Development by Dispossession? Forced evictions and land seizures in Paanama, Sri Lanka | Oxfam

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In 2010, 350 families of farmers and fisherfolk living in Paanama, a coastal village in the east of Sri Lanka, were forcibly and violently evicted from lands they had cultivated and lived on for over forty years. These lands were taken over by the military to establish camps, and they are now being used to promote tourism. Oxfam calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to implement their decisions on immediate release of these lands back to the community which depends on them for livelihoods and food.   Take action here. This briefing note is part of the initiative Land Rights Now: The Global Call to Action on Indigenous and Community Land Rights. 
  BRIEFING NOTE 26 SEPTEMBER 2016  A Paanama fisherman on the lagoon with his day’s catch. Photo: Rashmini de Silva DEVELOPMENT BY DISPOSSESSION? Forced evictions and land seizures in Paanama, Sri Lanka In 2010, 350 families of farmers and fisher folk living in Paanama, a coastal village in the east of Sri Lanka, were forcibly and violently evicted from lands they had cultivated and lived on for over forty years. These lands were taken over by the military to establish camps, and they are now being used to promote tourism. Oxfam calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately act on the decision to release these lands back to the community who depend on them for their livelihoods and food.  1 SUMMARY Paanama is a coastal area in the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka, home to communities which engage in agriculture and fishing as their main sources of livelihood. The main village of Paanama was established in the 1800s and expanded over the years from the main village towards the coast. By 1970s there were five smaller villages, 1  still commonly referred to as Paanama. The community is bound together by the historical events that led to them settle in Paanama and by subsequent years of struggle to make a livelihood in a remote forest area which saw the darkness of Sri Lanka’s war for three decades. Despite these obstacles, this community has remained strong and united. For nearly thirty years the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka were at the centre of a war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). With the end of the war in 2009, the Eastern Province became a tourist hotspot with its lush beaches, world-renowned surfing areas such as  Arugam Bay, and rich natural resources. Nearly 350 families of the Paanama community living in the five smaller villages have been forcefully evicted from their lands by the state. On 17 July 2010, the villages of Ragamwela and Shastrawela were burned down to evict the inhabitants, while in the other three villages the military pressured the community to hand over their lands to the state by erecting fences and signs claiming that the land belongs to the military. 2  With their homes torched, and crops destroyed, these families have been living with relatives or in makeshift temporary shelters, anxiously awaiting the moment when they will be allowed to return to their lands. The Sri Lankan Navy and Air Force have taken control of these lands and established air force and naval camps and constructed a hotel on the Paanama lagoon called ‘Lagoon Cabanas’. The hotel is operated by Malima Hospitality Services, a hotel chain managed by the Sri Lanka Navy leisure sector. Peanut Farm and Paanama Point are popular surf spots along the Paanama coastline.  According to statistics of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the majority of tourists in 2015 were from Western Europe, United Kingdom and Germany in particular. 3  The complaints of the community over their treatment have been ignored. The Regional Office of the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission and the local Magistrates Court have both determined that the land should be returned to the community;  4  and after the change of government in 2015, a cabinet decision was taken on 11 February 2015 to return the lands in Paanama taken over by the government to the community. 5  But to date no action has been taken. The community continues to be displaced. Women have taken a leading role in demanding justice. They have helped lead and organize the community in local and national demonstrations, highlighting the injustice of their dispossession. Amid the hardship due to the loss of home and livelihoods, women continue to demand that they be allowed to return to lands they have cultivated for nearly forty years. ‘We had to join together and win this fight to get  justice not only for ourselves, but for our children and the generations who  passed land to us’ K.D. Rathnamali Kariyawasam, mother and farmer in Paanama. 2  The Land Rights Now campaign is calling for the immediate implementation of the decision taken by the Sri Lankan government in 2015 for 340 acres of land in Paanama to be returned to the community. TIMELINE: PAANAMA LAND CASE 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. ã  On 16 November the Pottuvil Police file a case against 7 individuals for trespassing on state land. ã  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. ã  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. ã  The Pottuvil magistrate determines that the community is not trespassing and orders that the land is released to the community. ã  Paanama communities continue their struggle and try several times to return to their land. ã  The Community stages a major protest with media coverage 2016 In May 2016 eviction notices are issued to some community members to evict them from their lands   3  2 ‘DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS’ AND DISPOSESSED COMMUNITIES  A high-voltage electric fence designed to keep the community away, and signs warning that this land is now the property of Sri Lanka Navy. Photo: Shantha Padmakumara   During Sri Lanka’s civil war, large tracts of land in the Northern and Eastern Provinces were controlled by the military. The end of the war in 2009 offered hope for many of making a long-term investment in their future: in their land, livelihoods and communities. Communities displaced by the war longed for the day they could return to their land. However, these lands were not returned to the people who had previously occupied them and they continued to be displaced, living in camps or temporary shelters. Instead, the lands were used to establish special economic zones or used for other economic development purposes – at the time, the Rajapakse government promoted economic and infrastructure development as a means to achieve reconciliation. Communities were told that they would not be able to return to their lands as they are now needed for a ‘public purpose’; a sacrifice for the greater good. 6  Rather than supporting and improving people’s lives and livelihoods, these ‘development projects’ were increasingly associated with harming communities with impunity. 7  Renowned for its coastal beauty the Eastern Province was earmarked as a tourism development area. 8  Due to the economic and tourist potential, the issue of land and access and control over natural resources became a contentious issue. Many of the development projects involve foreign investment and are targeted for large-scale tourist resorts. Communities were not informed of any of these plans, and their consent was not sought.  Alarmingly, Sri Lanka’s military manages and controls many of these development projects. The level of corruption in Sri Lanka during this period led to many abuses of power by state authorities that have been documented by local civil society and highlighted in international forums. 9  State authorities, the military and sometimes politically well connected and powerful individuals intimidated 4
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