Human Rights of Tsunami Survivors in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka Being Violated


Source: HIC-SARP, Press realease 2005-09-06

In response to reports on the inadequacy of relief and rehabilitation measures, especially housing for tsunami survivors, the Housing and Land Rights Network (South Asia Regional Programme) based in New Delhi, organised a fact-finding mission to Tamil Nadu, India and Sri Lanka in June and July 2005. The primary aim of this mission was to evaluate whether human rights standards were being enforced in developing adequate housing for the survivors. The study revealed glaring discrepancies between claims made by the governments and implementing agencies and the reality with regard to rehabilitation in the tsunami-impacted areas.

According to the report entitled “Post-tsunami Relief and Rehabilitation: A Violation of Human Rights,” despite the huge outpouring of aid, benefits have not always reached those who need it the most and neither has relief assistance been entirely based on a comprehensive needs assessment. The report points out that relief and rehabilitation policies have largely been gender-neutral while ignoring the special needs of vulnerable populations including children, women, migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, minorities, and disabled people. Livelihoods have still not been restored, and hunger, health problems, insecurity and depression are on the rise amongst survivors.

“Findings reveal grave human rights contraventions, including the violation of the survivors’ right to adequate housing. It is imperative that the governments of India and Sri Lanka and all other implementing agencies act promptly to ensure that rehabilitation is compliant with international human rights standards,” said Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing.

The report underlines the lack of coordination between the various actors involved in post-tsunami rehabilitation work in both India and Sri Lanka. “At the core of the issue lies the fact that relief and rehabilitation are still viewed as charity by governments and non-government agencies and not as a right of the affected,” said Shivani Chaudhry, commenting on the absence of effective and people-friendly mechanisms to ensure timely implementation and monitoring of relief assistance, and the lack of mechanisms to ensure accountability of government and non-government agencies.

Most temporary housing shelters for the tsunami survivors have been constructed with poor and inadequate materials, and with a lack of consideration for space, location, size, sanitation, security, and culture. “We were appalled to see that seven months later, in some areas in Sri Lanka people were still living in tents while in other areas in both Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka the temporary shelters were uninhabitable shoe-box like sheds” remarked Malavika Vartak, while criticizing the arbitrary extension of the timeframe for both emergency and temporary housing by involved agencies. Plans for land acquisition and permanent housing in most parts of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka had still not been initiated.

The fishing community not only bore the brunt of the tsunami disaster, but is now threatened with the loss of its customary rights over coastal land. R. Sreedhar of Environics warned that, “attempts were being made by governments to use the disaster to evict fisher people along the coast. It is imperative that all plans for resettlement involve the active participation and informed consent of fishing and other affected communities.”

The authors made strong recommendations to concerned agencies, stressing the need to incorporate a human rights-based approach that would help ensure that rehabilitation is holistic and comprehensive and upholds the dignity of affected individuals and communities. “Application of a comprehensive human rights framework through the process of human rights education is a precondition for people-driven rehabilitation processes ensuring transparency and accountability,” stressed Minar Pimple, Executive Director of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning.


CONTACT: Vishal Thakre (
South Asia Regional Programme – Housing and Land Rights Network
B-28 Nizamuddin East, New Delhi – 110013. Tel/Fax: (011) 2435-8492, 93139 00378