Thursday, June 30, 2011

In this issue of the Refugee Watch Online, we decided not to focus on the experience of any particular country. Instead, the accent in this issue is on mixed experiences of forced migration and several causative and resultant factors. We have two articles under the Perspective section. One concerns the environment and politics of displacement; the other displaced women’s adjustments to situations post return.

Dilip Gogoi in his article talks about the way construction of dams has been presented as the national development agendas despite the fact that such an agenda systematically excluded others who did not subscribe to the Nehruvian model. The he takes a glance at how big dams will have serious implication on the cultural bonds that the Arunachali tribes maintain. But, the challenge towards contesting such vehement resource use lies in understanding how marginal landscapes are integrated into a nationalist dream of integrating frontier space. The logic of resource exploration to propel the national economy is linked to the very process of the production of capital. Beyond the ecological consequences of mega projects, question of displacement of local communities, the cultural diversity of the local region presents unique challenge to the production of capital. Thus the latter would have a ruinous effect on the very societal bases of the region.

The second article, by Pakkeer Mohideen Mohamed Feroz, a human rights worker in Sri Lanka, talks about the post return challenges faced by women in the erstwhile conflict zones. The women who were living in camps or return areas, their position in Sri Lankan society is extremely vulnerable because they are dependent on the state and humanitarian agencies, with little ability to determine the course of their own lives. He lists all the different reasons due to which adjustment becomes difficult and shows that the root often lies in the reason of displacement itself. Each new causative factor shapes its victims in a way much different from other factors.

The News section has entries on HIV/AIDS, and armed non state actors in Burma and their roles in society. For the Reports section we have excerpts from reportage by Bhavani Fonseka and Mirak Rahim on settlement of the land question in the eastern province of Sri Lanka.

On our part, we hope the issue is worthwhile. We heartily welcome comments and suggestions.

To Deal with HIV/AIDS

Sangbida Lahiri
[Calcutta Research Group]

It is often questioned why the risks of HIV transmissions are increasing among the forced migrant communities, especially in the third world countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri-Lanka, Burma or the countries in Central and Southeast Asia? Several scholars and field researchers point out a few significant things which played an important epidemiological role in transmission of HIV among the migrants of these regions. Since the period of decolonization, these countries were the poor victim of partition. After partition they had dealt several civil wars or insurgencies within their territory. The partitions, civil wars, and insurgencies—all such social and political turmoil created a huge number of refugees and internally displaced persons across the region.

According to Nafis Sadik, some types of conflict or displacement have brought much more particular risks of HIV infection. For example, long years of refugee camp life and lack of employment or recreational opportunities have contributed to intravenous drug use in Afghanistan and Pakistan border areas; this is a driving factor in the epidemic in these countries just as it is in Central Asia. The destitution of Burmese refugees in Thailand has led to widespread ‘survival sex’ which has driven the infection in that sub-region. The sexual violence used as a weapon of war in Timor Leste, Central Asia, Sri Lanka and other conflicts has undoubtedly increased HIV risks. And although it is often not considered an armed political conflict, the horrific levels of social and interpersonal violence in Papua New Guinea are also thought to be important factors in the epidemic there.

The Asian region is a natural disaster-prone zone; especially floods and earthquakes occur frequently here. In many places, such as Pakistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, populations have suffered both conflict- and disaster-related devastation. In addition to the trauma of the disaster and the difficulties of living in temporary shelter, the loss of livelihoods and assets accompanying natural disasters can affect families and communities for years, leaving them destitute and vulnerable to sexual exploitation or even trafficking. The provision of HIV education and basic prevention measures, including condom distribution, are part of the minimum standards for humanitarian response which cannot be implemented due to resource constraints, or stigmatisation, or both.

Thailand and India were among the first countries to recognise the need to provide comprehensive HIV prevention programmes within the security sector (national militaries, police and other uniformed services). The Thais, as in so many other aspects of HIV prevention, pioneered peer education and condom distribution programmes for uniformed services. The MAITRI programme in India was one of the first programmes established to support military families and dependents, not just individual members of the military, with comprehensive health and HIV education and counselling as well as other social support.

With the support of UNAIDs, UNFPA and others over recent years, there has been good progress in the region among national uniformed services, groups. Since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1308 on HIV/AIDS in 2000, the UN has established HIV prevention programmes in all peacekeeping missions. Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have taken a major role in the HIV prevention programmes of peacekeeping missions.

For further information refer to

Armed Non-State Actors, Conflict and Displacement

Sangbida Lahiri

It is well known to us that Burma has been a ground for conflicts and insurgencies since the intervention of British into it. Once started, the situation in Burma never became completely peaceful even after the country attained independence. Conflict remained among the myriad ethnic tribes and it produced a huge displacement of people. A large number of people displaced internally, many sought refuge in the neighbouring countries. Experts believe the government of Burma is not at all concerned about the affected civilians.

As a result, Burma’s ethnic non-state armed groups (NSAGs) – believed to hold territory covering a quarter of the country’s landmass – play a crucial role as protectors and providers of humanitarian aid. The approach to governance taken by different NSAGs varies greatly, as does the level of willing support given to them by their respective populations. In these traditional cultures, hierarchical leadership structures have evolved over time, often based largely on loyalty to those who provide support and protection.

