between January 2007 and May 2009, seven were security forces personnel.

After fighting ended, from May 2009-2012, of 307 people found guilty in civil courts of committing crimes of sexual violence, 10 were soldiers, based on a military assessment.

He added: “We deny in the strongest terms that there is a prevailing culture of silence and impunity for sexual violence crimes,” noting that the government has taken “legal action” and that convicted soldiers are referred to the military tribunal for court martial.

Citing the army assessment, Wanigasooriya wrote in a statement recently sent to journalists: “It is worthwhile to notice that only 11 incidents out of a total 375 reported incidents [from January 2007-May 2012] can be attributed to security forces. Therefore the inference that the presence of the military contributes to insecurity of women and girls in the former conflict affected areas is baseless and disingenuous.”

Demographic changes

The demographic shift following the civil war – from a largely homogenous Tamil community to one that includes more ethnic groups, including Muslim returnees who had been forced out by Tamils in the late 1990’s, domestic tourists and, the authors wrote, the government-sponsored relocation of workers and households from the majority Sinhalese ethnic group, has heightened the threat of women being sexually exploited by armed forces and other men (sometimes from their own ethnic community) due to poverty.

“With the increasing presence of Tamil diaspora in their home towns (places of origin), community women have told us that their daughters are often being viewed as sexual objects and in some cases, been sexually assaulted,” a leading woman’s activist working in the north told IRIN in an e-mail.

For almost three decades, separatist rebels known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for an independent state in the north carved along Tamil ethnic lines. Fighting ended in May 2009 with the crushing of rebels by government forces.

“After the conflict the situation has got a lot worse. People are less disciplined. There are outsiders who have come from other areas. There are lot of army people; they are in buses, everywhere,” said a Tamil woman from Mannar District, as cited in the MRG report.

The report explained how during the war, LTTE fighters (mostly followers of Hinduism) maintained a rigid code of conduct in areas it controlled, with sexual relations monitored and restricted to married couples. “While women do not necessarily approve of what the LTTE did, nor any similar regulation of their personal lives, the current context has left many feeling disoriented and insecure,” MRG wrote.

The current commissioner of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission(appointed by the president), Prathiba Lamanmahewa, told IRIN the island is committed to investigating all rights violations but will not be “bulldozed” by groups with vested interests.

“We have come a long way in post-war recovery. Most recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the blueprint for reconciliation, have been implemented.

Adequate steps have been taken to restore civil administration in the north and now there is a provincial council there. It is a process and Sri Lanka has fared better than many other conflict-ridden countries,” he said.

But local activists and residents continue calling for more.

In interviews with some 1,800 households, a citizen group published a reportin March this year concluding “little progress” had been made on the recommendations.

For allegations of sexual abuse, the MRG report called on the police to create Tamil-speaking desks in all police stations in former conflict zones, boost female representation among government officials in the north and east, as well as prosecute perpetrators.

dh/pt/cb source


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They voted in TNA – now what?

Posted by African Press International on October 7, 2013

Despite widespread criticism, the ruling party still won 18 percent of the vote


  • Tamil National Alliance to challenge power limits
  • Governor holds power in new provincial council
  • Looking to diaspora as way to bypass government
  • Jobs trump power as basic need

ODDUSSUDDAN, 7 October 2013 (IRIN) – Nearly two weeks after  the Tamil National Alliance’s (TNA) resounding victory in a local election  in Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, analysts and voters are debating  what the party will be able to achieve as the province recovers from more than two decades of a brutal civil war.

By the end of polling on 21 September, 67 percent of 719,000 eligible voters had cast their votes in the north’s first provincial election – long-awaited by international donors and local political activists – since fighting ended in 2009.

The TNA, the party with the largest representation of the ethnic Tamil minority in parliament, won 30 out of the 38 seats on the Northern Provincial Council; the governing United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) secured seven. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won one seat.

The TNA campaigned for more political autonomy for the north, while the UPFA appealed to voters with its massive development campaign for the province. The region was devastated during two and half decades of sectarian violence that followed demands by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels for a separate Tamil state.

Frustrating decades-long yearnings for some degree of autonomy carries certain security risks.

