COHRE's statement to urge the Government of Sri Lanka to take note of the plight of residents of the above transitional shelter sites
More than 500 families living in at least 11 tsunami transitional shelter sites in Moratuwa and Ratmalana are threatened with homelessness once again unless the Government of Sri Lanka halts plans to forcibly evict them on 10 October 2008. Families in the following tsunami transitional shelter sites are affected by the planned closures:
Moratuwa DS Divison
· Sunandopananda Vidyalaya 55
· Sugatha Dharmadara Vidyalaya 50
· Roman Catholic School 31
· Salu Sala 110
· Lunawa Guest House 93
· Molpe Sobitha School 24
· Koralawella Playground 40
· Jagapura 38
Ratmalana DS Division
· Karmantha Pura (Common Building) 58
· Kotalawala (Common Building) --
The forced eviction of the families who live in the transitional shelter sites would violate both national law as well as international human rights law.
Aimed at providing homes for all tsunami affected persons by end 2006, the Tsunami Housing Policy provides ‘a house for a house, regardless of ownership’. Nearly four years after the tsunami, the families still residing in the shelter sites have received insufficient or no assistance to obtain a house for the housing they lost in December 2004. To the contrary, they are being denied assistance and are threatened with homelessness on 10 October 2008. In addition, basic facilities and services such as electricity, water and sanitation have been discontinued in the transitional shelters since 10 September 2008.
Under the Constitution of Sri Lanka, all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law. Further, according to the Directive Principles of State Policy the State is required to establish in Sri Lanka a democratic socialist society, the objectives of which include the realisation by all citizens of an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including housing. The Directive Principles of State Policy guide Parliament, the President and the Cabinet of Ministers in the enactment of laws and the governance of Sri Lanka. Both provisions of the Constitution would be breached if the families were forcibly evicted from the tsunami transitional shelter sites.
The forced evictions would also clearly breach Sri Lanka’s obligations as a State party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Art. 11 of the ICESCR includes the right to adequate housing. As one of the most fundamental protection mechanisms, this right includes the obligation on the part of the State to not engage in any activity that would cause people to become homeless. Forced evictions in the absence of consultation with affected communities, access to legal redress, and provision of adequate compensation or rehabilitation including alternative housing are considered a gross violation of international human rights law, a category reserved for the most severe cases of human rights abuses. The Government of Sri Lanka is further bound under Art. 17 of the ICCPR to refrain from arbitrary or unlawful interference with, inter alia, the home. The Sri Lankan Supreme Court has held that Sri Lanka is in full compliance with the ICCPR, and has therefore clearly recognised this particular obligation at the national level.
Families in the above shelter sites first received a notice dated 10 September 2008, which ordered them to vacate the sites by 25 September 2008. The eviction date was later postponed to 10 October 2008. Since the first notice was posted, basic facilities and services such as electricity, water and sanitation have been discontinued, leaving residents without access to any basic services.
Most families still living in the shelters are either members of extended families or former tenants and are being denied assistance on these grounds.
In the case of extended families, the selection of beneficiaries was in practice based on households. The size of the house or amount of cash assistance given to extended families was not increased based on the fact that these families include sometimes more than one sub-family, and in many cases had more than one house before the tsunami. The assistance given was therefore not sufficient to provide the entire extended family with permanent housing after the tsunami. Many sub-families therefore had no choice but to stay behind in the transitional shelter sites.
For former tenants, the Tsunami (Special Provisions) Act (2005) provides that the rent agreements with their former landlords remain valid. Former renters can therefore in theory move back into the housing that was provided to the landlord under the Tsunami Housing Policy. However, this provision seems to never have been implemented. Former tenants, similar to extended family members, therefore had no choice but to remain in the transitional shelter sites.
Other families are still in the process of obtaining permanent housing, and face different problems. A number of them have received Government grants to buy land, but have been cheated by the sellers; have bought land where the respective municipality will not allow them to build housing; or face difficulties because the existing communities object to tsunami victims moving into the neighbourhood. Yet others have successfully bought land and are waiting for the remaining grant money to enable them to build houses.
The signatories to this statement urge the Government of Sri Lanka to take note of the plight of residents of the above transitional shelter sites and other shelters remaining around the country and demand that the Government:
· Immediately withdraws the eviction notice and halts all plans to forcibly evict residents from transitional shelter sites;
· Immediately resumes provision of electricity, water, sanitation and other basic services to the transitional shelter until all families have moved into their permanent housing;
· Provides adequate assistance for permanent housing to all victims of the tsunami, including sub-families and tenants.
List of signatories
All Ceylon United Labour Congress
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)
Christian Workers Fellowship
Foundation for Co-Existence (FCE)
Housing and Land Rights Network – South Asia Regional Programme (HLRN-SARP)
Movement of National Land and Agriculture Reform (MONLAR)
National Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO)
People’s Planning Commission (PPC)