Human Rights

From Idealism to Ineffectiveness: Assessing the Performance of Human Rights NGOs


Most of the human rights organizations may appear to be upstanding global citizens on paper, their practical impact can be questioned, labeling them as toothless tigers. Let’s examine their behavior:

During the upcoming national elections in Bangladesh, the people want a festive atmosphere that allows voters to freely choose their preferred candidate. However, it is highly offensive to see foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka interfering in Bangladesh’s election process while their own countries have significant faults in various affairs, including their own election processes. When these diplomats attempt to prescribe solutions for our national matters, they come across as unjust rogues.

Although the next parliamentary elections are still more than a year away, foreign diplomats are already involving themselves in Bangladesh’s election process, which is unacceptable. The government does not appreciate their interference, criticism, or opinions on the election process and internal affairs of the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already instructed foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh to refrain from such actions. Additionally, media representatives should avoid asking foreign diplomats about our election process.

Regrettably, these international human rights organizations and their local counterparts have chosen to remain silent regarding the blatant and aggressive meddling of powerful nations like the United States in the domestic affairs of Bangladesh, an independent and sovereign country. This silence is deeply regrettable.

Moreover, the international non-governmental human rights organizations have failed to condemn the disgraceful decision of the White House administration to stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO) on flimsy grounds, violating international norms. Even the WHO itself has not addressed this issue yet.

In most cases, these organizations deliberately choose to remain silent on blatant violations of international rules by the American government and its allied authorities in weaker nations. It appears that they prioritize the interests of powerful states, displaying a double standard in their actions towards less powerful countries. They must strive to be more independent, resourceful, and courageous in fulfilling their responsibilities without succumbing to the influence of major powers or relying solely on their financial resources. Their work should not be compromised, and they should speak up against egregious and systemic human rights violations, especially those committed by the United States and its allies.

Millions of people have suffered crimes against humanity perpetrated by these rogue states, particularly the United States. It seems as though there is an unwritten agreement between these international non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs) and powerful states such as the United States, where they refrain from speaking critically about them and their accomplice states.

Numerous human rights abuses occur in countries around the world, imposed in the form of abrasive sanctions to stifle nations and their people from asserting their rights. These NGOs remain silent when drone fighter planes strike weaker nations, resulting in the destruction of human lives and vital infrastructure for the sake of self-interest. In such situations, these NGOs hide their faces and fail to take bold steps to stop the oppressors. This raises the question of their effectiveness.

Furthermore, some global organizations have faced criticism for their inability to address the problems they were designed to tackle. The United Nations, for instance, has failed to compel Israel to adhere to its numerous resolutions, some of which were submitted by the UN Security Council. Similarly, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has also been deemed ineffective. The critical situation in Myanmar is an opportunity for the OIC to demonstrate its capabilities. As a body consisting of 57 nations, it is essential for its bureaucrats to take serious action rather than issuing insignificant press releases.

While human rights and democracy are not synonymous, the global human rights regime should be based on the understanding that democratic governance provides the best foundation for durable human rights protection. Multilateral institutions should align their policies with the promotion of democracy as the fundamental principle. Institutions like the United Nations Development Programme should prioritize good governance and democracy in their initiatives. Human rights not only benefit from good governance but also thrive in democratic environments, both horizontally among states and vertically through the establishment of institutionalized frameworks within countries and societies.

Global economic institutions also have the potential to promote and protect human rights if there is sufficient political will. These institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and regional development banks, should extend their work on anti-corruption and good governance to ensure equal access to legal rights for all groups. By strengthening judicial institutions and fostering civil society participation, these efforts can enhance productivity and prosperity in developing nations. Similarly, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its member states should encourage the elimination of barriers to freedom of information to facilitate market growth.

There is no doubt that the number of human rights non-governmental organizations has increased significantly in the sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated by the United Nations. These NGOs proudly claim to play a critical role in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide. However, in reality, their impact is questionable.

The international human rights law arena still lacks a consensus on the definition and categorization of human rights NGOs. Nevertheless, all stakeholders agree that these organizations should protect internationally recognized human rights at various levels. Unfortunately, their failures are evident.

Successful and effective human rights NGOs should possess certain attributes and should self-regulate, possibly by adhering to NGO Codes of Conduct, to overcome internal and external challenges. It requires the concerted efforts of all relevant stakeholders to ensure that human rights NGOs fulfill their mandate of protecting human rights in all countries, without being influenced by powerful states that may engage in harmful actions.

The achievements and effectiveness of successful human rights NGOs should serve as models for all advocates and defenders of human rights, who often face significant sacrifices in their endeavors to improve the human experience.

In retrospect, the human rights treaties established after World War II were not just acts of idealism but also carried elements of hubris. They can be likened to the civilizing efforts of Western governments and missionary groups in the 19th century, which did little good for native populations while entangling European powers in the affairs of countries they did not understand. It is high time for a more proactive and pragmatic approach.

Addressing the potential for nuclear warfare is an issue that remains relevant in today’s globalized world. Initiatives such as The Nuclear World Project, led by Robert Frye, aim to create awareness of the dangers posed by nuclear proliferation and facilitate dialogue on resolution options. International NGOs should play an active role in these efforts, but their response has been insufficient.

Human rights provide an aspirational roadmap for decision-making and balancing trade-offs. This framework is crucial when dealing with disruptive and potentially dangerous forces that present complex challenges. However, it seems that organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch fail to effectively address issues involving superpowers like the United States and its influential allied states.

The contemporary international human rights framework should be enduring and evolving. It can continue to emphasize our shared humanity, provide a moral compass, and instill determination and purpose in the face of daunting odds faced by weaker nations against mighty powers.

Unfortunately, international human rights organizations or NGOs often remain toothless tigers. They require significant improvements and reforms to fulfill their obligations effectively.

People’s Health Tribunal Finds Shell and Total Energy Guilty of Harming African Communities


A panel of environmental and human rights activists acted as judges in a People’s Health Tribunal organized by communities on the African continent impacted by the operations of extractive corporations Shell and TotalEnergies. Supported by organizations like Medact, We the People, the People’s Health Movement, and #StopEACOP, on May 20, the Tribunal found the corporations guilty of harming the health of people across Africa.

Nnimmo Bassey, Jacqueline Patterson, Kanahus Manuel, and Dimah Mahmoud condemned Shell and Total’s activities, stating that they were “extremely harmful to the livelihoods, health, right to shelter, quality of life, right to live in dignity, quality of environment, right to live free of discrimination and oppression, right to clean water, and right to self-determination.” This edition of the People’s Health Tribunal was built as activists witnessed extensive greenwashing by the oil and gas industry at COP27 in Egypt last year.

