Corruption and abuses in SL IDP camps and lack of a responsible programme – CCFSA

The Concerned Citizens’ Forum of South Asia (CCFSA) that met with the Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna a fortnight ago has come out with a fresh up date on the IDP status in the Vavuniya camps. This new collective the CCFSA has met with the Secretary General, D. Rajah MP of the CPI on Sunday 23 August in Dharmapuree, South India to apprise him of the IDP situation in Sri Lanka.

The new update which follows their Road Map proposal on resettlement and rehabilitation of SL IDPs claims more flagrant abuses of IDPs such as undisclosed detention of youth, land alienation and corruption in IDP camps.

The complete update is as follows.

Concerned Citizens Forum of South Asia

C/O, Indian Social Institute, 24, Benson Road, Benson Town,Bangalore 560046,

Phone : 23537742

The Humanitarian Crisis in Sri Lanka and the Role of the Civil Society of South Asia to Advocate the Cause of the IDPs and the Detainees

Update 1

The Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL) advance into remaining rebel-held territory in the northern Wanni region continued until mid-May, when the final battles were fought in a small strip of land on the north-eastern coast in the District of Mullaitivu. On 18 May 2009 the GoSL announced the end of combat operations, concluding the 26-year long conflict with the separatist movement of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Over 230,000 people fled during the final month of the conflict, joining another 65,000 IDPs who had escaped from the Northern Vanni conflict area between the end of 2008 and mid-April 2009.

The large and sudden influxes have created significant challenges in addressing the overwhelming humanitarian needs of the nearly 285,000 Wanni IDPs1. Government capacities as well as those of humanitarian aid agencies have been strained, particularly in the North-Central district of Vavuniya District, where nearly 262,000 IDPs are currently accommodated. The GoSL is providing significant resources such as land clearing, drainage, electricity, water supply, etc. to assist the displaced populations who are accommodated in IDP camps in Vavuniya, Jaffna, and Trincomalee. UN agencies and dozens of NGOs are providing basic assistance and monitoring needs and gaps in IDP sites. Despite progress in addressing the large-scale needs of the displaced population, the humanitarian response has faced numerous challenges such as: insufficient quantities of suitable land available for IDP camps with appropriate facilities, overcrowding, over-stretched health and education infrastructures, access for humanitarian organisations, staffing capacity of implementing agencies, and checkpoint procedures at Medawachchiya, south of Vavuniya. To rapidly address some of these challenges, the GoSL recently appointed a Major-General to be the Competent Authority with temporary responsibility for coordination, administration and implementation of relief work for IDPs.

There is no doubt that the GoSL has done its best to respond to the humanitarian crisis. But what is disturbing is that what it pronounces and the ground reality are totally different. It is understandable that a country should give priority to its security. But this is to be done at the expense of lives of thousands and millions of people are the cause of concern. Incidentally, the GoSL has announced that it has decimated the rebel LTTE forces. When this is done, why should the people who were victimized both by the army/GoSL and LTTE be made suffer further. The seriousness of the matter can be gauged from this fact that over 300,000 people are kept in ‘welfare villages’ or what has come to be known as open prison or concentration camps. Leave out the journalists and media persons are not allowed to go to Vavuniya and Trincomalee where the camps are. Even the humanitarian aid agencies are not allowed to function in the country. It is a fact that due to UN agencies and humanitarian agencies the people have survived so far. If not for these, most of them would have died. May be those who died in the war are better off than those who survived the war.

Let us highlight some of the data, information and facts and also see what kind of advocacy appeal can be made.

  1. Let the people go back: The GoSL had announced that the IDPs and detainees would be resettled in 180 days. This was welcomed by all. But no one knows when this 180 days begins and when it ends. But the rhetoric of the 180 days continues. Even if this 180 days is a reality there is no plan worked out for this. If there is any plan it is not made public yet. Everyone who has been following the conflict, war and the IDPs are now at a loss as to what would come of it. When the people in the camps are asked what their views are, everyone unanimously say that they want to go back home. These are people who had both agriculture and fishing and lived on their hard labour and were not beggars. Today they are reduced to be beggars to be receiving end of the ngos. Hence, the demand should be that respecting the right to return of the people, it is important to advocate that immediately people be left to go to their original place or the place of their choice.

