The Census on human and property damages due to conflict – 2013, which began data collection last week is one of the key recommendations in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. According to a statement by the Department of Census and Statistics “The responsibility to conduct a Census to assess the human and property damages has been assigned to the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs and the Department of Census and Statistics. This Census which has to be completed within six months is scheduled to be held in October, 2013.

Using the ‘Population and Housing Census 2012’ , the census will collect information from every household in the country on deaths, missing persons, injured/ disabled persons and damages to property due to internal conflicts in the island from 1982 onwards. It will be conducted at the Grama Niladhari Division level (14,022 in total) and has appointed Grama Niladharis as enumerators.

Media reported that according to the Director General of the Department of Census and Statistics, “This scientifically designed census will help arrive at an exact decision on the persons missing and died during the period of conflict in the country”. He had also stated that one of the objectives of this exercise was to pay compensation to the affected families through Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms.

After examining the census schedule (L2 schedule), the handbook for data collection officials (two handbooks – on methodology and schedule) and informal interviews with some public officials who are data collectors, the following are some of the key points and issues that must be highlighted regarding this census.

As an English translation of the L2 census schedule is unavailable, a rough translation was done by Social Indicator. This English translation of the L2 census schedule can downloaded from here or viewed online here.

Links to the original questionnaire can be accessed at the bottom of this article.

Number of people of died or disappeared

One census schedule collects information from the immediate (nuclear) family and only details of this nuclear family is recorded. A nuclear family is defined in the census methodology as – (1) a person who is currently married, his/her spouse and unmarried children (2) a person who is currently unmarried, his/her parents and unmarried siblings.

They cannot provide details about other family units who live/lived with them or live/lived separately. This is done so in order to avoid double counting but however going by this method there are many of those who died or disappeared who would therefore not be counted.

For example, members of household X included father, mother, unmarried son, married daughter, daughter’s husband and their two children. Therefore this household has two family units – Unit 1 consisting of father, mother and unmarried son and Unit 2 consisting of married daughter, her husband and their two children. If they are all alive and living in the same house at the moment and were all completely unaffected by conflict only one census schedule would be used to gather their details. If even one person was affected by conflict, two census schedules would be used for each family unit.

If all members of Unit 1 died in the war, then there is no one at present to answer on behalf of Unit 1. Their family who belong to Unit 2 cannot answer about their death in their own Unit 2 census schedule either. Therefore, the three people who died in Unit 1 would not be counted in any census schedule and would not be represented in the total death toll as per this census.

If Unit 1 lived in a separate household, then there is no way they would be counted either as there is no member of the nuclear family alive to answer on their behalf.

Therefore, it is evident that the death toll compiled through this census would not represent all those who died or disappeared from 1982 onwards.

Issue of those who surrendered / detained

There is no provision in the census schedule to mark family members who surrendered/detained. The census schedule collects information about the nuclear family members who are currently alive and nuclear family members who have died or disappeared.

In Section C which asks for details of family members who are currently alive, question C1.7 asks the nature of residency – whether each member lives in that location, within the country at a different location or temporarily abroad.

In a household that has a nuclear family member who surrendered or was detained after or during the war (and family members believe are still alive) – the only option would be the second one which is living in the country but at a different location. However, this is the same answer option for family members who have migrated to different parts of the country for economic or education reasons too. If the household believes the family member who surrendered is no longer alive, then they are likely to include his or her name in section D which takes details of those who died or disappeared due to the conflict. However, there are several questions they will not be able to answer – including cause of death.

Those responsible for death/ disappearance/ injury/ disability

The answer categories given for this are (1) terrorist tigers, (2) other illegal groups, (3) groups suspected to be security forces, (4) other and (5) don’t know. The 2, 3 and 4th answer categories are likely to confuse people and in any case the likelihood of people openly admitting that the security forces were responsible would be quite slim. However, the phrasing of the answer categories is quite revealing – that the security forces cannot be outright responsible but it is possible that people can suspect perpetrators to be part of security forces.

Activity engaged in at the time of death/ disappearance/ injury/ disability

The answer categories for this include (1) Served in security forces, (2) Other Government/Semi Government employee, (3) Private sector employee, (4) Self/Family income generating activity, (5) Receiving education, (6) Not engaged in any activity.

Ex combatants come under (6) Not engaged in any activity as by definition being part of a terrorist organisation, whether or not they were receiving a salary, is not considered as a fruitful economic activity. Furthermore, because of this, households that have/had family members who served in the LTTE cannot be identified.

Assessment of mental trauma

Section E takes details of family members who were injured or disabled due to internal conflict from 1982 onwards. E3 asks for specific details of the disability and under mental disability the answer categories are – (1) High mental disability (2) Moderate mental disability (3) Low mental disability. In the handbook these answer categories are defined as follows –

  1. High mental disability is defined as someone who cannot perform day to day activities without the assistance of someone else.
  2. Moderate mental disability is defined as someone who can perform day to day activities on their own but needs the assistance of someone for certain activities.
  3. Little mental disability is defined as someone who does not fit into the above categories but it can be observed that there is some effect on their mental state due to the conflict.

As it is mainly Grama Sevaka Niladharis and public officials who will be collecting the census data and are not trained mental health experts, answering this section will require observation of family member and their own judgement as well as information from person from household providing the information.

  • An amendment to the guidelines handbook state that if a member of the family was injured or disabled due to internal conflict but is no longer alive due to non conflict related reasons, they are also supposed to be included in Section E (Details of injury/ disability) as their details would not be captured in Section C (Details of family members who are currently alive) or Section D (Details of those who died due to internal conflict)
  • In the guidelines handbook for officials collecting the census data there is a detailed explanation of what “internal conflict” in the census schedule includes. According to the handbook, internal conflict includes “tiger terrorist conflict from 1982 onwards, political conflict that took place in the country in the latter part of the 1980s and other internal conflict. During the terrorist conflict period, the various bomb blasts, attacks etc that took place in different parts of the country are considered side effects of the conflict. For example: Central Bank bombing, attack at Kolonnawa oil refinery, railway/ bus bomb blasts and suicide bombers”.

This means that while the JVP insurrection in the late 1980’s can be included, events that took place in July 1983 cannot be included.


To access high resolution scans of the original questionnaire (in Sinhala and Tamil only) click here, or access each file below.

To read the questionnaire online, click here, or see below. Please note the blurred text on some pages is present in the original as well, due to bad printing.


Editors note: Social Indicator is the survey research arm of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA). Socio-economic and political issues constitute the predominant focus of its research. The institutional anchor of Groundviews is also CPA.