Decades of exploitation of African land have resulted in devastating consequences, including air pollution, water contamination, deforestation, violence, land grabbing, and forced migration. Omar Elmawi, who provided an overview of TotalEnergies’s impact on Mozambican communities, emphasized that in the current situation, “everyone loses, except Total.” Elmawi said he believed that African countries must take control of their own resources and development to make sure that justice is restored.

Governments in the Global North, where most extractive corporations have their headquarters, still choose to ignore the destruction caused by these industries. In 2022, Shell made a profit of $40 billion, while TotalEnergies ended the year with $36 billion in profits.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Sudanese Army and Rapid Support Forces Extend Fragile Ceasefire by Five Days


The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to extend a fragile truce by five days on May 29. The truce, which came into effect on May 22, was marked by violations although the intensity of fighting decreased. Over 850 civilians have died and over 3,600 have been injured since fighting broke out on April 15. Nearly 1.4 million have been displaced.

On May 28, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, which had jointly mediated the ceasefire, released a statement highlighting violations by both parties. The statement said that while the SAF violated the prohibition against aerial attacks, the RSF had “continued encroachment in civilian areas.” Among the buildings occupied by the RSF was the office of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP).

SCP spokesperson Fathi Elfadl told Peoples Dispatch that no humanitarian corridor had been set up and areas worst affected by the fighting had not received aid. In fact, the U.S.-Saudi statement said that both SAF and RSF forces had stolen consignments of humanitarian aid.

Civilians have borne the brunt of the conflict. Prices of bottled water, food, and fuel have gone up between 40 and 60 percent in conflict-affected areas. The World Food Program (WFP) projects that 18 million people will be left unable to afford basic food by as early as August if the fighting continues.

The fighting in Sudan was the culmination of months of tension between top generals who had staged a coup in October 2021 and severely repressed civilian protesters who were demanding democracy.

from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Capturing Carbon With Machines Is a Failure—So Why Are We Subsidizing It?


Human activity—mostly the burning of fossil fuels—has raised Earth’s atmospheric carbon content by 50 percent, from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 420 ppm. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve released approximately 950 billion metric tons of carbon into the air. Every year, humans emit more than 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, as of 2021 measurements. Even if we stop burning fossil fuels now, the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere will cause Earth’s climate to continue warming for decades, triggering heat waves, droughts, rising sea levels, and extreme weather.

Climate scientists warn that if we want to avert catastrophe, a significant amount of excess atmospheric CO2 must be captured and sequestered. The process is called carbon dioxide removal (CDR), and it has been receiving more attention as nations, states, and industries strive to meet their climate goals. But how should we go about doing it?

There are two broad strategies: biological and mechanical. Nature already absorbs and emits about 100 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide every year through the natural processes in the biosphere—including plant growth—an amount 2.5 times humanity’s annual carbon output. So, according to advocates for biological carbon removal, our best bet is simply to help the planet do a little more of what it is already doing to absorb carbon. We could accomplish this through reforestationsoil-building agricultural practices, and encouraging kelp growth in oceans.

On the other hand, advocates for mechanical carbon removal point to technologies that successfully capture CO2 in the laboratory; if these machines were scaled up, those advocates tell us, we could create an enormous new industry with plenty of jobs while removing atmospheric carbon and reducing climate risk. Scientists are exploring several chemical pathways for direct air capture (DAC) of carbon and ways to sequester CO2 in porous rock formations. Revenue streams come from government subsidies or from the use of captured CO2 in enhanced oil recovery (EOR).

So, which pathway—nature or machines—holds more promise?

In its sixth assessment report, released in March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body that regularly assesses the current state of climate science, points out that “biological CDR methods like reforestation, improved forest management, soil carbon sequestration, peatland restoration[,] and coastal blue carbon management can enhance biodiversity and ecosystem functions, employment[,] and local livelihoods.”

On the other hand, notes the IPCC, the implementation of mechanical DAC along with underground sequestration of CO2 “currently faces technological, economic, institutional, ecological-environmental and socio-cultural barriers.” Further, the current global rates of mechanical carbon capture and storage “are far below those in modeled pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C to 2°C.”

In a study published in the journal PLOS Climate in February 2023, a team of American scientists analyzed the benefits and downsides of the two pathways in detail. They used three criteria: effectiveness (“[d]oes the process achieve a net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere” once all inputs and outputs are accounted for?), efficiency (“[a]t a climate-relevant scale… [of a billion metric tons of CO2 per year], how much energy and land are required?”), and impacts (“[w]hat are the significant co-benefits or adverse impacts [on nature and society]?”).

The team gathered data and crunched the numbers. The lead author, June Sekera, a carbon researcher and visiting scholar at the New School for Social Research in New York, concluded:

“[B]iological sequestration methods, including restoration of forests, grasslands, and wetlands and regenerative agriculture, are both more effective and more resource efficient in achieving a climate-relevant scale of CO2 removal than are techno-mechanical methods—which use machinery and chemicals to capture CO2. Additionally, the co-impacts of biological methods are largely positive, while those of technical/mechanical methods are negative. Biological methods are also far less expensive.”

In this comparative study, the scores for natural versus mechanical carbon removal methods were not close: Natural methods won in every category—and by a significant margin. The problem with machine-based carbon removal is not just that current technologies are immature (with the hope of getting better with more research and investment), but also that using machines is inherently inefficient, costly, and risky. On the other hand, removing carbon by restoring nature costs less, is more effective at reducing atmospheric carbon, and offers numerous side benefits.

The American study also noted that its findings “that biological methods exhibit superior effectiveness in comparison to DAC are consistent with data reported in the 2022 IPCC study.” It added in plain terms: “According to the IPCC, not only are biological methods of CDR more effective than DAC…, but their effectiveness is projected to increase significantly over time.”

As if to underscore that conclusion, a separate study published in March 2023 in the journal Nature Climate Change concluded that the protection and rewilding of even a small targeted group of wildlife species would help facilitate the capture and storage of enough carbon to keep the global temperature below the tipping point of warming 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

You might expect, therefore, that policymakers would currently be directing all of their support toward natural carbon removal methods. But you’d be wrong. Government policy support in the form of subsidies is being shoveled mostly into mechanical carbon removal.

In the U.S., the primary subsidy for mechanical CDR is the federal 45Q tax credit, introduced in 2008, which offers $10 to $20 per metric ton of CO2 captured and stored. But there are also carbon offset credit programs (including the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard), subsidies for building CO2 pipelines, and subsidies for the production of alternative fuels (including ethanol and hydrogen) that rely on carbon capture technology to be considered “low-carbon.” The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 significantly increased the number of credits in 45Q and broadened eligibility, and included federal subsidies for oil producers who pump CO2 underground to make it easier to extract trapped petroleum—which is by far the most common way of using captured CO2.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed in November 2021, included billions in federal funding for carbon capture projects. In the Midwest, as a result, there has been a rush to build thousands of miles of CO2 pipelines for carbon sequestration—a frenzy that has set off regulatory chaos and is pitting farmers and Native Americans against biofuel plant operators and venture capitalists. Researchers continue to spend time and money finding new chemical pathways to mechanical CO2 capture—resources that could instead be diverted to biological CO2 removal methods. Even AI is being enlisted in mechanical carbon capture efforts.

