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Land continues to be perhaps the single most problematic issue at Divisional Secretariat Reconciliation meetings. This is understandable given the complexity of the difficulties, and the number of people affected. That is why the issue is given prominence in the National Human Rights Action Plan, and why the Action Plan on implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission virtually gives it priority.

The Task Force for expediting implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan accordingly had a consultation a couple of weeks back with the participation of all governmental agencies involved. We also had support from the University of Colombo Law Faculty, since I have found the University Human Rights Centre has taken a number of positive initiatives to develop Human Rights awareness and best practices in various areas.

The Consultant who helped to finalize the Action Plan, and who had provided invaluable support at a meeting I had a couple of months back with the energetic Secretary to the Ministry of Lands, also participated. I am awaiting the Minutes they were asked to prepare to go deeper into the issues discussed, but I fear that delay seems endemic even in the most committed, and it is perhaps because I have little else to do that I expect everyone to take action immediately as I try to do.

Meanwhile a bright young Divisional Secretary pointed out another hindrance to settlement of problems that I had not been aware of, and which had not been mentioned in our previous discussions. This arose from the complaints of farmers in his area that they could not cultivate their lands with confidence, since there was no certainty about where boundaries lay. They pointed out that the claims of others might be put forward once they had done the groundwork for cultivation.

I was surprised that Land Officers and the administration in general had not moved swiftly to clarify issues, but the Secretary told me that there was a Gazette Notification of 1989 that precluded reallocation of lands that had been abandoned because of the conflict by those working on them previously. This obviously made sense at the time, since many people had been driven away through no fault of their own, and could not reasonably be expected to return since there was continuing threat of conflict.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

September 2020
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