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UN report on minority issues in Sri Lanka concludes release of land is a 'priority'

The report on Sri Lanka by UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye called for the release of the remaining 6,124 acres of land currently under military occupation in the North as "matter of priority". 

“As a matter of priority, the Government must continue and step up the release to the civilian populations of the remaining 6,124 acres of the land currently held by the military in the North as well as other lands and coastal areas occupied by the military. A proper mapping exercise of all the lands currently occupied by the military must take place, and lands currently not in use or whose use cannot be adequately justified for military purposes must be returned without delay to their rightful owners in a condition that is usable. Where private lands have been acquired without due process or compensation, these lands must be returned and/or compensated for,” stated the report. 

This recommendation is fitting with the current context in the North-East, in which mobilisation for land release is ongoing – such as the protests for the release of land in Keppapilavu and the solidarity events that have taken place across the country.

Further, the report recommended that action be taken towards demilitarisation, while also addressing the ethnic and linguistic gaps of police officials.  

“Demilitarisation of the North and East is not only urgent for its practical implications such as the livelihood of the local population, but required for symbolic purposes. With police powers having been transferred back from the army to civilian control, it will be important for the police to reflect the ethnic and linguistic composition of the local population to overcome practical barriers and rebuild trust.” 

In addition, the report discussed the animosity described by representatives in the North-East in terms of the threat of “Sinhalisation” and the construction of Buddhist figures in areas with no Buddhist population. 

“It is clear that the fear of this real or perceived deliberate population change is inherently tied to governance issues, including devolution of powers, but it also illustrates the extent to which the minorities view the Sinhalese majority as a threat to their ethnic, religious, cultural and political identity.” 

The report also examined issues such as governance and political participation, “The sense that minorities are generally excluded from most areas of decision-making and power structures was pervasive.” However, the report commended the government’s efforts to provide a platform for participation through the Consultation Task Force (CTF). Yet, CTF recommendations continue to be disregarded by the government. 

Challenges faced by minority women, linguistic rights, caste and action towards transitional justice are some other factors encompassed in the report.  

The report is reflective of the special rapporteur’s visit to Sri Lanka from October 10th to 20th, 2016 – meeting with several communities in Jaffna, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, Kandy and Colombo. Matters in the report are to be discussed at the current United Nations Human Rights Commission session in Geneva taking place from February 27th to March 24th, 2017.