Areas under the governance of NSAGs in Burma can be divided into what are known as the ‘black areas’ of active armed groups and the ‘ceasefire territories’ of those who made agreements with the national government over 15 years ago. These areas are collectively home to millions of civilians, many of whom fled areas of conflict or martial law to find refuge and humanitarian support. In many of these areas, education, healthcare, support for youth and women as well as emergency relief are provided by the NSAGs’ civil sectors, in most cases to a much higher standard than that provided by the state in nearby regions. Community workers supporting these projects, however, are heavily restricted and regularly attacked and arrested by Burma Army soldiers. Internally Displaced Persons who have fled to the ‘black areas’ are typically considered by the state to be supporters of the rebels and are under continuous threat of violence.

The elections held in November 2010 were as corrupt as most people expected and set continued military rule in stone. However, parallel to this, many foreign donors and governments have noted the military loosening its grip on civil society, opening up an unprecedented amount of space for humanitarian support and development. Parallel to this, however, all NSAGs have been ordered to incorporate their members into the Burma Army as ‘border-guard forces’, triggering a new series of threats to civilian communities and little hope for reconciliation between the military and NSAGs or their civil sectors.

There is a glimmer of hope in that there are some NSAG civil society groups that have been able to operate in government territory in recent years. The education branch of at least one of the more responsible ceasefire groups now provides support for primary schools in government-controlled areas through the monasteries. Ominously, offices of the Kachin Independence Organisation and the New Mon State Party have already been shut down in government territory and in early 2010 numerous youth workers of the former organisation were arrested, supposedly as part of a search for terrorist bombers.

NSAGs will remain critical to the provision of support to considerable numbers of IDPs in Burma, unless the government changes its approach to governance in these regions. Most IDPs and other civilians will continue to choose to live under the governance of NSAGs; and will remain dependent on international support. Steps to encourage a convergence of ideas and resources among legitimate civil society and groups linked to NSAGs should be, and could become, critical to the future peace and development of these regions, yet offer few solutions to the current displacement crisis.

For further information, refer to

A Deportee I am, should I DREAM?

Geetisha Dasgupta
[Binghamton University]

Along the bundles of international borders that surround us, a wave of fear is ceaselessly circulated. It is called the fear of deportation. Not all people are able to remain in their own countries. Not all people that migrate have papers that prove their credentials to check posts. Not all papers are equal.

Every year a few hundred thousand people of South American origin are deported from the United States of America. Of them, many are children, termed in the immigration registers as alien minors. Needless to mention, to steer clear of being deported, countless numbers stay in anonymity, change their addresses several times over, and most dangerously, live inside the territory of the USA without any substantial social security papers, which means not having access to any security, health, education and financial services.

In 2001 a legislative proposal was introduced in the US Senate in order to address the issue of so called illegal minor aliens kept away from the basic provisions of life required for attaining adulthood; and not getting absorbed into the allies of darkness that underline the colour boundaries within the territory of a country. This proposal is called the DREAM Act. DREAM is the acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. This bill would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal alien students who graduate from US high schools, who are of good moral character, arrived in the U.S. legally or illegally as minors, and have been in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill's enactment. If they were to complete two years in the military or two years at a four year institution of higher learning, the students would obtain temporary residency for a six year period.

Questions do arise from the way the proposal has been defined. But what becomes most interesting is that, the proposal has been revived again in 2011 after being repeatedly silenced for a decade. This needs to be contextualized, and the big economic crisis becomes the necessary pinch of salt. Under pressure to find out ways of augmenting the state revenue the illegal now look like a resource hitherto untapped by taxation. In a December 2010 report, the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the November 30th, 2010 version of the DREAM act would "reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2020 period and increase government revenues by $2.3 billion over the next 10 years." The same report, however, stresses that the Act '"would increase projected deficits by more than $5 billion in at least one of the four consecutive 10-year periods starting in 2021.”

Potential deportees were hopeful till the Act was defeated in the Senate in December 2010. Several felt that their dreams have been upended. In an interview to the New York Times, Isabel Castillo says, “At least now, I can mention my full name to a reporter and not ask her to pardon my anonymity…I can afford to publish a full frontal photograph and not plead to be photographed only from a certain angle that does not reveal my identity….” She has stood face to face with several Virginia politicians who want to see an immigration crackdown and told them her status, and yet no one has turned her in. Indeed, they’ve been respectful and friendly. Last summer, at a town-hall-style meeting, she had a long exchange with the governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, and a Republican pushing for tougher deportation policies. In January 2011, she testified before a House of Delegates subcommittee full of legislators who wanted to expand police power to round up illegal immigrants. Castillo was brought to Virginia at the age of six years and then went on to attend college. She says she cried when the motion was defeated. She graduated with very high grades, yet must work as a waitress because the absence of social security papers disallow her from applying to jobs that she thinks herself better suited for. She, like thousands of her comrades, keeps pushing the envelope, trying to bring about a big change by stringing together small twists and turns and can be possible every day.

