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Going back to pre-2015 Geneva: Part II

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President Mahinda Rajapaksa with UNSG Ban Ki-moon in 2009

By Austin Fernando
(Continued from yesterday)

22/1 Proposal (2013-3-21)

A great responsibility was placed on the State officers to implement the proposals in the Resolutions. Unfortunately, the international community did not see this happen. Hence, it decided to submit the 22/1 Resolution on 21 March 2013 by way of registering its protest with Sri Lanka. What it, however, did not understand was that the government was planning to advance a presidential election, and, therefore, committing to implementing the UNHRC would be politically disastrous.

The 22/1 proposal acknowledged the constructive efforts such as the decision to hold the Provincial Council election in the North, infrastructural development, demining and facilitating resettlement of IDPs. However, the National Plan of Action proposed by the LLRC was considered inadequate to address all the findings and constructive recommendations of the Commission. It was also noted that States facing post-conflict situations should abide by international human rights and humanitarian laws. Nationalists did not oppose the earlier actions but resisted the latter which had to do with the military.

The 22/1 Resolution focused on the following salient points:

1 Encouraged the GOSL to implement the recommendations made in the UNHRC Report and to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable.

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

3 Encouraged the GOSL to cooperate with special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to all outstanding requests.

4 Encouraged the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the GOSL, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps.

5 Requested the Office of the High Commissioner, with input from relevant special procedure mandate holders, as appropriate, to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-fourth session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-fifth session.

The implementation of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Laws is the responsibility of any government. But those who duped themselves into believing that ‘internationals can be fooled’ did not want to protect Human Rights or uphold Humanitarian Laws. Although some IDPs were resettled, new military bases sprang up. From the perspective of the Tamils, their legal rights to private lands were denied.

The international community collected data from diplomatic and external sources. It was no secret that they were biased towards the needs and demands of the Tamil community. However, it had a clear understanding of the implementation of the proposals and was concerned about the tardy pace at which it was executed. They understood that the implementation of the proposals could not be expedited. Hence, they went before the UNHRC again.

25/1 Proposal (27.03.2014)

By 2014, the international community sadly believed Sri Lanka was an irresponsible, inert state. Hence the UNHCR, on 27 March 2014, passed the 25/1 Resolution titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’. The main points therein are as follows:

1.   Welcomed the oral update by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to the UNHRC 24th Session and the subsequent report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCR) on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka and the recommendations and conclusions, including on the establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism and national reparations policy as an integral part of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to transitional justice.

2.  Called upon the GOSL to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws, as applicable; to hold accountable those responsible for such violations; to end continuing incidents of human rights violations and abuses in Sri Lanka, and to implement the recommendations made in the reports of the OHCR.

3.  Reiterated the earlier call upon the GOSL to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the LLRC Report, and to take all additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitments to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability, and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.

4.  Urged the GOSL to investigate all alleged attacks by individuals and groups on journalists, human rights defenders, members of religious minority groups and other members of civil society, and all places of worship and urged the GOSL to hold perpetrators of such attacks to account and to take steps to prevent such attacks in the future.

5.  Called upon the GOSL to release publicly the results of its investigations into alleged violations by security forces, including the Weliweriya attack, and the report of the Army Court of Inquiry.

6.  Encouraged the GOSL to ensure that all Provincial Councils can operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

7.  Welcomed the visit by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs in December 2013 and called upon the GOSL to facilitate the effective implementation of durable solutions for all IDPs.

8.  Welcomed the invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.

9.  Encouraged the GOSL to cooperate with other special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to all their outstanding requests.

10. Noted the recommendations and conclusions of the High Commissioner regarding ongoing human rights violations and the need for an international inquiry mechanism in the absence of a credible national process with tangible results, and requested the UNHRC:

(a) To monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and to continue to assess progress on relevant national processes.

(b) To undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the LLRC, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated to avoid impunity and ensure accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders.

(c) To present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its 27th session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its 28th Session.

11. Encouraged the UNHRC and relevant special procedure mandate holders to provide, in consultation and the concurrence of the GOSL, to provide advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps.

12. Called upon the GOSL to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner in the implementation of the present resolution.

