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Going back to Pre-2015 Geneva! – part I

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By Austin Fernando

The European Union’s (EU) statement announcing its decision to consider withdrawing the GSP+ concession for Sri Lanka reiterates the crucial contents, i. e. alleged human rights violations and the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act- PTA), in the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) Resolution of October 2015, and the follow-up. The ‘Yahapalana’ government has been criticised for co-sponsoring the second resolution, but its critics seem to think that Sri Lanka had been free from UNHRC pressure before 2015.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since 2009, with the UNHRC, and the EU stressing the need for bringing about reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Concurrently, there have been interventions from other nations, too, e. g., the USA, Canada. This article attempts to explain why the 2015 UNHRC Resolution should be put in perspective so that we could address the consequential challenges and threats.

Even some intellectuals argue that UNHRC resolutions are baseless. Another school of thought maintains that we should get over the criticisms against Sri Lanka by adhering to acceptable standards/norms and reap the socio-economic benefits. Even if the resolutions are baseless, as claimed, we cannot afford to ignore the fact that they have been taken very seriously by the international community, whose opinion and decisions affect us politically, diplomatically, and economically.

Let’s revisit the pre-2015 Geneva situation.

Joint Statement by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and UNSG Ban-Ki-Moon

In the aftermath of the victory against LTTE in May 2009, UN Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban-Ki-Moon and President Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a Joint Statement on 23 May 2009, which was the initial step toward post-war reconciliation. The content of this statement is worth revisiting:

1. The visit reflected the close cooperation between Sri Lanka and the UN, and its commitment to work with the UN in the future.

2. The conflict over, Sri Lanka has entered a new post-conflict beginning and the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) faces many immediate and long-term challenges. The critical status offers opportunities for the long-term development of the north and for re-establishing democratic institutions and electoral politics after decades. The GOSL expressed its commitment to ensuring the economic and political empowerment of the northern people.

3. President and the SG agreed that addressing the aspirations and grievances of all communities and working towards a lasting political solution was fundamental to ensuring long-term socio-economic development.

4. The SG welcomed the assurance of President Rajapaksa stated in his statement in Parliament on 19 May 2009 that a national solution acceptable to all sections of people will be evolved. President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, and to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties.

5. President and SG discussed a series of areas in which the UN will assist the ongoing efforts of the GOSL in addressing future challenges and opportunities.

6. Concerning IDPs, the UN will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs in Vavuniya and Jaffna. The Government will continue to provide access to humanitarian agencies. The Government will expedite the necessary basic and civil infrastructure, means of livelihood necessary for the IDPs for the earliest resumption of their normal lives. The SG welcomed the announcement by the Government expressing its intention to the planned dismantling of welfare villages.

7. The GOSL seeks the cooperation of the international community for mine-clearing.

8. The SG called for donor assistance towards the Common Humanitarian Action Plan jointly launched by the GOSL and the UN.

9. President Rajapaksa and the SG recognized many former child soldiers as an important issue. President Rajapaksa reiterated his firm policy of zero tolerance about child recruitment. In cooperation with the UNICEF, child-friendly procedures have been established for their “release and surrender”, and rehabilitation to reintegrate former child soldiers into society as productive citizens. The SG while appreciating the progress encouraged GOSL to adopt similar policies and procedures relating to former child soldiers in the north.

10. President Rajapaksa informed the SG regarding ongoing initiatives for rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, in addition to the ongoing work by the Office of the Commissioner-General for Rehabilitation, and the National Framework for the Integration of Ex-combatants into Civilian Life under preparation, with the assistance of the UN and other international organizations.

11. Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws. The Government will take measures to address those grievances.

The final consensual understanding (No; 11) was a carte blanche for the UN. Sections 1 to 10 are on the need to satisfy the needs of the affected with the help of the international community. Perhaps, in response to the alleged atrocities during the final phase of the conflict and/or out of its humanitarian concerns, the GOSL unilaterally made its proposals to the UNHCR on 27th May 2009.

11/1 Resolution 27 May 2009

This proposal, titled “Assistance to Sri Lanka in the promotion and protection of human rights” contained the following:

1 Welcomed the GOSL’s commitment to promote and protect human rights and encourage upholding human rights legal obligations.

