Global Human Rights Defence

An Epidemic of Land Grabs in Sri Lanka
Tamil women protesting land-grabs. Source: Green Left, 2016.

Department: Siri Lankan Team
Author: Sarah Thanawala


Despite twelve years passing  since the civil war ended, Tamil-owned lands in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka continue to be acquired by the Sri Lankan government. Among the recent protests against land grab attempts of Tamil homelands in Sri Lanka, in November 2021, locals in Mandaitivu and Pungudutivu stopped the Sri Lankan government officials from the survey department from acquiring land for the Sri Lankan navy (Tamil Guardian, 2021a). In August 2021, the protestors halted officials from surveying a private land for its acquisition by the Sri Lankan military, and particularly for the Karkovalam Army camp (Tamil Guardian, 2021b). In July 2021, the Vadduvakal area of Mullaitivu saw heavy protests from locals that stalled the initiation of a gazette that would have allowed the officials to seize 617 acres of Tamil homelands for the “Gotabaya Navy Base” (Tamil Guardian, 2021c). 

Besides the Army and Navy occupation of Tamil-owned lands, the acquisition of hundreds of Tamil homelands by the Wildlife Department, the Forest Department, and the Archaeological Department is on the rise (The Oakland Institute, 2021). With roughly one military member for six civilians, land grabbing has impacted the extreme militarization of the Tamil population (The Oakland Institute, 2021). Notably, through the process of “Sinhalization”, Tamil-dominated Provinces (Northern and Eastern) are being converted as Sinhalese Buddhist majority areas with the illegal settlement of the Sinhalese-Buddhist population (The Oakland Institute, 2021). 


Sinhalization refers to the process of encroaching upon areas dominated by the minority communities in Sri Lanka, thereby changing the demographic by populating the regions with the Sinhalese-Buddhist community (Balachandran, 2019). The Northern and Eastern regions of Sri Lanka with Tamil homelands have seen “state-sponsored Sinhala settlements for decades”, whereby under the disguise of promoting agriculture and irrigation schemes, Sinhalese agricultural labourers are migrated to such Tamil dominated areas (People for Equality and Relief in Lanka, 2019; The Oakland Institute, 2021). 

To quote one of such instances – in order to implement an irrigation project, the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka seized 1,100 acres of land, thereby threatening the Tamil families to be displaced (The Oakland Institute, 2021). On 16 January 2022, among other such projects, the Sri Lankan ministry announced the commencement of restoration of Sinhala Buddhist stupa in the Eastern province (Ministry of Defence, 2022). Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary and Head of the Archaeological Heritage Management Presidential Task Force inaugurated the project (Ministry of Defence, 2022). Such restoration is allegedly a recent practice geared towards the Sinhalization of Eastern provinces (Tamil Guardian, 2022). In October 2021, Tamil parliamentarians wrote against the “artificial alteration of the demographic pattern” where the Sri Lankan government attempted to redraw the borders of a district in the Northern Province (Tamil Guardian, 2021d). 

Sri Lanka is the most militarised region in the world, with one soldier for every two civilians in the Mullaitivu District (Fernando, 2020). The military in the Northern and Eastern regions are employed for land grabs. Besides this, the military is also involved in non-military purposes like setting up camps, venturing into agriculture, tourism, and military-owned businesses (Fernando, 2020). 


Thousands of Tamil families were displaced by the end of the armed conflict due to the Tamil homelands being declared as High Security Zones by the military, or gazetted as Special Economic Zones for the construction of industries, in areas including Jaffna, Trincomalee, Killlinochchi, and Mannar (Colombo Telegraph, 2013). The Sri Lankan government has taken the means of issuing gazette notifications in the name of establishing Army and Navy base camps for “conservation” by the Wildlife and Forest Departments, and for “national heritage” by the Archaeological Department, among other such mandates (Oakland Institute, 2021). President Rajapaksa is accused for establishing the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Management with the motive to encroach upon Tamil native lands (Oakland Institute, 2021). 

Apart from granting mandates for official purposes, lands are also handed out for religious purposes (Oakland Institute, 2021). Particularly, under the gazette of 2 October 2020, hundreds of acres of land of the Trincomalee district were leased to a Buddhist organisation (Oakland Institute, 2021). However, the gazette notification lacks legitimacy on account of the absence of the necessary approval by the Provincial Council (Oakland Institute, 2021). 


The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) observed the “displacement of persons as well as loss of land and homes” to be the major consequences of the Civil War (Colombo Telegraph, 2013). As previously mentioned, Tamil families have been displaced from their homelands since the end of the Civil War (Colombo Telegraph, 2013). Consequently, Tamil landowners lost their major source of livelihood because of the acquisitions by the Sri Lankan Army (Colombo Telegraph, 2013). Where the High Security Zones were declared along the coastline, Tamil families whose livelihoods depended on occupations, like fishing and farming, faced severe consequences (Colombo Telegraph, 2013). Furthermore, access to certain places of worship, such as Catholic churches, were halted due to the occupation (Colombo Telegraph, 2013). 