The government did not proceed to implement these recommendations. It chose to ignore Section 10 in particular. The international community, therefore, opted for a strong response at the March 2015 UNHCR meeting. Moves were even afoot to impose economic sanctions.

‘Yahapalana ‘Government and the UNHRC

On 9 January 2018, the ‘Yahapalana’ President was sworn in and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera asked for more time to implement the UNHRC recommendations. Most of us avoid discussing this background of the UNHCR proposals of 01 October 2015. Even today they discuss, misinterpret, and misrepresent facts.

These proposals did not fall from the sky. They were the result of the unilateral proposals first made on 27 May 2009 by the Rajapaksa government, its failure to implement them, and its lethargic, cavalier attitude and negligence. This led to the ratification of a new set of proposals recommended jointly by a core group of members of the UNHCR and the ‘Yahapalana government, to address the failures of the Rajapaksa government (2009), which was responsible for the 2009 UNHRC resolution.

The international community complied with the Yahapalana government’s request for more time. Had the Rajapaksa government responsible for Resolution 11/1 implemented the recommendations therein in an acceptable manner and responded to the feedback proposals, the country would not have faced the prospect of economic sanctions.

International pressure mounted from 2011-2014 as regards the 11/1 Resolution, and the Yahapalana government had to cooperate as regards the new proposals with the countries that supported Sri Lanka at the UNHCR. It should also be mentioned that such give-and-take policies don’t come without some disadvantages, the accountability mechanism in the 30/1 Resolution being a case in point.

The conceptual basis of the 2015 UNHCR Proposal

The 2015 proposals were based on the internationally accepted principles of reconciliation. As a first step towards initiating the truth and reconciliation process, it was proposed to establish a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ and an “Office on Missing Persons.” Secondly, the importance of demonstrating accountability towards the crimes endured by the affected communities was highlighted. Thirdly, it was required to establish a mechanism for reparation for the victims. Fourthly, it was proposed that constitutional guarantees by Parliament would ensure that such cruelty would not be repeated. Those were the ‘four pillars of reconciliation’.

These proposals were handed over to Prince Al Hussein, UNHCR High Commissioner by GOSL before Resolution 30/1 was tabled.

Withdrawal from UNHRC Resolution 30/1

In a way, it is unfair to blame the Yahapalana government for co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1 at the UNHCR in October 2015 although some people have taken exception to that course of action.

The current SLPP government has withdrawn from the 30/1 proposal and UNHRC’s 34/1 and 40/1 Resolutions—both more of technical nature and adopted without voting. We cannot withdraw from the resolutions or decisions taken between 2011-2014 because they are derived from the 11/1 Resolution. I believe (subject to correction since I am not a lawyer) that GOSL may argue the legality of other proposals if it wishes to withdraw from 11/1. It is the prerogative of the UNHRC to accept such a withdrawal. Even if we presume that such action is possible, the understandings reached in 2009 are still valid.

The question is whether the incumbent GOSL is still committed to implementing the 11/1 and the 27 May 2009 understandings. Since the 11/1 Resolution was unilaterally placed before the UNHRC by the GOSL after the war victory, it cannot argue that it was done under LTTE’s duress. If GOSL feels that 11/1 is now irrelevant, why doesn’t it say so? Did GOSL make the 11/1 proposal to hoodwink the UN Secretary-General? Or, was it another Medamulana ruse?

Two UNHRC resolutions call for the implementation of the LLRC’s constructive recommendations. The lack of commitment on the part of the Rajapaksa government to do so is unjustifiable.

Following the March 2021 Resolution in Geneva, the UNHRC has been empowered to “consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence” for “future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial proceedings in the Member States with competent jurisdiction.”

However, some commentators opine that the Secretariat thus established will not be permitted to visit Sri Lanka like the Darusman Committee and that could hamper reporting. As stated earlier, information is freely available internationally. As a political columnist has aid recently, “it should not be forgotten that the Human Rights Commissioner’s office claims it already has trophy evidence which would be utilized.”

There are so many unanswered questions. But the demands made on behalf of the victims are still alive. Just a few days ago, didn’t MA Sumanthiran, MP, state so albeit in different words? It is these demands that drive the UNHCR and the European Union and even others to push GOSL against the wall.



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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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