One year since the end of war: Sri Lanka’s minorities need justice, security and lasting peace
One year since the war in Sri Lanka ended the situation for ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims remains of concern as communities in the former war-torn areas await justice, security and an opportunity to participate in reconstruction and development of their homeland, Minority Rights Group International says.
While the Sri Lankan government is championing economic development in the country’s former war-torn north and east, including major road and tourism projects, local communities who have been disempowered by war remain marginalised and excluded from the development process.
‘It is imperative that communities are part of any development work that takes place in their traditional homelands. The people have the local knowledge and should enjoy the basic right to have a say in matters that affect them, and the right to development,’ says Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention says.
‘For the first time in nearly three decades minorities in the north and east can live without the fear and insecurity of war. This has to now progress into proper security and human rights guarantees and lead to a lasting peace,’ he adds.
Last month, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s United Peoples Freedom Alliance party won national elections with a huge majority. Rajapaksa has the support of the majority Sinhala community and is in a commanding position to offer minority rights guarantees, to Tamils and Muslims, MRG says.
It is still unknown how many people died in the last stages of the war but estimates are over 20,000. The government says the figure is much lower. In many cases the deaths have not been accounted for, families have not been compensated and without death certificates family members are unable to claim land and other rights, MRG says.
The President has appointed a 8-member commission to look into lessons learnt from the conflict and post-conflict reconciliation, but its exact mandate is vague and unclear. MRG welcomes the Sri Lankan government decision to investigate this issue but is concerned about the impartiality of such a commission.
‘The mandate of the commission appears to be more about investigating the need to go to war than whether international laws were broken in the course of the war, particularly at the latter stages of the fighting,’ Chapman says.
‘There are a lot of people in Sri Lanka who want justice and accountability but the commission appointed by the government is very unlikely to fulfil the country’s current need for reconciliation,’ he adds.
In the last six months there have been efforts to speedily resettle large numbers of displaced persons but over 370,000 remain in camps. There is no clear direction given by the government on the resettlement of the long-term displaced groups, including some 100,000 Muslims. There are also concerns that the resettlement process that is taking place is not happening according to international standards and financial support to families going back home is limited.
‘In some areas people lack basic facilities like toilets. Children have to walk miles to get to a school and there are no medical services nearby. There are very limited employment opportunities,’ Chapman says.
MRG also urges the government to restart negotiations with minority political parties on offering a political autonomy and power sharing package giving minorities the ability to govern the areas they live in.
‘This is an historic opportunity for the new Sri Lankan government to address the grievances of minorities in the country. They should not hesitate to take up the challenge,’ Chapman added.
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Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.