There are also subsidies that, in effect, promote nature-based CDR methods, including soil conservation and wetlands restoration programs, but these programs were not initially intended for carbon capture and sequestration, and they are not optimized for that purpose. In November 2022, at the global COP27 climate summit in Cairo, the Biden administration announced the “Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap,” an outline of strategic recommendations to put America on a path to “unlock the full potential of nature-based solutions” to address “climate change, nature loss, and inequity.” The roadmap calls for updating policies, providing funding, training a nature-based solutions workforce, and prioritizing research, innovation, knowledge, and adaptive learning to advance nature-based solutions. However, the roadmap remains, for the most part, in the realm of good intentions.

There’s only so much funding available for climate solutions, and the total amount is woefully inadequate. Only strategic investment will obtain significant results for the dollars spent, and it is now clear which path will get results.

Given the clear superiority of nature-based solutions, why is so much support still going toward mechanical carbon capture? Poor judgments in the past have created funding streams and projects with a momentum of their own. Most of the gold-rush fever surrounding mechanical carbon capture can be attributed simply to the lure of subsidies for building new DAC plants and pipelines.

In a 2018 article published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Justin Adams—who at the time was the managing director for global lands at the U.S.-based environmental nonprofit Nature Conservancy—urged the European Union to take the lead on using nature-based solutions in the climate crisis fight. “Many economists and policy advisors ignore the potential of natural climate solutions at our peril,” warned Adams’s article, calling a 2018 report by the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council (EASAC) “short-sighted” for downplaying the potential of nature-based climate solutions.

“Natural climate solutions are in fact the world’s oldest negative emissions technology,” Adams wrote. “By managing carbon dioxide-hungry forests and agricultural lands better, we can remove vast quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and store them in trees and soils.”

The science tells us that policymakers and investors have so far been wrong to advocate so strongly for mechanical CDR solutions to the detriment of biological ones. The fate of future generations is at stake, and we cannot afford to waste both time and money on techno-fixes that are ineffective at achieving our climate goals. The clear path forward to addressing the looming catastrophic effects of climate change is to restore nature.

Economic Sanctions Hurt the Poor, Sick, and Vulnerable, Shows Report


study published by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has revealed that economic sanctions, often illegally imposed, have a lasting negative impact on the populations in targeted countries and almost never achieve their stated goals.

The study “Human Consequences of Economic Sanctions” by Francisco Rodriguez, examines the evidence and arguments presented in 32 studies of sanctioned economies, mostly poor and Global South countries. It concludes that “[it] is hard to think of other policy interventions that continue to be pursued amid so much evidence of their adverse and often deadly effects on vulnerable populations,” particularly when they are extremely ineffective in achieving most of their stated goals.

The study finds that they affect the living conditions of the majority population of the targeted countries by making them poorer and more precarious. This is largely because targeted governments have a reduced capacity to maintain social and economic policies that support most of the population, especially the most vulnerable.

The CEPR report also notes that the negative impact of economic sanctions on people is well-known by policymakers and experts. Often, the report says, the worsening of economic conditions in targeted countries is precisely the intention of the measures, in the hope that there will be political upheaval in response.

Mother’s Day and Rights of Women    

I am late in responding to Mother’s Day (14 May) which could have been a landmark in changing antagonistic social culture in Sri Lanka like in many other countries. But better late than never.

Compared to many other democratic countries, celebrations and memories on this Mother’s Day in Sri Lanka was minimal. Of course, the hotels like Galle Face, Shangri-La, Hilton, and Movenpick had special offers and menus for those who come from higher echelons of society to apparently celebrate the event. But the great majority of mothers (80 percent) come from lower sections of society who don’t even have the opportunity to visit a normal hotel, let alone Shangri-La or Hilton.    

TV Programs

Although I carefully glanced through the prominent newspapers in English and Sinhala, there were no editorials or special features, at least referring to the Day or the event. However, there were some TV channels who utilized the opportunity to run some interesting programs. Siyatha, Tharu Piri Re (Siyatha, night full of performers) on 13th night was one of them.

Rangana de Silva impressively conducted the program, participated by teledrama and film artists like Manjula Kumari, Chathurika Peiris, Nipunika Hewagamage, Maheshi Madusanka, Oshedi Hewamadduma and Nehara Pieris with their mischievous little daughters. They all contributed to the program with singing, dancing, and expressing their views on the subject of Mothers role in family and society. I am very familiar with Nehara’s strong maternal traditions of always giving priority to modesty, equality, and independence.

Hiru TV Copy Chat also gave prominence to Mother’s Day on 14May itself. One major difference was the utilization of both mothers and children who are both involved in acting careers. Kavinga Perera conducted the Chat helped by (I believe) Narmada Yapa. Kumari Munasighe and Akila Dhanuddara were a main focus both on their merits and Jackson Anthony’s heritage. Manel Wanaguru and Janith also contributed as mother and son. The contribution of Geetha Kanthi and her daughter, Paboda Sandeepani, also brought a different angle to the discussions. In the web, this Chat became extremely popular with over 200 comments within two days and huge number of viewers. However, one demerit of the Chat was the unfounded view expressed as the ‘genetic’ connection between mothers and sons and fathers and daughters. All these depend on circumstances and social ethos, some may need to be changed in the case of Sri Lanka.

My Mother

I was born in a family of seven children, four girls and three boys. Our father died when I was ten years having one girl and a boy born after me. My mother, maiden named Pearl De Mel, naturally had to shoulder a great burden. Even before, as I remember well, she was completely in charge of the household with of course father’s help. We were living just next to the St. Peter’s Church at Moratuwella. We also had a housemaid, Menika, from an unknown family from Ahaliyagoda. My mother also was a mother to Menika from a different perspective.

My father was working as the Chief Clerk at the Department of Labor when he suddenly died in 1955 of a stroke. I cannot remember any major dispute between my mother and father, perhaps my mother being a somber person by nature. There was a clear division of labor between them. Although my mother received a widow’s pension, the first major problem that she had to encounter was the question of money. However, we were fortunate to have a wide friendly family circle both from mother’s and father’s side. They monthly collected funds and donated to our expenses. When ‘our father was living, we were somewhat rich, but after he died, we became poor.’ My mother jokingly used to tell us like that.

My mother was fairly educated in the field of nursing or midwifery. But she could not work because of the burden of family responsibilities. This is a predicament of many women facing even today. She however offered voluntary help in childbirth of family members and neighbors. Because of our father’s sudden death not only our mother but also our three elder sisters had to sacrifice. They had to leave school one after the other after ordinary level (O/L) examination. The first joined the CTB as a typist, second as an English teacher, and the third as a telephone operator (CTO). My elder brother also had to do the same. During that time some knowledge of English was necessary to obtain an employment.