Despite its overwhelming victory, the TNA will dominate a council that is largely impotent under the control of the provincial governor, who is appointed by the president. According to the 13th constitutional amendmentthat established the provincial councils in 1987, the governor is the only official with executive powers, including control of provincial spending.

Top TNA leader Rajavarotiam Sampanthan has criticized the governors of the Northern and Eastern provinces as “laws unto themselves”, accusing them of deciding on provincial affairs without consulting locally elected representatives.

Power, but to whom? 

Even before the election, few analysts saw a TNA-led provincial administration as a substantive devolution of power.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president,” said a pre-election report released by the national election monitoring body the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence on 20 September.

But any path to power needs its starting point, say TNA leaders.

“The election is a means to work towards meaningful power devolution,” said TNA parliamentarian Abraham Sumanthiran.

According to Jehan Perera, executive director of the Colombo-based National Peace Council, despite the constitutional imbroglio, the newly elected council may play a decisive role in northern politics and development.

“The general view of voters is that …the Northern Provincial Council will have no autonomy, with the chief minister [the council’s top elected official] serving as a messenger of the governor, who in turn is the messenger of the president”

“Right now the discussions are taking place at the parliament or at donor-level, but the provincial council has the potential to become the best forum for discussion and possibly decision-making on provincial affairs. Its immediacy to the province can make the process faster as well as better informed,” he said.

The largely top-down process of managing the north now means issues are not addressed quickly, with information filtering through several layers of bureaucracy in multiple departments, Perera said.

However, he added that the TNA-led council needs to be mindful to not allow political demands to overshadow basic needs, like employment. “It [the council] would have to strike a delicate balance.”

The TNA has said it will use its victory to enforce hitherto ignored provisions of the13th amendment, which give control of policing and local economic planning to provincial councils.

In addition TNA leaders have said they will push to expand provincial powers. But in order to do that, they would need to repeal the 13th amendment and support a new amendment.


But scrapping the amendment and replacing it with one that grants provincial councils more authority is unlikely, according to analysts in neighbouring India, which helped broker the amendment that created the councils through the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord.

The accord set up provincial councils as a way for the state to share power with the north; a long standing grievance of minority Tamil parties has been that power is concentrated at the national level, marginalizing ethnic minorities. Over 90 percent of the voters in the north are Tamil, Sri Lanka’s second largest ethnic group.

India has strong interest in the situation due to ethnic ties between Tamils living in India – where they form close to 6 percent of the population – and Tamils in Sri Lanka. ButRamani Hariharan, who was head of intelligence for the Indian peacekeeping force based in north and east Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990, told IRIN that though India took on Colombo to advocate for Sri Lankan Tamils last time, it is unlikely to do so now.

“It comes at an inconvenient time for India,” he said, noting that, with national elections to be held in 2014, India is less willing to risk potential humiliation if Colombo does not agree to expand provincial powers.

They voted in TNA – now what?

Analysts also predict that India will not want to call attention to dissatisfaction with the current amendment so that its role in negotiating power sharing is regarded as an accomplishment.

Power struggle?

The TNA has also indicated it will try to raise development funds outside of Sri Lanka, particularly from the global Tamil diaspora – estimated to be some 700,000 people, mostly concentrated in Canada, the UK and the rest of the European Union – to invest directly in the province, without going through the national government.

But since 2009, when the government created the Presidential Task Force (PTF), the state has controlled all humanitarian and development activities in the north.

“Mainly the Task Force is…to coordinate activities of the security agencies of the Government in support of resettlement, rehabilitation and development, and to liaise with all organizations in the public and private sectors and civil society organizations for the proper implementation of programs and projects,” said a government announcement.

Run by the Defence Ministry, PTF approves all humanitarian and reconstruction work in the north.

However, according to national human rights activist, Ruki Fernando, since no “clear law” created or sanctioned the task force, “it would not be illegal for anyone to bypass that body”, setting the stage for a potential power struggle over who controls humanitarian and development work in the north.

Priority setting

Pushing political demands aside, Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, who heads Point Pedro Institute of Development, based in northern Jaffna, advised the newly elected council to focus on jobs by developing the region’s agriculture and fisheries sectors, the main sources of income for northern residents.

“Raising the voice for more devolution should be a low priority for the newly formed Northern Provincial Council. It is not only the central government but the provincial government as well that should get its priorities right. People are more interested in livelihoods and day-to-day issues.”

