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Ban Ki-moon Should Reject the Report of the Panel on Sri Lanka and Restore Confidence in the UN

An analysis of notices published by the UN Panel of Experts (POE) calling for submissions and email correspondence this writer has had wit...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mullaitivu Beach takes on Festive Air with New Year Celebrations

Mullaitivu beach which was the scene of intense battles just three years ago, turned festive Saturday with students Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala students enjoying the traditions of each others culture in a relaxed atmosphere away from their classrooms.

By mid-day a variety of new year games were worked out with children whooping and screaming with excitement. Pillow fights, dances by the indigenous veddhas, playing of the traditional Rabana (Drum) and climbing the greased pole were among activities that aroused keen interest.

A special feature of the festivities was the depiction of traditional Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim and Veddah homes with students dressed in traditional manner explaining the various cultural practices as visitors stepped into each specially constructed house.

Cultural performances will dominate the afternoon's activities before the students leave for their homes in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Mannar, Anuradhapura and other areas.

Two days of competitive sports preceded the New Year Festival helping the Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala students to bond together in the special programme organised by the Social Development Affairs Directorate of the President's Office undeer the Nena Guna Weduma; Sisu Diriya student empowerment programme which is in its sixth year.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Read how smugglers are raking up the marine eco-system around the Gulf of Mannar

Smugglers Devastate Gulf of Mannar Marine Reserve

By Malini Shankar*

RAMESHWARAM, India, May 2, 2012 (IPS) - Forest officials of the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve abutting the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka have reported a decline in marine wildlife, as smugglers exploiting lax conservation laws in the region tank up on protected species used in traditional Chinese medicines and fine dining.

In coordination with the Indian Coast Guard, forest officials have recorded more than 200 cases of smuggling, accounting for the loss of over 13,000 kilogrammes of sea cucumbers (Holothurian scabra) and seahorses (Hippocampus species) in the last 16 months alone.

Illegal marine wildlife traders in India smuggle their catch to neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where the red-flagged items become legal marine exports to other Southeast Asian countries due to exemptions in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

"The seahorse found in the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park is one of the five rarer species of seahorses," Shekhar Kumar Niraj, field director of the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve, informed IPS.

In 2001, India’s stringent Wildlife Protection Act listed sea cucumbers and seahorses as ‘schedule I’, thereby making forest officials legally responsible for their protection.

Around the same time as this classification came into play, the markets for traditional Chinese medicines exploded.

A fragile ecosystem

The Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park (GOMMNP), part of the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve, is an undersea reserve formed by the strip of land that once connected India to Sri Lanka. The peninsula divides the Palk Straits in the north from the Gulf of Mannar in the south.

The fragile reef ecosystem is shallow and forms the habitat for corals, crabs, clown fish, dugongs, dolphins, porpoise, prawns, parrot fish, sea cucumbers, seahorses, sea snakes, turtles, whales and a whole list of highly endangered endemic marine wildlife.

The marine diversity includes four species of shrimp, 106 species of crabs, 17 types of sea cucumbers, 466 species of molluscs, 108 species of sponges and 100 species of echinoderms.

More than 2000 species of fin fish are found in the Gulf of Mannar and seagrass is also clearly visible in the shallow sea. Prosopsis jujuba, a shrub forest species endemic to dry arid zones, "is surprisingly dominant in the mangroves and mud flats, amply justifying the protection lent to the marine national park," Sundar Kumar, the wildlife warden of the underwater reserve, told IPS.

"The hotbeds and kingpins of marine wildlife crime are in Rameshwaram, Mandapam, and Tuticorin all around the Indian coast of the GOMMNP," T. Rajendran, assistant conservator of forests for the marine reserve, told IPS.

Lose-lose deal for fisherfolk

"There is no local consumption or markets (for smuggled goods). Only the middlemen gain. These are the (people) who are connected to international crime syndicates," added Niraj. These ‘middlemen’ buy sea cucumbers from fisherfolk for about 50 dollars per kilogramme and sell them for a profit of 600 percent, at 307 dollars per kilogramme.

"Sea cucumbers have ecologically significant roles in scavenging coasts and seabeds, which in turn helps other species like corals and seagrass to flourish and propagate," Niraj explained.

