The rationale for a new Office of Reparations was set out by the CTF (Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms) which worked during 2016, conducting meetings and receiving submissions from communities island-wide. According to the report nearly all those who shared their experiences expressed grievances that included issues such as non-payment, delays, or inadequate compensation, refusal of restitution, lack of accurate criteria, non-recognition of certain injuries or losses, discrimination, exclusion, or coercion by officials etc.
- A woman whose family had been affected by the JVP insurgency in 1989 explained how her family was given a warning and had to flee their home in Kandy with only a suitcase of belongings. Their home was looted and burnt and for 27 years they have not received compensation.
- Similarly an individual speaking of the 1983 pogrom said “…a Tamil youth was burned and killed. Parents filled action in court. The state gave Rs. 10,000/- as compensation and got the parents to sign a paper that said it was Rs. 25,000/-” (individual from Galle)
- A disabled person in Batticaloa claims “I am injured in my head and hip. I can’t see well in my eyes. When I say this, they say what’s wrong with you, you look fine…” (Disabled person in Batticaloa). Similarly, a large number of people claimed that psychological trauma is not given due attention and remains unaddressed.
The Office for Reparations will recognize the harms suffered by victims of war and violence and make policies to provide fair and adequate compensation to any such aggrieved persons who have suffered a violation of human rights. These sufferings and losses could be a result of the 30-year civil war in the North and East, or in connection with political unrest or civil disturbances such as the upheavals in 1971, 1979, 1983 etc., or through systematic gross violations of human rights, or due to enforced disappearances.
Reparations does not only include handing out money. Reparations could be either individual or collective (benefiting a community as a whole). Reparations must include the restitution of rights, recognition of wrongs, medical and psychological rehabilitation and psychosocial support, vocational agendas etc. These measures not only matter for reconciliation and healing but also for economic empowerment that can result in development.
What matters most when granting reparations is that all victims are treated fairly and equally. Factors such as ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation of victims can’t be used against the victims when granting reparations.
Sri Lanka has been recognized in the international arena for its commitment towards implementing 4 key transitional justice mechanism within the time time-frame of 4 years. There have been many challenges and setbacks, and it is true that the proposed legislation deserves careful scrutiny, debate and even improvements if needed. However, what cannot be denied is that reparations are a critical need for development as much as it is for reconciliation in this country. The poor and marginalized are not just data in a sheet of paper: they’re often poor because they’re marginalized and because they were victimized during conflicts and unrest. Above all, they are fellow citizens, children and brothers and sisters of our own nation. Protecting their rights should mean everything to us.