UNHCR Overview: IDPs in Sri Lanka

by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, April 29, 2013


UNHCR Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence – Sri Lanka

Publisher Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)
Publication Date 29 April 2013
Cite as Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Global Overview 2012: People internally displaced by conflict and violence – Sri Lanka, 29 April 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/517fb0516.html [accessed 30 April 2013]
Disclaimer This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Number of IDPs At least 93,000
Percentage of total population At least 0.4%
Start of displacement situation 1983
Peak number of IDPs (year) 800,000 (2001)
New displacement in 2012
Causes of displacement x International armed conflict
✓ Internal armed conflict
✓ Deliberate policy or practice of arbitrary displacement
✓ Communal violence
x Criminal violence
x Political violence
Human development index 92

Hundreds of thousands of current and former IDPs in Sri Lanka remained in need of protection and assistance as of the end of 2012, more than three and a half years after government forces defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May 2009. More than 93,000 people were still living in camps, with host communities or in transit situations. Of more than 480,000 people who had returned to Northern and Eastern provinces, many are still to achieve durable solutions.

At the end of September 2012, the Menik Farm displacement camp, where around 225,000 Tamil IDPs were interned in June 2009, was closed. Of more than 1,300 IDPs still living in the camp in September, 560 were unable to return to their home areas because they were occupied by the Mullaitivu Security Force headquarters. Instead they were relocated, many of them against their will.

Military occupation of land is preventing around 26,000 people from returning across the north and east of Sri Lanka, and it is estimated that more than 3,000 people have been relocated, in many cases involuntarily.

Many returnees faced challenges in accessing their basic humanitarian needs such as shelter, water and sanitation during 2012. Displaced and returning communities also required livelihood assistance, social support, legal assistance and psycho-social care in recovering from the effects of the conflict. The assistance provided was inadequate to meet the needs. The presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance also continued to complicate the recovery of livelihoods. As of the end of the year, clearance operations were ongoing in both livelihood and residential areas, with 108 km2 of land still in need of demining.

In December 2011 the government’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommended a reduction of the military presence and the demilitarisation of the administration. A year later, however, the number of troops in Northern province was still high, and the military continued to compete economically with small businesses run by conflict-affected people who were trying to become independent of aid. It also reportedly cultivated crops on land which IDPs had been told they could not return to.

The military continued to engage in activities that fall within the remit of a civil administration, including the authorisation of community meetings or events, and the registration of civilian families in many northern villages, whether they had been displaced or not. Female-headed households reported feeling particularly insecure as a result of military visits. Protracted Tamil IDPs in the Northern Province and in Trincomalee have been unable to return to land that the military is occupying, and to date they have received no support towards a durable solution.

Land issues, which were at the core of the conflict, remained unresolved as of the end of 2012. No policy had been established to address the many and complex housing, land and property issues caused by multiple and protracted displacement. This has prevented many IDPs from achieving durable solutions.

Although they have registered as having returned to the north, many Northern Muslim IDPs continued to live in their places of displacement in Puttalam or between the two locations, the result on the one hand of there being no assistance to support returns and on the other of obstacles to local integration.

Sri Lanka still has no legislation governing IDPs’ protection. A bill drafted by the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in 2008 had not been taken forward as of December 2012. The development of a policy and/or legislation on displacement is part of the government’s action plan on the protection and promotion of human rights for 2011 to 2016, but the timeframe for its completion had not been met and no information as to progress was available.

The national budget prioritised defence over the ministries responsible for dealing with recovery from the war, and large-scale infrastructure projects were favoured over measures that might address the assistance needs of IDPs and returnees.

The military leadership continued to control the approval of humanitarian projects in the north through its membership in the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province (PTF). The PTF places particular restrictions on the provision of mental health care and psycho-social activities. Because of government restrictions, no comprehensive assessment has been conducted in conflict-affected areas, and there is no comprehensive data on the needs of the most vulnerable groups. No IDP profiling has been done since 2007. The government, UNHCR and the UN Office for Project Services launched a survey of protracted IDPs in 2011, but the project was abandoned in December 2012 due to obstacles placed on it by the PTF.

At the end of the year, the UN cluster system was phased out as the international response shifted from humanitarian to development interventions, despite continuing humanitarian needs on the ground. International funding for both areas of activity was significantly reduced.

Country Report: Human Rights 2012

by U.S. Dept. of State, April 19, 2013

Discrimination against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of victims of human rights violations were Tamils.


The government of Sri Lanka continued to tighten its grip on power in 2012. Significant human rights violations took place during the year and the government made little meaningful effort toward reconciliation with the Tamil minority community. The president exercised authority under the 18th Amendment to the Constitution to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights protection. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem and during the year the government took steps to impeach the chief justice of the Supreme Court. At year’s end, the Appellate Court was preparing to hear arguments on the Constitutionality of Parliamentary oversight of the judicial branch. Persons allegedly tied to the government attacked and harassed civil society actors, journalists, and persons viewed as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam sympathizers. Involuntary disappearances continued and the government did not account for thousands who disappeared in prior years. Widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly involving police torture, attacks on media institutions and the judiciary, and sexual violence remained a serious problem. Security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups committed unlawful killings in predominantly Tamil areas. Discrimination against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of victims of human rights violations were Tamils.

Executive Summary

Sri Lanka is a constitutional, multiparty republic. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was reelected to a second six-year term in January 2010, and the parliament, which was elected in April 2010, share constitutional power. The government is dominated by the president’s family; two of the president’s brothers hold key executive branch posts as defense secretary and minister of economic development, while a third brother is the speaker of parliament. A large number of other relatives, including the president’s son, also serve in important political or diplomatic positions. Independent observers generally characterized the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections as problematic. Elections were fraught with violations of the election law by all major parties and were influenced by the governing coalition’s use of state resources. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

The major human rights problems were attacks on and harassment of civil society activists, persons viewed as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sympathizers, and journalists by persons allegedly tied to the government, creating an environment of fear and self-censorship; involuntary disappearances as well as a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years; and widespread impunity for a broad range of human rights abuses, particularly involving police torture, and attacks on media institutions and the judiciary.

Other serious human rights problems included unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas; torture and abuse of detainees by police and security forces; poor prison conditions; and arbitrary arrest and detention by authorities. Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Denial of fair public trial remained a problem, and during the year there were coordinated moves by the government to undermine the independence of the judiciary. The government infringed on citizens’ privacy rights. There were restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement. While citizens generally were able to travel almost anywhere in the island, there continued to be police and military checkpoints in the north, and de facto high-security zones and other areas remained off limits to citizens. Authorities harassed journalists critical of the government and self-censorship was widespread. The president exercised authority under the 18th amendment to maintain control of appointments to previously independent public institutions that oversee the judiciary, police, and human rights. Lack of government transparency was a serious problem. Violence and discrimination against women were problems, as were abuse of children and trafficking in persons. Discrimination against persons with disabilities and against the ethnic Tamil minority continued, and a disproportionate number of victims of human rights violations were Tamils. Discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation and against persons with HIV/AIDS were problems. Limits on workers’ rights and child labor remained problems.

The government prosecuted a very small number of officials implicated in human rights abuses but had yet to hold anyone accountable for alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law that occurred during the conflict that ended in 2009.

During the year unknown actors suspected of association with progovernment paramilitary groups committed killings, kidnappings, assaults, and intimidation of civilians. There were persistent reports of close, ground-level ties between paramilitary groups and government security forces.