Saturday, September 03, 2011

Internally Displaced Persons in the Process of Reconciliation: Implications for Durable Solutions

Anuradha Gunarathne and Azmiya Badurdeen
[Anuradha Gunarathna is the National Coordinator of the Project, ‘National Protection and Durable Solutions for Internally Displaced Persons’ – A Project under the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka. Azmiya Badurdeen is an Independent Consultant for projects on Conflict Transformation and Peace-building]


The war in Sri Lanka has resulted in several waves of displacement. This displacement has resulted in complex and often politically sensitive issues around land and property. In some cases, IDPs have occupied land abandoned by those who fled the conflict. Some IDPs have settled in state owned land, while others on private lands. Further, over the years, the IDP sites have grown into village like settlements, where the IDPs have integrated themselves with the local community (Brun 2008 and Shanmugarathnam 2000 and Hasbulla 2001). The statuses of the IDPs on these properties remain unclear and this has led to conflicts with original owners. Usually, returnees face the issue of no land, mainly because it is occupied by the military or other IDPs (Fonseka and Raheem 2010).The challenges concerning the provision of durable solutions for the IDPs are inextricably linked to the reconciliation of the IDPs in the North and the North East of the country.

In this article, a distinction is made between national reconciliation and a reconciliation process aimed exclusively for the IDPs. This distinction remains crucial as processes aimed exclusively at IDPs’ need to look at IDPs as a community with special needs, such as, displacement-specific special needs. In many of these aspects, the focus also falls on individual reconciliation. In this context, individual reconciliation is considered as the ability of each human being to conduct/restore without hate or fear, his/her life to a similar status, which had existed prior to the conflict. This distinction needs to be considered because it is not possible to achieve the national reconciliation without achieving individual reconciliation. This is mainly because, national reconciliation can come at the individual level – although political processes may proceed and progress at an individual level, the individual may find it difficult to deal with the experiences of trauma (Mobekk 2005).

Even though both issues are intertwined, investigating the reconciliation processes on the IDP community as a separate entity is crucial. Usually, it is considered that the national reconciliation is achieved when societal and political processes function and develop without reverting to the previously existing pattern or framework that led to the conflict (Mobbek 2005). Reconciliation processes aimed at IDPs intend to facilitate IDPs’ reintegration into the society.

The Internally Displaced Persons in the Process of Reconciliation

As a durable solution for the displacees, return, relocation or reintegration with minimum standards of living, was proposed. The Government so far, has been able to settle a considerable number of IDPs who lived in Welfare Centres for decades. In this process, facilitating to fulfil their basic needs, they have been provided with minimum standards of living. The Government and other facilitating authorities have succeeded in fulfilling basic needs of the IDPs, yet, the grievances of the IDPs’ remain unchanged. These grievances are personal or common to the community. Studies have shown that the IDPs who have settled in permanent residences with minimum facilities have not resumed their normal lives. They are clouded with varied types of grievances. Unless these grievances are handled properly, a durable solution for their displacement cannot be provided. Hence, it is strongly felt that “reconciliation” should be a compulsory component in the check-list of durable solution for the displaced community.

At this point, many authors identify political renewal as the most important pre-requisite to resolve the conflicts of interests that were partially responsible for the outbreak of the war. At this point, it becomes a necessity to create public and legal institutions that safeguard legal certainty and democratic participation (good governance), investigate human rights violations as well as help to dismantle the apparatus of violence. This also entails construction of housing, infrastructure development and health system facilities. The focus of social renewal should incorporate the establishment of social structures, promotion of social reintegration of the former combatants (the LTTE), and facilitating for the return of the displaced persons.

Legal Framework

The legal framework for the IDPs should be based on the universally recognized principles of international law and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (GPID). The GPID states that IDPs are "persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border" (United Nations, 2004).

The responsibility of the IDPs lies with the national governments. As IDPs reside within the borders of their own countries, and are under the jurisdiction of their governments, primary responsibility for meeting their protection and assistance needs rests with their national boundaries (Addressing Internal Displacement: A Framework for National Responsibility, 2005). Further, people are displaced because of the context of the state, and it is a moral obligation of the state to provide for the necessities of the IDPs.

IDPs are particularly vulnerable and need protection because: they may be transits from one place to another, may be in hiding, may be forced toward unhealthy or inhospitable environments, the social organization of displaced communities may have been destroyed or damaged by the act of physical displacement, psychosocial distress related to displacement, removal from sources of income and livelihood, schooling disrupted, the conditions of internal displacement may raise the suspicions of or lead to abuse by armed combatants or other parties to the conflict and also IDPs may lack identity documents essential to receive benefits or legal recognition(IDMC 2009 and Kalin 2008).

