Human Rights Commission under fire

HRC unnecessarily embroiled in land dispute — DS Ampara

By Isuri Kaviratne

A recommendation made by the Human Rights Commission in a dispute over a piece of land in Ampara has created widespread dissatisfaction in the area and has led to charges of partiality. Relevant government agencies too claimed the HRC’s recommendation was partial to its employee who is the complainant.

In 1995 applications for land were called at an Ampara Land Kachcheri. Wasantha Chandrapala a resident of Ampara was one among those who applied for land which was to be distributed. Under the lottery system of land distribution, he (Chandrapala) received a plot of land. In 1998 he was informed not to develop the plot as another party was claiming ownership. However in 2001 he received permission to develop the land and commenced working on it.According to Chandrapala on June 8 this year he was ordered to stop working on his land as an employee of the HRC, one J.M. Faumi had claimed the land belonged to him.

He (Faumi) had also attached a recommendation from the HRC to this effect. Chandrapala claimed the Ampara police requested him not to go to the land for a week until the matter was resolved.

On June 15 however, he came to know that the temporary shelter he had set up on his land had been demolished and a new temporary shelter was being put up by Faumi, regardless of the police order.
Despite complaints to the police and an order from the Assistant Land Commissioner T.G.S. Kumara not to develop the land till the matter was settled he said, Faumi had continued construction activities
“The land was given to me in 1995 at a time the HRC was not even established. A complaint was made in 1998 and resolved in 2001. Suddenly out of the blues on an unjust recommendation of the HRC, my human rights are being violated”, Chandrapala said.

When the Police forwarded the complaint to the Divisional Secretary of Ampara Sunil Kannangara, held an inquiry, checked past documents and had concluded that the land was given to Wasantha Chandrapala by the Land Kachcheri. “Even Faumi accepted the decision”, he said.

DS Ampara S. Kannangara said the HRC had unnecessarily got involved in a dispute where land had been distributed under normal procedures. “There were 460 odd applications and only 60 were chosen by a lottery. Applications were called in 1995 and the distributed lands had been named after the chosen applicants”, he said.

He added that Faumi had applied for land in 1990 but had not been eligible as he had not fulfilled government requirements. He had filed this complaint with the HRC in 1998, even though the land was given to Chandrapala in 1995.

The inquiry held by the HRC had been conducted partially he said, without checking the Land Kachcheri documents. He said he received an interim order from the HRC requesting him not to proceed with his decision that Chandrapala was the owner of the land.

“But, I can’t do anything as the land had been transferred to Chandrapala since 1998”, Kannangara added.

HRC not authorised to give interim orders: Justice Jayawickrama

Justice D. Jayawickrama, a Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission told the Sunday Times even though the Human Rights Commission Act does not specifically give a time limit, the policy being followed by the HRC is to accept complaints of incidents which have taken place within a year.
He added the Commission presently accepts complaints within 3 months of the incident as many false complaints had been received.

He added under special circumstances, if the complainant has an acceptable reason for not filing the complaint earlier, the Commission could make an appeal and decide whether or not to accept it.
He said in the event of an employee of the Commission being involved in a complaint, a third party should be involved in the investigations.

On no occasion is the HRC authorised to give interim orders he said. “If a party involved in a complaint is not following our recommendation, we would call on him and insist on his co-operation and if he continues to refuse to comply, we report the matter to the President.

The President would then inform Parliament and decide on a course of action”. Justice Jayawickrama said recommendations for amendments to the HRC Act would be made and these would include suggestions for enforcement of recommendations.

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