The Commission for Justice & Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna has called for the release of political prisoners, accountability for those killed or disappeared during the war and for the resettlement of people back in their land, in an open letter to Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.
Writing to the newly elected president, the priests called for the urgent needs of the people of the North-East to be addressed as part of his “100 day programme”.
Citing three major concerns, the priests called for the “release of thousands of political prisoners who are languishing in the jails and detention centres” without charge. “Some of these people have been there for 10 to 15 years,” said the priests.
The priests also said an urgent concern was “accountability for the thousands of people who were either arrested, handed over to the Security-forces, taken by white-vans, surrendered during the final stages of the war and since then missing.”
The letter further added that “there are very clear eye witnesses to indicate that many of these disappeared people were taken in buses by the Security-forces in front of the general public”.
Resettlement of the displaced in their home villages was also an issue of major concern said the priests, calling for land occupied by the Sri Lankan security forces to be returned to their rightful owners. The letter told of the religious significance of the land seized by the military, the impact on education of children that the land grabs have and the economic importance of returning these lands.
See the full text of the letter below:
We, some of the responsible civilians interested in building up a peaceful Sri Lanka based on Justice and Truth, got together to have a discussion to find out some of the urgent needs of our people which need to be fulfilled for the return of genuine peace and normalcy in our areas.
The people in the North and East have voted overwhelmingly for you Honourable President, in the just finished Presidential Election with the hope that you will be able to deliver the goods in fulfilling our basic aspirations and enable us to get into the mainstream of the nation. We hope that your Excellency will reciprocate by your goodwill and action during the 100 day action programme.
The following are three of our major Concerns:
Releasing of thousands of political prisoners who are languishing in the jails and detention centers without being charge-sheeted. Some of these people have been there for 10 to 15 years.
We expect your Excellency to give priority to release those who are there for more than 10 years, women (some with their children), sickly and elderly persons, bread-winners of families.
Accountability for the thousands of people who were either arrested, handed over to the Security-forces, taken by white-vans, surrendered during the final stages of the war and since then missing.
In the last Presidential Commission inquiry, a number of people gave evidence of their missing near and dear ones in the circumstances mentioned above. There are very clear eye witnesses to indicate that many of these disappeared people were taken in buses by the Security-forces in front of the general public.
Cases have been filed with regard to some of these people including two Roman Catholic Priests, belonging to the Diocese of Jaffna, Fr. Francis Joseph and Fr. Jim Brown. The cases are prolonged unnecessarily without any end in sight. In some cases those who gave evidence and those who filed the cases have been intimidated. We expect such cases to be expedited.
Resettlement of displaced people in their own lands and villages. Of all the civilian lands occupied by the security forces during the past 30 years of war, the largest mass of land is the 6381 acres of land in Valikamam North in the Jaffna Peninsula. There are also other lands in the North and East such as the entire village of Mullikulam with a population of more than 400 families and Muthur in the East which also has a larger civilian population. We would like to make a special mention of the land at Valikamam North which covers 24 Grama Sevaka divisions. Taking over this region (Valikamam North) has affected not only the thousands of families evacuated from there but also the others living elsewhere in the Jaffna peninsula and beyond because of three reasons:
Religious significance – It is of religious significance not only for Hindus who are the majority here but also the Christians who are also in a substantial number. From Maviddapuram upto Keerimalai there are up to 10 Hindu temples of ancient historical heritage value. The famous Renuka temple also is in this region. Throughout the year there used to be a lot of movement of devotees and pilgrims from all over the island to these sacred places.
For the Catholics also there are some Churches dating back to Portuguese times in the 17th C. Eg. the Churches at Myliddy, Urany and Vasavilan. The first ever indigenous monastery for cloistered monks and nuns in Asia was started here at Tholakatty in Vasavilan 90 years ago. These monks and nuns had to leave their premises and move from place to place for the past 3 decades. In early fifties not only Religious-men and women but also ordinary people from the North as well as from the South used to come here for solitude, prayer and spiritual guidance.
Opening up these places will salsify the religions needs of the people not only from the peninsula but also from elsewhere in the country.
About 45 schools which were here have been displaced and some are functioning elsewhere with much reduced number of students and under trying circumstances. Nadaeswara College, a National School which had produced a number of eminent scholars and leaders is one of these.
We recommend that these evacuated schools be brought back to their original stations to re-establish their contribution to the society by maintaining the high standard of discipline and learning.
This region is the most fertile land in the peninsula with red soil which is very suitable for growing a variety of vegetables, tobacco etc. which are specific to the Jaffna-peninsula.
The fisheries harbour in this area at Myliddy used to be the source of nearly 30 % of the flsh caught in the country and every day dozens of lorries used to take fish from here to the markets in the South.
We request the new government to give priority to the different needs of the people and gradually open up these areas so that the religious educational and economic needs of the people of the area as well as of the peninsula and beyond be fulfilled.
We recommend as a priority that some of the bus-routes which had been suspended three decades ago such as the bus-service from Point Pedro to Moolai which goes through Atchuvely and Vasavilan be resumed. The bus service from Point Pedro to Poonnalai which goes through Valalai, Myliddy, Urany, Keerimalai and Kankesanthurai also can be resumed. The Hindu devotees used to travel by these routes daily in big members to visit the historic temples and sacred places in these areas. In the meantime the Temples and Churches historical heritage value can be opened for the public. The people who are close to these Temples, Churches and places of religious significance can be resettled.
Other major issues of Concern
Housing problems – After the war the Indian Government and some others came forward to build houses for the affected people. The money given to them through the Sri Lankan Government is by far very inadequate. (They are given 5,50,000 Rs.) Most of the beneficiaries are not able to complete the houses as they live below poverty line. There are widows’ led families, families teO Uy disabled people etc. Without a substantial increase in the subsidy given they will not be able to complete the houses.
Grievances of the local fisherman from Mullaithivu to Kokkilai. In peaceful times ll7 of the total fish caught in Sri Lanka used to be from these waters. Even outsiders used to come here attracted by the big catch of fish. From Mullaitivu up to Kokkilai there were 14 padus owned by local fishermen. Now after the war the locals have nothing to call their own. Last year when the Minister of Fisheries came here he had promised to rectify the situation. Nothing has happened since then.
Unemployment in the North is mounting. There are more than 1,500 graduates alone who are unemployed.
An emergency action-plan can be initiated to accommodate them into the educational sector or public-services departments.
Drug-trafficking and break-down of law and order has disturbed the normal day to day life.
During the past five years trafficking of drugs and the youth being addicted to drugs, etc have resulted in the break-down of law and order, burgling of houses, rowdyism, abuse of women and children and even murder, etc. The police will have to take stern measures to put an end to these social evils.
Pollution of the underground water due to the seepage of waste oil from Northern Power electricity plants. This problem which started in a small scale is now spreading to a wider circle in the Valikamam region. Already people have been admitted in the hospitals from these areas due to complaints of skin-ailments, diarrhoea etc. Pregnant women are in danger of having complicatiors. When blood samples of the patients from here are tested there is a high conient of lead according to medical reports. An immediate action plan is needed to stop this major health menace.
These are some of the areas which can be looked into and a serious action plan to resolve these issues will manifest your good will to the people in the North.
Rev. Fr. S.V.B. Mangalarajah.