She has reason to be hopeful again: the act has been reintroduced in May 2011.
For further reading, refer to

Political Ecology of Big Dams in India’s North-East Frontier: Emerging Critical Issues and Environmental Concerns

Dilip Gogoi
[Is an Assistant Professor in Political Science, Cotton College, Guwahati]

Dams, development and nationalism have historically evolved as potential agendas for nation building since 1950. The Nehruvian modernization dream was to transform agrarian India into a powerful industrialised nation based on scientific temperament. In the post 1990, these dreams have been more enthusiastically pursued to engulf our frontiers and borderlands as potential sites for the experimentation of modernity. Sanjib Baruah in one of his papers terms this as a process of ‘nationalizing frontier space’. The era of protected regime till the 1980 had a strong policy towards restricting mega structures to the core or mainland. The obvious reflection can be seen in Punjab, J&K and the North Eastern part of the country where big dams and heavy industries were not planned because of the regions proximity to hostile neighbours. In the post 1990 period one of the single determinant of India’s growth has been dragged by an acute power shortage. The growth of Indian economy is dependent on harnessing power from all potential sources. Hydro-power in this regards has emerged as a viable compliment to hydrocarbons, Coal, as a clean energy source and the Brahmaputra River basin its largest repository. Before the liberalization era power prospecting and harnessing was monopolised by public sector companies, however with the deregulation of this sector private players have conglomerated to harness more and more power. There is a spate of Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with different hill states. In the North East India, Arunachal Pradesh has the most vibrant potential to generate hydro power. However, the innumerable network of dams that are proposed for the different river basins in Arunachal Pradesh, do not only threaten displacement that are projected to be small as compared to their counterparts in Narmada and Tehri, but will have more complex outcomes as the communities in the states are innumerable, small in size and heterogeneous.

Big dams will have serious implication on the cultural bonds that the Arunachali tribes maintain. But, the challenge towards contesting such vehement resource use lies in understanding how marginal landscapes are integrated into a nationalist dream of integrating frontier space. The logic of resource exploration to propel the national economy is linked to the very process of the production of capital. Beyond the ecological consequences of mega projects, question of displacement of local communities, the cultural diversity of the local region presents unique challenge to the production of capital. Dam construction in recent years has invited lot of controversy. Lack of comprehensive EIA and project planning threatens local biodiversity and has tremendous downstream and upstream upheaval affecting livelihood and aquatic life. Poor EIA appraisal has already led to unwanted deluge in the lower riparian areas of Assam. Beyond these obvious imperatives of damming fast flowing Himalayan tributaries, the location of these dams in highly sensitive seismic zone hinges the danger of flash floods in the event of a dam burst triggered by earthquake tremors. Underscoring the geo-ecological sensitiveness of the region, dam building is promoted as the most important developmental goal for the Himalayan state and the north-eastern region in particular. The Power Grid Corporation of India is one power sector player that has integrated the regions power potential with the nation. This mean the power produced here will be transmitted to other parts of the country to server the deficit regions. It strongly permeates the philosophy, the Nehruvian idea of development that marginal communities should pay for the development of a nation. Big Dams do not only represent states resourcefulness they also generate a sense of nationalism. This paper looks into not only the traditional challenges posed by big dams and but also tries to look into the other challenges, posed by ideas of modernization, developmentalities and privatization of resource use. What are the stakes of the local community? Here it will also be interesting to see how the neo-Nehruvian dream of calling to duty the marginalised people of the periphery are negotiated by local elites who act as brokers in bridging nexus with corporate interest in power projects.

State of Northeast Today

The north eastern region, which comprises eight Indian states , is connected with mainland India through a narrow corridor of land and , it has some unique features which sets it apart from the rest of the Indian landmass. The geo-strategic location of the North east region is also unique as it is surrounded by China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. The contemporary NE India is witnessing grave challenges: from within – contested ethnicities and complex historicity, from external environment – especially from Bangladesh, China and Myanmar and finally from the Indian state in context of not granting sufficient autonomy, regional underdevelopment and disparity which is responsible for the instability in present day NE India. There is a growing tension between the center and the people of the periphery regions due to the predominance of the center in certain matters and also due to the negligence towards the region which resulted in widespread unrest and insurgency and people’s discontent in the region.

The area has a rich natural resource base and the potential to emerge as a developed region. However due to the lack of effective strategies and will on the part of the Indian state and the on-going armed insurgency, the region has lagged behind the rest of the developed areas of the country. among the people there is a perceived notion that New Delhi is treating NE India as a “neo-colony” within India the way the British did with the region. There are several popular uprisings against this attitude of the center the most recent being in the context of the anti-dam uprisings hugely protesting against the construction of mega dams in ecologically and seismologically sensitive zone.

Projecting NE as India’s Future Power House

As India has a highly centralized planning process which is a conventional top down model, it identifies north east India as future power house considering its vast potential of hydroelectricity generation. India in order to keep up the development pace and growth India needs power. As India is witnessing several resistance movements against dams in various parts of India, northeastern region is an easy catch because of its —strategic location, vast potential for power generation and relatively low level of population density in comparison to other parts of India. In 2001 the Central Electricity Authority has done a preliminary study of the hydroelectric potential of the various Indian rivers. It has identified 168 prospective projects in the Brahmaputra Basin alone, which could generate more than 60,000 mw of hydel power.