The Central Bank estimates the government has invested more than US$3 billion in infrastructure since the end of the war; critics say this multi-billion dollar development has largely been out of step with residents’ needs.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake”

Sarvananthan said that while there is urgent demand for jobs, the government’s main focus has been almost exclusively on highway development and boosting power supply to main towns.

“When the northern people were asking for bread, [the Mahinda] Rajapaksa government offered them cake,” he told IRIN.

“Big roads are ok, but we need money to take the bus or to buy a motorcycle to ride on them,” said 21-year-old first-time voter Nishanthan, who goes by one name, from the village of Oddusuddan in the north’s Mullaittivu District

Kumaravadivel Guruparan, a lecturer in the Department of Law at the University of Jaffna, said the vote was a signal of deep-rooted disappointment with state policies.

Despite massive infrastructural repair and the recent extension of train service to the north for the first time in 24 years, voters were expressing their discontent, Guruparan explained, with the state’s continued military presence in the province.

But then there are the 82,000 residents who voted for the ruling party, like Ramalingam Sudhaharan from Dharamapuram, a village in Kilinochchi District, who said that, given the post-war devastation, what has been achieved in the last four years has been “remarkable”.

“We have good roads for the first time in my life, a very good hospital in Kilinochchi [town], new power stations. Jobs [are] the next logical step, and they will come with time,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sarvananthan from Point Pedro Institute said told IRIN via email that even with limited powers the council can still create  change, for example, by passing an equal opportunities law to benefit the estimated more than 40,000 female-headed households in the province.

“Northern Provincial Council could show the central government the correct [and] genuine path to reconciliation in lieu of building a sports stadium to international standards or constructing eight-lane highways (four lanes in each direction) in [Mullaittivu] District where [the] cattle population outnumbers human population,” he said.



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Irrigation boost from ancient reservoirs? Prospects in Sri Lanka

Posted by African Press International on August 3, 2013

Inland fishermen working in the Kala Weva, an 18sqkm tank built in 400 BC in North Central Province

COLOMBO, – One way Sri Lanka can better manage its water resources in the face of changing monsoon patterns is through centuries-old water reservoirs, experts say.

Experts at the Colombo-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI) say one way to ease fluctuating rice harvests (due to increasingly erratic monsoon seasons) is to use thousands of ancient small irrigation reservoirs spread out in the Northern, North Central, Eastern, North Western and Southern provinces.

“Tanks [reservoirs] can store water and so are buffers against irregular rainfall supplies,” said Herath Manthrithilake, the head of the institute’s Sri Lanka Development Initiative.

The reservoirs were built between 300 and 400 BC to provide nearby villages with water for agriculture and other needs. They became less important with the introduction of rain-fed cash crops by European colonizers in the 1500s and have been largely untouched since the 1970s with the development of large irrigation and hydropower schemes.

The tanks were constructed by excavating earth and building a large wall around the hole. Most tanks have filled up with sediment, others are hidden by overgrown shrubs or belong to dilapidated networks connecting them to the fields. There is no current estimate, but in 2004 the then government estimated that it would cost some US$20 million at the 2004 exchange rate ($15 million now) to make the tanks functional.

For Werrakoddi Archchilage Premadasa, a 33-year-old farmer from Tanamalvila town in southeastern Uva Province, the tank near his farm is the main source of water for cultivation. “Now the problem is half of the tank is overgrown and it’s also filled with sand… If we can get it to store to its maximum capacity, I don’t think we will have issues with water for cultivation.”

IWMI research has shown that reservoirs can also divert flood waters to the old tanks built on low-lying land, helping to minimize flood damage.

Manthrithilake said a major renovation of thousands of such reservoirs (estimated by researchers to number some 12,000) should be launched if they are to be used effectively. Some 1,000 tanks were repaired in 2004, with no additional repairs planned since then.

“Managing the water resources will be crucial. The monsoon, our main source of water, is changing, forcing us to change the way we use our water resources,” Waduwatte Lekamlage Sumapthipala, formerly the head of the Climate Change Unit at the Ministry of Environment and currently a government adviser, told IRIN.

Weather predictions

A recent World Bank report warned the island’s dry regions are likely to experience less rain while wet zones are at risk of even more deluges.