  1. The monsoon and the devastation of the IDPs and detainees: From September to November is the heavy monsoon season in the northeast of Sri Lanka. The camps are located in places which are low lying and clay mud. Once it rains the entire area is inundated. Even otherwise, the camps are hurriedly prepared by clearing the forests. Hence, there are no road and communication facilities. Only Zone1 or Kathigamam is the camp which has been kept as show piece for dignitaries and diplomats which is constructed somewhat well. The other camps are totally unlivable. Zone 3 and 4 where the people who left Wanni at the end are kept are the most dangerous places to live. The photos showing the effect of pre-monsoon in Vavuniya are the photos of zone 4. It is here that 3 people died due to rain and a child drowned in the toilet. If this is the pre-monsoon tragedy, what would be the real monsoon devastation is anyone’s guess. There seems to be some strong political will to keep the people here so as to eliminate few thousands of them.Hence, the demand is that the people should be left to go to their places or the place of their choice.

  1. Lack of documentation, information, data etc of the IDPs and Detainees: There is total lack of information, data and documentation of the IDPs and detainees. Once in a while the numbers of camps and number of people are made public [Refer Table 1]. But there is no report or record about their actual state of affairs. All these people have become mere numbers for the number game that has been going on in Sri Lanka for decades. What is more depressing is that there was a census taken about the IDPs. The format was named “General Survey on IDSL in Vavuniya District: Ministry of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, April 2009 of Resettlement and Disaster Relief Services, April 2009”. The format is ok with regard to the enumeration of the member of families affected and the documents lost. But this was done in a hurry without advance information about the census. The Government Secretary or GS who is also an IDP was given the task to do this with out support staff. Many people are not even aware of the census. This data would be collated by the GA and would be handed over to the ministry. But in reality this would be given to the army. Hence, it is demanded that a fresh survey of the IDPs and detainees be done with sufficient volunteers trained in this so that actual enumeration of people, damage assessment and documents lost all can be done. This should be done before the people are left free to go back.

Table 1

IDP Site Locations and Capacity as of 28 July 2009

Name of the camp Families Number
Manik Farm School 285 963
Cheddikulam M. V. 522 1,750
Nellukulam M.V. 1,317 2,972
College of Education 1,760 5,605
Saivapirakasa L. College 1,191 3,055
Thandikulam School 318 969
Puthukulam M.V. 605 1,997
Andiyapuliyankulam M.V. 466 1,403
Komarasankulam School 666 2,071
Sooduventhapulayu M.S. 561 2,036
Veerapuram Transit site 1,824 5,469
Manik Farm – Zone 0 Kathirgamar Relief Village 5836 19644
Manik Farm – Zone 1Ananthakumaraswamy R.V. 15816 47080
Manik Farm – Zone 2 Ramanathan R.V. 19416 62623
Manik Farm – Zone 3 Arunachalam R.V. 14933 44285
Manik Farm – Zone 4 12,434 38,102
Manik Farm – Zone 5 1,540 4,992
Sumathipuram 1,750 5,442
Thamarapuram 1,490 5015
Total 82,733 2,55,473

(Data Source – UNHCR Vavuniya)

  1. Family Reunion: Even after 5 months of being in the camps, many families are not reunited with their families. This has added to the woes and worries of the people. People have registered themselves for being reunited with the families. But there is no agency or mechanism to pursue this matter. Many people whose limbs are amputated are lying all alone in the hospitals. Only one positive note is that over 6,000 people above the age of 60 are left to go out of the camps. But what has happened to them is not known to anyone. The GoSL should announce the programme of action for early family reunion and set aside competent authorities to implement this plan.

  1. Non-Issuance of Identity Cards: It is learnt from reliable sources that only 100,000 out of the over 300,000 IDPs have been enrolled in the camps. Out of this only 50,000 have been given the Identity Cards. It is a common phenomenon that without an identity card, the Tamil ethnic people will not be able to live or move about in Sri Lanka. This is all the more crucial to issue identity cards so that the people can go back with legal documents. If this is not done, they would continue to be discriminated and detained at every step. If this is the case with the IDPs what would be the status of the detainees. Hence, it is demanded that the GoSL at the earliest identifies reliable agencies to do this job and ensure the training of civil authorities to accomplish this important task with the support of volunteers in the camps.

  1. Right to speedy and transparent screening of the suspected cadres: It is reported that over 10,400 suspected cadres are kept separately from other IDPs. Out of this there are 1,850 girls who are kept in Pampeimedu Campus. Over 2,360 boys are kept in Gamini Vidyalayam, Vellikulam School, Kovilkulam School, Poonthotam School, College of Education, Mudalaiarkulam School and Pampaikulam Convent School. In the Summary of IDPs made public by the Government Agent of Vavuniya there is no mention of these people. There is no information about the whereabouts of others. It is reported that some of them may be kept in the so-called reform centres in Ambepusa, Pangulam and Mangulam etc. These reform centres are not really reform centres but concentration camps. It is demanded that the names and where about of these people be made public, their parents are permitted to meet them on regular basis, there be speedy and transparent screening of the suspected cadres and release of those who are innocent and trial of those who are suspected to be have been cadres.