Education undoubtedly was/is a principal right particularly of women to face their disadvantages in society. My mother had to balance between four daughters and three sons. She was very vocal in saying that ‘we boys should respect our sisters’ privacy.’ We luckily had enough space in our house to implement these principles. I don’t think my mother had any idea of human rights as we advocate today. But she had some principles perhaps based on her mother and/or father.

She almost became a social worker later in her life after we became economically and socially settled. She used to knit pillowcases with leftover fabrics and distribute them among the poor in our area along with other friends. There were other activities she was involved in. She lived until the age of 92 without serious health conditions. Even when I was drawing a good salary, she used to ask me whether I needed any money from her pension!                          

Mother’s or Women’s?

There are people who question the need for Mother’s Day when there is a Women’s Day (8 March). The following is one explanation which can be given. 

“The main difference between Mother’s Day and International Women’s Day is that the former honors mothers, either collectively or individually, while the latter celebrates all women in society. Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. Mother’s Day is dedicated to commemorating parenthood as well as the selfless contributions that mothers make, while Women’s Day is dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of women and honoring their resiliency.” (Diffzy. com).  

The celebration of Mother’s Day can be traced back to the early 20th century and to a woman named Anna Jarvis in the United States. The whole idea was to recognize, respect and celebrate the role of mothers and their contributions to the family, children, and society. More than 50 countries today celebrate Mother’s Day officially although not yet in Sri Lanka. Mother figures are also celebrated.

In the case of our country, if mothers are given the opportunity to influence and participate in politics, the nature of politics itself could be changed, from power grabbing to the implementation of justice. Of course, we have had some commendable mother figures in politics like Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Chandrika Kumaratunga etc. However, their roles and efforts were submerged within the power grabbing male politics. They also were backward without coming forward to challenge and change the political culture and political dynamics of the country.

Mothers and Politics

At present women participation in politics is minimal. Whatever the weaknesses, those who are involved in politics should be strongly supported by all progressive forces without limiting themselves to this party or that party.

It is most unfortunate that Sri Lanka celebrated/celebrating Mother’s Day when very many young women (to be future mothers) are facing a perilous situation. Children are also deeply vulnerable. What happened in Kalutara a week before the Mother’s Day is only a symptom. On the morning of 7 Sunday (May), the naked body of a 16-year schoolgirl was found on the railway line in Kalutara South. She had been taken to the nearby hotel the previous night.

Can that be a breakdown of Mother’s role? I am not referring to a very archaic role on the part of mothers. However, there should be a value system and its implementation.

With the free opening of the media and AI, there is so much adult material distributed within society (including some TV shows, teledramas, discussions etc.), not to speak of the ‘social media.’ In a country like Australia, adult material is strongly prevented from reaching children while sex education is given in schools in a scientific manner. This Mother’s Day or the Week should be utilized to create awareness among the mothers themselves.       

Sri Lanka: Politics of Addiction


“Not only our actions, but also our inactions, become our destiny.” ~ Heinrich Zimmer (The King and the Corpse)

This week marked the 14th anniversary of the ending of the long Eelam War.

This week also saw the re-emergence of BBS head-honcho Galgoda-Atte Gnanasara to save the nation from that enterprising entrepreneur-of-cloth, Pastor Jerome Fernando. Much verbal thundering was heard warning of a new religious war.

Later in the week, a bunch of Sinhala-Buddhist extremists crashed into a ceremony at the Borella Cemetery held in the memory of all the war-dead. They condemned the event as a commemoration of the Tigers, probably on the grounds that those Tamils who died in the war (especially in the Rajapaksas’ Humanitarian Operation with zero-civilian casualties) were Tigers, right down to babies and toddlers.

The week ended with another group of lay-and-monk warriors gathering by the Buddha statue outside the Fort Railway Station, pledging to protect rata, jathiya, and agama.

Fortunately, ordinary Lankans, immersed in the real struggle for economic survival, ignored these theatrics, turning what could have been explosions into damp squibs.

The ending of the long Eelam War brought neither peace nor prosperity even for the triumphant Sinhalese. The much awaited peace dividend was swallowed by a defence establishment that continued expanding. The Rajapaksas treated the entire Tamil population of the North and parts of the East like enemy aliens, locking up every man, woman, and child in open air prison camps called Welfare Villages (Indian and international pressure eventually compelled them to abandon this policy of mass incarceration). When the cry of the Undead Tiger failed to impress the South, the regime sought other enemies, flirting with ‘alien Christians’ before settling on ‘Encroaching Muslims’. The harvest of that toxic seeding was reaped in April 2019, three weeks short of the 10th anniversary of Eelam War’s ending.

The war was unnecessary, preventable. Every step towards it was motivated not by national necessity or even popular demand. The motive force was the hellish union between political opportunism and religio-racial extremism. As the events of the last week indicate, that union is far from dead and its current partners are waiting impatiently to return to political mainstream. Unchastened by our blood-soaked history, they want to repeat it.  

Until 1955-56, Lankan politics was cleavaged by class. That classic divide left little electoral space for SWRD Bandaranaike’s ambitions. His newly formed SLFP had challenged the UNP and lost in 1952. In the 1953 Hartal that shook the nation and forced a government to flee, he was an onlooker. The left had a real chance to form a government at the next election, especially if its fractured components could bring themselves to work together. Had Lanka taken that path, there would have been no Sinhala Only, no Sri riots of 1958, no Black July, and no 25-year war.

SWRD Bandaranaike was clever enough to know that in a political battlefield divided along class lines he couldn’t prevail and unscrupulous enough to adopt the noxious race+religion=nation equation as his signature policy. He accepted the Buddhist Commission report in toto. Monks formed Eksath Bhikshu Peramuna and engaged in house-to-house campaigning to ensure his victory.

Our tragedy is littered with paths not taken. The Buddha Jayanthi of 1956 could have been celebrated by focusing on what the Buddha taught, and by commencing a process of spiritual renaissance. Instead, under the guise of restoring Buddhism to its pre-colonial glory, Tripitaka was abandoned for Mahawamsa and the core Buddhist values of compassion, non-violence, and moderation replaced with hate, violence, and extremism.

The Buddhist Commission Report’s title was The Betrayal of Buddhism. The real betrayal had come from within, the work of monks and kings. A universalist teaching had been ghettoised into the exclusive preserve of a single race. A teaching that explicitly rejected caste has been distorted by embedding caste discrimination into its very heart. The Buddhist Commission report could have chartered a course to return debased Lankan Buddhism into what the Buddha taught by ridding it of the twin perversions of race and caste. Instead it ignored the division of a single monkhood into caste-based nikayas (a distortion created by a Kandyan king) and focused on entrenching the racial ghettoisation of Buddhism.