National laws

Due to discrimination based solely on the ethnicity of the Tamil group, the right to equality guaranteed under Article 12(1) of the Sri Lankan Constitution has been violated (The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1978, Art.12(1)). Tamil farmers are being forced to move their livestock into the forest due to the occupation of pasture lands by the State, and so their right to livelihood or their right to engage in “any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise”, as protected under Article 14(1)(g) of the Sri Lankan Constitution, is sorely compromised (The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1978, Art.14(1)(g)). Furthermore, the potential displacement of Tamil families from their native places is feared, depriving the Tamils of their right to choose one’s residence, further guaranteed under Article 14(1)(h) of the Constitution (The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1978, Art. 14(1)(h)).

International laws

Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) protects the right of all individuals to own property, and that no human shall be arbitrarily deprived of property (UDHR, 1948, Article 17). Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) mandates the right to an adequate standard of living, including housing (ICESCR, 1966, Article 11). According to General Comments 4 and 7 of the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, forced evictions are in violation of the protections guaranteed under ICESCR and can be permitted in only exceptional circumstances and in line with principles of international law (Wickramaratane, 2020; UN OHCHR, 1991). The ICESCR further provides for the State Parties to take measures in consultation with the affected population and facilitate the necessary legal remedies and compensation (Wickramaratane, 2020; UN OHCHR, 1997). 


Marginalisation of the minority Tamil community is exacerbated with the epidemic of land grabs in the Tamil-populated Northern and Eastern provinces in Sri Lanka. The eviction and the resulting displacement in the name of development are yet to be acknowledged by the international community as a pretence to further marginalise the Tamils. Therefore, what remains is an immediate need to spread awareness of the project and processes initiated by the government that not only deprives Tamils of their land, but also leaves them without livelihood, identity, culture and community. 


International legislation

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966, December 16)., accessed 20 January 2022.
International Covenant on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (1966, date).,  accessed 20 January 2021.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948, December 10). accessed 20 January 2021.

National legislation

The Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1978. (as amended on 29th October 2020, Revised Edn 2021), accessed 20 January 2022.

UN documents

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (1991, December 13). CESCR General Comment No.4: The Right to Adequate Housing (Art.11 (1) of the Covenant). UN OHCHR., accessed 17 January 2022.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997, May 20). The right to adequate housing (Art.11.1):forced eviction:.20/05/97. CESCR General comment 7. (General Comments). UN OHCHR., accessed 18 January 2022.

Sri Lankan official publications

Ministry of Defence (2022, January 16). Lahugala ‘Neelagiri Stupa’ to stand tall again. Ministry of Defence., accessed 20 January, 2022.

News articles

Colombo Telegraph (2013, May 1). Land Grabs in North and East Contradict LLRC Recommendations. Colombo Telegraph. , accessed 18 January 2022.

Tamil Guardian (2021a, November 9). Tamil protests halt Sri Lankan land grab attempts in Jaffna. Tamil Guardian., accessed 17 January 2022.

Tamil Guardian (2021b, August 23). Protests held in Jaffna against attempted land grab by Sri Lankan military. Tamil Guardian., accessed 20 January 2022. 

Tamil Guardian (2021c, July 29) Tensions as Sri Lankan navy deploys troops to intimidate land-grab protestors in Mullaitivu. Tamil Guardian., accessed 18 January 2022. 

Tamil Guardian (2021d, October 25). Tamil MPs call for an end to ‘artificial alteration of Northern Province democracy’. Tamil Guardian. , accessed 19 January 2022.

Tamil Guardian (2022, January 17). Sri Lankan army ‘restores’ another stupa as Sinhalisation in East intensifies. Tamil Guardian., accessed 20 January 2022.

Journal articles     

Balachandran, P.K. (2019, July 20). Sinhalization of Tamil Areas by Building Buddhist Shrines over Hindu Temples. The Citizen. , accessed 18 January 2022.

Fernando, N (2020, December 9). Strategic Demilitarization in Sri Lanka: Paradoxes and Trajectories. Journal of International Affairs. , accessed 16 January 2022.

Gnaguleswaran (2019, September 21). Sinhalization of the North-East: Kokkilai. People for Equality and Relief in Lanka. , accessed 18 January 2022. 

The Oakland Institute (2021). Endless War: The Destroyed Land, Life, and Identity of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka. The Oakland Institute. , accessed 16 January 2022.

Wickramaratne, P (2020, November). Securing land rights of displaced and evicted communities in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka. Oxfam International., 20 January 2022.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.