  1. Disappearance of People: Youth between the age of 15 to 30 are picked up from the camps regularly. Many of them have been separated from their family members long time ago. Even now youth are picked up by the security forces. It is also a fact that the splinter rebel groups who have become paramilitary groups pick up youth. If they belong to their group, they are released and if not these youth disappear. Moreover, many youth who land in the Colombo airport do not come out. For instance a youth who came from Switzerland on the 12th August and who was to be married on the 19th landed in the airport but never came out of the airport [We are not revealing the name of the boy since his family could be picked up]. His family members are waiting for him even now. There are reports of mass arrests for screening purposes and arrest slips are not always issued. It is demanded that the GoSL should make public all those who are picked up for interrogation and inform the parents and family members.

  1. Tampering with the landholding in the northeast: The GoSL has appointed a committee known as Landholding Redefinition Committee. This committee would examine the land deeds and determine the ownership. There is not a single Tamil in this committee. On 8th August, there was public announcement in Jaffna that all those who own land should re-register their land. This has created panic among people, because for ages people were owners of the land and the land got transferred to next generations and people were not too keen to get the land deeds transferred. But now if the person in whose name the land deed is and if that person is not around the land would be taken by the government. Similarly, the very fertile land of Kilinochi and Mullaithivu are also in the verge of being taken over by the government. It is stated that there was discussion in the government circle, that over 85% of land in this area belonged to the government. The LTTE took over and gave it to people and now the government would take back this land. Hence, it is demanded that this tampering with the landholding and land records be stopped forthwith.

  1. Colonisation of Northeast: There is systematic planning to colonise the northeast. The experiment that began in Trincomalee is now being extended. In Puthukudi Iruppu of Mannar district, another experiment has begun. Over 50 Sinhala families have been brought from elsewhere and settled. These families can go to the sea any time. But the Tamil ethnic group families can not do so. Moreover, among the plans of the government there is a move to relocate in a village 15 Sinhala families, 15 Tamil families and 15 Muslim families. This artificial creation of villages would have serious consequences. The infrastructure development that is being highly talked about is to relocate Sinhala families among the Tamil families so as to continue discrimination. It is demanded that the colonization process be stopped and the government announce the resettlement package.

  1. Denial of Habitation: It is learnt that the GoSL has 3 different plans with regard to the IDPs and detainees. A) Few thousands of people would be resettled in their place of origin. This would be along with others. B) Over 100,000 people would be relocated in different parts of northeast, in those places where these people have no knowledge, relatives, resources, livelihood etc. C) Over, 30,000 families would be permanently kept in the camps. These are families of the suspected cadres or surrendees. This would ultimately result in ethnic cleansing. It is demanded that the GoSL make public its plan for resettlement and do this in a stipulated time.

  1. Lack of Transparency and Lack of Access to Camps: It is learnt that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has no access to the IDP camps. There can be no greater violation of human rights than this. Procedures at Madawachchia are hampering the movement of humanitarian personnel and the provision of humanitarian assistance delivery in the north. But if you can bribe the police and the security personal you can go to anywhere. There is no transparency with regard to directives about visiting the camps. Those who are willing to do relief work on the terms of those who manage the camps are permitted to visit the camps. But when there is a vip visiting the camp or some search is made, no one is allowed to enter the camp. Even with cooked food, agencies are not allowed to enter the camps on those occasions. It is demanded that there be transparency in the directives to meet the IDPs and detainees and also there be free access to the camps.

  1. ICRC denied access to the surrendees/detainees: ICRC was supposed to monitor the screening, detaining and initiating legal process of the surrendees and detainees. But ICRC has no access to these people. It has been asked to leave the country. In the place of ICRC no other organization has been given the task of overseeing this process. It is not clear how long the screening process within camps is being handled and how long it is expected to take. Family separation takes place due to screening. Youth hide when any census is taken. Parents are also scarred and do not enroll their children. This is detrimental to the youth since without registration they would not be allowed to live in Sri Lanka. UNHCR is not provided with a list of persons separated or arrested, including children. The ILO exerted pressure and has worked out “National Framework Proposal on Reintegration of Ex-combatants into Civilian Life in Sri Lanka”. But this is put in back burner by the GoSL. This matter is utmost importance and should be voiced so that some agency is given the clear mandate to oversee the screening and follow up.

