Human Rights

In Malay, Orangutans Means ‘People of the Forest’

/
261 views
7 mins read

The dust has settled at the resorts in Sharm el-Shaikh, Egypt, as delegates of countries and corporations leave the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The only advance made in the final agreement was for the creation of a ‘loss and damage fund’ for ‘vulnerable countries’. However, despite being hailed as a breakthrough, the deal is little more than the financing of the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage agreed upon at the COP25 in 2019. It also remains to be seen whether this new financing will in fact be realised. Under previous agreements, such as the Green Climate Fund established at the COP15 in 2009, developed countries promised to provide developing countries $100 billion per year in financing by 2020, but have failed to meet their stated goals. At the conclusion of COP27, the United Nations expressed ‘serious concern’ that those past pledges have ‘not yet been met’. More importantly, the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan notes that a ‘global transformation to a low-carbon economy is expected to require investment of at least $4–6 trillion a year’ – a commitment that is nowhere in sight. The International Energy Agency said that, in 2022, annual global clean energy investment will remain below $1.5 trillion. This is ‘record clean energy spending’, they announced, and yet, it is far below the amounts that are required for a necessary transition.

‘A fund for loss and damage is essential’, said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the conclusion of this year’s summit, ‘but it’s not an answer if the climate crisis washes a small island state off the map – or turns an entire African country to desert. The world still needs a giant leap on climate ambition. … The voices of those on the frontlines of the climate crisis must be heard’.

One of those voices is that of the orangutan, the great ape of the Bornean and Sumatran forests that the Malays call the ‘people of the forest’ (in Malay, orang means ‘person’ and hutan means ‘forest’). According to the International Union for Conversation of Nature’s Red List, the Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli orangutans have experienced sharp population declines and are now categorised as critically endangered – the phase preceding extinction in the wild. There are less than 800 Tapanuli orangutans in existence, with the overall population of orangutans falling by almost half in the last century. They are given no voice in our climate debates.

In 2019, the United Nations released a shocking report that showed the near extinction of one million of the world’s eight million animal and plant species, including the loss of 40% of amphibian species and a third of all marine mammals. As part of its findings on biodiversity and ecosystems, the authors wrote that ‘species that are large, grow slowly, are habitat specialists or are carnivores – such as great apes, tropical hardwood trees, sharks, and big cats – are disappearing from many areas’. The situation is bleak, they warned, ‘unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss’.

What is driving this biodiversity loss? The report includes a long list in which one word comes up over and over again: deforestation. In a landmark publicationThe State of the World’s Forests 2020, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) noted that an astounding 420 million hectares of forest cover had been lost since 1990, although the rate of deforestation has declined from 16 million hectares per year in the 1990s to a mere 10 million hectares per year between 2015 and 2020. Forests cover about a third of the global land area, over four billion hectares. Half of the forests are relatively intact, while others – notably the rainforests – are in danger of being destroyed.

Just weeks after his re-election, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will take office as the 39th president of Brazil in January 2023, returned to the global stage at COP27. He arrived along with a number of leaders from Brazil’s indigenous community, including federal deputy for the state of Roraima, Joênia Wapichana, and three newly elected members of Congress: Célia Xakriabá (federal deputy for the state of Minas Gerais), Sônia Guajajara (tipped to head a new Ministry of the Indigenous People), and Marina Silva (Lula’s former environment minister who is likely to resume the position). At the summit, Lula affirmed Brazil’s agreement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia to set up an ‘OPEC of the rainforests’, made last year at COP26 in Glasgow. More than half of the world’s rainforests are in these three countries, which are rich with resources that have been mined to profit multinational firms at great cost to the environment but have failed to advance the social development goals of their own citizens. ‘It is important for these three countries to strengthen their strategic alliance in order to increase their influence in climate change negotiations at the global level’, said Indonesia’s coordinating minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan (Indonesia has sought to create several cartels, including one with Canada for an OPEC-like body of nickel producers).

The scale and speed at which the global rainforest is being pillaged is alarming. In 2021, the world lost 11.1 million hectares of rainforest cover, roughly the size of the island of Cuba. To put it in football terms with the World Cup underway, the world lost 10 football pitches of rainforest per minute. Brazil, under Jair Bolsonaro, witnessed the greatest devastation of any country last year, with 1.5 million hectares lost. These old forests, dense with vegetation and animals, are now gone. ‘We are going to wage a very strong fight against illegal deforestation’, Lula said at COP27.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Indonesia are not alone. The Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership, chaired by Ghana and the United States and made up of 53 countries, has made bold pledges to end deforestation. Ahead of COP27, Colombia’s minister of environment and sustainable development, Susana Muhamad, announced the creation of an Amazon Bloc made up of the nine countries that share the region’s rainforest (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela, and French-occupied Guiana). Norway, meanwhile, has said that after Lula takes office it will resume providing funds to Brazil for rainforest protection, which had been suspended during Bolsonaro’s presidency.

The Brazil-Democratic Republic of Congo-Indonesia approach is designed in the framework of mitigation, adaptation, and investment, not through the empty conversation of the COP. Indonesia’s deputy minister for environment and forestry management, Nani Hendriati, explained how the country would promote ecotourism in the mangrove forests through a ‘blue carbon’ approach to ensure that tourism does not tear up the mangroves, seeking to halt the longstanding and rampant deforestation in the country (for example, 40% of Indonesia’s vast mangrove system was destroyed between 1980 and 2005 alone). New initiatives in the country, for instance, promote crab farming in the mangroves rather than allowing their destruction. In this spirit, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo took world leaders to plant mangrove seeds in the Taman Hutan Raya Ngurah Rai Forest Park during the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, which took place after COP27.

Such photo opportunities are important if they genuinely seek to shine a light on the problem of deforestation. However, no such light was shone on the multinational mining companies who have destroyed tropical rainforests around the world. A recent study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America examined the impact of industrial mining on deforestation in tropical regions. Looking at a selection of 26 countries, the researchers found that industrial mining in Indonesia accounted for a staggering 58.2% of the total deforestation in these countries between 2000 to 2019. However, in a concerning move, Indonesia’s government passed a new mining law in 2020 that allows permits for mining to be extended with little or no environmental regulation. ‘When the mining concessions increase’, said Pius Ginting of the NGO Action for Ecology and Emancipation of the People (AEER), ‘it drives deforestation and results in a loss of biodiversity and fragments the habitat [of animals and people]’. Indonesia revoked about two thousand mining permits this year, but this revocation is mostly due to the regularisation of the permit system, not greater regulation for environmental protection. Pressure from people’s movements in Indonesia as well as from the catastrophic impact of the climate and environmental disasters have put the government on notice about its proximity to and intimacy with multinational mining companies.

Meanwhile, the question of the orangutan remains unanswered. An academic review of the $1 billion spent on orangutan conservation from 2000 to 2019 found that ‘habitat protection, patrolling, and public outreach had the greatest return on investment for maintaining orangutan populations’. However, these funds have not accomplished much. The key issue of ending deforestation – including halting the expansion of palm oil, pulpwood, and logging plantations in Borneo and Sumatra – is off the table. How much attention will be paid to these matters at the upcoming Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is to be held in Montreal (Canada) from 7–19 December? Will anyone listen to the voice of the orangutans?

In October, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kristalina Georgieva, told a townhall of civil society organisations in Washington, DC that the IMF ‘is indeed supporting biodiversity. For instance, we have economists that are able to measure the monetary value of an elephant and the value of a whale’. Georgieva’s comments echo an observation made by Karl Marx in volume one of Capital (1867): ‘In England, women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labour required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus-population is below all calculation’.

What is the monetary value of an orangutan, let alone the survival of the planet? The ruling class might be able to calculate those values, but it is clear that they are unwilling to foot the bill to save the planet.

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research newsletter

Sri Lanka: Oman Mission Denies the Allegations

/
296 views
3 mins read

“The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Oman categorically denies the recent reports by certain Sri Lankan media accusing the Embassy of not extending welfare and repatriation assistance to the stranded Sri Lankan female domestic workers in Oman,” the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Muscat of Sultanate of Oman, has noted in an email response to the enquiry made by Sri Lanka Guardian.