On the basis of this report, GOI and Arunachal Pradesh Govt decided to initiate both medium and large dams through memorandums with the both Public Sector Power Company as well as private sector power companies. Accordingly, large dams are being constructed in many parts of ecologically sensitive zones of Arunachal Pradesh including 2000 MW Lower Subansiri Dam without addressing the serious people’s concerns and proper downstream impact assessment. It generate considerable debates and invites popular resistance movement from the local people and the civil society specially in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh by the students bodies Such as AASU and KMSS. The expert committee, consist of IIT, Guwahati, Gauhati University and Dibrugarh University , in its reports raised serious concerns and faulty design of the lower Subansiri project .The Assam Assembly House committee report also showed similar view and suggested without comprehensive downstream impact assessment study and addressing the genuine grievances of people , there should not be construction of large dam , particularly lower Subansiri dam.

However, GOI is continuing the same stand without addressing the genuine apprehensions and risks involved in the mega dam construction in the region in the name of national interest. Recent debates and reports also suggest that while initiating the project, the concerned authorities have overlooked the probable impacts and did not conduct any comprehensive study including that on the downstream impacts as well on the ecological consequences. This raises the serious flaw of mega-project execution and brings to the forefront the ulterior motives behind the construction of mega dams, which goes against the people and the environment.

Social and Environmental Cost

In India, construction of hydroelectric projects needs mandatory environmental clearances from the Ministry of Environment and the Forest, GOI, to review the feasibility on environmental and social grounds. Based on their specific locations they could also require other permissions such as – forest clearance from MoEF and approval from the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) if protected areas (PAs) are involved. An important part of the clearance process is Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report which is a very crucial document in terms of decision making. However, EIA reports revealed insufficient and faulty study in the context of mega hydel projects specially – Kameng. Lower Subansiri, Middle Siang, Tipaimukh and Dibang. All of them without exception, very poorly highlighted the area of conservation of wildlife and critical ecology of the region .This is particularly very important as two out of three bio-diversity hotspots of India pass through the north east – the Himalayas and the Indo- Burma region. However quite interestingly this area is poorly documented and in the recent years biologists have discovered many new species as well as range extension of existing ones in the region.

In specific context of the Lower Subansiri Hydel Project it needs to be realized that it is situated at a highly susceptible environmental location, which has an extremely sensitive ecosystem and above all this it is a part of the Tally Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, known for inter-border diversity. It is also one of the 25 richest bio-diversity hotspots of the world. The region is also affluent in terms of ornithology as the Bird Life International has identified two Endemic Bird Areas in this region.

The region is immensely rich in terms of forest cover as it experiences a very high average rainfall rate which is conducive for the growth of thick vegetation. Besides sporting thick forest and a wide range of bird this area also houses an assortment of animals which are endangered. Examples of such species would be – Great Pied Hornbill, Himalayan Black Bear, Golden Cat, Hill Mayna, Flying Squirrels, and Wild Hog etc. certain varieties of flora and fauna have already been marked as risk species. The National Forest Policy of the country also states that forest which clothes steep slopes, catchments of rivers, lakes and reservoirs and geologically unstable terrain and other such ecologically sensitive areas should be severely restricted. Tropical rain/moist forests particularly in areas such as Arunachal Pradesh, Kerela, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands should be totally safeguarded.

Field survey has revealed that the large scale mining and construction work has had a serious impact on the river flow by increasing the sedimentation. Muddy water and wide-ranging deforestation has resulted in acute land, water and air pollution in this ecologically sensitive zone located at the foothills of the Himalayas in the backdrop of an inadequate knowledge base. Critical concerns such as land degradation, forest land acquisition, generation of muck, increase in turbidity of water, water pollution due to various project activities and sewage disposal, cutting of trees, destruction of wildlife habitat, increased air pollution and most importantly displacement of local village people are witnessed from the project area. Besides all this one most imperative feature which totally goes against the construction of dams in this part of the country is that, this area is a seismic zone as it falls in Seismic Zone – V and thus is highly prone to destructive earthquakes like that of 1950 and periodic occurrence of earthquake in the region. Environmentalists, experts stressed on this vulnerability of the region and its devastative consequences. High pressure of water or a massive earthquake or even a major landslide could increase the flow of the river during monsoon and thus cause a havoc in the lower part of the project area which has thickly populated towns and villages. And this might also have adverse effects on the world heritage site Kaziranga and the much prized possession of the region, the largest river island of the world, Majuli.

Another serious concern is the displacement of the indigenous people, in the downstream area, the violation of their community rights and their livelihood and the issue of their resettlement and rehabilitation. These issues are perceived as grave because community rights are linked to the sources of livelihood of these people living in the lap of nature, specially the Mising community in Assam. The river and its resources are an integral part of the lives of these people living in and around the river; hence inaccessibility to the river and its resources poses as a hindrance in the running of their daily lives. Apart from the downstream people’s livelihood is also at stake, because they primarily rely on natural ecology for their agriculture and other livelihood sources. Hence, probable apprehensions such as large-scale displacement as well as sense of insecurity and environmental consequences cannot be ignored.

