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I think it was Aristotle who noted that the roots of injustice lay in treating similar things as dissimilar, and different things in the same way. In line with this dictum we should recognize that the issues which trouble people in different parts of the country are different, and solutions should be specific to the problems under consideration. But, conversely, there are also some common problems, and these should be addressed in a consistent manner. Unfortunately we all tend to look on problems that affect us as particularly serious, and this can lead to injustice.
Thus over the last few years there has been much concern about those who were displaced in the North. Given the gravity of the problem, the indignation of the international community was understandable, though their failure to have addressed this issue when Tamils were being driven along by the LTTE to be used as hostages, as highlighted by Kath Noble recently, raises issues about their actual motivation subsequently. So does the fact that previously they by and large neglected the Muslims driven from their homes in the North. When the issue was raised, it was by hucksters such as Gareth Evans who used their suffering to claim that Sri Lanka was ripe for the implementation of his R2P doctrine. In asserting that ethnic cleansing had taken place in Sri Lanka, he – or rather his sidekick Alan Keenan, for poor Gareth confessed that he had no idea what he had meant by using the phrase about Sri Lanka – implied that this was by government, only to admit that they were in fact talking about what the LTTE had done to the Muslims in 1990.
But in trying to deal with the enormity of what had occurred then, we have neglected the abuse of the Muslims of the East, which the LTTE had been steadily engaging in even before 1990. I was therefore startled, which is a reflection of my ignorance, by the assertions of Muslim leaders in Kattankudy about 65,000 persons deprived of their lands, for whom no remedial action had been taken. They noted that whole villages had been erased from the map, and that they were now confined to a tiny area – which was practically bursting at the seams, as was clear from the dumping of garbage which the Kattankudy Urban Council is engaged in, with no regard for health or safety or the inevitable destruction of water resources that such squalor will result in.
Participants at the meeting were also particularly indignant that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission had ignored their plight. I wondered about this, given the thorough job the LLRC had done but, in looking next day at the Action Plan, I realized that the despair of the citizens of Kattankudy was understandable. The sole recommendation noted in this regard was to ‘Appoint a special committee to examine durable solutions and formulate a comprehensive State policy on the issue (of Muslim IDPs displaced from the North) after extensive consultations with the IDPs and the host communities’.
The Committee that developed the Action Plan did seem to have recognized the wider dimensions of the problem. They proposed as an activity in this regard that the Presidential Task Force for the North and East (PTF for the N&E) formulate a policy on the issue of Muslim IDPs. However the problem is that, while no such policy has been formulated, and there is no entity that can ensure implementation of such a policy if it is formulated, there is no such thing as a PTF for the North and East.
This is where the practice of this government, of appointing a host of different agencies to do the same thing – perhaps Aristotle would have defined that as another source of injustice, had he lived to see the expansion of government the modern age has engaged in – has come home to roost. No one quite knows what agencies exist or what their powers are or how, if at all, they can coordinate.
The problem is compounded in this case by the uncertainties that still prevail about arrangements to settle problems with regard to land. Such problems were raised also in meetings the previous day in rural Tamil Divisions, emphasizing the need for swift resolution of such issues, as had been recommended in both the National Human Rights Action Plan and the LLRC Action Plan. But there is still no coherence about implementation, despite the best efforts of the Secretary to the Ministry of Lands, whose understanding of the issues involved, as I have noted before, is impressive. But the failure to move on a revised circular as agreed has led to delays, with continuing uncertainty about what regulations are valid. And in any case we need to ensure that amendments to the Prescriptions Ordinance are passed and clear instructions given as to implementation of these.
Meanwhile the Muslims of the East will continue to suffer. They have promised to send me the memorandum they prepared for the LLRC, having assured me – when I told them that generalized complaints were difficult to address – that the dossier contains details of the injustices that should be remedied. The Divisional Secretary told the meeting that he had sent to the Secretariat the names of 4,000 landless persons for allocation of government lands, but if what I was told is correct, government should first address the issue of those who had been deprived of lands they owned or had worked in days of peace.
Over a quarter of a century has passed since conflicts flared up in the East, and the idea of a Tamil speaking homeland – which was understandable given our language policies – was replaced by the fraudulent demands for a traditional Tamil homeland. While dealing sympathetically with the plight of the Tamils who were displaced, we must also at least now give justice to the Muslims deprived of their lands so long ago.