Land Grabs In The North And East

Replaying history

Recent weeks have seen a steep rise in the number of land grabs in the North and East…

These land grabs by the military, together with activities relating to colonization of the North and East are part of the attacks on the democratic rights of the Tamil People in the North and East. These attacks are clearly carried out with the active support, sanction and collusion of the Sri Lankan government. They are part of the many vain and counterproductive attempts to suppress and persecute Tamils for their political aspirations. The Tamil National Alliance has called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately cease these acts of violence directed against the Tamil People. In order to prevent a non-recurrence of the past, Sri Lanka must expeditiously commence a meaningful and genuine process of reconciliation.

by M. A. Sumanthiran, ‘Colombo Telegraph,’ May 2, 2013

Last week saw a hugely dangerous move by the government. Section 2 notices under the Land Acquisition Act were pasted on trees in Valikamam North in the Jaffna Peninsula indicating that an extent of approximately 6,400 acres of private lands belonging to several thousand Tamil people would be acquired for Military cantonments. Strangley, the notice says that the claimants are not traceable! The owners of these lands live just outside the so called illegal High Security Zone, in camps maintained by the government itself. They have lived there for over 25 years. And although their title to these lands were checked and cleared by a Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2006, they were not permitted to go and resettle on the false assertion that de-mining was not complete. That it is false is demonstrated by the sight of soldiers cultivating these lands from which the owners were kept away. Now suddenly, the government has shown its true face: these lands will be taken and given to others to occupy, who will become voters in the North. Similar notices have been issued in the Kilinochchi Distrct also. In the Eastern Province, instructions have gone out to acquire all the land that the military deems necessary for its purposes.

Issues relating to land have always been at the centre of the national question. In the past, misuse of land powers by the state resulted in violence and the worsening of ethnic relations between communities. Despite having ‘won the war’ however, the Sri Lankan government seems to be reluctant to learn lessons from this history in order to win the peace. Alarmingly, the history of land grabs seems to be repeating itself. People of the North and East, who according to the government were rescued by the military in a ‘humanitarian operation’ find their lands and with it their livelihoods, way of life, and birthright snatched from them by the selfsame military.

The issue of land grabs by the military in the North and East is one that that has been continuously raised by the Tamil National Alliance from as far back as 2009, soon after the end of the war. I myself have raised the issue repeatedly, including in status reports I tabled in Parliament in July 2011 and October 2011. However, no efforts have been made to address the issue, and such land grabs have continued unabated to date.

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka decreed in an order that displaced people should be resettled. Further, President Mahinda Rajapaksa undertook to resettle all those displaced by the war by the end of 2009, in his joint communique with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on 26th May 2009. Subsequent to this, several other cases have also been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the military occupation of land in both the North and the East. All of this however, has done nothing to arrest such land grabs.

Recent weeks have seen a steep rise in the number of land grabs in the North and East. Last week the Tamil National Alliance announced its intention of launching continuous protests against the military’s acquisition of lands in the North.  Protests were staged last week organised by the TNPF against these land grabs. In addition to protests, the Tamil National Alliance has also announced its intention of taking legal action to challenge such ‘acquisition’ of private land by the military. Such land grabs have taken place in various places in the North including Jaffna, Mullaitivu, Mannar, Vavuniya and Killinochchi. Military personnel in the North are now putting up notices on the lands that they intend to ‘acquire’. Most of this land belongs to private individuals, who hold valid deeds granting them legal ownership of the lands in question. Other incidents of land acquisition by the militaryBuddhist monks and Sinhala civil officials also took place in the East in recent weeks. The acquisition of such a vast amount of private properties is said to be for ‘military purposes’. The need for the military to acquire such vast amounts of land is unknown.

One of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, which was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 was to release the private land being used for ‘security purposes’ at the time. Another recommendation was that the government disengage security Forces from all civil administration related activities as rapidly as possible. The Tamil National Alliance welcomed these, among several other recommendations, on the release of the Report. Instead of implementing the positive recommendations of the report such as this one however, the government is now permitting the military to take acquire even more private land belonging to people who, for several generations, have lived in these lands.