However, taking action against the alleged misconduct by a diplomatic officer in the mission, the statement reiterated the fact that “according to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE.”

“As informed through the Foreign Ministry media release on 17 November 2022, the Sri Lankan Embassy in Oman is inundated with requests for the repatriation of Sri Lankan female domestic workers. Most of them are victims of human trafficking by unscrupulous and unregistered agents and have arrived using a visit/tourist visa through Dubai. The Embassy had previously reported this illegal practice to the authorities and taken action to bring the offenders to book,” it added. 

Response from the embassy has further elaborated on the incident as follows;

“As of today, there are 77 female domestic workers sheltered at the safe-house, out of whom 63 had arrived on visit/tourist visas and only 14 had come with employment visas. The safe house was established in October 2019 with about 50 inmates. After a visa overstay amnesty period granted by the Omani government between December 2020 and January 2022, the number of inmates decreased to about 40 at the beginning of February 2022. However, due to the exploitation of visit/tourist visas by human traffickers, the number of stranded female migrants has once again increased.

The cost of providing adequate security and facilities to the inmates of the safe house is met by the SLBFE.

Their repatriation is restricted due to several reasons such as:

  • Unavailability of funds to pay overstay penalty for those who arrived in Oman using a visit/tourist visa. Omani authorities charge OMR 10 per day for overstaying. The average cost per person to pay penalty is OMR 500. (Rs. 500,000.00)
  • Unavailability of funds to pay recruitment costs demanded by employers/agents to get exit permission for those who want to return prematurely within a two-year contract period. The average cost per person is OMR 1000 (Rs. 1,000,000.00)
  • Unavailability of air tickets and COVID Vaccination Certificate. The average cost per person is OMR 45 for a ticket and OMR 15 for PCR for non-vaccinated persons. The overall cost is OMR 60 per person (Rs. 60,000.00).
  • In a few cases, the unavailability of correct data is needed to prepare temporary travel documents.
  • Pending court cases and Police complaints for alleged theft etc.

The Embassy has undergone several predicaments due to the overwhelming number of safe-house inmates, compelling the owner of the safe-house villa to issue notice to vacate. While fully understanding their plight and duress due to limited resources, it is reiterated that the onus of solving their recruitment charges with the respective employers only relies with the agents who took a commission from Omani agents/employers to send them to Oman.

The Embassy officials had successfully negotiated the cancellation of overstay penalties for several females and repatriated 21 safe-house inmates and 12 others who were residing without proper visas in November 2022. The Embassy hands over the deportees to the Labour Department every Sunday with tickets to travel on the following Thursdays as per the negotiated agreement by the Embassy with the Omani authorities. At this point, the charge for PCR (OMR 15) is handed over to the officials of the Labour Department who arrange an escort for them to the airport.

It is important to note that each worker has a distinctive problem, associated with extensive dealings with agents, employers, police, labour department etc. It is noted that the main obstacle faced by the Embassy in arranging the repatriation is due to the fact that the concerned workers try to break the contract within a short period of time causing monetary loss to the employers. Moreover, medically and physically unfit females have been brought to Oman by the agents through visit visas who either do not get any job offers or get rejected and returned to the agents. However, the Embassy ensures that it takes all endeavours to safely repatriate them at the earliest possible occasion and tirelessly seeks the assistance of donors including IOM for air-tickets, and negotiates with the agents/sponsors for cancellation of charges.

According to the instructions of the Foreign Ministry and SLBFE, the Embassy has taken immediate action to terminate the services of the alleged diplomatic officer of the labour section from the SLBFE. Further, the Embassy appeals to all those who report and comment on this sensitive matter to act responsibly and avoid tarnishing the image of Sri Lanka and Oman which will be detrimental to the well-being of the strong Sri Lankan professional expatriate workforce. Moreover, due to stringent rule of law, auctioning of females and prostitution cannot openly take place in Oman and anyone who has credible information on such incidents is requested to report it to the authorities immediately with details of the alleged victims.

Forever Young: Staughton Lynd

322 views
5 mins read

Suddenly Staughton Lynd is all the rage. Again. In the last several years, Lynd has published a number of new books as well as new editions of classics such as Rank and File, plus a memoir co-authored with his wife Alice. In addition, two books about his life as an activist have been published, one on the years through 1970 by educator Carl Mirra (The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970) and another about his work since 1970 by historians Mark Weber and Stephen Paschen, Side by Side: Alice and Staughton Lynd, the Ohio Years.

            In an epoch of imperial hubris and corporate class warfare on steroids, a Lynd revival could hardly have come at a better time. Soldier, coal miner, Sixties veteran, recent college graduate – there’s much to be gained by all from a study of Lynd’s life and work. In so doing, it’s inspiring to discover how frequently he was in the right place at the right time and, more importantly, on the right side.

Mississippi

During the tumultuous summer of 1964, Lynd was invited to coordinate the Freedom Schools established in Mississippi by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The schools were an integral part of the Herculean effort to end apartheid in the United States and became models for alternative schools everywhere. That August, Lynd supported the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) at the Democratic Party convention. Led by Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, the MFDP had earned the right to represent their state with their blood and their extraordinary courage. Instead the party hierarchy supported the official, illegal delegation, a pathetic band of reactionaries who – the irony is too delicious – supported not the candidate of their own party Lyndon Johnson but his opponent and their ostensible enemy, Republican Barry Goldwater, for president. This back-stabbing was carried out by liberal icons Hubert Humphrey, Walter Reuther and Walter Mondale and endorsed, alas, by Reverend Martin Luther King.

Vietnam

In early 1965, Lynd spoke at Carnegie Hall in one of the first events organized in opposition to the U.S.  invasion of Vietnam . A short time later, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) asked him to chair the first national demonstration against the war, where he was again a keynote speaker. That April 17, a crowd of 25,000 that was five times larger than even the most optimistic organizers had anticipated turned out in Washington, and what would become the largest anti-war movement in US history was born.

That summer, Lynd helped organize the Assembly of Unrepresented People in Washington. Timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the murder of tens of thousands of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the gathering also included a rally at the White House where peace with the people of Vietnam was declared. Lynd has recalled the bemusement with which the relatively small band of demonstrators was received by those charged with protecting the government from its people. In reply, he told a military police officer that they were the first of what would eventually be millions, a statement that sooner than anyone could imagine proved prophetic. By 1967, a majority of people in the U.S. had declared peace with Vietnam.  

Movement Contributions

            Lynd would continue as one of the seminal figures of the 1960’s. He was both a tireless organizer and the author of numerous articles in important movement publications like Liberation, Radical America, the Guardian and Studies on the Left. With Michael Ferber, he documented the movement against the military draft in The Resistance, one of the best books about Sixties organizing.

            Lynd was an enthusiastic supporter of the New Left and embraced precepts like participatory democracy and decentralization. Ex-radicals of his generation like Irving Howe, Bayard Rustin and Michael Harrington, by contrast, spent much of the Sixties attacking SNCC and SDS. He spoke for many when he mocked their enthusiasm for Johnson and the Democrats as “coalition with the Marines.”

This, too, proved uncannily prophetic. Within a year of being elected in 1964, Johnson 1.) ordered a massive escalation in Vietnam; 2.) sent an invasion force to the Dominican Republic to support military thugs who had overthrown a democratically elected government; and 3.) armed and funded an incredibly violent coup in Indonesia  in which over a million people were killed. The Peace Candidate indeed. 

Blacklisted From Academia and Beyond

            At the end of 1965, Lynd made a fateful trip to Hanoi where he witnessed the carnage inflicted by US bombers. Up to that point, he was one of the most promising new scholars in the country. Upon his return, however, his career in academia was essentially at an end. A tenure track position at Yale suddenly disappeared. Department heads at other universities enthusiastically offered teaching positions, only to be overruled by higher-ups.   

            Lynd never looked back. He became an accomplished scholar outside the academy and one of the most perceptive and prolific chroniclers of “history from below,” with a special interest in working class organizing. From a series of interviews, he and Alice produced the groundbreaking book Rank and File, which begat the Academy Award-nominated documentary film Union Maids.