Politics behind the Mega Dams in the North East

There is a lot going on in as far as the construction of dams is concerned. The issue is not just one, but many matters entangled with one another. Within this major issue there are many sub-issues which are a matter of concern. The Government of India had adopted a neo liberal policy which is capital intensive and people insensitive. Thus this development through dams is regarded by many as anti-people which is solely focused on benefiting the government. The issue becomes further more crucial because it deals with the northeastern part of India. The northeast is projected as potential power house due to the fact that the GOI is offered strong counter resistance for its development projects in other parts of the country. It has also a strategic dimension as China frequently claims Arunachal as a part of Chinese territory and also China is building a dam in the upstream area. The origin of the Brahmaputra and most other rivers is in the Chinese territory and they flow through Arunachal and Assam of India and finally touch Bangladesh. Hence three countries are involved, thus the strategic importance of the rivers is by large enhanced. Inside India again these rivers by and large pass through two or more states and hence can be characterised as inter-state rivers. And thus unfortunately, the downstream states like Assam are completely ignored in the context of both policy making and shared benefits.

In the context of the proposed mega power project, the plans are also perceived by the local people as essentially neo-colonial in nature because GOI is not addressing local genuine concerns and is bypassing the people’s interests in the name of national growth. Hence critics argue that it ignores the very foundation of equitable justice. The proposed power distribution centre for the project has been fixed outside the region which also causes centre-periphery dilemma as the people at the periphery perceive that the GOI is pursuing a neo-colonial policy bypassing local interests. Also, because of the popular resistance movements spear headed by AASU and KMSS, are fully supported by the civil society including eminent activists like Medha Patkar, the movement is gaining momentum but GOI seems adamant and is sticking to it neo-liberal agenda.

Towards Environmental Security and Sustainable Development

To come to a solution on this issue is a rather critical exercise, as it would require a reconciliation of many critical dimensions of the issue. What is required as of now, that is in the immediate context of mega dam construction is --- identifying the critical environmental concerns through a comprehensive environmental impact study covering all the proposed dams in the region including the Lower Subansiri Hydel Project. As a mere project specific study does not suffice and does not provide a holistic picture of anticipated impacts, hence a comprehensive study is the need of the hour. Secondly it is equally important to address the people’s concerns in a more apposite manner. The Government should keep in mind that development is definitely a priority; we need development for sure, but development for whom? Are the people right? Hence if a development project itself becomes the cause of anxiety for a people that what good is such development?

Thirdly, there should be Permanent Liability Act, back by proper rule of law in order to effectively address the people’s genuine concerns like alternate livelihood, resettlement and rehabilitation of the displaces in case of construction of such big dams. Such an act is imperative because only then will the misery and the woes of the displacees and the sufferers be properly addressed. Projects like mega dams can seriously alter and affect the lives as well as the patterns and sources of livelihood of the indigenous communities who rely to a great extent on community resources like river, land etc. only a Parliamentary legislation can protect their indigenous and human rights and put an end to such grievances of the lot who suffer in the name of such parochial development. Fourthly, there should be initiatives on behalf of the Regional water resource authority for utilizing natural water of north east India with a sustainable approach as these are interstate rivers. This can also provide some kind of a gradual solution to the proper use of water for power generation etc.

What is needed is a coming together of development, sustainability and people’s progress. In brief we need development which is sustainable and people sensitive. An approach which brings development parallel to environment and which also does not overlook the convenience of the people concerned. Therefore the linking of local needs with nation building needs a more amicable cooperative federal approach rather than absolutist central approach.

We as people of the 21st century should be foresighted. We need to think not only about our survival and development but also about the sustainability and development of the future generations, of the people who are yet to come. Hence our approach should be one which is based on --moving ahead on the pattern of -- thinking globally acting locally and living ecologically. Sustainable development, that is, accessing nature sustainably without destroying the needs of the future generations, should be our goal.

Post Return Vulnerabilities among the Displaced Women in Sri Lanka

Pakkeer Mohideen Mohamed Feroz
[Works at the Human Rights Centre for Social Justice, Sri Lanka]


The protracted armed conflict in Sri Lanka between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in May 2009. The massive displacement of the population in the north of the country which took place in the final stages of the war, nearly 684,276 people have experience in displacement as IDPs, refugees, asylum seekers. Significant numbers of the people who were allowed to return to their areas of origin in late 2009 from the IDP camps in north and east. In western Sri Lanka, over 70,000 Muslim IDPs remained in displacement in Puttalam. 20 years after being forced out of the north and north-west by the LTTE in 1990. According to the government between 8,000 and 10,000 have returned; Many still faced poverty and difficult living conditions. With the end of conflict, the older generation of IDPs was keen to return but the younger generation, which had not known life outside the camps and the region, was uncertain about this option. The women who were living in IDP’s camps or return areas, their position in Sri Lankan society is extremely vulnerable because they are dependent on the state and humanitarian agencies, with little ability to determine the course of their own lives.

Causes and Consequences of Vulnerabilities

Armed Conflict: The armed conflict affected women and men differently. Men were the main casualties of the war. Of the survivors, women were the most affected by the loss of family members, death and disappearance of income earners, migration of young men and displacement. All women were affected by the conflict though they experienced different effects based on their ethnicity, location, class and socio-economic status.

Women’s physical mobility was restricted during the conflict. And the war has resulted in large numbers of female-headed households where women have to carry out the farming and fishing activities and support parents and children. Poverty and hardship have been increased among the women.