1956 might have become a year of true nation-building. Buddhism, cleansed of distortions, could have become a binding agent for a nascent Lankan nation. Instead, an unholy alliance of monks and politicians turned Buddhism into an agent of division. 67 years later, that spectre continues to haunt us.

Fiction and Unfiction

In January this year, an outcry was heard about a fake Temple of the Tooth being built in Pothuhera in Kurunegala by a man who called himself a Bodhisatva (a future Buddha – a tad like Prophet Jerome). People were donating money and jewellery to fund this edifice, the media claimed. Donations were pouring in from here and abroad. The prelates of Malwatte and Asgiriya together with the Diyawadana Nilame of the Temple of the Tooth wrote to the president seeking political intervention against this fakery. (Incidentally, the chief prelates of other two nikayas did not sign the letter as caste bars them from playing any role in rituals surrounding the tooth relic).

The facts were telling. An enterprising individual thought to build another Temple of the Tooth. There were enough Buddhists willing to believe his claim that once the edifice was complete, the tooth relic would come to him. The entire sorry tale demonstrates how far a rational teaching which accepts the law of cause-and-effect (hethu-pala-vadaya) had degenerated into a myth-ridden superstition in which relics could perform miracles and trees grant wishes. In this version of Buddhism, men are arrested for ‘insulting the Buddha’ (or his relics) while those who claim to be his robed-disciples violate his teachings on a daily basis.

The Buddha, in his final major sermon, set out the path for the sasana’s survival and expansion ( He mentioned seven conditions, seven further conditions, seven good qualities, seven factors of enlightenment, seven perceptions, and six further conditions. If monks adhere to these 41 stipulations, the sasana would flourish. He made no mention of state patronage, of his pristine teachings surviving only in an island called Lanka, of rituals or relics. His sole focus was on the conduct of the monks themselves. And in what passes for Buddhism in Sri Lanka today, almost every single one of those conditions are violated daily and in plain sight. Those violations are ignored while talking about them is being turned into a non-bailable crime.

In 2019, the writer Shakthika Sathkumara was arrested under the ICCPR and held without bail. The arrest was the outcome of a complaint made by a group of monks about a short story he wrote (Ardha – Half). The story is about life in a fictional monastery and contains a hint about the abuse of young monks by senior monks. According to a police spokesman, “A group of monks complained that the reference to homosexual activities among the clergy insulted Buddhism.”

Vinaya pitaka refers to sexual misconduct by monks and specifically lists the masturbation of one monk by another as a serious offence. The Buddha obviously understood that becoming ordained will not free a person from human desires. Only the stream-enterers would be free of such yearnings. Since there are no known stream-enterers in Sri Lanka, the kind of misconduct the Buddha made rules against is likely to be present here. The arrest of several monks for suspected child abuse (including sexual abuse) this year alone indicates that what Shakthika Sathkumara’s fiction alleges is present in real life. Unfortunately, in today’s religious universe, the crime is less offensive than talking about it.

A new trend among political monks is to refer to the saffron robe as ‘Arahat dajaya’ (the standard of enlightened monks). This new myth is a marker in the ongoing attempt to place monks above scrutiny and criticism. This is reminiscent of the kind of blind veneration and unthinking obedience rife in many parts of Catholic Europe until a few decades ago and is present in some Charismatic churches even today (in a remake of the Jonestown horror, the head of Good News International Church in Kenya persuaded his followers to die of starvation to meet Jesus fast. Many did. The pastor is alive and well and currently out on bail). Walter Benjamin in One Way Street, provides an example, something he experienced during a visit to Naples, Italy, in the 1920’s. “…a priest was drawn on a cart through the streets of Naples for indecent offenses. He was followed by a crowd hurling maledictions. At a corner a wedding procession appeared. The priest stands up and makes the sign of a blessing, and the cart’s pursuers fall onto their knees.” This is where we headed. A monk does not have to adhere to the teaching. All he has to do is to wear the robe, just as all that Neapolitan priest had to do was to make the sign of the cross.

Superstition can be dismissed as silly. But it stems from the same irrationality which accepts the perversion of a teaching based on compassion and loving kindness to all living beings into one which rewards the killing of unbelievers with heavenly bliss. It also opens the floodgates of stupidity, enabling such political machinations as the Kelani Cobra.

In the infamous Mahawamsa story which debuts the justification for a holy war there is a marker for a different path. In the story, King Dutugemunu is saddened by the human costs of his victory. “How shall there be any comfort for me….since by me was caused the slaughter of a great host numbering millions?” he laments. And the deaths he is mourning are not even of civilians in the enemy territory but of enemy combatants. The call of his conscience is closer to the Buddha’s teaching than the supposed advice given to him by monks. It would also provide a better path to a lasting peace, and a more effective counter to the triumphant return of politics of religio-racial addiction.

The Salvation Mania

In 2019, almost seven million Lankans ignored the evidence before their eyes and elected an economic ignoramus as president, believing that he could guide them to the promised land of development painlessly and fast.

Gullibility has become a national characteristic, something that unites us across racial, religious, class and other lines.

Pastor Jerome Fernando who calls himself a prophet and runs an extremely lucrative religious enterprise seems to epitome that specifically American construct: charismatic preacher who lords it over a fief and turns it into a profit-making venture. Such preachers embody in their teaching and practice the brashness of a certain strand of American capitalism and the anti-intellectual, anti-rational tendencies inherent in unadulterated Lutherism. Martin Luther rejected the concept of free will totally and advocated salvation via sola fide, faith alone. Fortunately for the world, Protestantism evolved into a more tolerant and rational faith due to active mediation by great humanists such as Philip Melanchthon. The American style charismatic preachers are outside this mainstream, advocating political and social stances that are often retrogressive. The role played by this outcrop of Protestantism in propping rightwing populist leaders from Trump to Bolsonaro is well-documented.

            Pastor Jerome can perhaps be best understood by looking at the former Pitiduwe Siridamma thero who reinvented himself as Arhat Sri Samanthabadra and built another excellent religio-commercial enterprise, Umandawa. The one is as much of a follower of Christ as the other is a disciple of the Buddha. Both – and others of their ilk – work on vulnerabilities of people in uncertain times, turning fear and ignorance into lucre.

On October 3rd, 2002 a group of American Evangelical pastors wrote a letter to President George W Bush supporting a war against Saddam Hussein. The ‘Land Letter’ (named after its prime mover, Pastor Richard D Land) gave seven reasons why an invasion of Iraq would be a ‘Just War’. When Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) asked President Bush if he consulted his (far more intelligent) father before invading Iraq, the younger Bush replied, “He is the wrong father to appeal to for advice… There is a higher father I appeal to” ( The world is still living with the horrors that ‘divinely-mandated’ war, each unnecessary death a living reminder of what happens when religious irrationality bleeds into political irrationality.