“The seasonal distribution of precipitation is expected to become amplified, with a decrease of up to 30 percent during the dry season and a 30 percent increase during the wet season,” the report predicted.

Late 2012 and early 2013 floods affected more than one million people nationwide, while a 2012 drought hit an estimated 1.3 million residents.

A survey of flood-affected communities conducted by the Sri Lanka government and the World Food Programme in January this year found 75 percent of the 557,000 people surveyed were either severely food insecure or borderline food insecure.

Of those surveyed, some 33 percent said their main income was through agriculture.

Fluctuating rice production

Rice production has been at the mercy of increasingly unpredictable monsoons in the past three years. In 2011, large harvest losses, around 20 percent of the main harvest, were recorded due to floods.

But the harvest recovered to an extent in mid-2011 when rain-fed irrigation helped to produce a higher-than-average secondary harvest (the country has two harvests annually).

During 2012’s drought the second annual rice harvest fell by up to 10 percent.

However according to the latest country assessments by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the rice harvest is expected to recover this year, and is likely to be above four million tons for the first time since 2009.

“The problem is the prices keep going up and down when the harvest falls and picks up. When we don’t have means to keep prices steady, we should look at keeping the harvest steady,” said Liyana Pathirana Rupasena, the deputy director of research at the governmental Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Training and Research Institute (HARTI).

His concern is that poorer communities will cut back on calories or go for rice varieties that are cheaper but less nutritious during price hikes.

Rupasena said despite predicted harvest increases, rice prices are still higherthan in 2011 and 2012.

Hydropower problems

In addition to destabilizing rice production, water management problems have hit the country’s energy supply. Sri Lanka typically generates around 40 percent of its electricity using hydro generation.

During August 2012 when the drought was at its worst, hydro-generation barely reached 15 percent; the remaining power was generated through costly thermal sources, which forced the country to spend heavily on oil imports, according to the state.

The 2012 oil import bill for thermal power was around US$2 billion, around a tenth of what Colombo spent on imports for the entire year.

Heavy rains in 2013 have once again boosted hydro-generation to nearly 80 percent.

According to Tilak Siyambalapitiya, an energy expert based in Colombo, energy authorities should keep a close watch on the monsoon and emerging climate trends. He said pre-ordering oil stocks to face a potential loss in hydro capacity could save millions in foreign exchange fees.

“Right now the capacity of the reservoirs is totally dependent on the rainfall. There is hardly anything done to manage the water effectively once it’s in the reservoirs,” he said, referring to the reservoirs’ lack of maintenance.

The hope is that the pre-historic tanks can help ease demand for water from the nine main power-generating reservoirs, which farmers currently draw from for cultivation.

ap/pt/cb source



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The dilemma of Sri Lanka’s returnees

Posted by African Press International on July 17, 2013

Thousands of returnees don’t have IDs

COLOMBO,  – Close to 100,000 returnees in Sri Lanka’s north lack national identity cards (NICs), more than four years after the end of the country’s decades-long civil war.

“Many people cannot resume their lives as NICs are the passport to accessing multiple services and were made mandatory for voting in 2006,” Suresh Premachandran, a member of parliament (MP) with the Tamil National Alliance, one of the largest national parties representing minority Tamils from the north, told IRIN.

According to the United Nations, more than 460,000 displaced persons have returned to Northern Province – which is home to more than 1 million inhabitants – since government forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland since 1983.

In Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts alone, an estimated quarter of the districts’ 200,000-plus inhabitants are without national IDs.

Without such documentation, many residents struggle to access public services such as health and education, and well as government assistance programmes.

They also face the risk of questioning and delays by police and security officials.

Not a priority

Under the law, NICs are compulsory for all Sri Lankans 16 years or older, and authorities may detain suspicious individuals who fail to show any form of legal identification – a legacy of the war.

“Without an NIC, you are always at risk,” said Shereen Xavier, a north-based lawyer and executive director of the Home for Human Rights (HHR). “Without it, the impediments can be many.”

Even to enter many government buildings, one must produce an NIC, people complain.

But moving ahead on this issue is proving a challenge.

Despite the identity cards’ importance, the government has yet to prioritize the issue, with much of its effort focused instead on large-scale infrastructure and development projects in the north.

