Ten Years of Peoples’ Land Struggles: Reflections and Way ForwardOctober 31, 2019
The seminar organised by the Law and Society Trust (LST) and the People’s Alliance for Right to Land (PARL) was held on October 31st at the Lighthouse Auditorium in Colombo. Throughout the course of the day, three sessions were held.
The first addressed development and environmental justice. Father Sarath Iddamalgoda spoke on the environmental and livelihood impact of the Port City Project for fishing communities on the Western coast. Hemantha Withanage highlighted how land belonging to the rural poor was grabbed for large-scale hydropower and farming projects. G. Ganeshalingam addressed the 200-year marginalisation of the up-country Tamil community and the land ownership they are denied. Iromi Perera explained the lack of due process behind evictions in Colombo, and the inadequate living conditions of urban poor families relocated to ‘high-rise’ buildings.
The second session was on war, conflict and land. Yardson Figurado spoke about the pervasive military presence in the north, even a decade after the end of the conflict. Sarala Emmanuel illustrated the ways women experience displacement, and how land ownership traditions disadvantage women. Shreen Saroor critiqued the lack of state responsibility and planning to resettle the Muslim population evicted from the Northern Province by the LTTE in 1990. Sajeewa Chamikara explained how land release links to the National Physical Plan, under which civilian land is being retained for development.
The final session discussed future strategies and ways forward. Vagisha Gunasekara explained how post-independence land resettlement and distribution policies have impacted the country’s current state. Bhavani Fonseka highlighted the need for holistic actions through legal and advocacy avenues to address land struggles. Priyankara Costa spoke of the need for solidarity with affected communities, from civil society and the general citizenry.
Two reports were also introduced at the event. The first, carried out by Iromi Perera for LST, is to explore the acquisition of land for a public purpose in Sri Lanka, in the post-war period. This report is to be released soon. The second was by PARL partner the Human Elevation Organisation, mapping land grabbing in the Ampara district.
The event was attended by over 120 people, including activists from around the country, academics, lawyers, and some university students. There was active engagement from the attendees during the question and answer portions of each panel, allowing for discussion and analysis of the issues the panelists presented.