The Socio-political Situation
The post-war environment is marked by the Government’s strong focus on economic development, including reconstruction of the war-affected areas. Allegations in the Panel of Experts’ report citing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by both sides of the conflict have created different international perceptions among various forums. The UN Human Rights Commission discussed the Panel of Exports report during its September 2011 sittings. The Government has highlighted the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as a home-grown mechanism to lay the groundwork for reconciliation. Following the publication of the report in December 2011, the United Nations has supported the Government, where appropriate, to implement the LLRC’s recommendations.
Political power has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of the central Government. Consolidation has been further embedded in the Sri Lanka legal framework with the recent passage of the 18th Amendment through parliament, repealing presidential term limits and giving power to the executive to appoint senior administrative and judicial officials, and public service commissions. The Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security continues to be in charge of overall policy for the Northern Province. The capacity of line ministries and civilian administrations to provide essential services to resettled communities needs to be further strengthened, including providing registration and documents for resettled people.
The security situation continues to stabilize in the aftermath of the war. The Government lifted the emergency regulations in September 2011, but the police and military authorities continue to exercise special powers, including through the Prevention of Terrorism Act that curbs some civil liberties in the interests of national security. The Government reiterates a threat to Sri Lankan sovereignty posed by the elements of the global Tamil diaspora. The Northern Province is still heavily militarized with military presence visible in most areas. Many families are desperate to find a solution for relatives who went missing during the conflict.
The Government has prioritized economic development, with large-scale projects and contracts being planned and under implementation. In addition to investments from China, India and Japan, international financial institutions have stepped up grants and loans assistance following the end of the war. Some commentators have questioned the investments, but others have noted that infrastructure is essential for the country’s longer-term economic development, especially in the Northern Province where the long-standing conflict has hampered Government and commercial investment.
The Humanitarian Situation
By the end of September 2012, the Government successfully returned, and closed all camps hosting newly displaced IDPs. However, 7,300 old IDPs from old caseloads remain in camps in the Northern Province. According to the Government, between May 2009 and September 2012 more than 452,000 IDPs returned to their home areas. They consisted of 236,000 new IDPs and 216,000 old IDPs.
An undetermined number of IDPs reside with host families. A total of 5,000 IDPs are stranded in transit sites (1,100 new IDPs and 3,900 old IDPs).
To determine the total number of people who remain IDPs and seek durable solutions, the Government, supported by UN agencies, has agreed to conduct an island-wide survey. The results will identify those people who are willing to go home but cannot return due to external reasons and therefore will be considered IDPs (this includes those who lived in high-security zones). Many of these people have established homes and livelihoods elsewhere in the country and may no longer be considered vulnerable. In addition, the ongoing release of land from high-security zones in Jaffna will reduce the overall IDP population as people return to their place of origin and re-establish livelihoods.
In addition, UNHCR reports that approximately 130,000 Sri Lankan refugees were living in 65 countries by mid-2012. To date, refugee return has been slower than anticipated.
The restoration of essential services remains a priority, with substantial investment made across the Northern Province. However, gaps remain three years after the conflict ended. Health facilities, schools and public infrastructure require continued investment and support to respond to the needs of resettled people.
The Government and humanitarian partners have provided significant assistance to returning IDPs, such as transitional shelters, water and sanitation, school supplies, food and NFIs. Additionally, Government and partners have committed to cover 80 per cent of the total permanent housing needs in the north and east to be implemented over the coming years.
Most returnees still face challenges in securing long-term, sustainable livelihoods after returning home. In 2011 and 2012, flood and dry conditions have significantly affected harvest yields for farmers, day labourers and fisher folk. Food security remained relatively stable as of October 2012, with heavy rainfall in northern Sri Lanka replenishing irrigation systems for the upcoming rain-fed padi season. Therefore, resettled communities remain vulnerable, although there is clear evidence of widespread investment in social services and infrastructure.
The country is vulnerable to natural hazards, including intermittent and seasonal flooding, drought, cyclones and landslides. The need for coherent capacity-building for preparedness and response is important given the impact of climate change and unpredictable weather patterns.
The Humanitarian Strategy and Response
In early 2012, the Government, the UN and NGO partners launched the second Joint Plan of Assistance (JPA) for the Northern Province. The JPA supports the overall national programme designed for the people of the Northern Province rebuild and return to normalcy. It provides a framework for meeting immediate humanitarian needs and linking interventions to the early and medium-term recovery efforts. The development and implementation of the JPA is a major coordination achievement. These JPA strategies will bridge with the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2013-2018 to meet outlines for longer-term programming, including addressing the needs of protracted caseloads and finding durable solutions for all IDPs, as well as urban and rural poor people not directly affected by the conflict.
The cluster approach was formalized in January 2009 and, at the HCT’s recommendation, will be deactivated by the end of 2012. Cluster/sector leads play a critical role in coordinating the humanitarian response under the leadership of line ministries. However, in line with the ending of humanitarian assistance, one streamlined development coordination structure will come into effect in January 2013. The Government has requested continued UN support through OCHA to strengthen capacity for preparedness and response to sudden onset disasters. An UNDAC disaster-response preparedness mission, conducted in November 2011, produced recommendations for the Government on developing preparedness strategies and international support for priorities, including urban search and rescue.
In line with the improving humanitarian situation, UN agencies and INGOs are winding down humanitarian programming by the end of 2012 and are consolidating their field presence and reducing staffing levels. Commensurate with this reduction, UN agencies will focus on national-level development programmes, with some specific projects earmarked for the Northern Province.
The remaining IDPs, both old and new caseloads, will either return to their point of origin or resettle/reintegrate elsewhere. Some IDPs will require direct assistance from the Government and development partners to identify a durable solution and to restore livelihoods. A joint profiling exercise will help determine the number and location of vulnerable people and support longer-term national strategies to address needs. Although much work needs to be done, field observations and discussions with key informants indicate that the foundations for durable solutions are being laid.
In the relatively short period since the end of the conflict, significant investment in infrastructure, housing and social services (health facilities, schools, etc) in most districts has supported resettlement conditions. However, further investment and incentives are required to maintain skilled staff to operate these facilities. Humanitarian mine action for resettlement will finish by the end of 2012 with a shift to demining for livelihoods, particularly in agriculture areas. National mine action will continue for decades.
Northern Provincial elections will take place, empowering local structures and authorities to function independently. The military will consolidate its presence through formalizing its base structures.
International agencies will cease humanitarian activities by the end of 2012, or shortly thereafter, with a commensurate shift to development-orientated programmes. Discussions with donors confirmed that new humanitarian funding will be allocated to Sri Lanka in 2013, in line with the need to shift to development solutions.
The Government will continue to implement portions of the LLRC road map, strengthening the peace-and-reconciliation process. Long-standing issues related to land ownership/documentation, civil rights and equity issues will be at the forefront of discussions. Protection concerns will be addressed through thematic workings established under UNDAF.
Pockets of vulnerability will remain in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Although some vulnerability is undoubtedly linked to displacement, much stems from structural poverty issues countrywide, particularly for people living in remote rural areas.