Pastor Jerome cannot insult the Buddha even if he tries to. The Buddha was accused of worse and to his face, and his response was that since he refused to accept the insults, they would return to the ones making them. The danger Pastor Jerome represents is the same danger political monks and other politically active religious figures represent (including the Catholic Cardinal). Their words and deeds further exacerbate societal gullibility and social irrationality, making another 2019 and national follies of that order far more likely. But the battle that must be waged with such purveyors of blind faith and unquestioning obedience has nothing to do with law and incarceration. It is a contestation of ideas and ideals over the kind of future we want for Sri Lanka. A secular country where faith is a private matter and every citizen is free to follow a religion – or not – cannot be built on persecution and intolerance.  

Wigneswaran points out the root cause of Sri Lanka’s Ethnic Conflict

Many academic articles have been written about the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka. Many scholars have offered explanations in this regard. And many solutions have been proposed. There has even been a war that has claimed thousands of human lives. But decades later, the Sinhalese and the Tamils are yet to come to an agreement about a solution. The crisis does not seem to have been resolved. What is the real reason for this? This is why we need to find out if there is a problem in our understanding of the causes of the ethnic crisis. It appears Social Science academics who have commented on this have only touched the surface of this issue. Many of them have ignored the root cause of ethnic crisis in the island.

It is in this backdrop, the former Chief Minister of the Northern Provincial Council and the current Member of Parliament C. V. Wigneswaran, has clearly pointed out the root cause of Sri Lanka’s crisis to everyone. We should be thankful to Wigneswaran for that. But it is a tragedy that many of the things he says do not get the attention they deserve. Many Sinhalese have a habit of dismissing him as a virulent racist. It is a wrong approach.

Wigneswaran points out the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka very clearly. He states that the Tamils of the northern and eastern provinces, unlike the Muslims and plantation Tamils, “have always occupied the area now roughly covered by the Northern and Eastern Provinces. There had been continuous occupation of the North and East throughout history by the Tamil-speaking people……..In fact, their occupation extended up to Negombo in the Western Province and up to Kathirgamam in the South East. The Sinhalese have never occupied the North and East in large numbers except after 1833 when the country was brought under one administration by the British”.

He further states, “we Tamils of the North and East are conscious of our antiquity, our history, our rights to self-determination and therefore until our intrinsic rights to the right of self-determination is recognized and respected we would find it difficult to march together with the other communities, specially the Sinhalese who have usurped our history and antiquity and trying to falsify those fields of study”.

Wigneswaran claims that the Tamil history of Sri Lanka has been stolen by the Sinhalese people. If this is the case, how can reconciliation be achieved? We can all agree that theft of one’s history and identity by the other is no way to achieve any everlasting reconciliation between the two parties.

He also claims that the Sinhalese people are immersed in a sea of myths about their history. Therefore he considers teaching the true history of the country especially to the Sinhala Buddhist brothers as a service he should fulfill. Accordingly, Wigneswaran has pointed out the ‘true’ history of the Sinhalese people on several occasions. He argues “The Sinhala people have been given a wrong understanding of history based on the fiction written in Pali by a Buddhist Priest in the 5th Century AD. The author says that at the end of every stanza he was writing the fiction for the glorification of Buddhism. If he was writing history he would not have said so!”

Thus, he claims that the reason for Sri Lanka’s ethnic problem is the false history created by Sinhala historians and Buddhist monks. “The Sinhalese historians and others, especially the Buddhist clergy, have set up lots of falsities as history. They say this country is theirs. This is false. The original inhabitants of this country were Saivite Tamils. They say all Tamils were immigrants into a predominantly Sinhala Country. This is also false”.

When Tamils have been living in Sri Lanka for thousands of years speaking Tamil, a very ancient language, he says “Sinhalese came by their Sinhala language only in the 6th or 7th Century AD. That is 1300 or 1400 years ago only. There was no Sinhala Language before that time. Some historians have painted all ancient Buddhists as Sinhalese. That is because since there was Buddhism in Sri Lanka before the Sinhala language came into existence they have identified earlier era Buddhists as Sinhala Buddhists. Those who were Buddhists at that time were Tamils whom Professor Sunil Ariyaratne calls as Demala Bauddayo”.

Wigneswaran also argues that the Sinhalese have been tempted to give the Sinhala language a long history by calling the language found in ancient inscriptions as Sinhala Prakrit. So he says, “There are those who refer to Sinhala Prakrit as proof of the presence of the Sinhalese language from pre Buddhistic times. This is like saying my grandfather lived 100 years ago therefore I lived 100 years ago because I came from my grandfather! There was no Sinhala language until 1300 or 1400 years from now. So how could you refer to Sinhala Prakrit of a by- gone age 2000 years or more ago? The Sinhala language was not even contemplated at that time. The truth would be that those words of ancient times (Prakrit) may have been Pali or Tamil or other dialects in Sri Lanka which later came to make up the Sinhala Language. Sinhala is a conglomeration of languages. At least 40% of the Sinhala words are Tamil. Its alphabet formation is similar to Tamil and South Indian Languages”.

According to Wigneswaran, and Tamil people in general, there was no Sinhala language in the island until around the 7th century and no Sinhalese people lived then. This island was inhabited by the Tamil speaking Shiva devotees who were the first settlers of Ceylon. It was these Tamil speaking Shiva devotees who first encountered the Buddhist missionaries sent by Asoka. Therefore he claims that, Devanam Piya Thissa mentioned in Mahavamsa, who reigned in Sri Lanka at the time when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka, was actually a Tamil Siva devotee king, named Devanam-Piya-Theesan.

Then his argument is that, the Tamils who inhabited the island built the Rajarata civilization and left ancient stone inscriptions all over the country. According to his theory, only a part of the Shiva devotee Tamils embraced Buddhism, and the Sinhala language was created from the combination of Tamil, Pali and Prakrit languages. And he says that, only after a few centuries had gone by, after this process, Sinhalese emerged in Sri Lanka. If this is the version of history believed by Wigneswaran and shared by the Tamil society in general, then one can imagine their anger at the supposed theft of their history.

Moreover, he claims that Sri Lanka’s Tamil history goes back a long way. He says that even before the island was geographically separated from the Indian subcontinent, Tamils were living in this country. Speaking to the Ceylon Today newspaper in 2017, he said “According to S.U. Deraniyagala Sri Lanka which had been part of the land mass of the Indian subcontinent became an island about 7,000 years ago when it physically separated from Southern India. On that basis the populations of South India and Sri Lanka were of the same ethnic stock prior to and after separation”.