Many returnees do not have the required documentation to apply for an NIC, and with no local offices for issuing NICs, applications can take several months to process.

Without proper IDs life can prove difficult

“The processing of papers can prove time-consuming,” Shanthi Sachithanandan, chairperson of Viluthu, an organization promoting good governance in the north, explained.

Temporary IDs

After the war, the government was keen to have its voter lists updated.

When these lists were updated ahead of presidential and local polls in 2010 and 2012, temporary IDs were issued to over 40,000 people to allow them to vote, a process that continues today.

At that time, around 90,000 people from the north failed to indicate their NIC number, Deputy Elections Commissioner M.M. Mohammad confirmed.

“Temporary IDs were issued to many, especially to facilitate their participation in the presidential and local government elections that were held,” he said.

But many returnees say such IDs are looked down upon. Those holding temporary ID have difficulty accessing government services and are sometimes treated with suspicion by officials, they say.

Now, with the first provincial council election in Sri Lanka’s former war zone scheduled for September, returnees and politicians alike are again urging the government to improve the issuing of NICs.

“The government has started issuing temporary IDs, which is a time-consuming process. People have to contact the local government officials and process papers, which is not easy for returnees,” MP Premachandran said.

But according to the department responsible for issuing NICs, given the amount of time and documentation it takes to process such applications outside Colombo – and specifically in the former war zone – temporary IDs may still be the best option available at this point.

“This is the best solution to the present problem,” maintained M.S. Sarath Kumara, commissioner general of the registration of persons, noting that temporary IDs issued to facilitate voting could also prove useful to people without any other form of identification.

“A temporary ID is a practical idea, and it can be revalidated through reapplication,” agreed Rohana Hettiarachchi, executive director of People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections, an election monitoring body that has been helping eligible voters to obtain national identity cards through a mobile clinic effort.

But for those returnees without an NIC, still struggling to establish some semblance of normalcy in their lives after years of conflict and displacement, the idea of anything temporary offers little solace.

“A temporary ID is useful for those who wish to cast their vote at the forthcoming northern provincial election. [However,] for us former IDPs [internally displaced persons], returning home after being displaced for a decade, there are much bigger issues than getting involved in a political battle,” explained Muttuvel Kadirmani, a 46-year-old father of three from Mullaitivu. He urged the government to issue NICs instead of temporary forms of identification.

“It will be useful in every aspect of life and provide us with a sense of security,” he said.

dh/ds/rz  source


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Female-headed households’s Bleak future

Posted by African Press International on June 27, 2013

Women need more support to stand on their own

COLOMBO,  – Four years after the end of a 26-year civil war and with donor assistance dwindling, tens of thousands of female-headed households in northern Sri Lanka face a difficult future, though many are developing innovative coping strategies.

“There is little evidence that the unique vulnerabilities faced by female-headed households are being considered in the government’s policies,” said Raksha Vasudevan, author of a just published report on female-headed households in the north.

“Although they may benefit eventually from the reconstruction of infrastructure and the opening of economic trade activities with the south, for now, it is mostly men who have accessed income-generating opportunities from these developments.”

Researchers and humanitarians working with female-headed households, estimated at over 40,000 by the Centre for Women & Development (CWD) in Jaffna, say the north’s patriarchal social structure, and an economy and reconstruction effort that favours males, have deepened their vulnerabilities.

“The research found that these vulnerabilities [of female-headed households] were simultaneously exacerbated by, and contributed to, psycho-social trauma and an ongoing fear of an unknown future,” the report said. The precarious economic situation also made these women targets of sexual abuseand exploitation. “With many still lacking homes with locking doors, they felt very exposed to attack at any moment,” the author said.

Women whose husbands or partners were killed in the war say they are still struggling to make ends meet, while some continue to spend what meagre resources they have to locate their missing loved ones.

Seetha Kurubakaran, from the town of Paranthan in Kilinochchi District, said she had tried to seek work in various fields – from construction to the civil service (as a clerk) – but without success. All the jobs she sought went to men.

“I don’t want anyone to favour me, but my situation is such that I need a job. I need to feed my family,” the mother of two, said.

Out of desperation she took up sewing dresses at home, but her monthly income is less than US$40. “I live [on] handouts, money my distant relatives living abroad send me,” she said.

