Tribunal International des Évictions » Cas d'Expulsions » 6ème Session 2017 » Case From Sri Lanka: Land Grabbing for Tourism Development, Panaama Village

Case From Sri Lanka: Land Grabbing for Tourism Development, Panaama Village

In August 2010, a group of armed people evicted 350 families from Paanama and burnt their houses and belongings. Several villagers were injured. Later the villagers found out that the land was intended to be used for a tourism development. The evicted villagers resisted the land grab and founded an organization. Several protests against the land grab took place and several court cases were filed. In February 2015, the cabinet of ministers decided to release the land. However, the land was never handed back to the villagers. In March 2016, the villagers took matters into their own hands and occupied their land. They constructed temporary huts and started to cultivate their land.

Presenting:

Punchirala Somasiri

Sandun Thudugala

G. Kusumawathi

Organisation: Organization for the Protection of Paanam Pattuwa

Location: Eastern Province -> Ampara district -> Lahugala Divisional Secretariat

Evicted: villagers of Panaama, Some have permits and deeds to their land, others were occupying state land

Number of Evicted:  1400

Women: 30%

Children: 50%

Losses have not been fully assessed to provide an accurate estimate of damages.

Organisations Mobilised: Peoples' Alliance for Right to Land - a national land rights coalition of civil society organizations, NGOs, INGOs, activists and media

Legal Action: Applications have been filed in the Court of Appeal against the arbitrary actions on the part of the Government authorities in refusing to implement the Cabinet decision, threatened evictions of the Community in clear contravention of the Government Policy to return the lands to the community as contained in the Cabinet Decision taken in 2015. Writs of Mandamus and Prohibition have been sought in these cases. Further reliance is placed on Article 12 (1) of the Constitution which guarantees equality before the law and equal protection of the law and also non-discrimination.

In August 2010, a group of armed people evicted 350 families from Paanama and burnt their houses and belongings. Several villagers were injured. Later the villagers found out that the land was intended to be used for a tourism development. The evicted villagers resisted the land grab and founded an organization. Several protests against the land grab took place and several court cases were filed. In February 2015, the cabinet of ministers decided to release the land. However, the land was never handed back to the villagers. In March 2016, the villagers took matters into their own hands and occupied their land. They constructed temporary huts and started to cultivate their land.

On 17 th August 2010, a group of armed men came to the villages of Raagamwela and Shastrawela in Paanama on the east coast of Sri Lanka. They forced the villagers to leave their homes, burnt their houses and belongings and occupied their land. Several villagers were injured. Altogether 350 families were evicted from their homes and 1.220 acres were in military control. They were informed that the land had been taken for security reasons.

Shortly after the eviction, the villagers founded the Paanama Pattuwa Protection Organization (PPPO) in an attempt to get their land back. As a first concrete step, they filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission Sri Lanka (HRCSL). The HCRSL recommended handing the occupied land back to the people. However, the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) and Air Force (SLAF) prohibited villagers returning to their land. The evicted people were homeless and deprived of their traditional livelihood as farmers and fishers. They had to find shelter at relatives’ homes.

Tourism Development in the Occupied Land

The region around Paanama has enormous potential for tourism development. Beautiful beaches, surfing spots and close-by national parks offer tourists many different activities.

However, tourism has not been established in Paanama so far. Nevertheless, Arugam Bay, which is situated only a few kilometres north of Paanama, is a popular tourism spot. Three years after the eviction, the villagers found out that in the occupied land a tourist hotel is being built. Pictures, taken by a local NGO, showed the ongoing construction work of a hotel.

Currently, the SLN is running the Lagoon Cabanas Panama, which is offering rooms to visitors. Furthermore, the SLAF is constructing another hotel on the occupied land.

Meanwhile, the villagers are still deprived of their traditional livelihood. Some of the villagers however want to offer rooms and activities to tourists themselves.

Protests, Court Cases and Cabinet Decision

The villagers filed several court cases, a fundamental rights case at the Supreme Court and several complaints with the HRCSL. The people also protested with the help of local NGOs against the land grab in Paanama. The protests took place in Paanama itself, in the capital Colombo and in other tourist destinations in Sri Lanka. Because of the pressure on the newly elected government, the cabinet of ministers decided in February 2015 to release 340 acres back to the people. However, this decision was never implemented. The security forces continued to occupy the peoples’ land. Therefore, in June 2017, a petition with 20,000 signatures demanding the immediate implementation of the cabinet decision was handed over to the Presidential Secretariat.

People Occupied Their Own Land

In March 2016, the villagers took matters into their own hands. On 27 th March, with the help of the local NGO National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO), the people of Raagamwela entered their own land forcibly. The police, navy and air force later prevented the people from entering their land. However, a Pothuvil Magistrate Court order from 30 th March that the armed forces could not prevent the villagers from entering their own land. On 7 th April, the villagers again occupied their own land and started to settle there. In May, they started to build temporary huts and to cultivate their land. Fishing in the sea however is still prohibited for the villagers. Therefore, since April 2016 the villagers have occupied their own land but the land has still not been handed over officially, one and a half years after the cabinet decision to do so.

