UN committee asks Sri Lanka to end military involvement in commercial, civilian activities

A United Nations (UN) committee has recommended to the Sri Lankan government that the military end its involvement in commercial and civilian activities and provide legal protection against forced evictions of thousands of people reportedly carried out by it.

The UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) has asked the Sri Lankan government to “take measures” to map private and public land under the control of the military and ensure its restitution, and also “to end military involvement in commercial and other civilian activities”.

“The Committee is concerned that the Urban Regeneration Programme by the Urban Development Authority since 2010 has led to forced evictions and relocation of around 5500 families in Colombo, reportedly involving the military, without due process or compensation,” the UNCESCR report says in its review of Sri Lanka in June.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Sri Lanka, along with Pakistan and four other countries, was reviewed by the UN committee between 29 May and 23 June in Geneva. It was Sri Lanka’s fifth such periodic review.

CESCR is a body of 18 independent experts that monitors the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights by state parties and usually meets twice a year in Geneva.

“The first challenge comes from the Sri Lankan military, which works in tandem with commercial enterprises that have an interest in acquiring and profiting from land in the north and east of the country,” says a report by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to the UN as part of the review exercise.

The capital of the Northern Province is Jaffna, dominated by Tamils where most of the civil war was played out.

Since the end of the civil war, the military has used various laws to bring land under their control and away from the local Tamil population. The Land Acquisition Act allows the government of Sri Lanka to seize lands that will be used for “public purposes” — the law has a blurry definition of public purpose.

These vast tracts of land are often turned into high security zones (HSZs), and access to the land is limited to military personnel. In other cases, the land is seized and developed or sold to private businesses for development, the Human Rights Commission further adds.

The committee is “concerned” that although significant areas of land have been released since 2015, the military still controls substantial areas of private and public land in the north and east of the country and continues to engage in commercial activities, including farming, tourism, setting up of coffee shops and hotels, the UN has said.

While welcoming the National Plan of Action for the Social Development of the Plantation Community, the UN said that the so-called Plantation Tamils suffer from “direct and indirect discrimination” with regard to all the Covenant rights, including high levels of poverty, poor working conditions, inadequate housing conditions, lack of access to health care, lack of quality education and high drop-out rates, child labour, and a lack of citizenship or identity documents.

“The Tamil and Muslim communities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces are still affected by the conflict between the government and LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) despite the end of the war, especially the communities whose traditional villages are still occupied (by the military in the eastern and northern provinces),” says a joint report of Human Rights Office Kandy, Fraciskans International, National Fisheries Solidarity Organisation to the UN also as part of the review exercise.

Resettled people in the north are living amidst military camps and “have not been provided adequate facilities and reparations for up to a quarter century of military occupation and use of their lands and houses,” says the report.

There are about 100 families that left for India due to war and displacement but are waiting to return home, it says.

Fishermen are facing increasing competition from both Indian trawling boats from the Tamil Nadu region and Sinhalese fishermen from the south of Sri Lanka because of the risk of damage to their nets by mechanised Indian boats, and from the practice of “sea cucumber diving”.

The UN is also concerned about “severe poverty” and rising inequality levels near urban areas, in the north and the east, the estate sector and Moneragala.

Additionally, sex trafficking in brothels continues to represent a severe problem — boys are more likely than girls to be forced into prostitution in coastal areas for child sex tourism, particularly in the south and south-west, the joint NGO report says.

The UN also recommends that the government take “immediate steps” to ensure effective implementation of the Official Languages Law and National Trilingual Policy, including through a sufficient number of Tamil-speaking public officials and interpreters in every government institution, including at the provincial level, as well as the allocation of adequate financial resources for its implementation.

While recognising current efforts of the government to strengthen the judiciary, the UN committee is “concerned” that several decades of armed conflict have eroded the independence, impartiality and competence of the judiciary.

Updated Date: Jul 14, 2017 08:58 AM

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