Her concern is that her family’s generosity – and ability – to help her is being depleted.

There are no official statistics on unemployment rates in the north, but researchers and analysts believe it could be 10-20 percent, if not higher. Under-employment, where people earn less than a dollar a day, is also believed to be as high as 30 percent.

Ajith Nivard Cabraal, the governor of the Central Bank, told IRIN that since the war ended, the government had invested $3-4 billion in the north, with multimillion dollar construction contracts awarded to build back from almost nothing in some parts.

“Even from a low [reconstruction] base the 20 percent growth rate is impressive,” he said.

However, most of the large infrastructure development projects are centred on the main A9 highway that runs through the middle of Northern Province; employment opportunities are rare elsewhere. And whether near or far from the highway, these projects offer women few jobs.

A woman running her own shop in the north


Meanwhile, many women are trying to do something about their situation in what the report described as “an impressive sign of their resilience”.

“Through a variety of strategies that they employ in their everyday lives, these women endure, contest and resist the structures of domination imposed upon them. These strategies include creating innovative livelihood opportunities for themselves, accessing alternative support sources, tapping into family networks/kinship structures, various community praxes of solidarity and resistance, and finding ways to normalize both the extraordinary circumstances in which they live and the uncertainties they face,” said the study.

“During the war and even before that the practice of women breadwinners was very rare,” said CWD head Saroja Sivachandran. “Even the limited job market still functions on that assumption.”

“They are clearly discriminated against in hiring for most jobs, even though they are willing to work in non-traditional roles, and also face more difficulties than men in accessing credit,” Vasudevan said.

Rupavanthi Ketheeswaran, the top government official in Kilinochchi District, agreed the situation was difficult for women, but said the authorities were working to ease their economic plight. “We will always go that extra step to help out in getting loans and other assistance to these women,” she said, citing special preference on self-employment schemes, seed assistance for home gardens and the distribution of cattle.

However, such schemes should be far more wide-spread if they are to provide women with the sense of purpose and control over their daily lives they now need, said Sivachandaran.

“Female headed households should be recognized as a special needs group at the highest policy-making level,” she added.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fought against the government from 1983 to 2009 for an independent Tamil homeland in northern Sri Lanka.

ap/ds/cb source


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Rising Muslim-Buddhist tensions

Posted by African Press International on June 14, 2013

COLOMBO,  – An increasing number of Muslim Sri Lankans, who make up around 9 percent of the population, are feeling uneasy amid fears of growing sectarian tensions, say local people and observers.

“We just don’t feel we belong here any more,” Fadhil Ahamed, who works in a food store in Colombo, told IRIN. “I had a shop where I sold halal food, but several Buddhist monks who were aligned with a government politician told me not to sell halal food as this was a Sinhalese Buddhist country.”

There is increasing fear within Sri Lanka’s minority Muslim community, the 54-year-old said, and many feel they are being targeted by ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups because of their faith.

“Tensions are clearly on the rise. There is a lot the government and especially the police can do to handle this situation. It does not look like this is happening, and thus tensions are on a high as we speak,” said Ahamed Lebbe, a former school teacher and community activist in Batticaloa.

In recent months, groups led by Buddhist monks have spread allegations that Muslims have been dominating businesses, while at the same time claiming they are trying to take over the country by increasing their birthrate, local media reports say.

Sinhalese-Buddhists comprise almost 75 percent of the country’s 20 million people, according to the Department of Statistics and Census.


In May, Azard Sally, an outspoken Muslim politician and a former deputy mayor of Colombo, was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorist Act, for “instigating communalism”, according to police sources.

Sally is an outspoken critic of a new hardline Sinhalese Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Strength Force), which since February 2013 has reportedly attacked a number of Muslim-owned commercial establishments, and agitated against certain religious practices, including the halal system of slaughtering animals for Muslims.

Sally is also a vocal critic of the government of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse and blames the authorities for allowing an anti-Muslim campaign that culminated in an arson attack on two Muslim-owned businesses in March.

Though released on 10 May, his arrest underscores growing anxiety among many Sri Lankan Muslims.

“It seems as if they [the government] pervert the law to arrest anybody who stands to protect the Muslim community,” said Fatima Mira, a university student from Colombo.

