Lankan government too slow to return civilian lands held for military activity: Report

PTI Colombo, Sri Lanka Oct 10, 2018, 09.32 PM(IST)

File photo. Photograph:( ANI )

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Sri Lanka has yet to fully restore civilian ownership of thousands of acres of land taken over during the civil war with the LTTE for military purposes, according to a US-based human rights group.

The Human Rights Watch, in a report published this week, said the progress, particularly since the election of a new government in 2015, has been hindered by broad military claims of national security and the lack of a transparent process.

Sri Lanka has yet to fully restore civilian ownership of thousands of acres of land taken over during the civil war with the LTTE for military purposes, according to a US-based human rights group.

The Human Rights Watch, in a report published this week, said the progress, particularly since the election of a new government in 2015, has been hindered by broad military claims of national security and the lack of a transparent process.

"The Sri Lankan government has yet to fully restore civilian ownership of land and property nearly a decade since the end of the civil war in 2009," said the 80-page report titled "'Why Can't We Go Home?': Military Occupation of Land in Sri Lanka."

The report identifies the lack of transparency and due process, failure to map occupied land, inadequate support to affected people and communities, and prolonged delays in providing appropriate reparations for decades of loss and suffering.

 The military has also used some confiscated lands for commercial profit rather than national security and returned damaged or destroyed property to owners without compensation, the report said.

The HRW report is based on over 100 interviews between August 2017 to May 2018 with members of affected communities, activists, local officials, and lawyers. It looks into cases of military occupation and land release in 20 areas in six districts, primarily in Sri Lanka's north and east.

The three-decade long civil war in Sri Lanka ended with the defeat of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. Large areas, including those previously held by the LTTE in the north and east, came under military control after the war.

While the then president Mahinda Rajapaksa released some land to its original owners, the military retained control over large areas, the report said.
The new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena took some steps to release civilian land held by the security forces, it added.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council in October 2015, the Sri Lankan government promised to address conflict-related issues, including returning land to its original owners. However, the government's response has fallen far short of its promises, it added.

Sirisena has asked his officials to complete the return of lands to civilians by the end of this year, it noted.

Human Rights Watch has documented a number of cases in which properties were destroyed while held by the military after the war, including temples, churches, mosques, and Buddhist shrines.