2 Encouraged the GOSL to continue pursuing existing cooperation with UN agencies to provide basic humanitarian assistance

3 Encouraged the GOSL to continuously pursue cooperation with relevant UN organizations, to provide, to the best capabilities, with GOSL cooperation, basic humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs).

4 Welcomed the announcement of the proposal to safely resettle the bulk of IDPs within six months and encouraged the GOSL to proceed with due respect for persons belonging to differing minorities.

5 Acknowledged the GOSL’s commitment to providing access, as appropriate, to international humanitarian agencies to ensure humanitarian assistance to the IDPs to meet their urgent needs and encouraged the Sri Lankan authorities to further facilitate appropriate work.

6 Encouraged the GOSL to its efforts towards the disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation of former child soldiers, their physical and psychological recovery, and reintegration into society, through educational measures, considering the rights and specific needs and capacities of girls, in cooperation with relevant UN agencies.

7 Urged the GOSL to strengthen activities to ensure that there is no discrimination against ethnic minorities in the enjoyment of all human rights.

8 Welcomed the continued cooperation between the GOSL, relevant UN agencies, and other humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected people and encouraged continued cooperation with the GOSL.

9 Welcomed the recent visits of the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of IDPs and encouraged continuous cooperation in the mobilization and provision of humanitarian assistance.

10 Welcomed the visit of the SG, and endorsed the joint communiqué issued after the visit and the understandings contained therein.

11 Welcomed the resolve of the Sri Lankan authorities to begin a broader dialogue with all parties to enhance the process of political settlement, and to bring about lasting peace and development based on consensus among and respect for the rights of all stakeholders and invited them to actively participate in it.

12 Urged the international community to cooperate with the GOSL in the reconstruction efforts, by increasing the provision of financial and development assistance, for poverty alleviation and underdevelopment and promotion and protection of all human rights.

The 11/1 Resolution contained constructive proposals originating from the quoted joint statement. Its contents concerning the aspirations of the Tamils and the position of the international community were ratified. The GOSL, which co-sponsored the proposals had to implement them. But it did not make good on its commitments, and even tried to justify its failure to do so.

Later, since some of the pledges were politically disadvantageous, some conveniently claimed that the joint statement was non-binding as regards the international human rights and humanitarian laws. They chose to ignore the internationally binding commitments in the joint statement and the endorsement of it by Section 10 in the above resolution.

Darusman Committee

The UNSG witnessing the delays in the implementation of the proposals appointed the Darusman Committee on Accountability in Sri Lanka, in June 2010. The Darusman Report was unfavorable for Sri Lanka. At the very outset, the purpose of the committee and the appointment of the members thereof were questioned by the GOSL. The inclusion of Yasmin Sooka as a member was questioned because she was considered sympathetic to the LTTE. GOSL resisted the Darusman Committee investigating Sri Lanka. Further, UNHCR High Commissioner Navaneethan Pillai was also ridiculed.

19/2 Proposal (2012-3-22)

However, the Darusman committee gathered information from diplomatic and other sources. When the proposals were not implemented, the matter was brought to the attention of the UNHCR through the resolution 19/2 on 22 March 2012, which was ratified on 3 April 2012.

By this time the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC) had been released. It had many constructive recommendations. Therefore, the new UNHRC resolution made three recommendations, of which two specifically referred to the LLRC recommendations:

1 Called upon the GOSL to implement the constructive recommendations of the LLRC Report and to take steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitments to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability, and reconciliation to all Sri Lankans.

2. Requested GOSL to expeditiously present a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps government has taken and will take to implement LLRC recommendations and to address alleged violations of international laws.

3 Encouraged the UNHRC and special procedure mandate holders to provide in consultation and concurrence with the GOSL, advice, and technical assistance and requested the High Commissioner to present a report on such assistance at the 22nd Session.

The GOSL considered the LLRC Report a success, but did not implement its recommendations fully. This above-mentioned resolution reminded GOSL of the need to carry out the LLRC recommendations and pointed out the Rajapaksa government’s lack of commitment to doing so.

