UPDATE (SRI LANKA): OMCT sent open letter regarding the eviction of 168 families to the president of Sri Lanka 


Urgent Appeal Case: UP-05-2003
ISSUES: Land rights,

Dear Friends,

We are forwarding you the following open letter to the president of Sri Lanka from the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) regarding the eviction of 168 families. In the open letter, OMCT urged the president to take immediate measures to ensure the victims’ rights, which are guaranteed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and other U.N. Conventions. OMCT is also urged the Sri Lankan government to provide all the victims with adequate compensation, reparation and rehabilitation.

We thank OMCT to take action and request you to maintain your attention on this matter.

If you need more details, please see our previous appeal at http://www.ahrchk.net/ua/mainfile.php/2003/399/

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human rights Commission (AHRC)



Geneva, January 17th 2003

Ms. President,

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) would like to bring your attention to the situation of the 168 families originating from Oliyamulla, in the Wattala Electorate, who, since July 2002, have been facing ongoing violations of their right to adequate housing, along with acts of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment perpetrated by the police.

The International Secretariat of OMCT has been informed by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), a member of OMCT network, that on July 11th 2002 the Urban Development Authority, along with Urban Council officials and the police evicted these 168 families who were located in Oliyamulla, in the Wattala Electorate, close to the Negombo Road. On that date, bulldozers reportedly demolished the 108 houses where these families where living, giving them only three hours to leave the place. Given that most of the inhabitants were away at work and that children were attending school, all of their belongings were destroyed in the operation.

It must be noted that these families have been living on that land for a period of two years before the eviction, paying tax bills to the local authorities and getting electricity and water supplied to their houses. Indeed, while the land belongs to the Urban Council Wattle, a local member of the Parliament gave the land to these families and the administration allowed them to build houses. Following a change of Government in December 2001, their residence there was put into question and they were eventually asked and then threatened into leave in June 2002, as the land had been earmarked for the construction of a playground by a business magnate.

Following their eviction, these families have been living for 10 days on the side of the main highway running from Colombo to the airport. While they were living there, on the 14th of July 2002, two of them, Ajith and Rita Vanderstaten, were taken by the police to the Wattala Police Station. The police reportedly burnt Rita’s hand with a cigarette, while one policeman made some immoral suggestions to her.
The Buddhist priests and monks intervened on their behalf before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which conducted an inquiry into these events and ordered that the 168 families be allowed to go back to Oliyamulla and to rebuild their houses. Following the families’ return in Oliyamulla, the police came back and evicted them a second time on July 24th and 25th. In this respect, when the decision of the NHRC was communicated to the officer in charge of the Wattala Police Station, he allegedly refused to comply with the decision and stated that he had orders from above.

After their second eviction, the families returned to the the main highway and then stayed for a period of 2 weeks at the Sudarmaramaya Temple in Telengapatha, Wattala. Some people, who had relatives elsewhere, moved in with them. In parallel, and with the help of a lawyer and the support of Buddhist and Christian groups, they filed a Fundamental Rights Application (FRA) with the Supreme Court against the police and the Urban Development Authority.

On the 2nd of September 2002, the families tried to re-enter the land, with the permission of the NHRC, but the police intervened, dispersed them and threatened to arrest anyone entering the area.

On September 3rd 2002, State officials promised alternative land to the families who moved to Kerawalapitiya. The land allocated to them is a marshland, where they are living in temporary sheds with no access to safe drinking water and where the children have no school to attend. On the 5th of September 2002, the Divisional Secretary visited the premises and promised to look into their situation and to provide them with water. Moreover, Government officials also promised to fill the swamp in order to make it habitable. However, no action was carried out in order to implement these promises or to find alternative settlements.

In this respect, when this issue was discussed further with the authorities, the resolution of the situation became dependent on the families withdrawing the case they filed against the police and the Urban Development Authority with the Supreme Court. So far, the families have refused to do so and continue, therefore, to live in destitute conditions in Kerawalapitiya. As they are very poor, most of them being casual workers, they cannot afford alternative housing and have no choice but to remain where they are.

In view of these considerations, OMCT hopes that your Government will take immediate measures to ensure that the rights of these families are protected and upheld, and in particular their right to adequate housing, as well as their right to be protected from any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in conformity with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as the General Comments No. 4 and No. 7 of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights respectively on the right to adequate housing and forced evictions.

OMCT also hopes that these measures will be accompanied by the provision of adequate compensation, reparation and rehabilitation to all the victims. Finally, OMCT urges your Government will take all the appropriate steps in order to guarantee an immediate investigation into the circumstances of these events, identify those responsible, bring them before a competent and impartial tribunal, apply the penal, civil and/or administrative sanctions provided by law.

We thank you in advance for your careful consideration of this matter, and remain,

Sincerely yours,

Eric Sottas

Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Organizacion Mundial Contra la Tortura (OMCT)
8 rue du Vieux-Billard
Case postale 21
CH-1211 Geneve 8
Tel: 0041 22 809 49 39
Fax: 0041 22 809 49 29
E-mail: omct@omct.org

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Document Type : Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID : UP-05-2003
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Land rights,