Youngstown

Lynd moved to Ohio in 1976, became an attorney and, when the mills in Youngstown began to close, assisted steelworkers in an unsuccessful attempt to take them over. In a book he wrote about the effort, The Fight Against Shutdowns: Youngstown’s Steel Mill Closings, Lynd explored the biggest little secret of all, one that people everywhere would do well to heed: We who do the work can build a better world, and we can best do it without the parasitic Super Rich who contribute nothing and weigh us down like a monstrous ball and chain.

Today

            Lynd is eighty-six now. The step is slower and his eyesight isn’t the best. Ten years ago he had open heart surgery – “an affair of the heart,” he calls it. “My cardiac surgeon said I came as close to becoming permanently horizontal as one can come without actually doing so.”

            He talks of how deeply he misses dear friend Howard Zinn. He recalls driving through Mississippi late at night, hopelessly lost, just days after civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner had been abducted and murdered. He talks of his remarkable life’s work with great humility and not at all wistfully, but in search of lessons it might hold, especially for the young. A teacher extraordinaire, he is guided by the principle that a teacher is also a student and all students teachers. And he writes and writes, as prolifically as ever, one book after another as well as articles and book reviews for ZCounterpunch, the Industrial Worker and numerous other periodicals and websites.  

            Lynd has seen more than his share of colleagues come and go. Some flamed out after a brief period of frantic busyness; others moved on to different lives and nice-paying gigs. Still going strong, Lynd offers long-term commitment (“long distance running,” as he calls it) and accompaniment – professionals living alongside workers and the unrepresented and contributing much-needed skills to the struggle for freedom, all the while walking side by side as equals – as alternatives. He also believes as passionately as ever that a better world is indeed possible. 

The Renewable Energy Transition Is Failing

386 views
6 mins read

Despite all the renewable energy investments and installations, actual global greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing. That’s largely due to economic growth: While renewable energy supplies have expanded in recent years, world energy usage has ballooned even more—with the difference being supplied by fossil fuels. The more the world economy grows, the harder it is for additions of renewable energy to turn the tide by actually replacing energy from fossil fuels, rather than just adding to it.

The notion of voluntarily reining in economic growth in order to minimize climate change and make it easier to replace fossil fuels is political anathema not just in the rich countries, whose people have gotten used to consuming at extraordinarily high rates, but even more so in poorer countries, which have been promised the opportunity to “develop.”

After all, it is the rich countries that have been responsible for the great majority of past emissions (which are driving climate change presently); indeed, these countries got rich largely by the industrial activity of which carbon emissions were a byproduct. Now it is the world’s poorest nations that are experiencing the brunt of the impacts of climate change caused by the world’s richest. It’s neither sustainable nor just to perpetuate the exploitation of land, resources, and labor in the less industrialized countries, as well as historically exploited communities in the rich countries, to maintain both the lifestyles and expectations of further growth of the wealthy minority.

From the perspective of people in less-industrialized nations, it’s natural to want to consume more, which only seems fair. But that translates to more global economic growth, and a harder time replacing fossil fuels with renewables globally. China is the exemplar of this conundrum: Over the past three decades, the world’s most populous nation lifted hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, but in the process became the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal.

The Materials Dilemma

Also posing an enormous difficulty for a societal switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is our increasing need for minerals and metals. The World Bank, the IEA, the IMF, and McKinsey and Company have all issued reports in the last couple of years warning of this growing problem. Vast quantities of minerals and metals will be required not just for making solar panels and wind turbines, but also for batteries, electric vehicles, and new industrial equipment that runs on electricity rather than carbon-based fuels.

Some of these materials are already showing signs of increasing scarcity: According to the World Economic Forum, the average cost of producing copper has risen by over 300 percent in recent years, while copper ore grade has dropped by 30 percent.

Optimistic assessments of the materials challenge suggest there are enough global reserves for a one-time build-out of all the new devices and infrastructure needed (assuming some substitutions, with, for example, lithium for batteries eventually being replaced by more abundant elements like iron). But what is society to do as that first generation of devices and infrastructure ages and requires replacement?

Circular Economy: A Mirage?

Hence the rather sudden and widespread interest in the creation of a circular economy in which everything is recycled endlessly. Unfortunately, as economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen discovered in his pioneering work on entropy, recycling is always incomplete and always costs energy. Materials typically degrade during each cycle of use, and some material is wasted in the recycling process.

A French preliminary analysis of the energy transition that assumed maximum possible recycling found that a materials supply crisis could be delayed by up to three centuries. But will the circular economy (itself an enormous undertaking and a distant goal) arrive in time to buy industrial civilization those extra 300 years? Or will we run out of critical materials in just the next few decades in our frantic effort to build as many renewable energy devices as we can in as short a time as possible?

The latter outcome seems more likely if pessimistic resource estimates turn out to be accurate. Simon Michaux of the Finnish Geological Survey finds that “[g]lobal reserves are not large enough to supply enough metals to build the renewable non-fossil fuels industrial system … Mineral deposit discovery has been declining for many metals. The grade of processed ore for many of the industrial metals has been decreasing over time, resulting in declining mineral processing yield. This has the implication of the increase in mining energy consumption per unit of metal.”

Steel prices are already trending higher, and lithium supplies may prove to be a bottleneck to rapidly increasing battery production. Even sand is getting scarce: Only certain grades of the stuff are useful in making concrete (which anchors wind turbines) or silicon (which is essential for solar panels). More sand is consumed yearly than any other material besides water, and some climate scientists have identified it as a key sustainability challenge this century. Predictably, as deposits are depleted, sand is becoming more of a geopolitical flashpoint, with China recently embargoing sand shipments to Taiwan with the intention of crippling Taiwan’s ability to manufacture semiconductor devices such as cell phones.

To Reduce Risk, Reduce Scale

During the fossil fuel era, the global economy depended on ever-increasing rates of extracting and burning coal, oil, and natural gas. The renewables era (if it indeed comes into being) will be founded upon the large-scale extraction of minerals and metals for panels, turbines, batteries, and other infrastructure, which will require periodic replacement.

These two economic eras imply different risks: The fossil fuel regime risked depletion and pollution (notably atmospheric carbon pollution leading to climate change); the renewables regime will likewise risk depletion (from mining minerals and metals) and pollution (from dumping old panels, turbines, and batteries, and from various manufacturing processes), but with diminished vulnerability to climate change. The only way to lessen risk altogether would be to reduce substantially society’s scale of energy and materials usage—but very few policymakers or climate advocacy organizations are exploring that possibility.

Climate Change Hobbles Efforts to Combat Climate Change

As daunting as they are, the financial, political, and material challenges to the energy transition don’t exhaust the list of potential barriers. Climate change itself is also hampering the energy transition—which, of course, is being undertaken to avert climate change.

During the summer of 2022, China experienced its most intense heat wave in six decades. It impacted a wide region, from central Sichuan Province to coastal Jiangsu, with temperatures often topping 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and reaching a record 113 degrees in Chongqing on August 18. At the same time, a drought-induced power crisis forced Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., the world’s top battery maker, to close manufacturing plants in China’s Sichuan province. Supplies of crucial parts to Tesla and Toyota were temporarily cut off.

Meanwhile, a similarly grim story unfolded in Germany, as a record drought reduced the water flow in the Rhine River to levels that crippled European trade, halting shipments of diesel and coal, and threatening the operations of both hydroelectric and nuclear power plants.

A study published in February 2022 in the journal Water found that droughts (which are becoming more frequent and severe with climate change) could create challenges for U.S. hydropower in Montana, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, California, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

Meanwhile, French nuclear plants that rely on the Rhône River for cooling water have had to shut down repeatedly. If reactors expel water downstream that’s too hot, aquatic life is wiped out as a result. So, during the sweltering 2022 summer, Électricité de France (EDF) powered down reactors not only along the Rhône but also on a second major river in the south, the Garonne. Altogether, France’s nuclear power output has been cut by nearly 50 percent during the summer of 2022. Similar drought- and heat-related shutdowns happened in 2018 and 2019.

Heavy rain and flooding can also pose risks for both hydro and nuclear power—which together currently provide roughly four times as much low-carbon electricity globally as wind and solar combined. In March 2019, severe flooding in southern and western Africa, following Cyclone Idai, damaged two major hydro plants in Malawi, cutting off power to parts of the country for several days.