I recall a personal experience concerning the LLRC Report to show how Commission recommendations are treated by governments. It is about the Aranthhalawa Bhikku massacre. In an article I wrote in 2012 in the Colombo Telegraph, I said:

“The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in its report at Section 8.72 said “Representations were also made before the Commission that the Government should order a full-scale probe into the Arantalawa massacre of 33 Buddhist monks, most of whom were Samaneras, on 2nd June 1987….” It appears that along with the other investigations recommended in the LLRC Report, this is also forgotten. As recommended in Section 5.107 of the LLRC Report for other affected, as “a matter of justice,” the plight of these priests “needs to be recognized by the State…” I pray it to be fulfilled after 25 years.”

My prayer was answered nine years later under another Rajapaksa government. The incumbent administration is to probe into the Aranthalawa Bhikku massacre. The Yahapalana did not pay attention to it. The present response is surely not due to UNHRC pressure; it may be to remind the public of the LTTE atrocities against Buddhists in time for the next Provincial Council elections so that the government could gain some political mileage therefrom. Curiously, no such interest has been envied in other human rights issues. (To be continued.)



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Arms race accelerating to new heights in Asia

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The arms race is being accelerated to unprecedented heights in the Asian region through the introduction by some major powers of what is being described as the hypersonic missile. China was the latest nuclear-capable state to test fire this missile which could be equipped with nuclear warheads and is, therefore, invested with a mass destruction potential. However, India is making it clear that it would not be outdone by China in this competition for superior weapons technology by developing a hypersonic missile of its own.

A recent news report said, among other things, of the Chinese experiment that, “China recently tested a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile which circled the globe before missing its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise.” It is the missile’s advanced space capability that is among its most notable characteristics. In this respect it is a clear upgrade over the inter-continental ballistic missile that has a very much lower strike range.

As specialists have pointed out, the ICBM has a parabolic movement and hits its target at an ascertainable distance on the same geographical plane from the launch site but it does not possess the capability of travelling around the globe. The hypersonic missile, in contrast, has this globe-encircling capability and ought to be more worrying in respect of its destructive capability. However, it is the weapon that has come to be prized by the major powers. Besides the US, China and Russia, some other states that are said to be in the running for developing hypersonic weapons technology are; Australia, France, Germany and Japan, besides India. That is, almost the entirety of the world’s regions is caught up in the race for developing hypersonic missiles, with, of course, grave implications for the security of the human race.

Considering that China and India are in an unrelenting arms race and also taking cognizance of the possibility of other regional powers, such as Pakistan, not standing idly by as this competition continuously hots-up, it could be said that South Asia’s development prospects in particular stand the risk of being progressively blighted. Needless to say, South Asia’s poverty would be greatly aggravated when defense budgets of the region’s key states acquire greater precedence over their social welfare budgets. Besides, issues such as climate change would come to be overlooked by these states, resulting in the region’s development prospects being further undermined.

Ideally, SAARC needs to take a collective policy position over climate change issues that would be surfacing at the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Glasgow but with the region’s foremost powers hardly talking to each other and arms taking precedence over ‘Bread ‘, climate change questions are unlikely to acquire the importance due to them at Glasgow and other prime climate-linked international parleys. As a result, social welfare in South Asia would be steadily imperiled in the days ahead.

Focusing on the numerous dangers faced by the SAARC region as a result of climate change questions coming to be overlooked by the relevant governments, the ADB warned some time back: “…the collective economy of six countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – could shrink by up to 1.8 per cent every year by 2050 and 8.8 per cent by 2100, on average.”

However, it is not only the poor of South Asia who would be badly affected by the current global arms race. It would be correct to say that in degree to the proportion to which the arms race speeds-up worldwide, to the same extent would the poor everywhere be further impoverished and rendered vulnerable. This is on account of welfare budgets the world over suffering shrinkage in the wake of stepped-up arms spending. But the segment to suffer most acutely will be the poor of South Asia.

The continuing tensions between China and India on their disputed border areas would only aggravate the arms race between the Asian giants in the days to come. There are veritable eye-ball-to-eye-ball stand-offs between the armies of the two countries in the areas in contention. These tensions are currently focusing on the border India’s Arunachal Pradesh has with China. A few months back China-India tensions centred on the Ladakh region. Talks between the countries to sort out these disputes are ongoing but increasing insecurities would only stress the importance of armaments over development.