"Only owners of trawler fishing boats indulge in poaching sea cucumbers, which is a double whammy for us traditional fishermen; not only is the catch depleting, but fuel prices are increasing. The additional burden of illegal poaching of marine wildlife by trawler fishermen make us suspect in the eyes of the enforcement agencies," lamented K. David, a traditional fisherman in Rameshwaram.

Field director Niraj disputes the fact that trawler fisherfolk are the only smugglers involved in this rackets, pointing to statistics of recent raids that show traditional (Dinghy) fishermen also indulging in the smuggling of sea cucumbers and seahorses.

David is convinced that traditional fishing will come to an end when his generation is "dead and gone", since youngsters like 10-year-old Vishal Selvan and 11-year-old Alan want to become merchant navy captains and Indian Administrative Service officers respectively.

In order to keep traditional fishermen from engaging with smugglers out of economic desperation, employment schemes have been put in place to guarantee the livelihoods of various fisherfolk, in the face of depleting fish stocks.

"The alternative livelihood initiatives carried out by the United Nations Development Programme-Global Environmental Facility (UNDP-GEF) through the Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve Trust (GoMBRT) include Palmyra mat weaving and thatch making, clown fish and other ornamental fish fattening, goat rearing, jasmine cultivation, betel leaf cultivation, salt-fish making and plaster of Paris for doll-making," V. Deepak Samuel, programme specialist at the energy and environment unit of the UNDP-GEF (GoMBRT), told IPS.

Unchecked crime

"We are as yet unable to trace the route of smuggled goods and links beyond Sri Lanka to markets in the Far East, primarily because once the goods arrive in Sri Lanka they become legal exports, blocking our investigations further," explained a wildlife crime inspector, speaking under condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety.

Patrolling the sea is all the more challenging given enforcement agencies’ meagre logistical capacity.

Led by Rajendran, the entire patrol operation includes four range forest officers, 22 foresters, 11 guards, two watchers and 33 anti-poaching camp watchers who share six jeeps, six wireless sets, two base stations, six anti-poaching camps, eight mechanised patrol boats and three speed boats between them – to patrol an area of 10,500 square kilometres or 18,900 nautical miles.

They lack night vision lamps and financial incentives. They are no match for the 25,000 well equipped trawlers that fish illegally across the whole Marine Biosphere Reserve every day.

Still, the greatest challenge is not out on the water.

"Opposition to protection of marine wildlife (and) fishes comes from even official establishments like the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute, the Marine Products Export Development Authority and the National Institute of Oceanography – all in the name of livelihoods," Niraj said.

"Growing numbers of anthropologists propagate illusions glossing over the likely consequences that would emerge should we lose the remaining biodiversity… They quote the Convention on Biological Diversity where sustainability, right to access and benefits sharing are the guiding principles. However, sustainability that applies to economic principles may not exactly apply to ecology because of biological principles that are very different," Niraj explained.

Poaching of sea cucumbers even in the seas around the Andaman Nicobar Islands is so rampant that natives report they hardly sight sea cucumbers anymore.

*Malini Shankar is a wildlife photojournalist and filmmaker based in Bangalore.


(Courtesy: IPS News)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Inspired Leaks: A New Form Of Diplomacy For The UN?

In a surprising departure from best practices for a multi-lateral organization, the UN last week leaked to the media an email purportedly sent by one of its demining experts in a thinly veiled move to pressure the government of Sri Lanka on allegations of human rights violations by its forces during the last stages of the conflict with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam which ended in May 2009.

Beginning a new wave of anti-Sri Lanka propaganda, the report was widely carried by media worldwide, and cast further doubts on the impartiality of the UN. It alleged that a leaked UN email claimed the discovery of cluster submunitions in the former LTTE stronghold of Puthukudiriyuppu.

The Associated Press obtained a copy Thursday of an email written by a U.N. land mine expert that said unexploded cluster bomblets were discovered in the Puthukudiyiruppu area of northern Sri Lanka, where a boy was killed last month and his sister injured as they tried to pry apart an explosive device they had found to sell for scrap metal.

The email was written by Allan Poston, the technical adviser for the U.N. Development Program’s mine action group in Sri Lanka.

“After reviewing additional photographs from the investigation teams, I have determined that there are cluster sub-munitions in the area where the children were collecting scrap metal and in the house where the accident occurred. This is the first time that there has been confirmed unexploded sub-munitions found in Sri Lanka,” the email said.