Case Study: Story of Sudaram Somaradam  : We have simply reclaimed our land," says the fisherman Sundaram Somaradam. In March last year he returned and began clearing the land and weeding. "I'm going fishing in the lagoon again," says Sundaram Somaradam. In addition, he adds with certainty, "I will remain to my land even if they kill me." Sundaram Somaradam and his wife Sindathambi Suthukuma are from Raagamwela, in the region of Paanama on the east coast of Sri Lanka. The couple, both over 60 years old, have five children. Before their expulsion, the family lived from fishing and cultivating peanuts, cashew, ginger, cassava and coconuts which they planted on their land. But when Sundaram Somaradam visited the local authorities in 2009 to solve an administrative problem, he was deprived of the documents proving his land ownership. I wasn't told why; Sundaram Somaradam said. Shortly afterwards, a fire broke out in the authorities' building where the documents were kept.

It got even worse: on July 17 th 2010, masked men invaded the family's land, hit Sundaram Somaradam with iron bars and set fire to his house. He was able to run away, but he was admitted to hospital with serious injuries. The family filed charges against the unknown assailants, but the police did not initiate an investigation and the land was taken under the control of the military. The family lost everything: all their property and their livelihoods as fishers and farmers. Sundaram Somaradam had to live with his daughter in Paanama Town.

Last year, two courts and a cabinet decision assured the former villagers from Raagamwela that the land belonged to them and that the military had to leave the occupied land, with the exception of a small section. However, even though Sundaram Somaradam and his wife have returned, their future remains uncertain.

Historical Information

1800s Communities settle in Paanama, the main village located inland.

1970s Families migrate towards the coast for agriculture and fishing. Five villages are settled, popularly referred to as ‘Paanama’.

1983 The civil war begins in Sri Lanka, focused in the north and east.

2000 Communities that had to flee return to their lands and begin to grow long-term crops and build temporary houses.

2003 State authorities begin to claim Paanama villages as ‘state land’. The claims continue and escalate over the next 7 years.

2009 The war in Sri Lanka ends on 19 May.

  • On 16 November the Pottuvil Police file a case against 7 individuals for trespassing on state land.
  • The navy takes over lands belonging to three villages: Ulpassa, Egodayaya and Horekanda, and begins construction of a hotel.

2010 On 17 July Paanama families are evicted by armed men. Homes and crops are destroyed and documents to prove title to land are lost. By now, 350 families are displaced and seek shelter in homes of relatives.

  • On 26 July the community file a complaint with the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, which investigates and recommends that land is returned to the community.

2011 People’s Alliance to the Right to Land (PARL) is established to lobby against land grabs.

2012 Submission made to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The community continues to protest and raise awareness on their eviction.

2015 On 11 February the Sri Lanka government decides to release 340 acres of land currently occupied by the air force back to the Paanama community.

  • The Pottuvil magistrate determines that the community is not trespassing and orders that the land is released to the community.
  • Paanama communities continue their struggle and try several times to return to their land.
  • The Community stages a major protest with media coverage

2016 March – Some community members went back to their lands and constructed temporary shelters and started cultivating crops.

2016 May - eviction notices are issued by the Lahugala Divisional Secretariat office to some community members ordering them to vacate their lands.

2016 May - A case was filed in the court of appeal of Sri Lanka seeking the implementation of the cabinet decision on Paanama land release, and challenging the eviction notice sent to community members.

2016 May - A case was filed in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka seeking the implementation of the cabinet decision on Paanama land release

2017 July – An inquiry was conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (HRC) on the Paanama land struggle. The HRC recommended that the land should be returned to its people. During the inquiry it was revealed that the military has been occupying the grabbed land without any formal authorization.1800s Communities settle in Paanama, the main village located inland

Mostly women engaged in farming, the loss of agricultural grounds severely affected their economic independence and overall contribution to household economy. They now either engage in daily paid wage work or do not work at all.

When families had to move to houses of friends and relatives, children found it challenging to go to school from a different house and location. Education was disrupted of most children.Mostly women engaged in farming, the loss of agricultural grounds severely affected their economic independence and overall contribution to household economy. They now either engage in daily paid wage work or do not work at all.

When families had to move to houses of friends and relatives, children found it challenging to go to school from a different house and location. Education was disrupted of most children.

The Institutions/Persons responsible for this evictions

R.M.C.M Herath, Land Commission

Land Commissioner General’s Department, Mihikatha

1200/6  Rajamal, Waththa Road

Battaramulla, Sri Lanka

l cg@landcom.gov.lk

Gayantha Karunathilake

Minister of Lands and Parlamentary Reforms

Ministry of Lands and Parlamentary reforms

1200/6  Rajamal, Waththa Road

Battaramulla, Sri Lanka

general@landmin.gov.lk

LBSB, Dayarathne

Additional Secretary, Land Ministry

Ministry of Lands and Parlamentary reforms

1200/6  Rajamal, Waththa Road

Battaramulla, Sri Lanka

addlsecland@landmin.gov.lk

L.A. Somarathna

Divisional Secretariat – Lahugala

e-mail Address non available

Ampara District

Commentaires

%login_link_starAuthentifiez vous ou créez un nouveau compte utilisateur pour commenter.