Wigneswaran also comments on a huge continent of Lemuria, which was the homeland of the Tamil speaking people, and disappeared under the sea. He argued that the island of Ceylon is a remnant of the continent of Lemuria. He claims that the Tamils living in the North and East “could trace their ancestry to the inhabitants of the Continent of Lemuria which covered the greater part of the present Indian Ocean in times gone by. The Lemuria Continent which was gobbled up by the Indian Ocean extended from Western Australia to Eastern Africa joining up with the Indian subcontinent. Therefore the present Tamils of the North and East feel themselves to be the descendants of a long line of Tamil speaking people who have been occupying the Northern and Eastern regions continuously from pre Buddhistic times. Recently it has been accepted that Tamil is the oldest living language in the world”.

He also claims that the people of the megalithic era who came to the island with the iron culture were also Tamil speaking Dravidians. Therefore, he is of the opinion that the evidence of an ancient Tamil civilization can be found in the megalithic monuments found scattered across the island. We have to remember, that Tamil Historian, Prof. S. Pathmanathan made a similar remark to Daily Mirror in 2017 (Interview with Kelum Bandara, Tamils have valid claim for homeland Prof. Pathmanathan, 29 March 2017, Daily Mirror). According to Wigneswaran’s argument, there was a very ancient Tamil history in Ceylon. He directly said that it is more appropriate to treat Sri Lanka as a Tamil Shiva state.

Many Sinhalese consider Wigneswaran a racist and tend to ignore his views. But no matter how problematic it is, he points to the viewpoint prevailing in the Tamil society in general about the history of Sri Lanka. This viewpoint or ideology is not limited to Wigneswaran or a fringe of extreme Tamil nationalists. And he was not the first to narrate a Tamil centric History of Sri Lanka in this way. This Tamil viewpoint of the island’s history has been a prominent feature in the comments made by people belonging to all strata of Tamil society regarding the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka.

For example, Prof. Ratnajeevan Hoole, Rajasingham Narendran, Dr. Murugar Gunasingham, D. B. S. Jayaraj, Prof. K. Sivathamby, Prof. A. Velupillai have also advocated a Tamil-centric history of Sri Lanka. Tamil National Alliance Member of Parliament, A. Sumanthiran who served as the Vice-Chairman of the Sri Lanka Methodist Council, recently installed a Shiva lingam at the Vedukkannari Buddhist archaeological site. How can we understand the rationale behind such a controversial move?

A founding member of the Federal Party, V. Navaratnam has strongly stood for a Tamil centric History of Sri Lanka and says that it is the most important ideology that drives Tamil nationalist politics in Sri Lanka. And historian S. K. Sittarampalam who once functioned as the vice-president of the Ilangkai Thamizh Arasu Kadchi (ITAK), the main constituent party of the TNA, has spoken about a Tamil-centric history of Sri Lanka at several instances. Another Tamil political leader who strongly advocated this is C. Sunderalingam.
It was S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, the founder of the Federal Party, who turned this Tamil Centric history of Sri Lanka into a political concept by forming ‘Tamil Homeland Concept’. It is this concept that drives Tamil politics in Sri Lanka. Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, once said, that the person who lit the flame of Tamil nationalism in his mind, is none other than, his tutor Venugopal Master, a disciple of Sundaralingam and Navaratnam, fierce proponents of Tamil Centric History. Since the 1950s, S. J. Gunasingham, a teacher who taught history in Tamil medium schools, had advocated a Tamil-centric history of Sri Lanka and always accused the Sinhalese of distorting the history of the island. Therefore Tamil-centric history of SL is not something Wigneswaran invented or limited to him.

When reading Wigneswaran’s comments, one is reminded of the debate between J. L. Devananda and Bandu de Silva regarding the history of Sri Lanka in 2011 (Sri Lanka Guardian website). There is no difference between the views expressed by Devananda and those of Wigneswaran. He does not belong to an extreme racist fringe of the Tamil society, but a person who very clearly points out the Tamil viewpoint about the history of this country. He also warned in 2014 that if Sri Lanka’s history is not corrected, there may even be a war again. Accordingly, he shows us, the seriousness of the dispute between the Sinhalese and Tamils, regarding the history of Sri Lanka.

Tamil journalist T. Sabharatnam once said, that the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has arisen due to the controversy over the history of the island. And Professor K. Sivathamby once said “Both [Sinhalas and Tamils] differ on the extent of the Tamil element of Sri Lanka. Sinhala viewpoint changes from zero to 50% where Sinhala nationalists claim Sri Lanka has zero Tamil element and Marxists/ federalists or Tamil sympathizers claim it is equal to 50% which is as same as the Sinhalese. It can be said the general view of the Sinhala public is Tamil element in Sri Lankan heritage is more than zero but definitely less than 50%. The Tamil viewpoint is Tamil element in Sri Lankan heritage is from 50% to close to 100% by giving a Tamil origin to the Sinhalese people. The crisis in Sri Lanka stems from this disagreement on the extent of Tamilness in the Sri Lankan heritage.” According to Sivathamby, the issue of Tamilness in the island is the root cause of the communal crisis.

As it is evident from the Tamil comments, the Sinhalese and Tamil conflict over the island’s history has created a heated debate over the nature of the post-colonial Sri Lankan state. Disputes over the country’s official language, settlement of farming communities in the Eastern Province, the constitution, the national flag and as shown recently even the logo of the Department of Archeology, have arisen from this controversy about the history of Sri Lanka. Therefore, in order to end the Sinhala and Tamil ethnic crisis, this controversy about the island’s history must be resolved.

It should be noted that although some of the NGOs supported by foreign funds have done research on the ethnic crisis, NONE have paid attention to the main controversy between the two parties, which is the controversy over history. No wonder their attempts at peace have failed! In such a scenario, we should thank Wigneswaran for pointing at the real root cause of the conflict.

Views expressed are personal

Can the Global South Build a New World Information and Communication Order?

It is remarkable how the media in a select few countries is able to set the record on matters around the world. The European and North American countries enjoy a near-global monopoly over information, their media houses vested with a credibility and authority inherited from their status during colonial times (BBC, for instance) as well as their command of the neocolonial structure of our times (CNN, for instance). In the 1950s, the post-colonial nations identified the West’s monopoly over media and information and sought to ‘promote the free flow of ideas by word and by image’, as the 1945 Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) put it.

As part of the Non-Aligned Movement, the countries and regions of Africa, Asia, and Latin America developed their own national and regional news institutions: in 1958, a UNESCO seminar held in Quito (Ecuador) led to the establishment of a regional school to train journalists and communications professionals in 1960 known as the International Centre of Advanced Communication Studies for Latin America (CIESPAL); in 1961, a meeting held in Bangkok created the Organisation of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA); and in 1963, a conference held in Tunis created the Union of African News Agencies (UANA). These agencies tried to amplify the voices of the Third World through their own media, but also – unsuccessfully – within the media houses of the West. Alongside these efforts, at the UNESCO General Conference of 1972, Soviet Union and UNESCO experts from more than a dozen countries put forward a resolution entitled the ‘Declaration of Guiding Principles for the Use of Satellite Broadcasting for the Free Flow of Information, the Spread of Education, and Greater Cultural Exchange’, which called for nations and peoples to have the right to determine what information is broadcasted in their countries. Like other such efforts, it was opposed by Western states, with the United States at its helm. Although conference after conference, from Bangkok to Santiago, took the issue of the democratisation of the press seriously, this opposition meant that little advancement was possible.