Displacement: A large majority of the women were living in camps and return villages in Sri Lanka have lived in displacement for 10 years or more under conditions in which basic dignity and fundamental rights are merely ideals. Also the ability of women to freely make decisions about their own best interests has been curtailed nearly completely. Privacy is difficult to obtain even for toileting and bathing even after the return. The Muslims evicted from the North were living as displaced persons in other parts of the country, some on their own and some in welfare camps, some were returned to their place of origin after 20 years. Sinhalese women and their families fled the conflict areas to the South, all of the displaced either having lost their spouses or children or livelihoods; Women’s responsibilities increased in the absence of income sources. Poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, sexual abuse, and domestic violence are widespread in the return areas. Due to cultural and social factors the victims are fear to report it or hide the abuses; it makes them more vulnerable even in post conflict situations. Even though, there are lacks of data available in this regard, it could be observed that more number of victims get treatment from the hospital in case of serious (for instant it could be observed in Batticaloa Teaching Hospital). The Refugees who returned Sri Lanka from India are helpless to rebuild their life after return beyond the end of war. The refugee women are more vulnerable while they lost their spouse, family members during flee by sea.

Loss of Income Source: Rural women’s lives are tied to the natural resource base. Collapse of the agricultural sector during the conflict impoverished rural women and their families.

For instant the people from Keerisuddan return village of Mannar District had half acre land which was provided by the government with land permit, under the settlement programme in 1977/78. It was highland crop lands and the people were engaging in crop cultivation, livestock activities and poultry, home gardening and wage laboring during the harvesting in suburb villages before the displacement. After the return, they lost all the income resources, now depending on dry ration for food for survival. Each family of the 35 families who are presently living in the village were provided Rs. 35,000.00 valuable livelihoods supportive items such as sewing machine, water pump, knife and axe by a NGO function under the Madhu Church. The women headed families mentioned that the dry ration will be stopped in coming end of April 2011, after that they will face difficulties getting food for their survival.

Women have limited livelihood options in return villages. Although their main occupation was home gardening and high land crop cultivation, inadequate profits and risk of crop failure made livestock rearing preferable. Except for preparation of cooked food and a few other income-generating activities such as dress making, women had few skills for self-employment activities. Lack of employment opportunities compel many women to depend on government and nongovernmental relief while Muslim women, especially from the welfare camps, increasingly looked to overseas contract employment as a survival strategy. Further, it could be seen that presently women were engaged in domestic workers for low wage.

The women were paid less than men for equal work and experienced difficulty in rising to supervisory positions. For instant, the women farmers who were engaged in paddy harvesting in Chenkalady and Kiran DS division of Batticaloa district have been paid half of the wage of male workers during the last harvesting. The reason was gender perception. The women farmers were paid 2000 LKR per acre while men received 4000LKR for same work.

On the other hand, it is obvious in print and electronic media about the abuses and hardship faced by the housemaid who went to Middle East for the foreign employment and domestic workers within the country ( there is a need to have a study on this issues).

Domestic violence: Physical and psychological abuse within the home resulted from increased incidences of alcoholism in return villages. There are some individual incidents took place in the return villages in Batticaloa district that the male family head used to have alcohol after selling dry ration given by the state or NGO. It caused to create domestic violence against women in return villages. Due to the cultural and social factors the women family members not interested in reporting to the law enforcement mechanisms. This kind of activities makes women more vulnerable in post return situations.

According to a field study carried out by a university student in Eastern Province, the women are under mental stress due to domestic violence, difficult living conditions and the burden of household management, loss of family members, displacement and loss of assets. In Vavunatheevu Division of Batticaloa district women identified men’s alcoholism as a major issue.

Women Headed Families: Women who became heads of households with the loss of their spouses are the most visible victims of the conflict. Abandonment, separa¬tion and divorce also resulted in female-headed households. The inability of the spouse to engage in income generation pushed women to become principal income earners.

For example there are 10.52% of population is women headed families in Keerisuddan return village of Madhu division of Mannar District. The 04 women headed families consisting 06 members are living in this village. Out of these families 75% of families do not have income resources. Only one young widow (27 years old) engages as a preschool teacher for a sum of 3500.00LKR monthly remuneration, others living with relatives and surviving by getting dry ration. There is no any income generating opportunity in this village. Because they lost their all income generation sources such as live stock, home gardening, poultry due to war and displacement. Also there is no paddy cultivation done due to displacement. Due to cultural / traditional habits no widows got married in second time. 02 young widow families out of 04 widow families (50%) do not have legal document for their land. Also all the widows do not have permanent shelters. But these families were given temporary shelters by a NGO.

Poor Access to the State Mechanism: Gradual subside of public service systems due to conflict and displacement and migration aggravate women’s problems. Government services are limited and there is acute shortage of public servants and medical officers in return areas. Local representatives are ineffective. The women had no legal protection against discrimination in the private sector, where they sometimes were paid less than men for equal work and experienced difficulty in rising to supervisory positions.

According to the returnee women in Mannar District, after the return they do not suffer any attacks, harassment or any other form of punitive actions. And all the returnees who were staying at village were given temporary shelters and they enjoying by getting this without discrimination. An adequate standard of food /dry ration were providing for all the returnees families even for short period after the return. And all the returnee persons have been able to reunite with family members if they choose to do so. They are able to exercise the right to participate fully and equally in public affairs in the villages.