Wind turbines and solar panels also rely on the weather and are therefore also vulnerable to extremes. Cold, cloudy days with virtually no wind spell trouble for regions heavily reliant on renewable energy. Freak storms can damage solar panels, and high temperatures reduce panels’ efficiency. Hurricanes and storm surges can cripple offshore wind farms.

The transition from fossil fuel to renewables faces an uphill battle. Still, this switch is an essential stopgap strategy to keep electricity grids up and running, at least on a minimal scale, as civilization inevitably turns away from a depleting store of oil and gas. The world has become so dependent on grid power for communications, finance, and the preservation of technical, scientific, and cultural knowledge that, if the grids were to go down permanently and soon, it is likely that billions of people would die, and the survivors would be culturally destitute. In essence, we need renewables for a controlled soft landing. But the harsh reality is that, for now, and in the foreseeable future, the energy transition is not going well and has poor overall prospects.

We need a realistic plan for energy descent, instead of foolish dreams of eternal consumer abundance by means other than fossil fuels. Currently, politically rooted insistence on continued economic growth is discouraging truth-telling and serious planning for how to live well with less.

War on Water in Africa

/
712 views
2 mins read

In early November, foreign ministers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Christophe Lutundula Apala Pen’Apala, and Rwanda, Vicent Birutamet in Luanda, Angola, to find a political solution to a conflict that has been ongoing in eastern DRC for decades. The foreign ministers agreed that the “peace roadmapagreed to in a July meeting had to be implemented. Angola’s President João Lourenço shuttled between Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and the DRC’s President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi in his role as the African Union’s “mediator in the crisis” between Rwanda and the DRC.

Meanwhile, the M23 rebels—backed by Rwanda—have expanded their attacks in the DRC. In retaliation, the DRC expelled Rwandan Ambassador Vincent Karega. The M23 with the assistance of Rwanda troops captured Kiwanja and Rutshuru, two towns in the DRC’s North Kivu province. Rwanda argues that it was the DRC that violated agreements leading to the fighters being reinstated.

In August, a leaked report from the United Nations showed that Rwanda had backed the M23. It was difficult for Rwanda to deny the details in the report, particularly after U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood, alternate representative for special political affairs, told the UN Security Council that his government calls “on state actors to stop their support for these groups, including the Rwandan Defense Forces’ assistance to M23.” The M23 is a recent entrant into the wars in the DRC’s eastern provinces, which have been ongoing since the early 1990s. A UN report from August 2010 details several hundred violent incidents that took place in the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003, with “deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people”; one estimate, based on studies conducted in 2000 and 2004, suggests that more than 3 million people have died in the conflict since 1998.

In June, the DRC allowed the East African Community to send troops into its eastern regions, as long as the Rwandan military was not involved in the intervention. Through this agreement, troops from Burundi and Kenya arrived in eastern Congo. This has caused alarm. Carina Tertsakian of the Burundi Human Rights Initiative told the Associated Press, “It is no surprise that Burundi is the first country to offer troops. Burundi is a direct party to the conflict, so cannot be viewed as a neutral actor. It therefore seems unlikely that their deployment will end the insecurity in the area.”

Former DRC presidential candidate Martin Fayulu told Deutsche Welle recently that he is distressed by the lack of international attention to this conflict. “Ukraine is having a problem,” he said, and the widespread media coverage has brought the world’s attention to that. “[W]e are having a problem in Congo, but nobody is condemning Rwanda. Why?” Perhaps, it has to do with the cobalt, copper, lithium, and the trees of the rainforest, precious resources that continue to be exploited by the rest of the world despite the carnage that has afflicted Africa’s Great Lakes for the past 30 years.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Sri Lanka: Repeal the PTA and Release Prisoners Held Under It

435 views
7 mins read

Voices for democracy are reverberating in many countries, where people’s rights and freedoms are being usurped by fundamentalist and autocratic regimes around the world. They are openly and covertly resorting to desperate attempts at repressing and destroying democratic movements. In some countries people have succeeded in thwarting them. In others the autocrats have prospered. In a few instances, people themselves have brought autocrats to power. Some recent examples were in the United States and Brazil. Sri Lanka and Iran are currently engaged in increasingly repressive measures against the democratic wishes of their respective populaces in order to prop up their increasingly untenable regimes.

Repressing dissent is not new in the history of Sri Lanka. The repressive dragnet has not only entrapped innocent peaceful protestors on the flimsiest of judicial excuses, but also those who have nothing to do with protests. Currently, protest leaders like the convenor of the Inter University Students’ Federation, Comrade Wasantha Mudalige; the convenor of the Inter University Bhikkhus’ Federation, Venerable Galwewa Siridhamma Thero are still being held under the all-encompassing undemocratic and opaque Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). They have been held for close to three months so far.

Human Rights Organizations both local and overseas, Trade Unions and Civil Society Organisations have been asking for their release, but so far to no avail. Already many in the international community including the United Nations have condemned such attacks. When the European Union raised concerns about the regime’s use of the PTA, Sri Lanka assured them that only in extremely necessary cases that the PTA had been evoked, though many cases have shown that it isnot true. In Australia, the Victorian Trades Hall Council has expressed its solidarity with the victims of repression. Even the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has said so. The arrest, detention and continued incarceration of both the convenors from August 18 onwards under the PTA is described by the Commissioners as: “unreasonable and without justification.”

The draconian PTA in its embryonic stage came into the scene in 1972[1] under the coalition regime led by Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike, with the enactment of the Criminal Justice Commissions Act, which reversed the important tenets of the principles of natural justice – the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. With it commenced the degradation of the country’s criminal justice system. Following this, the UNP regime led by President J R Jayawardene first adopted the PTA in 1979 as a ‘temporary’ measure and included various provisions that contravened international legal standards.

It was made a permanent legal tool in 1982 and was used in 1988/89 period against the JVP and the LTTE, in 2019 following the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings and now against the “Aragalaya” protest movement. This enabled arbitrary detention and torture repeatedly targeting political opponents of the regime, personal opponents of some of their leaders. and specifically, against the many in the non-majoritarian communities.

Due mainly to the international pressure, amending or repealing the PTA has been in political agenda for several years. In March 2022 it was amended via the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) Amendment Bill, but without touching the provisions that led to its arbitrary use of psychological and physical torture. The regime declared a de facto moratorium of using the PTA in March. This moratoriumcame to a griding stop inAugust this year with President Ranil Wickremesinghe using it to detain three student leaders of the protest movement.

People are demanding the government acts with transparency, accountability, and respects their rights. They also demand opportunities to define their identities, set precedents for inclusive political processes, and create a constitution that represent their aspirations. After Mr Wickremesinghe was selected and installed as President by a discredited parliamentary majority, the regime launched an all-out terror campaign to root out the protest movement. The sites that were used for peacefully assemble, express and protest were destroyed using political thugs and special forces. Almost every protest was attacked with tear gas, batons and clubs. In doing so, the regime also used the PTA and the Police Ordinance to hold those who have not committed any violence.

The recent protest wave, unlike earlier ones, was able to force the resignations of the Prime Minister, several Ministers and ultimately the President. The protestors like much of the country were demanding the government of Sri Lanka address the issues that gave rise to the current economic and political crisis, a crisis created by the political and business elite. This elite does not want to change their corrupt and incompetent behaviour and institutions; hence they need to find scapegoats to hide their lack of accountability and transparency. While holding protest leaders behind bars unjustifiably and under inhumane conditions, the ruling elite carries on with their authoritarian and corrupt practices. They are trying to force the burden of alleviating the debt (without reform) on those who can least afford to carry the burden, the people. This needs to be vigorously exposed and resisted.

Mr Wickremasinghe has wantonly and wilfully used the dictatorial powers vested in the executive presidency, buttressed by the emergency powers and the PTA, to supress dissent and arrest peaceful protestors in an attempt to root out their leaderships. In doing so, he is erroneously and cynically branding them, terrorists. These tactics have been used many times in the past, so as to direct people’s attention away from their incompetence and misdeeds. The regime is now trying to employ new tools of repression such as the Rehabilitation Bill, which can be arbitrarily used to arrest and hold any individual who has the potential to become a political adversary.