As this is being written, US President Joe Biden is heading for talks with the G20 grouping, which comprises the world’s most powerful countries. Biden would subsequently head for the climate change parley in Glasgow. Hopefully, the big powers would focus strongly on the current accelerating arms race and its consequences for the world. Put simply, they would need to discuss the ways and means of containing the arms race before it grows out of control. They would also need to understand, very crucially, that the major powers cannot credibly speak in terms of nuclear arms control and disarmament before they opt to systematically do away with the lethal, mass destruction arms which they already possess.

India and Pakistan possess a nuclear capability but they are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). From the viewpoint of these regional powers, this refusal to formally endorse the NPT is understandable because although some of the foremost powers of the Western hemisphere have signed the NPT, they are yet to say a clear “Yes” to nuclear disarmament. As long as the foremost global powers, such as the US, China and Russia, hold on to their nuclear weapons they cannot expect the prime powers of the South, such as India and Pakistan, to desist from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, the foremost powers could no longer gloss over arm control issues and pursue the relevant talks mechanically without connecting them to questions, such as, development, climate change and increasing worldwide insecurity. There is a logical link between insecurity, arms spending, underdevelopment and climate questions. The securing of sophisticated nuclear weapons is seen as a means to their security by powerful states, but they only create insecurities in their neighbours and the wider international community, who are in turn prompted to arm themselves with the same weapons. Thus is the arms race accelerated at the cost of human development and the environment. Slowing down the arms race is, therefore, imperative.

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Ending the Dispossession of Northern Fishers by Indian Trawlers

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Prof. Oscar Amarasinghe and Dr. Ahilan Kadirgamar

(Chancellor of the Ocean University and Senior Lecturer, Jaffna University, they are also, President and Executive Committee member respectively, of the Sri Lanka Forum for Small Scale Fisheries – SLFSSF)

From the beginning of the early 1980s, trawlers, from Tamil Nadu, have been crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and illegally fishing in the Palk Bay waters of northern Sri Lanka, damaging the ecosystem by bottom trawling, smuggling fisheries resources, belonging to the northern Sri Lankan fishers, damaging their fishing equipment, and undermining their livelihoods. Diverse types of interventions, by the two governments, dialogues between the fishers of the two countries, involvement of civil society actors, and others, have done little to prevent human suffering, economic losses and the volatile political situation disturbing the relations between two friendly countries that have emerged from this 40-year long story of resource piracy. The northern Sri Lankan fishers, who suffered 30 years of civil war have had enough and there is an urgent need to end this crisis.

Extracting and devastating resources

Both Sri Lankan and Indian fishers used to share the Palk Bay waters (historic waters) in the past, which they did in harmony. However, post-war developments saw radical changes in the structure and organisation in fisheries, the expansion of the market and the establishment of borders separating the Palk Bay region, all of which had tremendous influence on fisheries, especially on the type of technology employed (craft-gear combinations), target species, fishing pressure and area of operation. In this process of change, a tremendous increase in Indian trawlers was observed, which finally resulted in a serious decline of fisheries resources on the Indian side of the Palk Bay and crossing of the IMBL by the Indian trawl fleet to fish in Sri Lankan waters.

In northern Sri Lanka, over 37,000 fishers operate more than 11,650 boats, the majority of which are 18 feet FRP boats propelled by outboard engines of 8 to 25hp. Including post-harvest sector employment and dependents, about 200,000 people in the Northern Province are dependent on the sector. They don’t stand a chance against the 2500 odd 30-60 feet trawlers from Tamil Nadu propelled by 70-190hp outboard engines. Indian trawl boats are crossing the International Maritime Boundary Line (which was established in 1974 and 1976) to fish on the Sri Lankan side of the Palk Bay. These boats are poaching in Sri Lankan waters in large numbers as well as extracting and devastating the resources belonging to Sri Lankan fishers. Although the process of poaching commenced in a situation where Sri Lankan fishers in the North had limited fishing opportunities due to the civil war. Today the issue has become one of the most important economic and political issues in the country, because with the end of the war in 2009, the Sri Lankan fishers in the North has commenced fishing.