During the final weeks of the war, tens of thousands of civilians and Tamil Tiger rebel fighters were trapped in a tiny section of Puthukudiyiruppu as attacking government forces closed in on them.

Lakshman Hulugalla, a Sri Lankan government spokesman on security matters, said the military had not used cluster munitions in the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

“We are denying that information,” he said.

The U.N. did not immediately respond to an AP request for comment.

UN’s Allan Poston however, responding to an emailed query by this writer admitted that he was the concerned Senior Adviser and suggested that the query be made from the Sri Lanka Mine Action Centre. 

“It is suggested that you contact the Sri Lanka National Mine Action Centre (NMAC), which is the entity leading mine action in Sri Lanka.  The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) role is to provide technical assistance to NMAC. In addition, there is a standard procedure within UNDP for engagement with the media and as the concerned Senior Adviser I would defer to the senior management of UNDP,” the email received on Thursday stated.

Madhushala Senaratne, Communications Associate at the UNDP to whom the email had been copied also declined a response from the UNDP and requested that the NMAC be contacted. However, NMAC’s Monty Ranatunge could not be contacted via telephone and did not respond to an email.

Sri Lanka’s Media Centre for National Security firmly denied that the armed forces used any cluster munitions. In a Press Release Friday, it said:

The rehashed allegation in international media that the Sri Lankan Armed Forces used cluster munitions during the Humanitarian Operations is baseless.  It is a repetition of similar allegations that were made earlier on several occasions and is not based on any facts.

The UNDP official quoted in the news report has confirmed that his email to superior officials in the UN Headquarters, which was quoted by the media, was only meant to explore the possibility of obtaining further assistance for Mine Action Program in Sri Lanka and that he made no reference to alleged use of cluster munitions by the Sri Lankan Forces.

The Sri Lankan Forces comprehensively defeated the LTTE in May 2009 and liberated over 290,000 hostages who were forcibly held by the terrorists as a human shield. Neither ‘Cluster Munitions’ nor illegal weaponry were used.  The Sri Lankan Armed Forces used only carefully planned precise military actions in this humanitarian endeavor. 

The leak of the email from the UN’s secure internal email system and a later allegation by an unidentified medical officer (in another story by the same AP writer) appeared to have been carefully timed to coincide with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s three-day visit to New Delhi. 

However, the current allegations follow a pattern set on earlier occasions when so-called human rights organisations made subjective pronouncements in support of wild claims against Sri Lanka.

Hardly 24-hours after the AP news report alleging the discovery by the UN of cluster submunitions in Sri Lanka, another report by the same AP writer alleged that an unidentified medical worker had seen an injury caused by an unexploded cluster bomblet. 

A Sri Lankan man was wounded in the final months of the country's bloody civil war by an unexploded cluster bomblet that tore into his leg and buried itself in the gash, a medical worker who saw the injury told The Associated Press on Friday.

The revelation, along with a photograph that purports to show the wound, added further credence to accusations cluster munitions had been used during the final months of the war.

Many of the thousands wounded in the government offensive against ethnic Tamil rebels in northern Sri Lanka also had burns consistent with those caused by incendiary white phosphorus bombs, the medical worker said. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals from the Sri Lankan government.

Adding credence to the view that that the leak was UN inspired was the fact that the UN Secretary General repeated some unsubstantiated allegations against Sri Lanka during his visit. In an interview with the Times of India he said:

But in the course of the final few months of the military operations, it was also seen that unfortunately, tens of thousands of people were killed and human rights have been seriously violated. I have been urging president Rajapakse and his government to address this issue for sustainable social and political path. Accountability should be taken. I have established a panel of experts and Sri Lankan government, upon strong urging from the international community has instituted their own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. They made good recommendations. It's important for President Rajapakse to implement the recommendations of the LLRC as well as my panel of experts.

Ban Ki-moon understandably, made no mention of the leaked email. His Panel of Experts’ Report was also leaked prior to its official publication. This writer has dealt extensively with the report in an earlier article and called for its withdrawal. The UN has made no attempt to investigate the leaks.

Unsubstantiated allegations contained in the report have been recycled in the media and have helped a former UN staffer sell his book worldwide, on his version of Sri Lanka’s conflict.

The Washington Post report referring to the email from the UN Mine Expert also stated:
Alan Keenan, Sri Lanka project director for the International Crisis Group, said the revelation “makes more clear than ever the need for a thorough and independent investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war by both the government and the LTTE, which only an international body can provide.”