Such vast amounts of land being taken over for the military, for no known reasons, gives rise to serious concerns of colonization. The Tamil National Alliance has always made it very clear that peoples of all communities are most welcome in the North and East. The phenomenon of colonization, however, is the process by which deliberate attempts are made to alter the demography of a particular area. This has been raised as a serious concern by the Tamil National Alliance since the end of the war in 2009. Such concerns are confirmed by reports of various streets and villages in the North and East with Tamil names being renamed and given Sinhala names. Another serious concern the Tamil National Alliance has consistently raised from 2009 is the destruction of numerous Hindu places of worship and the proliferation of new Buddhist shrines. The government and the military are relentlessly engaged in transforming the cultural, linguistic and religious makeup of the North and East and forcibly imposing the dominant culture on those areas. Land grabs and subsequent colonization are clearly attempts to alter the ethnic demography of the North and the East. Such attempts are clearly meant to undermine the political influence of the Tamil people. This concern is made even more serious with the Northern Provincial Council Elections scheduled for September this year. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s claim following the end of the war that ‘there will be no minorities’ takes on new meaning in this context.

The Tamil National Alliance has repeatedly raised the serious implications of such policies and actions on reconciliation. The government declares that it has ended the war and has now ushered in an era of peace and reconciliation. However, as I have repeatedly stated in both this column and elsewhere, reconciliation will not come when people are shut out of the homes and land that belong to them. For true reconciliation the trust and amity that has been lost between communities must be rebuilt. Reconciliation will not come if the Tamil people in the North and East see those of other communities take over their land and their livelihoods while they languish with no roof over their heads. This can only push reconciliation further away.

These land grabs by the military, together with activities relating to colonization of the North and East are part of the attacks on the democratic rights of the Tamil People in the North and East. These attacks are clearly carried out with the active support, sanction and collusion of the Sri Lankan government. They are part of the many vain and counterproductive attempts to suppress and persecute Tamils for their political aspirations. The Tamil National Alliance has called on the Sri Lankan government to immediately cease these acts of violence directed against the Tamil People. In order to prevent a non-recurrence of the past, Sri Lanka must expeditiously commence a meaningful and genuine process of reconciliation. Land grabs and colonization will only hinder such a process.

*The author, M A Sumanthiran (B.Sc, LL.M) is a Member of Parliament through the Tamil National Alliance, a senior practicing lawyer and a prominent Constitutional and Public Law expert.


No Responses to “Land Grabs In The North And East”

  1. Vibhushana

    McDonalds’s had to re-invent itself with a range of healthy burgers to stay relevant. Here’s a radical thought. Why not re-calibrate TNA to serve Sinhala, Moslem and Tamil? That way it would not matter who settles down in Jaffna.

  2. Angela

    You always come on here with the same story. It DOESN’T matter who comes to live in Jaffna if they really want to, but government assisted systematic colonisation obviously is detrimental to keeping cultural significance of an area when systematic building, and removing things of cultural importance to a different group within their traditional areas to give way to the dominant culture so they cannot be represented. Taking land that originally belonged to the people living there, the Tamil people, so they can purposely inhabit them with Sinhalese people is ludicrous, where will these people go back to? Obviously somewhere not the north and east, so the Tamils will be spread out like the Muslims, incapable of providing a majority vote anywhere. Certainly not the south, the government would never touch the precious south. If this operation is so transparent to you why don’t they move hordes of Tamils to the south and west to change the demographic? Oh that’s right, because this is not about equalizing the island; this is about genocidal operations to ensure the Tamil people be submissive and assimilate into the Sinhalese nation just like the Muslims. Real reconciliation does not involve uprooting traditional areas and destroying temples and institutions, it’s about talking about a political resolution to solve the problem keeping everyone’s interests in perspective. You are being hypocritical saying that the Tamils are ignoring what others want on the island. That could be farther from the truth! The Tamil people are forced against their will to move, and so many are being tortured and killed by the government. Are the government doing what the Tamils want? The TNA have desperately and legitimately tried to arrange talks with the government, but the government are evading their duties contemptuously, doing this instead, as if this will help solve anything. Physical uprooting of a people ensures their oppression and submission. Who knows what more this junta will do to the country, already there being no transparent judicial system after the impeachment. By the way, what Sinhalese interests are you talking about? The ones where the annexation of the entire island and homogenization are realized? Keeping in mind, there is a culture of chauvinism on the island; an anti-Tamil culture pervades. Until there is a paradigm shift, the integrity of the Tamil people will never be realized by the Sinhalese.

  3. Sam

    Well if Tamils don’t want non-Tamils in the north they are welcome to leave the south of the country first.