The Palk Bay Pirates

Trawlers come at night, three days a week, smuggle colossal amounts of fisheries resources, and damage Sri Lankan fishers’ nets, causing enormous financial losses. To avoid the trawlers, Sri Lankan fishers often stay at home instead of going out to sea, thus loosing valuable fishing time. They are forced to adopt less-profitable, near shore operations and/or resort to destructive fishing practices (trawling, wing nets, purse seining, dynamiting, etc.). The social institutions of the fishing communities, particularly fisheries co-operatives present in every village, have been weakened due to the long decline of fishing incomes, where a fraction of such incomes are normally contributed to run the co-operatives. Thus, participatory management and coastal support for fishing communities have been undermined. The long disruption of fisheries after the war has made it difficult for fishing communities to plan for the next season, and many are slowly moving out of the fishing sector to other forms of day wage labour.

In the early years, arrests of Indian trawlers for poaching were made for security reasons, because the Sri Lanka Navy, which was fighting a war, was less interested in fisheries issues. But since the cessation of the war, the Navy arrested the intruders for illegal entry into Sri Lankan territory. The arrests were made under the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations Act No. 59 of 1979, Immigration Act of Sri Lanka and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The impact of the arrests in preventing Indian trawl intrusion was neutralised by the arrests of Sri Lankan multiday fishers for poaching in Indian Territory, and detained in Indian prisons. Often, through the intervention of the embassies of the two countries, the Indian trawler fishers arrested and detained in Sri Lankan prisons were released in exchange for Sri Lankan fishers detained in India.

Early Interventions

In trying to deal with this escalating crisis, the two governments drew up an MOU in 2005, which made provision for the establishment of a Joint Working Group (JWG), which among other things, would deal with issues of poaching and arrests. Although several rounds of discussions were held since 2008, no significant developments were reported, other than agreeing that fishers in both countries should be able to pursue fishing activity in a safe, secure and sustainable manner. However, some progress was achieved in the front of fisher-fisher dialogues. Several such dialogues have taken place in the past, initially organised by ARIF (Alliance for the Release of Innocent Fishermen) and later with the active involvement of the two governments. The most important of such dialogues took place in August 2010, where the Indians agreed to stop mechanised trawl fishing in Sri Lankan waters within a period of one year, during which time, only 70 days of trawling were to be allowed. Unfortunately, the governments failed to back up these decisions, and the promises were not kept. Further dialogues took place under state patronage in March 2011 and January 2014, which did not produce any fruitful results.

Post-2015 developments

In April 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena convened a meeting with the various arms of the state and the northern fisher leaders on the request of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). This high level meeting and continued engagement gave the fisher folk the confidence that their plight was a matter of serious concern to the Government, and initiated bipartisan engagement on the issue, leading to significant progress. The Parliamentary debate in October 2015 on the ecological and socio-economic damage by Indian trawlers, growing awareness through media coverage and the greater involvement of actors in Colombo, raised the fisheries conflict to the level of a national issue, rather than a problem confined to the North. Fisher leaders also took their issue to court and actively sought legal recourse towards prolonged confiscation of trawlers, and a ban of trawling in Sri Lanka. An Amendment to the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act banning bottom trawling in Sri Lanka was passed by Parliament in July 2017.

On another front, the Indian Government, in 2015, made unambiguous statements that Tamil Nadu trawlers should stop cross-border fishing. Furthermore, the increased media attention on the devastation caused to Northern Fishers exposed Tamil Nadu’s hypocrisy. The Tamil Nadu Government called for INR 1,520 crore (USD 225 million) package to convert the trawler fleet to deep sea vessels under the ‘Blue Revolution Scheme’., of which INR 450 crore (USD 66 million) was approved by the Government in Delhi, and the rest was to come from bank loans. By September 2019, close to 590 trawlers have applied for this facility. Although concerns were raised about whether such a conversion to deep sea fishing and buy back is realistic and sustainable, the engagement from Tamil Nadu pointed to an acknowledgement of the unsustainability of trawling and poaching.

An important development was the setting up of a Joint Working Group in November 2016 during ministerial talks held between India and Sri Lanka (revitalising what was formed in 2005), which would meet every three months and a meeting between the Ministers for Fisheries every six months.

