Centre for Policy Alternatives on 14 May, 2011

Commentary on Returns, Resettlement and Land Issues in the North of Sri Lanka

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The North and East of Sri Lanka were the worst affected provinces during the ethnic conflict. Both areas witnessed death, destruction and displacement and are presently going through phases of rebuilding, reconstruction and development. Although Sri Lanka has faced numerous disasters and crises, both man made and natural, and experienced several phases of return, resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction with the conflict and tsunami, this paper highlights that there are shortcomings in the planning and response to disasters, which are repeated multiple times.

A key issue highlighted in the paper is how the Government and other stakeholders handle return and resettlement. According to international standards, the term return is used to imply the return to one’s home and land. Resettlement on the other hand is generally used to mean being located to a place other than one’s place of origin. The Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement differentiates the two terms. Principle 28 provides for internally displaced persons (IDPs) “to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country.” In the Sri Lankan context many Government officials use the terms ‘return’ and ‘resettlement’ interchangeably without much thought to what this means in accordance with international standards. This has resulted in a situation where upon returning to the district of origin, regardless of whether a person has returned to one’s own home and land, there is an assumption that return is complete. This paper demonstrates that this use of terms results in a misrepresentation of ground realities. It stems from a deliberate political decision to demonstrate the significant decrease of IDPs in camps and the supposed transition of the ground situation from the humanitarian to the developmental.

Addressing grievances of all citizens of Sri Lanka and giving special attention to the minorities and affected communities is essential for genuine reconciliation and moving forward after a bloody conflict. The inability or unwillingness to address these issues immediately may lead to the possible scenario of discontent among the communities and future disputes. If not addressed, it will continue to discriminate a community that has borne the brunt of the conflict. It is therefore crucial that the Government, United Nations (UN), International and National Organisations (I/NGOs), donors and others take immediate steps to address the discrepancies and obstacles for a voluntary and informed return in line with international and national standards and for durable solutions for those returning.

Download the report here.

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