Nine years after the end of the civil war, the Vanni area is still under military occupation
by Melani Manel Perera

Many families are still displaced, without access to their livelihoods. The military are using illegally held land and taking advantage of women. A report by two civil society organisations calls on the government to respect UN recommendations.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) and the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO) presented The Vanni report - Civilian Land under Military Occupation Displacement, Resettlement, Protests in Geneva earlier this month after releasing it on 28 February at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institution, Colombo.

According to the document, “Even though the war ended nine years ago, the military presence in the Northern Province is still exceptionally high” and this “remains a key obstacle to the return of everyday life” for the local Tamil community in Vanni, an area where the military still occupies a large stretch of land for a variety of purposes, including economic ones.

As a result of such occupation, many people are still unable to return to their ancestral lands and have lost their traditional livelihood in farming and fishing as direct access to water and land is crucial to their self-sufficiency.

In the reports, the two organisations call on the government to demilitarise the Vanni area, stop the military’s business activities, ensure the land rights of all displaced persons through the release of the occupied areas, and give access to water to all the Tamil communities.

Several local communities held protests for months in 2017, trying to raise awareness of their situation. In some areas, the protest was partially successful. Occupied land was returned, but residents came home to a destroyed infrastructure without water necessary for agriculture.

In certain areas of the Vanni, protests continue to this day as the authorities’ promises to return the land remain unfulfilled.

The report slams the security forces for illegally holding "onto the lands after the war ended, contrary to what is provided within the legal framework”, outside formal procedures and without notification to the communities.

The document warns that women and girls find themselves in a state of extreme vulnerability.

Since the government has failed to ensure their "bodily integrity", they are often subject to gender-based violence by the security forces. "Cases of rape and sexual violence are greatly underreported due to social stigma and fear of retaliation.”

The report notes "a significant gap between the government’s rhetoric on transnational justice and the current realities on the ground."

It urges the authorities to "implement the recommendations of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.”