Ordinary folk such as S. Sivanesan, a teacher in a government school in Jaffna, says, “We will vote for candidates who are willing to speak on behalf of the Tamil people and their causes. They should be able to help people affected by the war and not able to resettle in their respective land. That’s our immediate need. It has to be done.”
It is nearly two months since the Sri Lankan army returned V. Yogeswaran’s land and house in Palai Veemankamam, about 15 km from Jaffna. Yet, he just can’t believe it that his property has been restored to him.
On the morning of December 26, 2004, a 30 meter high wave struck 1000 kilometers of Sri Lankan coastline without warning, devastating hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods. The tsunami, which was the most devastating natural disaster in Sri Lanka’s history, resulted in losses of over $1 billion in assets and $330 million in potential output, according to government estimates. Approximately 35,000 people died or went missing. The damage included 110,000 houses, of which 70,000 were completely destroyed. Around 250,000 families lost their means of support.
Land has a central place in the post war debates involving resettlement, reconstruction, development and the search for a political solution. With the ten year anniversary of the tsunami nearing and more than five years after the end of the war, many questions regarding land issues persist including continuing challenges to individuals being able to fully enjoy, access and use their lands and reside in their homes, due to restrictions placed in the name of security and development. Furthermore, Sri Lanka has a complex framework for legal and possessory rights, covering both State and private land. This framework is meant to provide tenure security for individuals residing and using the land and safeguards to prevent arbitrary displacement and eviction. The legal and policy framework, despite its shortcomings and the need for reform in specific areas, is a basic starting point of a governance system as well as constituting recognition of the rights of those owning and in possession of land. Unfortunately, present practices and recent policy decisions undermine the framework in place and demonstrate a deliberate disregard and/or ignorance of what is in the books. These challenges are highlighted in the present brief with recommendations provided for immediate reform.