Sri Lanka after the war
Years after the end of the Civil War, the human rights situation is still alarming in Sri Lanka – especially for minority groups. The STP informs about existing problems and educates the local communities about their rights and possibilities for action.
In 2015, when a new government was elected in Sri Lanka, the hope among the population for reconciliation, peace and development was great. However, it has not been fulfilled. The reconciliation process is endangered, and the human rights situation continues to be precarious. In this situation, the growing tourism industry is in many cases more of a curse than a blessing for the local communities.
The STP and their local partners document the situation in Sri Lanka and teach the local communities in workshops about their rights and how to stand up for them. Geographically, the focus is on the former war zone in the North and East of the country.
Sri Lanka has experienced a bitter 26-year long civil war. The struggle for a separate Tamil state in the North and East of the island was brutally defeated in 2009 by the Sri Lankan government forces. Ten thousands of people died and millions were displaced as a result of the war. Both sides allegedly have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes. Up to the present day, the human rights situation in Sri Lanka is alarming and militarization is omnipresent.
- The military continues to hold large areas of land in the North and East of the island. In those areas, the local communities are denied access to land and sea and subsequently lose their traditional livelihood.
- The resettlement of the internally displaced people is slow, and the standard of living in the camps for internally displaced people is extremely poor.
- Torture and ill-treatment of detainees, arbitrary arrest and detention, surveillance and harassment of civil society and journalists are still common in Sri Lanka.
- The discrimination of ethnic and religious communities jeopardizes the reconciliation process.
Tourism and human rights
Sri Lanka is a booming tourist destination. With over 26,000 visitors in 2016, Switzerland constitutes the sixth largest tourist group from Western Europe. Tourism should primarily benefit the local population. However, a STP report of 2015, focusing on the tourist regions of Kalpitiya, Kuchchaveli and Passikudah, shows that tourism can lead to human rights abuses:
- The Sri Lankan Tourism Development Agency (SLTDA) does not inform and consult the local communities about upcoming tourism projects.
- The minimum environmental and social standards are not met.
- Freedom of movement and access to the sea were restricted for the coastal communities. There have been illegal land seizures and evictions.
The local population hardly benefits from tourism and, on the contrary, in some cases even loses its traditional livelihood due to tourism projects.
Reports /press releases
Years after the civil war, the people of Sri Lanka still suffer under the consequences of the war. Many of the existing problems result directly from the ongoing militarization: the military not only keeps the local population under its control, but also occupies large areas of land and is involved in commercial activities.
The STP’s report on the militarization on the Jaffna peninsula, published in fall 2016, clearly shows how the consequences of the war are visible until today. For instance, the military is occupying large areas of land where inhabitants have lost access to land and sea, and, therefore were deprived of their traditional livelihood as farmers and fishers. The resettlement of the innumerable internally displaced people progresses slowly, and living conditions are precarious in the camps for the internally displaced people. In addition, the economic activities of the military in tourism and agriculture robs important sources of income for the local communities.
In January 2015, the incumbent President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, known for his authoritarian regime, lost the election to Maithripala Sirisena. The new presidency broke with the previous government’s authoritarian and repressive practices. However, the human rights situation has not significantly improved since Sirisena’s election. Torture and ill-treatment of detainees, arbitrary arrest and detention, surveillance and harassment of the civil society and journalists are still common in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, ethnic and religious minorities in Sri Lanka continue to experience discrimination.
How the STP works
Together with its partner organization “National Fisheries Solidarity Movement” (NAFSO), the STP has been drawing attention to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the problem of impunity and the negative effects of the strong military presence for many years. In October 2016, an event for the presentation of the report on militarization on the Jaffna Peninsula was well attended, although some participants had received threats over the phone from the military beforehand. Representatives of politics and the church, fishers unions and local authorities as well as the local communities were pleased by the fact that the STP openly addressed the problems of militarization.
Since then, the STP has organized several workshops in order to educate the local communities about their rights and identify possible actions. In April 2017, approximately 50 people attended a workshop in Jaffna. The participants, all affected by land grabbing, came from diverse regions and ethnic communities. It was important for them to hear that members of other ethnic communities were facing similar problems. The participants summarized their demands in the “Nallur Declaration” and presented them to the media.
These are the STP’s demands on the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL):
- Implement the recommendations of the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka
- Reduce the military presence and order the military to cease surveillance, intimidation and harassment of the local population and civil society
- Order the military to cease all commercial activities by dismantling military-run hotels, farms and other businesses
- Ensure land rights for internally displaced peoples (IDPs) by releasing all occupied areas to the public and resettle all IDPs on their traditional land
- Consult the displaced people on the resettlement process and make them aware of the resettlement plan. IDPs must participate in the implementation of the resettlement process.
The SRF programme “Mitenand” has portrayed our project as well as Ariya Pushpam who was personally affected by land grabbing. We are conducting training and mobilization programmes in Sri Lanka, in which Ariya and other affected persons are informed about their rights and learn how to defend themselves.
The STP report “Dark Clouds over the Sunshine Paradise” of 2015 examines the human rights violations related to tourism projects and how the local population benefits from tourism in the three newly developed tourist regions of Kuchchaveli, Passikudah and Kalpitiya. The outcome is sobering: hotels and resorts block fishermen’s access to the sea. This practice threatens the economic existence of entire families and leads to land confiscations. Only a small percentage of the local population actually make a living from tourism.
Our primary research interest is to analyze whether the implementation of tourism projects entails human rights violations and to discern the degree to which the local population actually benefits from the tourism boom. The results are sobering: in all three regions, the government’s minimal development standards have scarcely been observed. The local population is not consulted on the planning of tourism projects. Hotels and resorts block access to the sea, thus massively encroaching on the livelihood of local fishermen. Land grabbing is a major concern and only a small part of the local population is able to make a living from tourism.
How the STP works
With its report, the STP attempts to sensitize European tour operators on the one hand and to directly support the local communities on the other hand. For example, the STP, together with its partner organization “National Fisheries Solidarity Movement” (NAFSO), organized numerous workshops to present the results of the report and to highlight the rights of the local communities. Subsequently, representatives of the local communities attended round-table discussions with hoteliers and government representatives.
So far, the results show that the campaign is effective: today, the local communities and the STP’s partner organization NAFSO are increasingly perceived as points of contact when it comes to tourism issues. The STP will continue to support the local communities in their concerns.
Demands on hoteliers, travel agencies and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL):
- Access to the sea must remain guaranteed for the local communities and not restricted by tourism projects.
- No acquisition of private land for tourism projects without compensation.
- The Sri Lankan government and tourism authorities must guarantee that, prior to the planning and construction of hotels and tourist infrastructures, the local population is consulted and has given its approval.
- Hotels, investors, local travel agencies and tour operators must act with human rights due diligence in their entire value-added chain.
The fishermen from Nilaveli:
The Society for Threatened Peoples is conducting training and mobilization programmes in Sri Lanka that brief affected fishers about their rights and teach them how to defend themselves against human rights abuses.
Contact person at the STP
Yves Bowie, Campaign manager Sri Lanka
Tel. +41 (0)31 939 00 09