The Terms of Reference for the Joint Working Group (JWG) included: i. expediting the transition towards ending the practice of bottom trawling at the earliest, ii. working out the modalities for the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for handing over of apprehended fishermen, and iii. ascertaining possibilities for cooperation on patrolling. Both Governments agreed on setting up a hotline between the two Coast Guards. Agreement was also reached on the request by the Fishermen Associations that there should be no violence and no loss of life in the handling of fishermen by the Navies and Coast Guards of the two countries. They agreed to encourage the Fishermen Associations of the two countries to meet every six months to take further their dialogue. Yet, many of the decisions taken at the bilateral Ministerial talks were not followed through towards a permanent solution.

As a result of campaigns of small scale fishers from the North, the work of researchers and activists and engagement with the governments of the two countries, and more importantly, the enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boat Regulations (amendment) Act, a significant reduction in the incidence of Indian trawlers illegally fishing in Sri Lankan waters was noticed by 2018. Yet, the Northern fishers did not even have a breathing space for a new beginning, because the country was hit by the Covid Pandemic in early 2020. Very little action was paid against the poachers and there has been a resurgence of the incidence of Indian trawlers poaching in Sri Lankan waters, drastically affecting fishing livelihoods, which were already being threatened by the pandemic. The aggravated current situation, continues to dispossess the small scale fishers of the North; they were devastated by the war until 2009, crippled by the Indian trawlers in the decade after the war and impoverished by market disruptions with the Covid-19 pandemic since March 2020.

Moving forward

The decision to arrest and retain trawlers that are crossing over the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) by the Sri Lanka Navy, particularly since 2013, places significant pressure on the Tamil Nadu establishment. Yet, the lower levels of arrests over the last two years (71 vessels were arrested in 2017 while only nine were arrested in 2020) is in part due to fears of the Covid-19 virus spreading through arrests. Evidently, expanding deterrence is of paramount importance in dealing with the present crises, which needs strict enforcement of the Foreign Fishing Boats Regulations (Amendment) Act, No. 01 of 2018 to arrest foreign vessels in Sri Lankan EEZ which has provisions for imposing heavy fines on trawl owners ranging from Rs. 4 – 15 million. The Trawl Ban Act. No. 11 of 2017 should also be implemented. Given that Indo-Sri Lankan relations are currently of great importance, where the priorities for both governments are in furthering trade, investment and defence ties between the two countries, deterrence is to be employed carefully. There is the need for a broader strategy that asserts pressure at different levels to ensure that Tamil Nadu addresses the issue of poaching by their trawlers; particularly given that fisheries is a devolved subject in India. Pushing for joint patrolling operations by the Indian and Sri Lankan Navy could be strategic. The Indian side needs to be convinced to install vessel monitoring devices on their trawlers to track their location. However, these efforts will prove futile unless the incidence of Sri Lankan multiday boats violating Indian maritime boundaries is brought under control.

Raising the issue both by the Sri Lankan Government towards the Indian Government and the TNA and Tamil political actors towards Tamil Nadu would be strategic, given the political realities. Strong emphasis should be made on the devastating impact of resource smuggling on the livelihoods of Northern fishing populations of Sri Lanka. Strategies to work with the newly elected Government in Tamil Nadu in relation to the fishing conflict will be necessary. Engagement by the Tamil fishing community and community leaders from the North will prove important for challenging a change of stance by Tamil Nadu Government and its leaders.

Thousands of nets worth millions of Rupees have been lost in the past decade, with no single fisherman ever being compensated and with no insurance being available. Fishers now deserve financial reparations for their lost assets and for lost fishing days. Financial reparations can also be asked from the Tamil Nadu fishers, the Tamil Nadu government or the Indian government. If such demands, however, are not met in the short term, the Sri Lankan government itself may need to find the required funds. A campaign for reparations for northern Sri Lankan fishers will help consolidate the demand for a permanent solution to the fishing conflict.

The larger aim of interventions in the Palk Bay should be to establish a sustainable, comprehensive, and socially just fisheries. Current data on the state of fish stocks in this region are highly deficient. Similarly, very little scientific knowledge on the damage caused to the environment by trawling is currently available. There is an urgent need for NARA to intensify research in the Palk Bay. This can provide the foundation for developing a rational and legitimate framework for fisheries governance. Such research will also continue to weigh on the need for a permanent solution that ends bottom trawling in the Palk Bay.