Although, people in remote village do not have full and non discriminatory access to national and divisional protection mechanisms, such as services from Assistant District /Divisional Registrar, Social Service Officers and Medical Officer of Public Health. Further, children who born during the displacement at the security zone which were declared by the government in the LTTE control area in the time last war do not have access to personal documentation, which typically is needed to access public services.

Lack of Commitment of Public servants: The domestic violence, spousal abuses were prohibited by the law but it was not effectively enforced. The systematic violence, discrimination during the public service was also thought to be widespread. However, enforcement of the law was not effective. While the protective measures taken by the State party for women who migrate from Sri Lanka, these women remain vulnerable to illegal employment agencies, and that many work in exploitative situations and experience violence and abuse at the hands of their employers.

Lack of knowledge among the Women : Most of the return areas were under controlled of the LTTE for two to three decades, thus there are bare about available legal protection systems in the country among the women in return area. There is a need to make aware the women & men on gender awareness, rights based approaches, legal protection systems. There is a requirement to work toward women’s participation in local governance and local level representatives to ensure attention by political leaders and government officers.


Overall, the conflict changed women’s circumstances by they have assumed roles in sharp contrast to notions of femininity and cultural values by becoming of the breadwinner of the family. Although, they are negatively affected by the poor condition of access roads, minimal transport facilities, inadequate housing, poor water supply and sanitation and limited access to health care services. The rehabilitation of infrastructure facilities and restoration of services will enable women and their families to improve their quality of life. And all programmes and projects in returnee area should include mandatory provision for a gender responsive strategy to mobilize women, overcome constraints that limit their participation and improve their capacity.

Land in the Eastern Province: Politics, Policies and Conflict

Excerpts from a Report by Bhavani Fonseka and Mirak Rahim (Centre for Policy Alternatives)

Most individuals in Sri Lanka will identify land as a fundamental element that defines their life. Ownership and control of land, including the location of and the extent of land owned indicate a person’s wealth and social status. The respect that flows from this has a number of other repercussions including access to schools and marriage prospects. Secure land rights imply economic security and provide surety for loans and thereby facilitate income generation and improve livelihoods. In Sri Lanka, land has been a critical factor in the ethnic conflict that intensified and resulted in the outbreak of a war that spanned over two decades. State aided land settlement projects under development and irrigation schemes, the failure in addressing key land and development related issues, violence against particular communities that resulted in the abandonment of properties, and the establishment of ad hoc security restrictions in areas all contributed to the increasing tensions that ultimately led to the outbreak of war in Sri Lanka. Over the course of the war, the land problem was exacerbated by increased displacement of entire communities from their land, occupation of land belonging to private individuals by the military and LTTE, arbitrary seizure of land belonging to Muslims by the LTTE in the North and East, the establishment of High Security Zones (HSZ), Special Economic Zones (SEZ) and the loss of documentation. Although discussions on land and related issues and attempts to resolve disputes at a community level did run concurrent to the conflict and heightened during the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and post-tsunami period, there were no concrete steps taken by the State or any other actor to fully address the root causes of grievances, provide sustainable alternatives and introduce modalities that could have reduced some of the underlying problems and disputes.

In a post-war context, with the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009, the Government, political parties, civil society and citizens at large are faced with an unprecedented opportunity to address the root causes of the ethnic conflict and long-term grievances faced by different communities. Although there is an opportunity to address a fundamental issue such as land through looking at both the constitutional, legal and policy framework and the problems on the ground, very few initiatives have been put forward by the different actors. Nearly a year after the end of the war, with two national elections held and the current Government enjoying an overwhelming majority in Parliament, this is clearly the moment to unveil concrete proposals for constitutional and political reform and a roadmap that introduces changes to the current set up. There are, however, unconfirmed reports of impending constitutional reform including changes to the Thirteenth Amendment and the role and powers of the Provincial Councils. Whether such a framework will guarantee the rights of all citizens or only a certain group or none at all, are yet to be seen. What is noteworthy is that though a significant time period has passed since the end of the conflict, there has been little public information, discussion or debate on Government proposals for possible ways forward. In the current post-war climate, there is no information as to whether the numerous HSZs will be dismantled; whether all IDPs will be able to return to their land; and furthermore, whether there would be a restitution and compensation policy. The lack of transparency and due process with regard to Government procedure into the post-war context are issues of grave concern and need to be reversed.

The present report explores the complex web of land issues in the Eastern Province. At the outset, CPA states that this report only highlights key land issues in the Eastern Province in the post war context and is not a historic study of the use, management and control of land in the area. The specific time period in focus spans 2007-2010. It provides an overview of the situation soon after the Eastern Liberation to that of the post war context in Sri Lanka and the status of land within a three year period. The Eastern Province was militarily liberated by government forces in 2007, following which the region has seen a host of developments related to land. The military liberation of the East and the resulting process of normalization have provided the context for the return of the displaced and land reclamation, the provision of resettlement, reconstruction and development assistance by humanitarian agencies, donors and the Government. This has had a dramatic impact on the quality of life for civilians, even while they continue to deal with the long-term repercussions of the war, including the loss of lives, destruction and damage to property, the loss of livelihoods and incomes, and the disruption of community ties. Some of the critical land issues and problems in the Eastern Province and their impact on larger political and governance issues are highlighted in the report. For instance, access to land is a critical aspect to land use and control. In the East, security restrictions and military occupation have somewhat curtailed full enjoyment of land rights. Furthermore, obstacles to accessing land have resulted in disputes and grievances which if left unresolved can lead to a multitude of problems. Another complicating factor is the manner in which the subject of land has been approached by both state and non-state actors to fuel as well as mitigate ethnic tensions, to facilitate development projects and economic growth, to develop particular communities, dispossess and displace others, establish new administrative divisions and settlements and change ethnic demographics - all of which have had long term implications.