  4. Vibhushana

    Well, I could say the same about you isn’t it? You come here insisting North and the East are some kind of hereditary area handed down to Tamils. Wasn’t this the contention that had to be settled on the battle field?

    Before we go any further this is what needs to be established. For over 60 years Tamil people wanted to play a majority role or be recognised as an ‘independent nation’ (for whatever reason). However at the end of the day, neither the rest of inhabitants nor wider world has come forth giving such recognition. If there was recognition, colonisation etc WOULD BE illegal – do you agree?

    Given there is no recognition of ‘Tamil Lands’ in Sri Lanka the state lands can be distributed to anyone as the state sees fit as long as it is within the law. I do not find this practice neither immoral nor unethical because given the history an argument can be easily made the policy is in the interest of national integration. Not just Sri Lanka even Singapore has a similar policy (read EIP). I do not see Tamil Singaporeans running around screaming ‘Genocide’!

  5. Angel

    Firstly, I never even mentioned in my comment of the Tamil people, that they are inheritably the ‘owners’ of any land, since the country is fascist in its approach to governing the country in the first place, there isn’t even a provincial council in the north so the Tamils are indeed living off the strings of a Sinhalese monolithic junta; I can completely see that the Tamil people clearly have no ‘land’ but live on a land. Secondly, if you think the war has to do with land ownership, I seriously consider you come back to this page fully knowing what you’re talking about, because I can’t make an argument with points against someone who clearly doesn’t even know the first thing about why the war even happened. Thirdly, ‘For over 60 years Tamil people wanted to play a majority role,’ I can’t take the ignorance anymore, the Tamil people for the most basic part want to be treated with respect and recognition of their culture and language – have basic rights as a distinct nation which they are just like the Sinhalese. The state is not secular; Tamil areas have always been deprived of economic and educational development even before the war almost exclusively; there is language bias even though Tamil is a national language and hardly any Sinhalese official knows a whiff of the language; temples and anything of cultural significance is destroyed on a daily basis; the names of certain towns with Tamil names are being renamed to a Sinhalese name as if there is any reason to change a perfectly good name, and there is cultural stigma against most Tamil people as a race in the country. There is definitely an insidious genocide happening ( I suggest you look up the term ‘genocide’ in the dictionary). And you are saying that the junta’s re-displacement of them is a good thing? These people ALREADY own the land under a law that is being occupied with people that don’t have any right to it, but only are because the government is giving them all free passes. This has nothing to do with which race owns what country, but this is NOT integration. This is NOT in the law because it contradicts the law of the constitution, it’s a joke when you mention the term ‘law’ with this junta, they already impeached the justice, they can do anything now, even if its unlawful, which this is by the way. The Tamil people that have been unlawfully detained and then come home to see home doesn’t exist? I said before, according to the law and even the TNA, anyone can live anywhere but how is displacing people who already live there a lawful thing? And finally, real integration does not involve destruction of what’s been there, it involves first and foremost unbiased education about the different people of the country about each other and even distribution of people in each enclave. True ‘integration’ using this method, which I see cannot work knowing that there is still much hate and less understanding between communities and communal violence is possible, is to get rid of the highly dense Sinhalese areas and populate them with Tamils too. The Tamils that have no home are not being helped by the government to live somewhere else like its apparently doing with these new Sinhalese inhabitants. If the process is not bilateral then therefore this is not integration and just a ploy by the government to separate Tamil communities so they can’t have voice in their affairs, keeping in mind that the only way for Tamils to have a voice is if there are enough voices to be heard (the government is Sinhalese, there will always be a bias). Sri Lanka is not like Singapore in many ways, one being that Singapore is comprised of a society where all members are already involved in civil society and are exposed to different cultures all the time, whereas Sri Lanka is singly-cultured and civil society is one of only the Sinhalese because that’s who they mostly include. Tamil Singaporeans don’t have to worry because their culture is not being stifled and destroyed like the Sri Lankan Tamils. The world very much sees that the Tamils are a distinct and independent people, just, they don’t recognize a separate state due to reasons of geopolitics. How does a nation’s distinctness and individuality have to do with a country’s predetermined political boundaries? You even said that the lands belong to the whole state not just bestowed like a reserve, and so this isn’t between two political boundaries, so the world is not throwing a fit, many in Sri Lanka, even some Sinhalese lawyers, journalists, and activists and the minority of truly educated types on the island are condemning this procession by the government and there people worldwide as well condemning this behaviour by the government against the minority whose culture is in reality being threatened.