“When Sinhalese extremists attack Muslims, the government watches as spectators, while when Muslim politicians stand up for their community, they are arrested and painted as terrorists,” the 32-year-old said – a sentiment echoed by others.

“There is no peace for Muslims this year in Sri Lanka,” said 46-year-old Muslim Colombo resident Hazeel Segu, a local community leader.

Polarized society

According to Jehan Perera, who heads the National Peace Council in Colombo, Sri Lanka continues to be a polarized and fragmented society at various levels – economic, social, religious and political, more than four years after the country’s 26-year civil war officially came to an end. This has led to a lack of communication and acute mistrust between parties on different sides of various divides, including Buddhists and Muslims.

“There is a sense of exclusion among communities, who feel they are not being included in national decision-making and in enjoying the fruits of development,” Perera said.

Since 18 May 2009, when government forces declared victory over the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), who had been fighting for an independent Tamil homeland for more than 25 years, the country has failed to make a successful transition to a sustainable peace, said Dayan Jayatilleka, former Sri Lankan ambassador (2007-2009) to the UN in Geneva.

“The blocked transition is due to the unwillingness of both major communities [Sinhalese and Tamil] to be self-critical and to reach out to one another in order to forge a new social contract,” he told IRIN.

Moreover, the recent upsurge of anti-Muslim rhetoric from Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups like Bodhu Bala Sena and Sinhala Ravaya has rekindled fears of an inter-communal conflict, said Jayatilleka.

Call for more inclusive government

Meanwhile, Rajiva Wijesinha, a ruling party MP and Sri Lanka’s former secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, described recent agitation by certain groups as “counterproductive”, and has called on the government to do more to mitigate racial and religious tensions.

“What [the] government must do is be much more inclusive and have more discussion between all parties and make it very clear that the government rejects extremisms in all its forms,” Wijesinha said.

“While we understand that there are fears of certain groups, we cannot allow fears to dominate the discourse. Driving concepts should be concepts of national unity and sympathy for others. One very simple thing that government can do is to arrest people who are engaged in violence and it is disgraceful that this has not been done. The fact that Azard Sally was arrested for a comment shows a complete bias.”

contributor/ds/cb source


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Beating wild weather

Posted by African Press International on May 15, 2013

 COLOMBO,  – Planners in Sri Lanka should do more to mitigate the effects of extreme weather in order to help those most likely to be affected, experts say.

According to Sri Lanka’s Disaster Management Centre (DMC), in 2012, 1.2 million people were affected by drought and over half a million by floods, while in early 2011, floods affected over a million and displaced more than 200,000 – a trend expected to increase in the future.

“There is nothing to indicate that this trend will slow down. All the signs are that it will increase,” Bob McKerrow, head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Sri Lanka, told IRIN.

In 2012, the island nation experienced two dramatic back-to-back weather events. Between January and October, the island’s Northern, Eastern, Southern and North Western regions suffered a severe drought. A mid-year forecast by the Socioeconomic and Planning Centre of the Department of Agriculture released in August 2012, when the drought was at its worst, warned of a loss of around 23 percent of the seasonal paddy harvest due by September.

The drought was only broken by the onset of heavy rains in the first week of November, made worse by Cyclone Nilam which struck Sri Lanka and southern India on 1 November, killing 45 people, temporarily displacing 80,000 and resulting in damage to over 10,000 houses, DMC reported.

According to an assessment by the ministries of economic development and disaster management, and the World Food Programme (WFP) in January, around 20 percent of the island’s main paddy harvest of around 2.6 million tons was lost to the floods. Of the 550,000 people affected by the floods, some 172,000 – 31 percent of surveyed flood-affected households – were severely food insecure, while 44 percent were borderline food insecure, the report said.

Tens of thousands were affected by flooding in 2012

Sixty-seven percent of the surveyed flood-affected people had also been affected by the drought, the report noted.

Migration up

At the same time, Sri Lankan officials report that with extreme weather events increasing in frequency, people are increasingly migrating to cities in the hope of securing a stable income.

“We have seen that when the harvests fail, the migration to nearby cities increases with people looking for temporary income,” Sarath Lal Kumara, DMC deputy director explained.

Regional experts say the situation in Sri Lanka is not dissimilar to what is happening elsewhere in the region.

