Manipulation of Archaeology and History should be discouraged – PARL
The Peoples’ Alliance for the Right to Land (PARL) whilst urging the setting up of a peoples’ land policy, recommended that minority communities not be alienated from land they have historically used by citing spurious archaeological evidence or reasons related to the protection of wildlife and forest cover to displace these communities.
PARL further recommended that the Government must take immediate measures to cease the abuse of archaeology and history to strengthen exclusivist claims over land, which destabilise ethnic and religious pluralism. The manipulation of archaeology and history in ways that pose a threat to the social, cultural and political existence of minority communities living in a given area should be discouraged, they added.
With regard to the Presidential Task Force for Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province, PARL noted that its creation constitutes an unwarranted use of Executive power which overrides democratic institutions. “Any shortcomings or challenges faced by State institutions must be met by creating enabling conditions for public institutions and not making them redundant. The misuse of archaeology-based justifications to evict people and create landlessness, affecting all communities is a familiar trend and gaining political advantage by causing unrest and intimidating minority communities must be resisted. Land governance and administration must be fair and just,” a note and commentary released by PARL in this regard observed.
“The Task Force has some of the same functions as the Department of Archaeology. Adopting a dual administrative approach fails to address issues within institutions which have full responsibility over the subject. It is a waste of public funds, duplicates work and introduces political bias. The danger of militarising subjects such as archaeology is that it deteriorates the professionalism and devalues the competency of existing State institutions. The Task Force being an ad hoc body, functioning without any Parliamentary oversight and having no representation of Sri Lankans affected by its decisions, will potentially create suspicion and ill will amongst those affected. Its actions will likely not be consultative, be arbitrary, and if forceful or violent cause grievances to, and victimisation of, individuals and communities. There is no representation of women or ethnic and religious minorities. The composition of the Task Force does not lend legitimacy, inspire trust or contribute to reconciliation (in fact it does the opposite) between communities already facing severe hardships and instances of intimidation by the military in the Eastern Province. There are land issues that are highly contested along ethnic and religious lines. It is an area that has grappled with issues of population distribution, highly discriminatory resource allocation along political, ethnic and religious lines, and prolonged delays in addressing grievances including dire socio-economic impacts. Prioritising an archaeology preservation programme will further add to their hardships and deter their development. The composition of the Task Force implies a prioritising of Sinhala Buddhist interests to the detriment of minority interests. There is no language about co-existence and respect for others in the Gazette. It is likely that minority communities will potentially be affected given the composition of this Task Force which may also result in renewed anger and resentment of the Sinhala majority and create new conflicts. It may deepen mistrust and polarisation between resident communities. The inclusion of the military and law enforcement officials in the Task Force conveys a message that this Task Force has at its disposal both institutions legitimately mandated to use armed violence if their discretion deems necessary,” it further added.