Individuals are imprisoned without judicial orders, under the ruthless PTA. They have been held sometimes for years. many without any legal basis to do so. So far, the regime has arrested and detained about 4000 people. Most of them were released on bail, but there are no justifiable reasons for their arrests in the first place as they have not violated any law of the country. Under the current unaccountable system that is in place, they are unable to challenge the use the PTA to prevent legitimate opposition tocurrent discredited government’s arbitrary and corrupt rule. They have done so, for the last 44 years and will continue to do so, unlessthese repressive legislative mechanisms and institutions are repealed and abolished.

The universally accepted basis for anti-terror legislation istoprevent terrorism. Terrorism is said to be about using threat, force and/or violence targeting civilians or a community of people for the purpose of spreading fear in pursuing political, ideological or religious causes. An apt description of what the current regime and the regimes in the past have done to their critics and some sections of the population. Like repressive regimes the world over they have illustrated that when the legitimacy of a regime is questioned on their unlawful, corrupt and unaccountable behaviour, they resort to scapegoating and repressive actions to prop up their increasingly illegal regimes. Sadly, Sri Lanka is not an exception.

Those held under such legislation like the current protestors, undergo huge losses in terms of family and resources for obtaining assistance including legal advice and advocacy. The PTA legalises torture, and judicial recognition of admissions made under torture. Any protections said to be available do not prevent torture or violation of an individual’s right for due processes.

Contrary to the expectations of the rulers and the bureaucracy such incarcerations could make some prisoners more popular. If these cruel and unaccountable processes and conditions help create a Sri Lankan Nelson Mandela, people will come to know that the regime who tried to demean, degrade and denigrate are genuine individuals who are fighting on behalf of the people; that they are trying to protect the fundamental right to express their views on how they are governed and hold their rulers accountable for their actions.

How can the actions, that led to pardoning individuals like those who abducted school children in Trincomalee for ransom and murder, particularly, doing so after being charged in a court of law? If there is no evidence to charge them in a court of law, the only assumption one could make is that they are been held as ransom for legitimising and maintaining or extending duration of the regime and power of the ruling elite.

Use of such legislation has misguided and brutalised society. It has not helped to heal divisions, ensuring dignity of and respect for people, or restoring a humane society. Some of those recently “pardoned” prisoners had been behind bars longer than the sentences they had been convicted for. For example, two prisoners sentenced to five years by the courts had served 14 years, and they were given “presidential pardons”! Rather they should have been set free, at the end of their periods of conviction.

How can the regime justify its so-called pardoning, after holding them illegally for a period more than they had been convicted for? This is nothing but abuse of power and a violation of human rights. A government that can appoint committees and commissions whenever and whatever happens in the country, has so far done nothing to look into what happened or why this happened. Are there any more to be given the so-called presidential pardon?

For example, A graduate engineer Sivalingam Arooran was pursuing his postgraduate studies at University of Peradeniya, when he was kidnapped in 2008. After subjecting to beatings, he was indicted five years later. He was recently bestowed the award for best Tamil literary novel “Athura-salai” (Hospital) and has been held for 16 years under the PTA. How he has been detained should be an open and wide discussion in society, as no human being deserves such treatment. How can any regime justify such illegal and undemocratic behaviour? About 120 Tamils are still being held in detention under the PTA. After the 2019 serial bombings, more than 200 Muslims were detained. What has happened to them?

We cannot say that pardoning and releasing those who have been held under the ignominious PTA will help Reconciliation. Such measures have caused irreversible harm to society. Releasing those who are being held under the PTA without any evidence orbeing charged in a court of law, is essential. It should not be done in a piecemeal and unaccountable way like Presidential pardons or amnesties, but with apologies and compensation. If they were held for questioning the legitimacy of a system, that has bought the country to economic ruin as amply evident today. It is ruling elites who should be brought under the ambit of scrutiny for their actions in causing this social and economic collapse.

In reality, the president and government are presiding over a powder keg of economic deprivation and sense of injustice experienced by the masses. Those in the protest movement are well aware that many of their fellow protestors have been arrested and are in prison. Their sense of injustice rankles when they see government-affiliated hoodlums who instigated and took part in attacks against peaceful protestors continue to enjoy their freedom and engage in their corrupt practices. The double standards being practiced continues to erode the credibility of the government and its leadership and can act as a lightning rod to mobilise future protests.

It is high time that the government take urgent measures to release all those held under the PTA, against whom thereare no evidence found and no charges laid. Also, not to use the unaccountable power of the presidency and an increasing suite of repressive measures and legalisation to further their increasingly illegitimate, corrupt and incompetent rule. All those held in detention under the PTA without being charged at a court of law should be released unconditionally,at least now!


[1]This was drafted using the South African Apartheid legislation and the British anti- Irish laws at the time, and repealed under the Criminal Justice Commissions (Repeal) Law, No. 12 of 1977.

The Need for an International Anti Corruption Court

/
461 views
4 mins read

“You know the old Russian proverb.  What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine.” ― Daniel Silva, The Cellist

In a recent interview on BBC’s HARDtalk, the interviewee was Judge Mark L. Wolf – a Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts and Chair of the NGO Integrity Initiative International – who had initiated a proposal for the establishment of an International Anti Corruption Court (IACC)  at various fora such as the 2012 St. Petersburg International Legal Forum; the 2014 World Forum on Global Governance, and in platforms such as the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post with articles in 2014. At the interview, Judge Wolf clarified that the proposed IACC would not only target corrupt leaders of countries but also any individual or entity that is allegedly guilty of kleptocracy.

In March 2019 at a discussion convened and hosted by The American Academy of Arts and Sciences and  participated by a distinguished array of judges, attorneys, human rights specialists, and academics, discussions ranged from the meaning and purpose of an IACC – as to whether such a body would be able to contribute to global peace and security- to the methodology to establish an IACC.  Judge Wolf was an active participant in this event as well as  Robert, President Emeritus of the World Peace Foundation, Founding Director of the Program on Intrastate Conflict at the Harvard Kennedy School, and Justice Richard Goldstone, formerly of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Chief Prosecutor at the initial United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The IACC is suggested as a punitive judicial tool to counter kleptocracy which is defined as a society or system ruled by people who use their power to steal their country’s resources. The initial problem with bringing those guilty of kleptocracy is that often they act with impunity as the institutions that are charged with countering this egregious activity are controlled by them and are therefore destitute of effectively carrying out their duties.  

It is distressing that kleptocrats are everywhere in various forms of human embodiment and form a systemic threat.  At the forefront are corrupt politicians who, in Justice Goldstone’s words “are abetting other compromised institutions, such as the judiciary, police, and prosecutorial offices, thereby making domestic prosecution ineffective”. The learned judge went on to opine that a  supranational, neutral institution would be the last resort to hold officials accountable for their corruption and theft of resources belonging to a State in these countries to account by enforcing  internationally recognized protocols against corruption.

In manner and form the proposed IACC would derive inspiration from the currently existing International Criminal Court (ICC) and have  the authority to prosecute instances of grand corruption by high-level political leaders. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in its 2019 Bulletin says: ” Just as nations that are signatories to the ICC are subject to its jurisdiction, so too would signatories to the IACC allow the Court to serve as a venue of last resort for violations of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). The Court would be empowered only to bring charges when a signatory to the UNCAC did not make a good faith effort to bring charges”.

It is encouraging that there is already in effect a multilateral treaty against corruption.  The UNCAC is the only legally binding international anti-corruption multilateral treaty. It was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in October 2003 and entered into force in December 2005.  However, treaties can only be enforced on States Parties who ratify them.  Even if an IACC is established through a treaty, such a court would be ineffective against a non-party to the treaty establishing the court.  Nonetheless, its importance cannot be understated.  One alternative would be to bring the treaty into the domestic jurisdiction of a court through  the Global Administrative Law (GAL) theory which posits that the administrative law type of mechanisms allow individual and national courts to be part of a checks and balances system of global governance in anti corruption. Here,  global governance does not mean world governance but instead  a global approach to the governance of anti corruption that requires each component system, including international, domestic and global institutions to collaborate with each other.