According to Article 3 of GPID, “National authorities have the primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to IDPs within their jurisdiction”. It expresses that the rights of IDPs have to be guaranteed by the stakeholders who make policies in return, and takes measures pertaining to relocation and integration. Moreover, it also encourages the IDPs to take part in decision-making activities and empowers them to take steps that lead to durable solutions which would be sustainable. The state is responsible to provide equal protection to all IDPs, yet the persons displaced due to the disasters are unable to enjoy certain rights and certain benefits that have been assigned under the existing laws, and they are also subjected to certain impediments and disadvantages as a result of their inability to comply with certain existing legal requirements. The laws, norms and regulations that have been enacted by the Parliament of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka are sufficient to ensure the protection and safeguarding of the IDPs rights and privileges. By the 3rd and 4th Chapters of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, respectively, the Fundamental Rights and Language Rights have been guaranteed. Moreover, the Resettlement Authority Act, No. 09 of 2007 of Sri Lanka, which was established with the objective of Resettlement or Relocation of IDPs in a safe and dignified manner. The act also had the objective of facilitating resettlement/ relocation of IDPs and refugees in order to rehabilitate and assist them to enter the development process (Article 13, Resettlement Authority act No. 09 of 2007 of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka).

Durable solutions for returnees depend not only on the improvement of the security situation, but also on better livelihoods opportunities. This is true as in the case of integration or relocation. This puts forth the view of reconstruction as being a priority after conflict, for return or integration of the IDPs. Nevertheless, the end of a war has created a platform for many IDPs to return to their origins. A series of issues are to be confronted in this context regarding the return to their origins, or relocating them in another place or whether it is to integrate them in their present location of displacement.

The Role of the Government in the Reconciliation Process

The national and regional structure of the Government facilitates the protection of conflict victims. For instance, the National Child Protection Authority has Psychosocial Officers and the District Coordinators for the purpose of protecting children in every district. For the IDPs it has Ministries such as Disaster Management, Resettlement, Relief and reintegration. All the Divisional Secretariats have Women Development Officers, Youth Service Officers, Social Service Officers, and Child Rights Promotion Officers. They are responsible for the protection and development of the vulnerable populations. Women and Children Desk/s of the Police stations are especially established for the protection of women and children. In the IDP areas, the District Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Secretary is the focal point for all IDP related issues and activities. Moreover, the service providing agencies such as; Vocational Training Authority, Coconut Board, Palmyra Board and etc are the agencies which belong to the government for the purpose of providing services specially aimed at livelihood. The Independent Human Rights Commission investigates and inquires complains on violation of fundamental rights. Through this potential structure, it is easy to rebuild the lives of victims of conflicts. The need is for the proper implementation of these government systems. That will address the civil, political, social, cultural and economical rights of the IDPs.

The Role of NGOs in the Reconciliation Process

NGOs play a vital role in the development context of the country and have the immense potential in the aspect of reintegration and reconciliation for the IDPs. The role of NGOs as unofficial intermediaries is highlighted in their role as mediators, facilitators and in empowering, advocacy and economic and social activities (Rouhana 1995).

The Need of the Reconciliation Process to Take a Religious and Cultural Perspective

The role played by religion can be vital in the process of reconciliation. The core values of all religions can help in bringing out values of; truth, forgiveness, equality, kindness and etc, can foster relationships and facilitate the reconciliation process (Montville 2001). Studies like H. Assefa (2001) have shown the impact religion can have in reconciliation process where people could find a spiritual connection to enter into a dialogue. This spiritual dimension allows them to move beyond the competitive and legalistic discussions and get to the core of the problems.


The key conditions for the sustainability of returnees are creation of employment opportunities, housing, access to public and social services, and education. If access to basic necessities is not available, this might lead to a resultant failure of the reintegration process (Black and Gent 2006). Rebuilding trust between communities is essential to reintegrate the displaced who had fled from their homes during the peak of the war. Some of the returnees say that the main problem confronting them is the adaptation to their new environment. The returnees get struck with the feeling that their surrounding is not what it used to be as they experienced it years ago. However, this is a natural context related to adaptations after war, which occurs when there has been severe destruction and when new neighbours have occupied the neighbouring lands. Hence, reintegration and reconciliation must be accompanied by better living standards for everyone - this includes both the returnees and the other communities living in their locality.


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