While the fisher-to-fisher negotiations conducted in Chennai in 2010 were initially widely acknowledged as promising, the follow-up was poor. Similarly, the Ministerial level talks in November 2016 were significant and even led to considerable changes, however, again follow up was poor. There is a need to build on the tremendous gains of those talks, regardless of the change of Government.

At the current moment there should be a clear plan recognising the realities in Sri Lanka and India, including the political changes in Tamil Nadu and the Covid-19 pandemic to work through a process of consensus building, but with firm resolve to end bottom trawling. There should be no setback on issues agreed at the Ministerial level talks in November 2016, and calls for licensing cross border fishing should be rejected outright.

Concluding remarks

The measures suggested above will be important steps towards resolving the Palk Bay fisheries conflict. Such measures along with the recent national attention on fisheries can also lay the foundation to ensure sustainable governance and management of the natural resource base and the people who depend on it. The establishment of effective interactive platforms (e.g., strengthening fisher community organizations, co-management platforms) and clearly laid down rights and responsibilities of participating actors, along with consultation, collaboration and coordination of all concerned actors can lead to effective and sustainable policies. Indeed, sustaining small scale fisheries in addition to solving the Palk Bay fishing conflict will encompass dialogue among relevant actors, capacity development, law enforcement and empowerment of coastal communities.

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Sri Lanka at EXPO 2020

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….a huge disappointment 

Rajitha Seneviratne’s description of the country’s pavilion, at EXPO 2020, in Dubai, has been endorsed by quite a few Sri Lankans who had the opportunity of checking out the Pavilion, themselves.

Briefly, this is what Rajitha had to say (The Island of October 12th):

“When I saw the pavilions of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even Afghanistan (this country has no official exhibit but a private collector’s items), the SL pavilion is a huge disappointment, indeed. An EXPO is held to show the world where we are heading, more leaning on futuristic hope…not on showcasing only what we have/had….EXPO happens once in five years (Olympics is held every four years) and it’s a once in a decade opportunity. Where is the “WOW” factor in our pavilion? It is NOT about money but I got to know we have spent USD150 million – by any means quite a sum – and created a “pavilion” good enough to be a regular ‘stall’, at a local show, at the BMICH, in Colombo.”

And corroborating his statement are the following:

* Kumudu Abeyawardane:

I’m not someone who ever runs SL down. As messed up as we maybe, it is still the country that is home and I am one of those who chose not to leave, even when the opportunity existed.

“I was at EXPO 2020, in Dubai. I didn’t visit everything, but I visited almost all of Africa, and Asia, and, of course, Sri Lanka. What I saw was sad…as you entered there was a counter from the Ceylon Tea Board, with two very friendly girls who talked to everyone, who stopped to have a cup of tea, and did a brilliant explanation of Ceylon tea. Hats off to them! But, the experience ended there.

“The rest of the staff, except for one other lady, who was welcoming everyone, was sitting in corners, ignoring everyone….The SL brochure was only in Arabic. Someone forgot that this is an International exhibition.

“There were a few masks…a few photos that did nothing to bring out the magnificent beaches, or the heritage, or the wildlife we possess. Nothing about the development, or anything about the opportunities for investment!

SL was a sad contrast to even countries like Bhutan, or Congo, who were so eager to explain about their heritage.

“The US, and many other pavilions, were manned by student ambassadors – young and energetic, eager to talk, and happy to talk to people. Proud of where they come from.

“Let’s hope the authorities concerned will see this. EXPO 2020 is on till March 2022. We have five months to change things because we need both Tourism and Investments.”

* Akram Abbas:

“Totally agree with Rajitha Seneviratne’s article. We are living in Dubai and it was so disappointing to see the standard of our pavilion. The Afghanistan Pavilion is better than ours.”

* NM:

“I visited. Can’t explain how disappointed I am.”

In the meanwhile, it’s reported that the Saudi Arabia Pavilion, at EXPO 2020 Dubai, received 23,000 visitors in one day, bringing the total number of visits to over 200,000…at the time this article was written. Probably, it would have doubled by now!

The Saudi pavilion provides visitors with diversified content, based on four main pillars: nature, heritage, bio-community, and the economic opportunities that the country offers to the world.

And, what is our Pavilion, at EXPO 2020, offering the world!

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