GAL came into existence as a theory in the first decade of the 21st Century.  The importance of GAL is apparent in the current context  where the world is dominated by such forces as social media through which many practice post truth, cancel culture, and fake news that can enable spin doctors and ideologues to deflect the truth about their own corruption.  The GAL Project is focused on an emerging field of research and practice where administrative law-type mechanisms that address issues of  transparency, participation, accountability, and review operate within the parameters of global governance.

The GAL theory posits that administrative law and its principles must be applied not as a mutually exclusive realm but in conjunction with the principles of international law and other related disciplines. Like domestic administrative law, GAL could be an amalgam of a scholarly approach or methodology and a set of actual norms, ‘practices’, or activities or mechanisms.  In other words GAL would be a combination of the legal rules, principles, and institutional norms that apply to administration from a global perspective rather than a structure that demonstrate and exhibits a mere intrastate legal and political realm of authority.

GAL would be a necessary adjunct to the web of treaties that are adopted by the United Nations but unfortunately is riddled with the discretionary option that States have in being the ultimate arbiter of being bound by such agreements.  Of course, the United Nations is neither the world’s judge nor its police, as Dag Hammarskjold, a Secretary General of the United Nations said: ”  The UN was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell”.  There is something in what Judge Wolf said at the BBC interview – that an IACC would be outside the jurisdiction of the United Nations – an individual and independent body that is not established by a treaty of the UN. This principle, coupled with the infusion of GAL, could well be the basis of an IACC.

Sri Lanka: Consequences of Lawlessness

/
558 views
7 mins read

The following article is based on a talk given by Rajan Hoole at the release of the book, Democracy Stillborn, at Trimmer Hall, Jaffna, on 11 November 2022. The meeting was chaired by Mahendran Thiruvarangan

“The rule of law is in decline and has provoked much discussion, even in developed countries, where it has been the norm for over a hundred years. The West, which continually championed democracy and the rule of law itself, is facing a major crisis as populist right-wing politics make inroads into the mainstream. In the US, the legitimacy of institutions, which are crucial for accountability and the rule of law, are questioned, and conspiracy theories of utter distrust of authority become the fare among the masses. This crisis can lead to many upheavals.  We may eventually overcome and stabilize with more meaningful and broadened democratic formations. But the path towards that may not be smooth and the trend shows the moral high ground is ill-defined.

But, as an island nation, we have gone through major crisis after crisis and in the process have ruined and bankrupted our country. Many youths are now looking for the root causes for this plight. Our modern history is one of cohabitation with dominant colonial powers. During the British period, a cause of major social transformation was the colonial state formation. The vested interest of the British Colonial project, brought in institutional mechanisms and nurtured a political class to manage them.  The question is how the ruling elite of Ceylon used those institutions. In the balance, was it to enhance the interest of the people, or in pursuit of their short-term interests? Did their hold on power unleash forces which, of their own nature, created a series of fault lines by a perversion of nation building? In addressing these, we need to charter a new path. Of course, this cannot be done in isolation but it is necessary to identify the internal developments, and form broad solidarities that would get us out of this impasse.” End of message.

About Social Democracy

Arunachalam, was the first civil servant who radically stood for social democracy. He wanted the British officers, responsible for excesses during the Sinhalese-Muslim riots of 1915, punished, according to the law. In 1920, the British authorities, supported by Sinhalese nationalists, undermined the man hitherto deemed indispensable, and put him out to grass. Provoked by the economic collapse of 201, the Aragalaya protesters realised the state of acute lawlessness and got rid of the President and Prime Minister. We have Mahinda Rajapaksa finally admitting his mistakes, all implicitly permitted under the Constitution, and pleaded for another chance. Mahinda Rajapaksa comes in a line of leaders charged with murder, not only of journalists but also of war crimes and robbery. There were, of course, two parties to the war. But the Government’s intransigence made it intractable.

The law was simple, but we have muddled and obscured it. Had we followed it, we could have avoided this present impasse. Article 29 of the Constitution of 1948 had the provision, not to ‘Make persons of any community, or religion, liable to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities or religions are not made liable …’ Quite simply it means treat everyone equally. The Government, being in a minority after the 1947 elections, used threat and bribery to disqualify Plantation Tamils from citizenship. What we may forget today is the Sinhalese opposition, left and liberal, for example H. Sri Nissanka, were united and firm in standing by the Plantation Tamils.

Britain’s gift to the Sinhalese leaders of cancelling the 1941 elections, gave them an eight-year free ride of power without an electoral mandate from 1940, during which time they were allowed to colour the future constitution. It led to indifference and apathy among opponents of the Citizenship Bill. Neither the Government nor the Supreme Court offered a cogent reason for the disenfranchisement of estate workers. The Supreme Court held that since Article 29 had no reference to race, taking away the franchise of a community was not a violation of Article 29, it was administrative. The Government was nervous when the Plantation Tamils appealed to the Privy Council.

The Privy Council first retreated because Parliament by defining citizenship indirectly by ancestry, had evaded the principle of equality in 29 (2). It however passed the Bill misquoting the Soulbury report which actually made clear that over 80 percent of Plantation Tamils were in 1941 either born in Ceylon or had resided over 10 years.

Lanka is a beneficiary of common laws, the Roman-Dutch and English. Good common law whatever its origins is transposable. Lanka learnt nothing from them. Answering the challenge to the Citizenship Act in 1951, Chief Justice Edward Jayatileke rejected equality and ruled that whatever Parliament passes has to be obeyed. However, Chief Justice Abrahams replying to DSG Wijewardene asserting Parliament’s supremacy in 1937 said, that a new law must accord with those that preceded it ‘so that there be no repugnance but a concordancy in all the parts thereof.’

Bills against the Plantation Tamils

We had Roman-Dutch law and English common law, both of which with different emphases, stood for common right. Both sets of law rejected the Citizenship and Franchise Acts from several angles. Having accepted the Donoughmore Bill in 1929 which promised the vote to everyone, we had 19 wasted years, no industrialisation, but demolish the voting rights of the Plantation Tamils. Nihal Jayawickrema gave a potent reason for treating the term community in the citizenship acts with respect: ‘Parliament must not discriminate against a particular community already resident in the country.’

We had in 1937 Chief Justice Abrahams upholding Habeas Corpus, no detention without the order of a judge, and freed Bracegirdle from deportation. The reversal, to detain without warrant, was legislated in the 1947 Public Security Ordinance, the last Bill passed under colonial rule. These were signposts on our march to independence and beyond.

Emergency permitted murder in ‘good faith.’ Although a British precedent was claimed for the Bill, in Britain actions under emergency became judicable once the emergency was lifted. The real fear in Ceylon was strike action by the combined unions over the Citizenship Bill of 1948. However, strike action was deterred by the ‘smash up’ of the 1947 general strike.

Ceylon Constitution and the Citizenship Bill

Britain co-drafted a very fragile constitution to gain the Sinhalese leaders’ support during the Second World War. They cancelled State Council elections due in early 1941, jailed the Left and as pointed out, allowed Senanayake to rule eight years without a mandate prior to independence and determine the colour of the Judiciary. During this period. Left leaders N.M. Perera and Philip Gunawardena, then vocal advocates of the Indian Tamil equality, were cast into prison. Just before, the State Council in 1941 passed the Registration Bill, the precursor of the Citizenship Act of 1948. All Sinhalese, barring the imprisoned Left, voted for the Registration Bill. It required all qualifying as Ceylonese to have domicile of origin – produce father’s birth certificate – it was impossible for many in Ceylon, be it Sinhalese or Tamil, but Plantation Tamils were singled out for exclusion!

Carrot and stick on minorities to betray a fellow minority

The Muslims and Tamils were goaded to support the Citizenship Bill. Most of the Tamil elite, including prominent Youth Congress veterans, wanted the Tamils to support Senanayake. Out of 13 Ceylon Tamil MPs, a minuscule group of two opposed the Bill, S. Chelvanayakam and K.V. Nadarajah. Ponnambalam, however, voted against to avoid a split in the Congress, the remaining five MPs were absent on his instruction. The two Senators E. Naganathan and S. Nadesan, too, opposed the Bill, tooth and nail. For the Tamil minority it was suicide. Had it shown greater conviction the Muslims and the six government appointed members need not have supported the Citizenship Bill.