In the 1970s and 1980s, these efforts came together in the movement to build the New World Information and Communication Order to address the global imbalances in this sphere between developed and developing countries. This idea was influential on UNESCO’s International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems, or MacBride Commission, established in 1977 and chaired by the Irish politician and Nobel laureate Seán MacBride, which produced an important, but little-read, report on the topic (Many Voices, One World, 1980). In 1984, the United States withdrew from UNESCO in response to these initiatives. The privatisation of the media in the 1980s ultimately killed off any attempt by the Third World to create sovereign media networks – even where these networks were anti-communist (as with the Asia-Pacific News Network, established in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1981).

However, in recent years, this dream of the free flow of information has been revived by movements of the Global South, which have been frustrated by the near-total absence of their views in international debates and by the imposition of a narrow, foreign worldview on their countries about the dilemmas that they face (war and hunger, for instance). As part of this revival, hundreds of editors and journalists from the Global South gathered in Shanghai (China) in early May for the Global South International Communication Forum. At the close of two days of intense debate, the participants drafted and voted on a Shanghai Consensus, which can be read in full below.

Promoting the Construction of a Twenty-First-Century New World Information and Communication Order

In the 1970s, as part of the process by the Non-Aligned Movement to establish the New International Economic Order, the states of the Global South along with UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) attempted to establish the New World Information and Communication Order. This attempt was destroyed by the rise of neoliberal hegemony during the 1980s. The wave of neoliberal globalisation accelerated due to the Third World debt crisis and the demise of the Soviet Union. The West established a ‘rules-based international order’ to mask its neocolonial structures and imperialist actions. Samir Amin argued that the neocolonial structure is built on ‘five controls’: over finance, natural resources, science and technology, weapons of mass destruction, and information.

Today, although some of these monopolies have loosened, the unequal structure of information and communication has not only remained unchanged but has also become more severe. The dominant theoretical paradigm on information production and communication worldwide remains Western-centric, and the Global South’s academia and media lack mechanisms to generate ideas and a framework that goes beyond the Western-centric perspective.

We note the prevalence of neocolonial structures, in particular in the media, which are controlled by the West. This media is unable to articulate the challenges faced by the world’s people or effectively communicate and discuss feasible development strategies, in particular for the Global South.

US imperialists and their allies weaponise the media, launching information wars against countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. If the Global South tries to put peace and development on the agenda, the West answers with war and debt. In the hands of Western media monopolies, the communications order is not used to promote world peace, but to exacerbate human division and the risk of war.

US imperialists and their allies use media hegemony to distort the beautiful concepts of democracy, freedom, and human rights. They attack other countries under the pretext of democracy, freedom, and human rights while remaining silent about their own trampling of democracy, deprivation of freedom, and human rights.

Professor Lyu Xingyu, dean of the International Communication Research Institute of East China Normal University, gives the closing remarks of the Global South International Communication Forum, 5 May 2023. Credit: International Communication Research Institute of East China Normal University

Digital technologies such as the internet, big data, and artificial intelligence, which should serve human welfare, are used by a few Western media giants and monopoly platforms to dominate the production and dissemination of information and to block voices that differ from their claims. Given these circumstances, we believe that it is essential for intellectuals and communications professionals from and sympathetic to the Global South to revive the spirit of the 1955 Bandung Conference and the Non-Aligned Movement (established in 1961), respond to the Global Civilisation Initiative (2023), and establish international solidarity through communications theory and practice.

We believe that it is essential for intellectuals from and sympathetic to the Global South to promote the theoretical syntheses and academic production of the Global South (especially in the arenas of history and development), actively engage in academic exchanges and collaboration, and form a communications theory from the perspective of the Global South.

We believe that it is essential for progressive media from and sympathetic to the Global South to form a distributed and diversified content production and dissemination network, share content and media experiences, and establish a united international communications front against imperialism and neocolonialism to advocate for peace and development.

We believe that it is essential for the Global South International Communication Forum to be held annually in order to build a diverse and multilateral network and platform for dialogue and exchange among intellectuals and communications professionals. This network and platform will serve as a basis for various forms of collaboration with governments, universities, think tanks, media, and other institutions.

The historical mission of the New World Information and Communication Order has not been fulfilled, nor has the spirit behind it been eradicated. Anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism are still the consensus of the new Non-Aligned Movement. Let us work together, based on this foundation, to promote the construction of a twenty-first-century New World Information and Communication Order to benefit humanity.

We, at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, are in broad agreement with the need to further the New World Information and Communication Order and revive the dream of the free flow of ideas. This endeavour is built upon efforts of the past, such as the Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool, formed by the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug on 20 January 1975, which brought together eleven news agencies. In its first year of operation, the agencies shared 3,500 stories; a decade later, there were sixty-eight news agencies in the network. Though the Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool is now extinct, the idea behind it remains vital. The recent conference in Shanghai is part of the new conversation to build new pools, new networks, and new media, anchored organisations such as Peoples Dispatch and like-minded media projects.

Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, gives the keynote address, entitled ‘History Has Not Ended: The Three Battles of Our Time’, 4 May 2023. Credit: International Communication Research Institute of East China Normal University

Colombian President Gustavo Petro Warns of Coup Plot Against Him


Colombia’s first leftist president Gustavo Petro sounded the alarms about a brewing coup plot against him. He told participants during an event in Sucre at which land was turned over to dispossessed peasants, “For the first time there is a president that, instead of trying to take the land away from peasants to keep it or give it to his friends, he is trying to give the land back. And now some former colonel says that this deserves a coup d’état… these coups are resisted and overcome through the mobilization of citizens.”

Petro was referring to statements made on May 11 by retired Army Colonel John Marulanda during a debate on La W radio. Marulanda said that the mobilization of retired members of the military is a sign that Colombia is “following the steps of Peru” wherein “the reserve forces were successfully able to defenestrate a corrupt president.” He added, “Here we will do our best to defenestrate someone who was a guerrilla fighter.”

On Wednesday, May 10, around 3,000 retired members of the Armed Forces mobilized in the Plaza Bolívar against Petro’s government. The retired members particularly take issue with Petro’s plan for “Total Peace,” in which the government has engaged in peace talks and negotiations with numerous armed groups and established several bilateral ceasefires. Retired army personnel also criticized progressive reforms promoted by Petro and members of the Historic Pact, such as the health care reform and labor reform. Many in the mobilization demanded “Out Petro!” and particularly opposed him for being a former member of a guerrilla group. In this context, Marulanda’s words have sparked concerns of a coup plot against Petro.

1 2 3 24