Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka



Welfare Villages

Amongst the most ridiculous allegations in the Darusman Report are those that relate to the Welfare Villages, a title that the Panelists seem to resent. Astonishingly the Report takes no notice at all of the reports issued by Walter Kalin, the UN Special Representative of the Rights of the Displaced.


This is not surprising, because Prof Kalin of the UN Representatives with whom we had dealings. We had him over three times while we had to deal with the influx of the IDPs, and he was extremely helpful, firm about the adjustments he thought needed to be made, but always aware that we were dealing with a very difficult situation.


He made it very clear that it was not illegal to detain all the displaced, but he also pointed out that this could not go on for long, and that we should also endeavour to release those who were unlikely to be a threat. His report mentions various categories  of these, such as children, the elderly, pregnant mothers and the handicapped. I pointed out to him that in the ordinary world the assumption that these people were not dangerous might be correct, but we had had to deal recently with a pregnant suicide bomber who had nearly killed the army commander, and a handicapped one who had nearly killed the Minister for Social Services. Both had succeeded in killing others.


Kalin appreciated my point, but noted that we could not therefore hold all the pregnant and the displaced indefinitely. In fact government soon enough, having released the elderly and those children who were not with parents, also released these other categories.


Prof. Walter Kalin, the UN Special Representative of the Rights of the Displaced

I was also conscious of the timeframe Kalin had suggested, and in August in fact I wrote to Basil Rajapaksa to say that I thought we should move more quickly on releases. He called me up and gave me a earful, to say that he had promised to complete most of the process in six months, and he would do this, in seven at most, but that did not mean he could complete half the task in three months.


I believe Walter Kalin wrote shortly afterwards to remind us of the timeframe he had suggested, but by then government had begun the process of returns. We did however run into some difficulties, for I remember that the first large group to return were then held up in district centres. I was in Geneva at the time, but was reassured by those who had gone up to check on the situation that the Security Forces Commanders affirmed that they had been asked to again screen those who were returning, but they would treat this as a formality and ensure return within a couple of days.


I knew that the attitude of these Commanders was in general very liberal, because they appreciated the ground realities and understood that the vast majority of the displaced had simply been victims of the Tigers. I was myself present when the Vanni Special Forces Commander was told that instructions had been received that some pregnant women he had ordered released should be checked again, and he first said that it should be done quickly, and then said this was unnecessary and they should be released immediately.


I suspected what was going on, and confirmation of this was received when Sarath Fonseka complained in his letter of resignation to the President that the security considerations he had advanced had been ignored, and the President had released the displaced far too quickly.


I cannot expect the Panel to have understood all this, but the bizarre decision on the part of several groups to support Sarath Fonseka for the Presidency certainly confirmed my suspicion that a range of sanctimonious actors, including the TNA and several individuals in Western missions, cared not a whit for the Tamil people.


Where the Panel made clear its own agenda was in ignoring Walter Kalin’s clear recommendations with regard to the displaced, and his understanding that we were doing our best under difficult circumstances. The Panel instead seems to have regurgitated wholesale the complaints of various Non-Governmental Organizations that resented the fact that Government was in charge of the Welfare Villages and were not allowing them to rule the roost as

Poonthotam Camp, Vavuniya

had happened previously. Though they claimed that they ensured proper standards, this was nonsense, as I noted when I visited the Poonthottam Camp where old IDPs had been kept for years, in conditions that were appalling. I complained to Elizabeth Tan about this, and she claimed that the UN had been trying to find a remedy for this, but obviously it was with nothing like the intensity displayed by the suddenly awakened ‘international humanitarian community’ that was apparent in 2009 for obviously political motives.