Land as a highly politicised and ethnicised issue was an underlying cause of the war. The report examines the post-war context of new land settlements and land grabbing, landlessness, encroachment on state land, illegal land sales and the implications of the loss or destruction of land documentation in the East. These have all aggravated issues of ownership, access and control of land between land users/owners. There have been reports of communal violence breaking out as a result of land disputes. There are also sporadic reports of intimidation and even assaults, indicating the real potential for violence over land disputes. A number of land disputes were reported to CPA some of which were described as land colonization, but these are claims that CPA could not verify, even though there was a significant level of political and military involvement in some of these cases. Nonetheless, CPA repeatedly encountered a strong perception among many of the interviewees at the community, district and administrative levels of State actors being partial to particular ethnic communities when dealing with land. Hence even when the State is acting in good faith in advocating particular policies there is strong mistrust and fear on the ground. Rather than ignoring these fears the Government needs to ensure greater transparency, information and participation in order to address these perceptions.

The present report also explores the constitutional, legal and policy framework that governs land in the region. The issue of land is further compounded by the different levels of government involved - the Centre, province and district and the powers vested in them. Although the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution was introduced with the goal of devolving powers to the Provincial Councils including in the area of land, as discussed in the report, the Central Government overrides provincial council decision-making and policy implementation on land and continues to be the major actor. Even though the number of ministries, including those dealing with land, has been cut in the current cabinet, there continue to be multiple actors at the different levels of administration, especially in the case of the Centre with several departments and authorities overseeing various issues related to land. The lack of progress made in resolving land disputes and the inability to introduce and amend much needed laws and policies demonstrates the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of a bureaucracy and a multiplicity of actors with some overlapping functions. Though CPA has met several government officials who within their limited mandates are attempting to address the grievances of the communities and land conflicts, a common problem documented by the CPA team is the inertia and lack of initiative among some senior political appointees and the disturbing trend of the high levels of politicisation. Though this is not a new phenomenon regarding land and the Eastern Province, the provision of secure land entitlements and development requires that this systematic problem is addressed without delay. A fundamental problem is the lack of political will and political imagination to address the ground realities and grievances of the affected communities and to engage in policy reform. The report recommends possible solutions to the problems and gaps highlighted. It calls for reform at the constitutional, legal and policy levels. While the issue of power sharing and a political solution needs to be addressed and any solution has to grapple with the subject of land, there are areas which the Government can move on without delay, including the strengthening of the powers of the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC) and consulting the EPC on key land related issues. Despite the twenty year lag, it is not too late to constitute the National Land Commission (NLC) which would strengthen the process of establishing a fair land policy. Developing a policy framework on land could be advantageous for long term development provided that it ensures greater transparency and inclusiveness in decision making and formulation of policies. Existing land related legislation has to be amended, including the Land Development Ordinance and Prescription Ordinance. Specific initiatives to provide land for the landless as discussed in this report or compensation and restitution to those whose land and property has been affected by the war, need to be strengthened, taking into consideration the issues on the ground which are set out in the following chapters.

In responding to the problems on the ground, CPA recommends a two-track approach of developing a policy framework and establishing/strengthening community-oriented mechanisms and processes. Land disputes and conflicts which have intensified in the post-war context, probably in relation to an increased feeling of personal security, improved freedom of movement and a greater number of returns, need to be addressed through clarification of the legal status of individual cases. This also requires community-oriented and mediated solutions, be they land kachcheris, land task forces or mediation boards/committees.

The Government, political parties and bureaucrats also need to ensure that governance is made more effective and sensitive to community needs. Existing issues such as the confusion over divisional boundaries for instance need to be clarified so as to improve administration. In dealing with issues of military restrictions such as high security zones and occupation of individual properties that obstruct civilian access, there has to be a commitment to review security requirements in the post-war context, and accordingly provide a time line for withdrawal. There should be rent schemes for continuing occupation and compensation/restitution in the case of permanent occupation which should be kept to a minimum. While the cases and issues discussed in the report are very specific to the Eastern Province, these are not isolated issues and trends peculiar to the East alone. These issues and trends have resonance in other parts of the country, but more so in other conflict affected areas such as the North. The latter is presently going through a phase of rebuilding and development and will face similar as well as unique problems with land. If ‘the Eastern model’ is to be used in the North, best practices and solutions in the East need first to be developed and implemented before they can be replicated elsewhere. For Sri Lanka to move forward in a post war context, where fundamental grievances including land issues are addressed there needs to be larger political and constitutional reform. An underlying theme in the report is that this and the policies and programmes it produces must be underpinned by a people-centric approach – one that is pivotally representative of the needs of the people in the area. Such a shift will not only addresses grievances of the affected communities but could also mitigate conflict and ethnic tensions.