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Regional South Regional Workshop on Human Rights in Development

Written By Freedam to the nation resettlement of IDPs on Friday, September 7, 2012 | 12:26 AM


Regional South Regional Workshop on Human

Rights in Development from 22nd – 29th July 2012 at

Goldi Sands Hotel in Negombo, Sri Lanka.


Program brought together 21 human rights activists and defenders from Bangladesh, India,

Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The facilitators for the workshop were Jerald Joseph

(Executive Director of Dignity International) andNayana Chowdhury (Sri Dorabji Tata Trust, India);with Law & Society Trust (LST) as the local organizer. Jerald Joseph welcomed everyone and gave a brief description on Dignity International. He thanked LST for its great support towards this program . Dignity International works globally and regionally, trying to bring together people from grassroots level, as transformation of knowledge has

always a priority in this organization. Mala Liyanage from LST welcomed everyone and explained about the work LST does, along with the challenges faced

in Sri Lanka


Herman Kumara – Convener, National Alliance for Fisheries Solidarity (NAFSO)

Padmini Weerasooriya – Women’s ESC Rights with a focus on Free Trade Zone Workers

Pradeepa Sudarshani – Women’s Health and Housing Issues

Sandun Thudugala - Agriculture and rural issues

Moderated by:

B.Skandakumar - Senior Researcher, Law and Society Trust

Herman Kumara

Sri Lanka’s service sector is growing rapidly. The tourism master plan was prepared in 1984.

“Mahinda Chinthanaya” is the philosophy of the county. The government uses all the lands (coastal, agriculture, etc) for tourism, and built hotels on the coastal area after the Tsunami. There are 14 or 15 tourism zones along the coastal line in Sri Lanka,

transforming into the “wonders of Asia”. What is happening in the name of development?

More than one million farmers will be affected by the air taxi service. People’s culture and rights are violated. The access to the sea and livelihoods are violated, and the income of small scale fisheries contributes to the national income. The Government aims to bring 4 million tourists and

earn 8 million US dollars by 2020.Sea grabbing is happening in the North West of Sri

Lanka in the name of development. It is unjust. It results to security issues for free movement for the people. The land belongs to the Navy, nobody will be allowed within certain proximity. Prevention measures to enter the beaches are enforced and, beaches are covered with barbed wires and fences. The project must be stopped immediately to protect people’s livelihood. People came together to protest, but the army, navy and security forces were present

and intimidated the people. People who took part in the protest were threatened. The ESCR are violated and on the other hand, the safety of these people is at risk. Protesters are labeled as ‘anti- development people

Padmini Weerasooriya

In the tea and garment sectors, 85% of the workers in the Free Trade Zone are women. There are 300,000 workers in Free Trade Zones around the country. They are hired for cheap labour. Most of these women came from afar to work at the Free Trade Zones due to lack of employment in their provinces. They do overtime in order to earn more. According to the Government’s statistics, a family of four needs LKRs44,000/= to live. Both parents

have to work. The children are affected due this. In the last 30 years, the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) women have to operate more than one machine. They encounter health problems. The workers have to sign a logbook, even for toilet breaks. They are facing numerous problems. The men get into relationships with women at FTZ, and upon getting the women, the men abandon the women. These women are being stamped with abusive words and exploited in many ways. According to a recent survey, 60% of the FTZ women are suffering from anemia. More unsafe abortions are taking place, and due to the high chemical usage in factories, women

are diagnosed with leukemia. After the war ended, a lot of Tamil women have to

work at FTZ. But they are marginalized because the medium of communication at the Free Trade Zone are English and Sinhlala. These Tamil women workers are given different uniforms and are transported in different vehicles. The FTZ has been in existence in Sri Lanka for 35 years. Unfortunately, the workers at FTZ are denied to form trade unions.

Pradeepa Sudarshani

According to a famous saying, “The world exists through the rays of the Sun and the milk of the

mother”. 40% of people in this county earn less than USD2 per day.There are more women than men in Sri Lanka. Poverty affects women the most; they are suffering from malnutrition. As a result, they produce malnourished children. Media reports that the income from alcohol sales

has increased this year. The exploitation of women is increasing and Politicians, Principals, even Priests are involved in these offences. A lot of people in the county are not living.