What we are left with is the Pollution of Administration of Justice by ignoring the principle of legality. The principle states that when we legislate to the hurt of a minority, it should be stated in clear unambiguous terms, acknowledging the political cost. This was never done in Lanka, although the cost was heavy. The new politics was exemplified in arm-twisting T.B. Jayah, champion of the underdog, to join the Government. But is that a way to build up a united nation?

In the 1950s any bill passed by a simple majority and signed by the Speaker was accepted as law, ignoring the two-thirds majority requirement for bills that violated the Constitution. Thus, Sinhala Only became law with 66 voting for and 29 against, short of a two-thirds majority. No one challenged it in court until Ranasinghe in the early 1960s, over something unconnected, the Bribery Tribunals Act. The Privy Council ruled that the Act required a two-thirds majority the Government did not show, and ruled in favour of Ranasinghe.

Giving judgment on 5th May 1964 for Ranasinghe’s case, nine days after de Kretser’s ruling Sinhala Only unconstitutional in the Colombo District Court as violating Article 29 (2), Lord Pearce reaffirmed the long ignored ‘fundamental conditions,’ or equality, stressing Article 29. By this time the SLFP-Left coalition and the UNP wanted the Privy Council and the Soulbury Constitution out. The mutual embarrassment had become heavy. This was accomplished in the new 1972 constitution, ridding our final toehold on the rule of law.

By the time Lord Pearce ruled for a correction in 1964, the Left and the Sinhalese right had rejected reform. The tested and potent Magna Carta right of detention only on the sufferance of a Judge was gone in 1947 and reaffirmed in the 1972 ‘progressive’ constitution. The erosion of law made communal violence, the worst manifestation of barbarity, to savage and kill an innocent person on the basis of race, acceptable. The State failed to punish and the Sinhalese were apologetic in a half-hearted way – Sinhalese they said protected Tamils.

An uneasy calm prevailed until 1977. The Muslims regarded themselves fairly safe while Jayewardene opened all stops of the 1972 Constitution. As for the criminal intent of our laws, Dr. Rajasundaram, like many Tamils, approved of the militancy only for a defensive purpose, against state-initiated attacks on civilians. The Sansoni Commission report gives several examples of such in 1977. Having committed himself to rehabilitate Tamil refugees, Rajasundaram had to face the violence of the State. What he did was far from terrorism.

He was detained under the PTA on the gossipy charge of trying to make peace between Maheswaran and Santhathiyar. When the tortured victim was produced in court, Judge Bandaranayake, instead of discharging him, announced an indefinite postponement of the hearing. Six days later he was killed in the infamous Welikade Prison massacre on 25th July 1983. While proof will never be found, it is quite certain that the massacre was organised by the Kelaniya mafia, still a major force in government, the seed planted by the PSO. This was about the time the Government viciously accused the JVP of responsibility for July 1983 and forced it underground, just when it democratically contested the Government’s foul play over the 1982 referendum. The damage was far worse than recent scams that provoked protests.

The Tamils professing to fight for liberation were also infected with the vulgar legalism inherited from the State – its constant demand for proof over complaints about missing persons. In Jaffna, the university students spontaneously went on strike in 1986 charging the LTTE with the disappearance of student Vijitharan. The LTTE leader Kittu came to discuss matters in the University of Jaffna common room. When confronted with the allegation, he responded, “Where is the proof?”

The Government tried tactical evasion by introducing a Bureau of Rehabilitation law that was disallowed by the Supreme Court on 20th October 2022. The state of our laws flows directly from the Citizenship Act. No Government has tried to put us right. All worked in the same culture to our detriment. The Language issue is but a by-product of the Citizenship Act.

Human Rights: 41 Session of The UPR

282 views
3 mins read

Kashmir Institute of International Relations, commonly known as KIIR, isa non-governmental organization established in 1993.“Peace through Dialogue” is the only motto of this organization and its only objective is to work for a peaceful South Asia. KIIR believes that there could be no peace in South Asia unless the Kashmir conflict is resolved through substantive dialogue: all stakeholders including Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir will have to become the part of that dialogue. But before getting into further discussion on the working of the KIIR, let us have a little glance over a ‘small-story’ published on KIIR’s web-page along with a painful picture of a young Kashmiri girl. “This is fourteen-year-old Miss Insha Malik, who had a dream to become a doctor, lies unconscious in the surgical ICU of the Sri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital in Srinagar, her eyes pierced by pellets. Her eyes have been ruptured and she will be blind in both eyes for her entire life, says the doctor of the hospital.”

Recently, the KIIR has submitted a report on human rights violations in IIOJK to UNHRC MECHANISM. This report was further forwarded to the 41st Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which is taking place at Geneva from 7th to 18th November 2022. During the session human rights situation of ten countries including India is being discussed. India’s first, second and third UPR reviews had taken place in April 2008, May 2012 and May 2017, respectively; this one is the fourth one. God knows better what results would be found out during the UPR session at Geneva after going through the report submitted by KIIR to the UNHRC MECHANISM. The said report contains a lot of heart rending facts regarding human rights violations in Illegally Indian Occupied Jammu Kashmir including misuse of various draconian laws like AFSPA, PSA and UAPA, abrogation of Article 370 and 35/A, forced disappearances, rape, mass-graves, militarization of schools, hospitals and of so many other public institutions. The KIIR has submitted some recommendations too for bringing permanent peace to the occupied valley. These most important of these recommendations is unhindered access to UN special Rapporteurs and mandate holders to IIOJK so that they might be able to find on-ground realities there. The KIIR has recommended repealing of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act of 1990 (AFSPA) and the Jammu Kashmir Public Safety Act (JKPSA). Situation is really so horrible and frightening in the IIOJK that people feel they cannot even breathe their own.

The Amnesty International India organized a press conference in June 2022 in which grave concern was expressed regarding the human rights violation in IIOJK. Aakar Patel, chair of Amnesty International India Board said talking to the media-men that increase in unlawful killings in Jammu & Kashmir highlights Government’s failure to protect its minorities. He further said, “The Indian authorities must take urgent steps for the protection of the people of Kashmir. For decades, people of Jammu & Kashmir have suffered from gross human rights violations and abuses committed by both state and non-state actors. The sheer impunity with which the human rights of the people of Jammu & Kashmir have been systematically disregarded by Indian authorities must end if we are to fulfil the rights of victims and help ensure that such abuses against civilians are not repeated.”

It is a sheer misconception that Jammu and Kashmir are home only to the Muslim community. It is also just a propaganda that only Muslims are being targeted by the security forces unlawfully deputed there. The security forces target everyone who talks about freedom and liberty and protests against the atrocities of the Indian security forces. Just at the end of last June a report was published in different newspapers of India which exposed that at least 19 civilians had been killed in 2022 since then by the security troops. Out of those 19, seven belonged to the Hindu community including a schoolteacher, shopkeeper, government employees and a casual daily worker.

Though the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been in worst condition for the last many decades but after the revocation of Jammu & Kashmir’s special status in 2019, things have become more horrible. Misusing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, the security forces are simply crushing the basic human rights of the local people. Every day, tens of human rights defenders, journalists and activists are being arrested without registering any FIR against them. Reports say that in the last few months at least 36 journalists have faced interrogation, physical assault, raids and threats or for their reporting on human rights violations. In spite of being a Hindu by creed, Aakar Patel, the chair of Amnesty International India Board, has a very honest and impartial approach towards the human rights violations in Jammu & Kashmir. A few months back, he said in a statement, “It is not too late for the Government of India to take meaningful steps towards creating an inclusive and safe society instead of peddling a false notion of normalcy in the region and encouraging the perpetration of more abuses. Until then, the Indian government’s historical failure to protect the people of Kashmir will keep feeding into this never-ending cycle of abuses and impunity.” This statement must be an eye-opener not only to the government of India but also to the peace-keeping organization like UNHRC and all bitter realities exposed by Aakar Patel must be kept before while preparing the fourth Universal Periodic Review of India.

What Was Humanity’s First Cultural Revolution?

314 views
7 mins read

We live in a fast-moving, technology-dominated era. Happiness is fleeting, and everything is replaceable or disposable. It is understandable that people are drawn to a utopian vision. Many find refuge in the concept of a “return” to an idealized past—one in which humans were not so numerous, and animals abounded; when the Earth was still clean and pure, and when our ties to nature were unviolated.

