I was told recently by a friend that he felt we were not actually addressing the concerns that had been raised with regard to Sri Lanka. I was surprised, because I thought we had been doing this throughout. However, I could see that, in assessing the methodologies adopted to attack us, we might have been distracting attention away from simple facts. It might be useful therefore to record specific concerns – but in doing so it will be clear that, the moment one concern is addressed, another is raised, sometimes with blatant inconsistency.
1. There was concern that we would hold the displaced indefinitely in what were termed internment camps, and not resettle them.
We pointed out three reasons for keeping them in welfare centres, which were by no means internment camps. The term internment refers to taking people from their homes into custody, whereas we were dealing with people who had been taken from their homes, which were in heavily mined areas. Some of those people were security risks given their involvement, whether willingly or not, in terrorism.
Apart from security checks, we noted the need to demine the areas to which people were being returned, as well as the need to restore at least basic infrastructure. Now that that has been done, all but 10,000 of the displaced have been resettled.
As a result, we got little assistance initially, except from the Indian government, for demining. We therefore spent a massive amount of money on equipment – after which UNHCR also donated five or so machines, far fewer than the 25 or so we had bought. Our army did most of the demining required, and we were able to begin resettlement within a few months.
3. Subsequently concern was expressed that we were resettling too quickly, without proper attention to demining.
Since resettlement began there have been hardly any mine related incidents in the areas of resettlement. I believe, apart from the death of a foreign demining expert, there was only one casualty in the Wanni last year, a boy who had been sent to collect firewood in an uncleared and marked area, whose leg was blown off.
This should be contrasted with a far higher number of accidents in the Northern peninsula, which had been demined by international agencies after it was freed from LTTE control in 1996. It should also be contrasted with incidents elsewhere, such as Cambodia, which suffered from constant explosions for years after conflict ceased.
4. After resettlement began, there was concern that we were resettling too quickly without proper infrastructure.
Basic infrastructure, which in Sri Lanka includes facilities for free education and health, were in place when resettlement began. Certainly conditions are poor, but those who were resettled were anxious to get back and get on with their lives, and clearly economic activity has developed in areas of initial resettlement. Even in recently resettled areas, commerce has begun and the shops are well stocked and patronized, though obviously much more needs to be done.
Progress with regard to roads and electrification has been tremendous, and as has happened in the East – where similar concerns were expressed previously, soon after it was fully freed from LTTE control – will contribute to rapid development.
5. Concern has been expressed about the 10,000 who have not yet been resettled.
These people come from the most heavily mined areas of Mullaitivu where the LTTE resistance was heaviest towards the end, in particular in the area around Puthukkudiyirippu. Progress however is rapid, with for instance sectors north of the A 35 largely resettled now in that area, though sectors south of it remain dangerous.
It should be noted that, from the end of 2009, the displaced could move out of the camp if they wished, and several have done so, though others have chosen to remain behind until they can go home, which is by and large preferable since previously protracted displacement with local employment in temporary residences led to permanency and hence depopulation of relatively deprived areas.
6. Concern has been expressed about former LTTE cadres taken for rehabilitation, on the grounds that this was done without transparency and they would be held indefinitely.
Over 9,000 of the over 11,000 who were in rehabilitation have now been released. The Commissioner General of Rehabilitation works with IOM and other agencies to provide adequate training and support for reintegration, though obviously more resources for this would be welcome, including to contribute to micro-credit schemes that are needed. Access to these cadres has always been open, and parents and relations visit them frequently.
Of the 2,268 of these youngsters still in Rehabilitation, 1,445 will be released during the next few months. 700 will be continue in rehabilitation for another year under court orders, while 123 will be investigated further with a view to indictment.
7. Concern has been expressed with regard to suspects taken in previously under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, that they could be held indefinitely and no information was available about them.
Of the over 4,000 in detention in the period beginning in 2006, only 817 are now in detention, with another 500 now subjected to court procedures that may lead to sentencing. Nearly 1,000 were sent for rehabilitation and have since been released. 74 of the 817 who are disabled will also soon be sent for rehabilitation, though these include some hard core members of the LTTE, injured through explosions etc while preparing bombs. The cases of the rest are now being looked into with a view to expediting action, either rehabilitation or court procedures. The names of all those currently in detention are available with the Human Rights Commission, and visits are permitted. It has been proposed that some of these should be moved to locations nearer to the North, if their relations are there, to facilitated visits.
8. Concern has been expressed that large numbers have vanished without trace. This includes individuals taken into custody, and those killed during operations in the Wanni.
This is an area in which information should be made available more readily, a start having been made with the involvement of the Human Right Commission for detainees. Unfortunately the matter is of political interest, which has led to refusal to share information on all sides.
However arrangements have now been made to make information available readily to relations. As noted previously, there were never problems with regard to those under rehabilitation.
Statistics are now sought with regard to the percentage of those who were visited during the period of rehabilitation, to facilitate establishing contacts between any who were not visited and their relations. The same should be done with regard to those detained under the PTA.
With regard to the numbers of those in the Wanni being alleged to have gone down, clearly methodical assessments are needed. However extrapolation from statistics available suggests that the problem is not a large one. That however will required a longer article, with explanation of the examples on which induction is based, as well as examination of statistics that are already available.