The World Health Organization reported that 13% of the people in Sri Lanka suffer from psychological problems. Sri Lanka is placed on the 8th place in suicide ratings. Women have to face a lot of challenges. Free health services weakening and hospitals are being privatized.

The women are compelled to seek employment aboard even though migrant workers send the

highest amount of money back to the country. However, the Government is not bothered to take

care of their health. When they return, they have to face a lot of issues in the family. Hence, before implementing development projects, the government has to take care of the women migrant worker’s issues.12, 000,000 people in Sri Lanka are homeless. If there are forced evictions, the people should be provided with alternative housing. But this is not the

case in Sri Lanka. The government prioritizes more in hosting Indian film stars and organizing car races. We should forget about our difference and work towards equality”.

Sandun Thudugala

80% of the population still live in rural areas of Sri Lanka. Out of this 80%, 70% survives on

agriculture. The present government came into office with a huge support from the rural folks.

Nevertheless, their needs were not upheld during the development stages in the country

Agriculture should be able to ensure food security of its population, livelihood security of food producers and sustainability of resources. We have failed in all three sectors in Sri Lanka. More than 25% children are malnourished. It is a shame. 50% of the population does not receive 2,030 Kcal per day. Among the pregnant women 13.4% are underweight. 90% of the population living under poverty rate is part of the rural agricultural economy. Agricultural contributes around 12% to the GDP. Access to resources (land, water and seeds), heavy dependency on external inputs, and market access are the issues with regard to agricultural community. After the war, the High Security Zones (HSZ) are turned into economic zones. When the seeds are controlled, the food chain is automatically controlled. The main product of Sri Lanka is paddy. The politicians and their friends are controlling the paddy. The farmers continue to face

Numerous problems.1.2 million people in the world are facing hunger. Sustainability of resources - Soil fertility, water, impacts of climate change and loss of bio diversity. 20,000 farmers have died and more than 200,000 farmers are in the verge of dying because of arsenic.

Sri Lanka’s success stories were based on human development. Over the last 30 years, these

achievements have been undone.

Comments and questions:-

What is the minimum wage for the FTZ


_ The minimum salary is Rs7,900/-. It is decided by the wages board. There is no

Security for women workers at Free Trade Zones in Sri Lanka.

India faces the same problem; when there are small farmers their contribution to the GDP is not

considered. The farmers should be acknowledged as they are contributing to families. The government should be able to accept and acknowledge that. _ How is the campaigning situation with regards to the small farmers? The development trend is the same in South Asia.

Is the civil society taking any action against these development projects in Sri


o There is very little space for civil society to campaign. Before this, the government used

to target journalists and human rights defenders. Now, the government has begun

to curtail the activities of the civil society. The recent paddy farmer’s campaign was

named as an “NGO driven protest!” We are importing 85% of our dairy

products for consumption. We depend on imported food. Comment from a participant- In Bangladesh, we face the same problem in the garment industry. _ With USD 8million from the tourism, it ought to create more employment opportunities, don’t you agree?

o By 2020, Sri Lanka wants to bring 4 million tourists and earn 8 million dollars. 75,000

new jobs will be created and 25,000 rooms at hotels will be added according to the

Government. Tourism is seasonal. Rural population is used to agriculture and fishing.

We will be losing and not gaining through the current development. We are losing the space for the civil society in Sri Lanka. Platform for Freedom is working with media, civil society and


_ Are there any laws to protect the farmers?

o No

The ESCR committee has made suggestions to the government. The government says it

will build 500,000 houses, but so far it has only built 11,000 houses.

Comment- How are we going to challenge the development project? The Government of Sri Lanka supported the elimination of terrorism. But after that, they started to crush the journalists and human rights defenders. What is happening now? We have a lot of international pressure. But, what about local pressure? The international pressure will not continue for a long time. There are 72 organizations which are on the ESCR committee in Sri Lanka. The document has to be a campaigning document. It is an issue between life and death. White van and extra

judicial killings continue in Sri Lanka during the post war period. We have to overcome the fear of psychosis. We have to challenge the government.

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