The Need for Reparations – Victims’ Stories
By Tharaka W.B. Hettiarachchi
Almost a decade after the end of the war, there is still a segment of Sri Lankan society continues to remain in the dark. For them even as the fighting has ceased, the suffering and trauma remain unchanged.
“When I am alone having lost my children and my family, I sometimes get the feeling why I should be living… On one side I am sad about losing my family. On the other side I’m longing for assistance.”
– Lady from Kilinochchi who lost her family
Providing reparations to victims is a crucial step in the healing process of a post war country such as Sri Lanka. The “Office for Reparations Bill’’, gazetted on 25th of June 2018, was submitted to the parliament on 17th of June 2018. All reparations related tasks/matters are to be handled by the Office for Reparations. However, granting reparations does not mean merely giving monetary compensation. There are many types of reparations that can be granted. Granting reparations demand a recognition that violations have occurred in the past. It also demands a fair and adequate method of determining the best form of reparation that can be provided based on the individual needs of victims. These matters are to be considered by the Office for Reparations (OR).
Many victims of violence have suffered human rights violations, and violations of humanitarian law. They are victims who have lost their family, their land, livelihoods, education and access to basic health services. Some are in need of psycho-social support to move on from the traumatic effects of war.
Bearing the pain of loss and the burden of poverty, a lady who now lives alone in Kilinochchi says:
“I had four babies but 3 of them were stillborn… In 1991 my son survived…when he was eight months old, my husband died. I lived in untold misery after that. It must be said that I lived in the dark. I don’t know wage labour but had to somehow earn and support my child. My wages were Rs 75.00 a day and I suffered even for food. When the child was three years I sent him to school. He studied up to O’Levels and after that he also entered as a wage labourer in 2007. He went to work so as to keep his mother happy. When he is delayed somewhere I search for him because I am happy only when he is at home. In 2008 when he went to work he was killed as a result of shelling. I searched for three days and discovered the truth. I cried and cried and am still crying.”
The OR is deemed to provide support to victims such as these. Reparations can be provided to those who have lost their family members. The OR will work together with other transitional justice mechanisms that are currently set in place in order to give the best possible remedies for victims. For example, in the case that a victim is a family member of a missing person, the OR can refer such persons to the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) in order that they can continue their search for the missing and to ascertain the truth about what happened through the relevant organizations. The OR can also receive applications from the OMP regarding victims that are in need of reparations. Reparations can also provide socio-economic support for those who need to find a stable and reliable source of income. Providing the opportunity to engage in training or skills development, being provided with welfare services, and payment of loans or monetary benefits can empower war and conflict victims who are facing dire economic conditions due to the effects of war and violence. The OR would be a beneficial and highly valuable mechanism by the state to help those who are motivated and determined to move on from their plight of suffering, but who do not have the means to do so.
“I will build a house in my land and keep my son’s photograph and live in peace. My desire is to live on my own income. I must meet my expenses from the income of some self-employment… if I could build a house even if it be a hut. I must live there with no trouble to others.”
– Lady from Kilinochchi
Many victims living in poverty are simply in need of the chance to find a stable means of income.
“When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband was shot by the brutal LTTE terrorists… Now I sew and make bags out of palm leaves…But we don’t have a good sale.”
– Wife of a Sri Lankan Army soldier, Kurunegala (Letter 214)
“In the 1980’s, fighting was intense in our areas. Those days we were living in the jungle, among many difficulties with our children… Their education was disturbed as well. After the war we returned but there were difficulties to find a livelihood. All our property was lost.”
– Victim from Ampara District (CTF Report)
According to the OR Bill, the office is set to provide reparations for the loss of livelihoods, housing and other assets.
Physical disability and psychological trauma too are crucial aspects that need immediate attention in a post-war context. These issues are often overlooked as unimportant, and with the lack of support and assistance can have significant negative impact on victims. A large number of submissions were made to the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation (CTF) regarding the difficulties faced by disabled war victims (including former SLA soldiers) and the neglect they have faced as a result of it. Some cannot find work due to their disability and some are not treated because their disability is not recognized as a priority to begin with. As part of the reparations process, the OR is set to provide adequate and necessary healthcare to war and conflict victims. This includes providing special attention to those with disabilities. Physical disability is one of the many consequences of war that lead to psychological trauma.
“Before we got married, my husband got disabled in 1991, while fighting in Welioya. He is deaf in both ears…my husband lost his job. After sacrificing so much for the country, he must be feeling so sad… My child’s mental strength has also deteriorated. We request some assistance…”
– Wife of disabled soldier, Kurunegala (Tree of Life 1)
This is an example of the clear demand made by the victims. Victim centrality is one of the key principles to be followed by the OR. A need based and adequate reparations mechanism will prove to be more effective in its aim to restore victim’s lives back to their original state, as well as to build victim’s trust in a coherent and reliable system. The OR is to be headed by experienced and qualified commissioners who will act independently, not conforming to changing government interests or political biases. The primary focus should be on the victims and their needs. They want an end to the years of suffering, and look for help and support to build a better future. It is the duty of the government to empower these people who are fellow citizens of the country. They have a right to receive reparation for the violations they have endured and an effective reparation mechanism cannot be delayed for longer.
(Quoted from: – The Herstories Project at www.herstoryarchive.org. This is an online archive of war-affected women’s memories collected between 2012-2013 by Radhika Hettiarachchi and Viluthu Centre for Human Resources Development. – Final Report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms – Volume I)