The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Daily News 5 Nov 2012 –

I finally received the Minutes of the meeting on Land Issues of the Human Rights Action Plan Task Force which was held last month. They were worth waiting for, for the representative of the Law Faculty, together with the Consultant who had finalized the Plan, had done a thorough job in identifying the issues, and the action needed.

Land, as has been previously noted, is perhaps the single most pressing issue in the North, and the East, and it has accordingly been highlighted too in the Action Plan for the LLRC recommendations. Fortunately, after far too long a delay, we seem now to have begun to move, and I received also a copy of a letter sent by the Secretary to the Ministry of Lands urging action, in accordance with the regulations.

Unfortunately there is still some confusion about which instructions are valid. In addition to uncertainty about how to proceed with regard to some of last year’s circulars, given the court cases that have still not been settled, the letter does not make clear whether the Gazette Notification of October 1989, which forbade redistribution of lands vacated because of conflict, is still valid. I was told this was not the case, but given the worries expressed by the Divisional Secretary who had brought it to my notice, I think it is necessary to spell things out in detail.

Being precise can help also with showing why there is uncertainty. For instance, with regard to Sampoor, which does not seem a major problem though much is being made of it, confusion has arisen because land is being acquired for two purposes. One is for a High Security Zone, the other is for economic development.

Both are valid purposes, but unfortunately acquisition thus far seems to have been on the basis of gazette notifications in terms of Emergency Regulations. This is obviously problematic, because the owners do not know whether the acquisition is supposed to be permanent.

It would make more sense therefore for the State to decide definitely what is needed, and take that over in terms of its powers of acquisition. With regard to acquisition, provided unreasonable amounts are not required – and I gather that in Sampoor it is very limited amounts that are needed – there should be no problem about finalizing matters, with of course due compensation, with regard to which the State should be generous.

The situation is more problematic with regard to land that is taken over for development, because I gather that there are specific procedures that need to be followed. These include environmental assessments, as well as certification, where the acquisition of private land is concerned, that the purpose is justified and no other land would serve the purpose.

These may seem to be tall orders, but it is vital for upholding the Rule of Law that such requirements are met, since we cannot have a situation where private land can be taken over arbitrarily. Indeed the Liberal Party has long argued that the right to property should be enshrined in the Constitution, and this is even more urgent in a private sector oriented economy, for the possibilities of government and greedy developers working together to drive out owners of areas they wish to develop are much greater than in the old style statist dispensation we had.

In this context, let me cite what the Minutes mention with regard to the issue that was discussed first, with active cooperation I should add from all stakeholders present, from the Ministry of Lands to the forces, from the Attorney General’s Department and the Ministry of Justice to the university.

Lands acquired for High Security Zones (HSZ) /Special Economic Zones (EZ) mainly Palaly and Trincomalee-Sampoor.

Sampoor is the most problematic and crucial area out of these three. It was informed that Sampoor was initially acquired for EZ and later converted to HSZ. However, significant portion of these acquired lands in Sampoor are currently being used as HSZ. Following points needed clarifications and answers;

a.  Is it legal to maintain HSZ after repeal of country’s emergency laws?

b.  Whether these lands were acquired following the legally prescribed procedures for this purpose?

c.  Is it necessary to maintain the HSZ permanently using the Prevention of Terrorism law? (AG Department to clarify the legal position with regard to (a), (b) and (c) above)

d.  If Sampoor can be categorized as an SEZ whether there is a possibility to adopt the same policy which was adopted for Southern Expressway to Sampoor? (Policy which was led by Asian Development Bank and approved by Cabinet – the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy; CEPA had done a comprehensive and important study on this policy. Accordingly this policy could/should be used as a common policy for economic development displacements except for conflict and disaster).  Sampoor IDPs who are currently living in transit shelters should be informed in writing as soon as possible of what solution they can expect.

e.  Can the Ministry of Resettlement study this policy and (i) consider applying it to the Sampoor situation and (ii) draft a national policy on displacement as specified in the Human Rights Action Plan?

f.  The other procedure to follow is Sec 31 of the Land Acquisition Act, but is it adequate/suitable for this purpose?

g.  Usual method to acquire land for the purpose of HSZ is by declaration. But this does not provide for compensation which is not appropriate right at this point as the owners of these lands deserve compensation.  Also acquisition by a gazette notice delays compensation grants but the unfortunate owners of these lands deserve speedy decisions about their position.

Agreed action points

  • Forces to decide on the quantity of land they vitally need and convey it to the Ministry of Lands so the Ministry can acquire them following the procedures of LAA

  • Draft a new policy as proposed in above points (d) and (e). (Ministry of Resettlement to action)

Daily News 5 Nov 2012