But this raises the question: Is this nothing more than a utopian vision? Can we pinpoint a time in our evolutionary trajectory when we wandered from the path of empathy, of compassion and respect for one another and for all forms of life? Or are we nihilistically the victims of our own natural tendencies, and must we continue to live reckless lifestyles, no matter the outcome?

Studying human prehistory enables people to see the world through a long-term lens—across which we can discern tendencies and patterns that can only be identified over time. By adopting an evolutionary outlook, it becomes possible to explain when, how, and why specific human traits and behaviors emerged.

The particularity of human prehistory is that there are no written records, and so we must try to answer our questions using the scant information provided for us by the archeological record.

The Oldowan era that began in East Africa can be seen as the start of a process that would eventually lead to the massive technosocial database that humanity now embraces and that continues to expand ever further in each successive generation, in a spiral of exponential technological and social creativity. The first recognizable Oldowan tool kits start appearing 2.6 million years ago; they contain large pounding implements, alongside small sharp-edged flakes that were certainly useful for, among other things, obtaining viscera and meat resources from animals that were scavenged as hominins (humans and their close extinct ancestors) competed with other large carnivores present in their environments. As hominins began to expand their technological know-how, successful resourcing of such protein-rich food was ideal for feeding the developing and energy-expensive brain.

Stone tool production—and its associated behaviors—grew ever more complex, eventually requiring relatively heavy investments into teaching these technologies to successfully pass them onward into each successive generation. This, in turn, established the foundations for the highly beneficial process of cumulative learning that became coupled with symbolic thought processes such as language, ultimately favoring our capacity for exponential development.

This had huge implications, for example, in terms of the first inklings of what we call “tradition”—ways to make and do things—that are indeed the very building blocks of culture. Underpinning this process, neuroscientific experiments carried out to study the brain synapses and areas involved during toolmaking processes show that at least some basic forms of language were likely needed in order to communicate the technologies required to manufacture the more complex tools of the Acheulian age that commenced in Africa about 1.75 million years ago. Researchers have demonstrated that the areas of the brain activated during toolmaking are the same as those employed for abstract thought processes, including language and volumetric planning.

When we talk about the Acheulian, we are referring to a hugely dense cultural phenomenon occurring in Africa and Eurasia that lasted some 1.4 million years. While it cannot be considered a homogenous occurrence, it does entail a number of behavioral and technosocial elements that prehistorians agree tie it together as a sort of unit.

Globally, the Acheulian technocomplex coincides generally with the appearance of the relatively large-brained hominins attributed to Homo erectus and the African Homo ergaster, as well as Homo heidelbergensis, a wide-ranging hominin identified in Eurasia and known to have successfully adapted to relatively colder climatic conditions. Indeed, it was during the Acheulian that hominins developed fire-making technologies and that the first hearths appear in some sites (especially caves) that also show indications of seasonal or cyclical patterns of use.

In terms of stone tool technologies, Acheulian hominins moved from the nonstandardized tool kits of the Oldowan to innovate new ways to shape stone tools that involved comparatively complex volumetric concepts. This allowed them to produce a wide variety of preconceived flake formats that they proceeded to modify into a range of standardized tool types. Conceptually, this is very significant because it implies that for the first time, stone was being modeled to fit with a predetermined mental image. The bifacial and bilateral symmetry of the emblematic Acheulian tear-shaped handaxes is especially exemplary of this particular hallmark.

The Acheulian archeological record also bears witness to a whole new range of artifacts that were manufactured according to a fixed set of technological notions and newly acquired abilities. To endure, this toolmaking know-how needed to be shared by way of ever more composite and communicative modes of teaching.

We also know that Acheulian hominins were highly mobile since we often find rocks in their tool kits that were imported from considerable distances away. Importantly, as we move through time and space, we observe that some of the tool making techniques actually show special features that can be linked to specific regional contexts. Furthermore, population densities increased significantly throughout the period associated with the later Acheulian phenomenon—roughly from around 1 million to 350,000 years ago—likely as a result of these technological achievements.

Beyond toolmaking, other social and behavioral revolutions are attributed to Acheulian hominins. Fire-making, whose significance as a transformative technosocial tool cannot be overstated, as well as other accomplishments, signal the attainment of new thresholds that were to hugely transform the lives of Acheulian peoples and their descendants. For example, Acheulian sites with evidence of species-specific hunting expeditions and systematized butchery indicate sophisticated organizational capacities and certainly also suggest that these hominins mastered at least some form of gestural—and probably also linguistic—communication.

All of these abilities acquired over thousands of years by Acheulian peoples enabled them not only to settle into new lands situated, for example, in higher latitudes, but also to overcome seasonal climatic stresses and so to thrive within a relatively restricted geographical range. While they were certainly nomadic, they established home-base type living areas to which they returned on a cyclical basis. Thus, the combined phenomena of more standardized and complex culture and regional lifeways led these ancient populations to carve out identities even as they developed idiosyncratic technosocial behaviors that gave them a sense of “belonging” to a particular social unit—living within a definable geographical area. This was the land in which they ranged and into which they deposited their dead (intentional human burials are presently only recognized to have occurred onward from the Middle Paleolithic). To me, the Acheulian represents the first major cultural revolution known to humankind.

So I suggest that it was during the Acheulian era that increased cultural complexity led the peoples of the world to see each other as somehow different, based on variances in their material culture. In the later Acheulian especially, as nomadic groups began to return cyclically to the same dwelling areas, land-linked identities formed that I propose were foundational to the first culturally based geographical borders. Through time, humanity gave more and more credence to such constructs, deepening their significance. This would eventually lead to the founding of modern nationalistic sentiments that presently consolidate identity-based disparity, finally contributing to justifying geographic inequality of wealth and power.

Many of the tough questions about human nature are more easily understood through the prism of prehistory, even as we make new discoveries. Take, for instance, the question of where the modern practice of organized violence emerged from.

Human prehistory, as backed by science, has now clearly demonstrated that there is no basis for dividing peoples based on biological or anatomical aspects and that warlike behaviors involving large numbers of peoples, today having virtually global effects on all human lives, are based on constructed imaginary ideologies. Geographical boundaries, identity-based beliefs, and religion are some of the conceptual constructs commonly used in our world to justify such behaviors. In addition, competition buttressed by concepts of identity is now being accentuated due to the potential and real scarcity of resources resulting from population density, consumptive lifestyles, and now also accelerated climate change.

On the question of whether or not the emergence of warlike behavior was an inevitable outcome, we must observe such tendencies from an evolutionary standpoint. Like other genetic and even technological traits, the human capacity for massive violence exists as a potential response that remains latent within our species until triggered by particular exterior factors. Of course, this species-specific response mode also corresponds with our degree of technological readiness that has enabled us to create the tools of massive destruction that we so aptly manipulate today.

Hierarchized societies formed and evolved throughout the Middle and Late Pleistocene when a range of hominins coevolved with anatomically modern humans that we now know appeared in Africa as early as 300,000 years ago. During the Holocene Epoch, human links to specific regional areas were strengthened even further by the sedentary lifestyles that developed into the Neolithic period, as did the inclination to protect the resources amassed in this context. We can conjecture the emergence of a wide range of sociocultural situations that would have arisen once increasing numbers of individuals were arranged into the larger social units permitted by the capacity to produce, store, and save sizable quantities of foodstuffs and other kinds of goods.

Even among other animals, including primates, increased population densities result in competitive behaviors. In this scenario, that disposition would have been intensified by the idea of accumulated goods belonging, as it were, to the social unit that produced them.

Bringing technology into play, we can clearly see how humans began to transform their know-how into ingenious tools for performing different acts of warfare. In the oldest tool kits known to humankind going back millions of years, we cannot clearly identify any artifacts that appear adequate to be used for large-scale violence. We don’t have evidence of organized violence until millions of years after we started developing tools and intensively modifying the environments around us. As we amplified the land-linked identity-based facet of our social lives, so did we continue to develop ever more efficient technological and social solutions that would increase our capacity for large-scale warfare.

If we can understand how these behaviors emerged, then we can also use our technological skills to get to the root of these problems and employ all we have learned to finally take a better hold of the reins of our future.

1 2 3 6