“If one asks, ‘is displacement by weather-related events a serious issue in South Asia?’, then the answer is `yes’,” Bart W. Édes, director of the poverty reduction, gender and social development division at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), told IRIN, noting the risk of increased migration.

“Combined with large and growing populations living in vulnerable areas – and a forecasted increase in extreme weather events – South Asia is likely to confront continued environmentally driven displacement and migration,” he said.

Need to build resilience

IFRC’s McKerrow said humanitarian agencies should look at increasing community resilience against natural disasters as a core requirement when carrying out projects in vulnerable areas.

The SLRC is currently building around 20,000 new houses in Sri Lanka’s former northern conflict zone, the same region hit by severe drought and multiple floods in 2012.

“Wherever we build houses, we now look at two main things – either to control flood water or to provide water where there is not enough,” McKerrow said. He said the requests for such work had come from beneficiary surveys.

Kumara, the DMC deputy director, also noted that preventing victims of natural disasters from abandoning their homes was increasingly featuring in policy discussions among government and humanitarian agencies.

ADB’s Édes said policy planners should look to increase income generation opportunities, as well as build safety and early warning capacities in vulnerable regions.

“The aim should not be to stop human mobility, but rather to reduce the number of situations where people move because environmental factors force them to.”

ap/ds/cb  source

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SRI LANKA: Former IDPs want more than leaking shacks

Posted by African Press International on November 3, 2012

KILINOCHCHI,  – Standing outside her battle-scarred home in northern Sri Lanka, Thangeswary Karuppaiyah dreams of one day rebuilding it. “I hope it’s soon. That’s what we are waiting for,” said the 55-year-old grandmother.
She has been living in a “transitional shelter” a few metres from her old home for the past three years.
Made of tin sheeting, coconut leaves and tarpaulins, it was put up by her family (thanks to government and international aid) following her return in 2009, and was designed to last two years – time enough to rebuild her old house, say aid workers.
“People have been in transitional shelter for a long time, in many cases three years… With the rainy season starting, things are going to become tough for those people,” Fontini Rantsiou, head of the northern sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN.
Thousands of former IDPs are even less fortunate than Thangeswary, have never received any assistance, and live in makeshift shacks made of plastic sheeting and anything else they can get hold of.
“This is probably the most pressing issue of all. Under Sphere standards, transitional shelter in good condition offers some semblance of protection,” an international aid worker who asked not to be identified, explained. “Unfortunately, many people still don’t even have that.”
More than three years after Sri Lanka’s decades-long war came to an end and the return of nearly 470,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) to the north, thousands of people remain in flimsy shelters, say UN sources.
There is insufficient data to illustrate the severity of the problem, as the government has never endorsed a comprehensive needs assessment suggested by aid organizations in mid-2012, said a reportby the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) published on 31 October. As a result, humanitarian organizations have only managed to collect limited information.

  • Transitional shelter assistance
    Across Sri Lanka’s former northern war zone (locally known as the Vanni), only 26 percent of IDP returnee families have received transitional shelter assistance, the report said, citing inputs from shelter agencies, including the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Of the more than 100,000 families in need of transitional shelter assistance in four northern districts (Vavuniya, Mullaitvu, Kilinochchi, and Manner), just 26,000 received assistance, leaving an estimated theoretical gap of around 74,000, according to UNHCR October figures.
Moreover, in at least three of the villages in Mullaitivu District which opened up for returns between July and September 2012, no commitments have been made to provide any transitional shelters at all, the IDMC report said, with only half the requirement for transitional shelters being met in Kilinochchi District.
Many of those affected have no choice but to live in makeshift shelters they have constructed themselves – well below internationally accepted Sphere standards.
Meanwhile, international funding for humanitarian and development activities in Sri Lanka is drying up, largely because the World Bank now classifies the island nation as a middle-income country at peace, though government restrictions on assessments are preventing an adequate response, the IDMC report said.
A further obstacle is that many agencies and donors are reluctant to fund additional transitional shelter work given the high expectation of a commitment by donors to construct more than 75,000 permanent houses in the north – a project which could take years to complete.
According to OCHA, donors and the government are currently committed to supporting the building and repair of more than 35,000 houses (excluding Indian government plans to build 49,000 houses) against total needs in excess of 100,000.


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