One canard floated around at the time was that international agencies were denied access to Menik Farm. This was nonsense, and indeed government had to restrict the number of large vehicles that were chugging around and raising dust – which also stopped the smuggling out of some of the displaced. The Panel report puts the real reason for this canard when it declares that there were restrictions on ‘doing protection work or speaking to the IDPs in private’.  This made sense, because we knew the utter failure of agencies that had claimed to do protection work but had allowed the people of the Vanni to be ruthlessly abused in the past. The general view in which they were held became clear to me when I spoke to a couple of youngsters who had not gone back when universities had started, but had been hidden by their parents to avoid conscription. When I asked why they had not appealed to UN or NGO officials, they said that they did nothing to help.


I also saw the biased nature of the questioning of these officials when we were visiting with Kalin, and Anna Pelosi kept asking an old woman who had a problem to indicate that this was the fault of government, which she doggedly refused to do.  She also kept interrupting when I was discussing any problem, making it clear that she did not think government had any role to play in ensuring assistance with us. Given this not just confrontational but indeed malicious approach, it was quite understandable that government was not going to encourage the insidious fulfillment of a destructive agenda.


At the same time government ensured the provision of all sorts of medical facilities, including psycho-social assistance, though I am sorry that the programme of training I tried to initiate through the Peace Secretariat did not get off the ground. The Panel asserts that ‘psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, and some IDPs committed suicide’ as though they have made a case for neglect. This is nonsense, in that psycho-social services were provided by the Ministry of Health, and all the centres it established in the Camps, including those for primary care, had provision for psycho-social support.


With regard to the alleged suicides that it insidiously attributes to neglect by the Ministry of Social Services, it gives no statistics, which is a technique we have seen before, when occurrences are described as absolutes rather than in context. This was also the case with regard to allegations as to deaths, whereas the reality was that very soon the number of deaths was less than that usually found in refugee camps. It is true that there were a larger number in the first couple of weeks, but this was not surprising, given the appalling conditions to which, largely because of Tiger intransigence and greed, the people were subjected.  What is remarkable is how quickly we ensured recovery – but there is not a word about the sterling performance of the Ministry of Health, the practical NGOs that provided effective support services, the doctors and auxiliary staff who worked tirelessly.


Shelters in Zones 0 and 1

With regard to the conditions in the camps, certainly they were bad, but the UN also was responsible for the shoddy materials and support provided, at great expense.  It is true that the initial government plans were too grandiose, but that was no reason for turning to squalor instead, as the UN did in bringing down tiny white tents in which no one could stand. When I objected to these, I was assured by the UNHCR Head that they would be supplemented by covered leisure centres for people to relax during the day, but these took ages to come up, and when I complained the UNHCR Head said that these were the responsibility of UNICEF and they were much slower. These and learning centres for children were obviously not a priority, as compared with the government provided in Zones 0 and 1, which it had designed without UN input.


The Panel also claims, doubtless in accordance with its belief that everything good must have a Western origin, that ‘Conditions in Menik Farm did improve over time after much protest from the international community and threats from donors to cut off funding’.


Drainage for toilets in zones 0 and 1

This is nonsense. I cannot speak for everything, though I know that government was engaged in a constant battle to get better value for money. I do however know that the appalling sanitary conditions were due entirely to the UN and the agencies which it had hired at great expense completely ignoring Sri Lankan national standards in constructing toilets. They used plywood, whereas we required concrete or reinforced plastic. When it was pointed out that the gully suckers would suck out the bottom, the shelter consultant – who cost $11,000 a month, in a strange system whereby different UN agencies all made money by hiring through each other – declared that operators had been told to stop sucking half way.


The image of these operators judging the correct moment to stop, waiting as long as possible – since otherwise their machines would have to make even more journeys down narrow and vulnerable roads – and then cursing when they misjudged, as plywood and shit splayed out over the latrines, belongs in a novel by William Burroughs, not in the real world of suffering human beings. But the man in charge of all this lived in a strange world where, as the monsoon was about to come down, and humidity was increasing, he claimed that nothing could be done to improve conditions until the question of fire hazard was addressed.

 Sunday Leader 1 May 2011



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