Curiously, the UN Panel of Experts Report to the UN Secretary General also relied on unidentified sources that are not known to have had recourse to Sri Lanka’s judicial system. The recent case of the deportation of an Australian national who was involved in Sri Lankan politics after over-staying his visa has brought to the surface the possibility of a large number of asylum seekers whose applications have been approved by the host countries and given immunity by providing them with new identities.

The current wave of anti-Sri Lanka propaganda appears to be part of a concerted PR campaign in support of attempts by the exiled LTTE activists to haul Sri Lankan leaders before the international court of justice on charges of war crimes and conveniently timed to coincide with the visit to India of the UN Secretary General.

However, UN conventions and international best practices are quite clear that domestic mechanisms must be exhausted before any international interventions can be invoked with regard to violations of international humanitarian law or international human rights law unless they are ineffective or cause undue delays. Sri Lanka’s legal system is being constantly upgraded with international donor assistance and has not been found wanting in this regard.

A news release by the US Embassy in Colombo today, states that Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) of State for Plans, Programs and Operations Walter D. Givhan visited Sri Lanka from April 26 to May 2. DAS Givhan serves in the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and is responsible for providing executive leadership, management, and guidance for U.S. government global security assistance programs and policies. The release further stated:

While in Sri Lanka, DAS Givhan held meetings in Colombo and visited Kilinochchi and Vavuniya.  In the North he met with various Non-Governmental Organizations to discuss the progress of demining activities in the region.  During his field visits to demining sites, he discussed the challenges facing demining and provided support to the ongoing demining process. While in Colombo, DAS Givhan met with Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander General Jagath Jayasuriya and Navy Commander Vice Admiral D.W.A.S. Dissanayake to discuss the military bilateral relationship and support towards demining.

The U.S. has provided over $34.5million to aid Sri Lanka’s demining activities since 1993. In 2011, the U.S. donated $2.5million for demining, and increased this support to $5million in 2012.  The U.S. Government will continue to assist Sri Lanka in its demining activities to allow Sri Lankan families to move back to their homes.

Significantly, the US Embassy release makes no mention of the allegations attributed to the UN staffer’s mail.

Neither has the UN mentioned about Sri Lanka using cluster munitions in the various reports, although its current ten-year project is due to end this year. The UN Secretary General’s amplification of the unsubstantiated claims regarding those killed during the last stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka has been viewed with disfavor by the country’s leadership according to a media report. The Island in a report datelined April 29, 2012, stated: 

A statement attributed to UNSG Ban Ki-moon regarding the final phase of the conflict and post-war reconciliation efforts will be taken up by the Sri Lankan government once the former South Korean diplomat returns to New York from Myanmar.

Authoritative sources told The Island yesterday that External Affairs Minister, Prof. G. L. Peiris had instructed Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative at the UN, Dr. Palitha Kohona to take up the issue as the comments attributed to the UN chief were inappropriate. The comments were made in an exclusive interview with The Times of India during a brief visit to India before he left for Myanmar.

The Sri Lankan government feels that the UN chief’s statement is unfair and could be exploited by the LTTE.

The UN Secretary General should investigate the leaks and raise the bar for UN activities around the world. Else, the bulk of the UN membership is likely to lose confidence in the only multilateral organization that binds the majority of nations together, as well as on the UN’s Chief Executive Officer. END.

In Words

Loved and mentored by parents with values and discipline and a passion for good English; guided by teachers who wouldn't spare the rod to ensure excellence; copywriter; on-line journalist; editor-in-chief; and at long last, giving into the passion; Freelance Writer.

Nurtured in advertising and PR from freelance copywriter to account director and agency head; engaged throughout to humanitarian work in NGOs including the Red Cross and the UNDP; and experienced in both public and private sectors.

Looking forward to a future of writing on diverse subjects; sharing knowledge and experience; enriching the lives of others; but most of all, acquiring more knowledge and using it to make the world a better place for all.

More of my writing:
* Fuelling the Peace Process * Concepts for decentralisation of government * PEACE: Is it still an elusive dream? * Interview with the late Major General Trond Furuhovde first Head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission * How polar bears are affected by global warming * Red Cross takes lead in clean water for Sri Lanka flood victims * The poorest hardest hit by Sri Lanka floods *