07/16/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Eleven People’s Tribunals for Sri Lanka’s landless to move the government

by Melani Manel Perera
The government is derelict in its duty to help hundreds of thousands of people who are landless and homeless. An NGO, Praja Abhilasha, is setting up people’s tribunals to collect evidence about the abuses inflicted upon civilians. One of the organisers, Herman Kumara, says the goal is to mobilise public opinion, create a movement and rewrite the constitution so that “land is a fundamental right”.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – An NGO called Praja Abhilasha is setting up 11 Permanent People’s Tribunals (PPT) in 11 Sri Lankan districts. They will sit until the end of August to find ways to solve claims by landless people. A member of the network of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), Praja Abhilasha fights on behalf of all landless people, those who never had land and those who lost it.

The Sri Lankan government has done little for people displaced by the civil war or the tsunami, or even families forced to abandon their homes because of wild elephants. Instead, it has tried to seize land from thousands of farmers in order to build factories and industrial plants or set up tourist resorts.

NAFSO national coordinator Herman Kumara explained to AsiaNews how a PPT works and its importance.

First, “We try to identify and document with accuracy how someone’s land has been seized in order to represent that person before a court,” he said.

“We then make public all these cases in order to sway public opinion and create a movement of the landless.  In order to change government policy, we must change the constitution and make land a basic fundamental right of citizens.”

Kumara is conscious that all this is difficult to achieve. “Land is taken with the blessing of politicians. This is a problem that cannot be easily solved.”

People have enthusiastically welcomed the creation of these People’s Tribunals. “Many come forward, volunteering evidence, even though we only chose a few cases,” Kumara acknowledged. “They are victims of the same problems; now however they can come out into the open to demand justice together.”

Last Saturday, the first PPT was set up. This week, the government announced that it was going to set up its own version of the tribunal. So far, it has done nothing and it has no clear plans as what to do.

“If the government creates its own PPT, then it is bound to find its own mistakes,” Kumara said. However, if this were the case, “We cannot expect any justice from the people” in power.

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