  1. Restrictions on movement of IDPs: IDPs are not allowed to leave the camps for any regular activities such as work, shopping, visiting relatives, obtaining civil documents, and education. The system to request permission to leave the camps is very limited and lacks transparency. IDPs are not allowed to receive visitors or receive food, gifts or money from relatives or friends in the camps. IDPs are not allowed to have mobile phones. But by paying exorbitant money, the IDPs can use the mobile of police and army personal to make phone calls. It is demanded that all restrictions be removed and the IDPs be allowed freedom movement with whatever conditions that apply for security reasons.

  1. Specific needs of specific groups like women, children, mentally disturbed and amputees is not addressed at all: It is heart rendering to see that the specific needs of specific groups are not addressed at all even after 4 months of existence of many camps. For instance, there is a woman in zone 4, with 5 small children who have lost the husband. When any supply comes she can not leave the children and come to collect the material. She is afraid that as she lost her husband she would loose her children. So looses out on the relief distribution. These people’s needs are not met. Or no special provisions are made for these people. The officials should be directed to identify the most vulnerable people within the camps and make special provisions for them.

  1. International Standards are not followed: Overcrowding of some sites still persist. Decongestion of overcrowded sites is not being carried out in a systematic manner and information of transfers is not adequately communicated. Health facilities inside camps need improvement especially with respect to waiting times, transfers and triage facilities. This is going to be all the more crucial in the monsoon season. Access issues to camp sites hinder ability to meet all international standards. It appears that the GoSL wants only the money of international agencies and not their solidarity. It is demanded that provision of healthcare, water and sanitation needs improvement in all sites. The need for supplementary food for elderly or medical patients be addressed at the earliest.

  1. Denial of Access to Education: One of the sectors that began to function soon after the people arrived in the camps was education. Due to the commitment of some officials in the education department this was possible. Some of the UN agencies, INGOs and NGOs contributed in this. But due to over crowding, education is affected. For instance, in zone 2, Ramanathan, there are 7,000 students and the temporary sheds are not sufficient to take care of the education of these students. What is more deplorable is that the university students from this area are not attending the university. For instance, the Office of Dean of Faculty of Engineering, University of Peradeniya issued a communication on 10th July giving the name of 6 of its students from Kilinochi district and 7 from Mullaithivu district who have been selected but not attending the classes. But the security personal refused to take up this matter and thus the future of these students and their families is in dark. This issue should be addressed by the officials and efforts should be made to ensure proper education to all.

  1. Orphans and unaccompanied minors: There are thousands of orphans and unaccompanied minors as the result of war and conflict. Some of them have been given to pious organizations who have no idea as to what to do with these children. Finding solutions for unaccompanied minors and separated children is hampered by the restrictions imposed by the Sri Lankan Army/ government to allow humanitarian agencies to deal with tracing and reunification matters. It is demanded that a blueprint be worked out about the present and future of these children and this be made public and appropriate agencies be deputed to take care of these children.

  1. UNHCR’s work made redundant by the GoSL: The works of UNHCR is made redundant by the GoSL by its policies and programmes. Before the elections there was lots of promise of returning the people. But this appears to be election gimmicks. The UNHCR thinking that thousands of families would be returned had prepared 30,000 family packets to be distributed among those who are returning to their homes. This was communicated to the government. But not a single packet was distributed as no family was allowed to go home. Moreover, UNHCR is thinking of winding up its operations in Vavuniya. This is because it is spending 1 million $ per day. It can not go on doing this and thus has planned to wind up its operations. This would lead to death and devastation of people. The GoSL should enable the works of UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies so that these enable in the process of return, relief and resettlement.

  1. Not demining but going after the documents and wealth of LTTE is the priority: The GoSL keeps on saying that unless demining is done, it would not allow the people to go back. There are agencies deputed by the Indian and Japanese governments who are engaged in demining. The Sri Lankan agencies are busy finding our the arms, documents and gold left behind by LTTE. It was reported that some of the gold was presented to the media while most of it has gone to the accounts of the ruling elite. It is demanded that a comprehensive planning for demining be done and wherever the fear of mining is not there, people should be allowed to go.

     Constitute a Truth and Reconciliation Committee: The war crimes and the crimes against humanity that is committed in Sri Lanka is unprecedented. But the fact is that not only the crimes committed during war are worst but the crimes of post-war period are even more severe. Hence, it is demanded that the GoSL should constitute a Truth and Reconciliation Committee and ensure those guilty are punished and justice be done to the affected people. If this is not done by the GoSL, the civil society of South Asia should constitute one.

 

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