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news | November 03, 2016 | Sri Lanka |

Supporting people in claiming their legal rights in Sri Lanka

Shanika receiving the voucher for life insurance benefits from the insurance broker.

A widow overcomes obstacles for long-awaited life insurance benefits

In Sri Lanka, especially in regions previously affected by the armed conflict, many people do not have any legal documentation. Without documentation, they do not have access to any social benefits and are consequently trapped in a vicious circle of exclusion. Hence, ACTED recognises the necessity of providing support to these marginalised communities for obtaining legal documentation.

Data collection for mobile documentation clinics

Shanika lives in the village of Koduwamadu, in Batticaloa District. Kowduwamadu is one of the villages selected by ACTED for its EU-funded project “Strengthening fundamental rights and freedoms in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka” in 2016. ACTED and its project partners, SOND and BASL, visited this village in May 2016 to collect information from villagers in order to identify their needs in terms of legal documentation. This data collection was organised in preparation of mobile documentation clinics that will be implemented under this project. That is when the project team met Shanika, who told them her story.

• 52 mobile legal clinics to be deployed at the division level

• 40 mobile documentation clinics to be deployed at the GN level

Survival story comes to an abrupt end

Dinesh, her husband, used to work day and night to earn a living for his family, while they were being displaced multiple times owing to the conflict that was then severely affecting many Sri Lankan civilians. In such a difficult context, Dinesh subscribed to a life insurance to ensure a decent future for his wife and two children in the event of his death. But problems were just around the corner. One day in 2013, he went to work as usual, but never returned. He had been shot and badly injured as a result. Although he was immediately taken to the hospital, he eventually passed away.

Overcoming obstacles for long-awaited life insurance benefits

When Shanika tried to file a life insurance claim, the insurance company required that she bring an inquest report regarding her husband’s death. But there was the rub. She did not know how to obtain the report and was somewhat intimidated to undertake this process by herself, as women are usually accompanied by a male-relative for such procedures. Being from a remote village, she had never been to a court before and she could not even afford the help of a lawyer. But above all, she feared that her going to the tribunal by herself would spread negative rumours within her community, so she eventually gave up on the life insurance claim.

“My husband was shot dead in 2013 by an unknown person. He had a life insurance with Union Assurance, which he had always paid without any delays. Now, three years have passed since my husband died, but I still couldn’t file a life insurance claim.” said Shanika to ACTED team during their first visit to her village in May 2016.

The team helped her get the report and submit her claim. In August 2016, she was finally granted her husband’s life insurance benefits. With this money, she is now planning to expand her mother’s small grocery store, motivated to fund her daughter’s education.

Batticaloa District was one of the regions most affected by the thirty-year-long civil war that ended in 2009 and caused a severe socioeconomic impact to local populations. Since then, they have long been marginalised owing to their lack of legal documentation. Therefore, ACTED has decided to take advantage of the current context, which is more conducive to respect for equality and fundamental rights since the election of President Sirisena in 2015, to help these communities claim their rights.

Mobile legal and documentation clinics will provide pro-bono assistance, especially to those most vulnerable and marginalised, and unable to travel, to help them make their case and obtain documents such as ID cards or birth/death/marriage certificates.

Each clinic will be deployed for 2 days. They will be formed by local lawyers, volunteers from the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL), and 1 or 2 senior practitioners who will distribute leaflets containing basic information on common legal issues and provide one-on-one free legal assistance to those who need it, and/or link them with other lawyers based in the area.