Human Rights

Should ICC be equally active not only in Ukraine but also in Myanmar?

4 mins read

It has been two years since the military coup in Southeast Asia’s Myanmar. The military junta came to power after overthrowing the democratically elected government on charges of corruption. Myanmar has been under the leadership of the country’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing since February 1, 2021. For more than two years, the military government has repressed the people’s movement and protest demanding democracy. According to various international organizations, at least 2,000 people have been killed and more than 15,000 arrested in the junta’s crackdown; At least another 1 million have been displaced. Even then, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has not seen any role in the beleaguered country.

The people of Myanmar may be in solidarity with their Ukrainian brethren, but they have every reason to be infuriated by the contrasting response from the international community to the crisis they face at home.

Western nations and key Asian allies responded within days to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with tough sanctions and weapon supplies. The international reaction to the bloody military takeover in Myanmar one year ago has been half-hearted by comparison.

There is a degree of racism. The West is quick to defend a fellow and easily identifiable Western state. In part, it speaks to diaspora politics in the West, given the presence of Ukrainian communities in the U.S. and across Europe, something Myanmar does not enjoy to the same extent.

The types of Russian weapons used in Ukraine are also killing people in Myanmar, an independent United Nations expert has said, urging countries at the UN to form a coalition — as they had done after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — to put pressure on Myanmar’s military rulers. UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said that a coalition of countries should target Myanmar’s military with sanctions and an arms embargo.

Following the military coup, in April 2021, Myanmar’s pro-democracy and elected representatives formed the National Unity Government (NUG). They formed a government against the junta and announced the acceptance of the mandate of the ICC. The ICC also recognized the declaration. The NUG originally requested the ICC to investigate the junta’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar. Because the political leaders know very well that there is no possibility of trial in the courts of that country. And that is why Myanmar, a country of 55 million, is now looking to the international organization in the hope of justice.

But sadly, the ICC is not as active in Myanmar as it is in investigating the crimes committed in Ukraine. This raises the question of many, is the ICC more concerned about the suffering of the West? Myanmar and Ukraine lend themselves to comparison, but the differences in international response are revealing. Why have many countries in the Indo-Pacific responded more forcefully to Ukraine than to Myanmar? Ye Myo Hein and Lucas Myers argue that the “democracy versus authoritarianism” framing is not persuasive to many regional actors, who are more interested in defending the norms of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Additionally, their findings expose differences in risk tolerance and interests regarding global order between Russia and China.

Russia-Ukraine recently marked one year of direct conflict. Just a few days after the start of the conflict, the ICC representative went there and started investigating the incident. The International Criminal Court even issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Putin on Friday (March 17) for war crimes. Although the Myanmar conflict has passed twice as long, there is still no ICC activity there.

Political analysts say that since the ICC has recognized the NUG’s declaration, the ICC must send a team of investigators like Ukraine to find the truth and announce a fair trial against the perpetrators. This will increase the transparency of this international organization and make it a place of trust for the affected countries.

But here comes a question. That is, whether the anti-junta NUG government can represent Myanmar at the ICC. According to an analysis published in The Diplomat, a Washington DC-based online news outlet, the Government of National Unity has the power to make this representation. According to the authors of the analysis, John Daugaard, Chris Gunes, Tommy Thomas, Yuyun Wahuningram and Ralph Wilde, according to domestic law, the NUG is the legitimate government of Myanmar. Because according to the 2008 constitution, these representatives were elected through popular vote in 2020. Thus, they have no chance of being illegitimate even if they are repressed by the junta; Their government formation is completely legal.

On the other hand, the junta seized power through a military coup, in clear violation of Articles 71(a) and 417 of the country’s constitution. These articles contain clear instructions for the impeachment of the President and the imposition of a state of emergency. But according to the rules it was not followed. On the contrary, the military has taken power by force, ignoring the protests of the people and putting the democratically elected people, including the president, in jail.

As a result, analysts say, the military’s seizure of power in this way is completely illegal.

At the end of 2021, the UN removed the junta representative from its General Assembly and allowed the NUG representative to represent Myanmar at the meeting. The International Labor Organization (ILO) also agreed with this decision of the United Nations. As a result, the ICC must now accept the NUG’s declaration as valid. There should be fair investigation and prosecution of the crimes committed and committed there.

The UN Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar was established in 2017 by the United Nations to investigate the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Analysts believe that a similar investigation committee should be formed against the illegal junta government. And through this they are of the opinion that justice should be ensured for the common people of Myanmar. The people of the country have been waiting for justice for a long time. So, the state, UN and ICC should take appropriate steps in this regard. ICC should be equally active not only in Ukraine but also in Myanmar.

Former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo is Sentenced for Three More Years in Prison

1 min read

On March 9, the judiciary of Peru extended the preventive detention of former left-wing President Pedro Castillo from 18 months to 36 months. Castillo was overthrown in a parliamentary coup in December 2022 and was sentenced to 18 months of preventive detention shortly after.

Supreme Court Judge Juan Carlos Checkley ordered the three-year pretrial detention for Castillo over alleged accusations of organized crime, influence peddling, and collusion in cases related to public works contracts and in the sale of fuel to the state-owned petroleum company Petroperú.

The ruling has been widely criticized as being politically motivated and part of the attempt to completely exclude the ousted president from political and civilian life.

In May 2022, the prosecutor’s office began investigating Castillo’s former Transportation Minister Juan Silva and six congressmen of the opposition center-right Popular Action party for irregularities in the tender for the construction of the Tarata III Bridge.

Businesswoman Karelim López, who was being investigated for money laundering at that time, had alleged that Silva accepted bribes in exchange for awarding public work contracts with Castillo’s authorization. Castillo has denied the charges, adding that he and his administration were being politically persecuted by the prosecutor’s office and the judiciary, whom he alleged are controlled by the conservative oligarchy.

Since Castillo’s ouster, thousands of citizens have been mobilizing to demand radical political changes. These include Castillo’s immediate release, his successor Dina Boluarte’s resignation, advancing the elections, and a referendum on a constituent assembly.

The Boluarte government has responded with brutal repression leading to at least 60 deaths and has left more than 1,200 people injured in Peru.

Credit Line: from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Swaziland’s Anti-monarchy Activists Face Increasing Repression Ahead of Elections

1 min read

Mvuselelo Mkhabela, a 21-year-old activist of the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS), who escaped from a hospital after being shot and tortured by the police, confirmed that he is safe in a video message released on March 9.

Mvuselelo is only the latest victim of the brutal repression unleashed by security forces of King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, against those who criticize the king. Mvuselelo was shot on February 28 while leading a protest against a government campaign to encourage people to vote in the upcoming parliamentary election, expected to be held in the second half of 2023.

CPS International Secretary Pius Vilakati told Peoples Dispatch that these elections “have nothing to do with the interests of the people of Swaziland.” Only those approved by the king’s local chiefs—who also control the community land —can contest the elections to the parliament of the southern African kingdom, where all political parties have been banned since 1973.

On February 28, Mvuselelo was shot, and then “the police picked me up and threw me in one of the vans they had brought,” he told Peoples Dispatch, while speaking from a hideout. The police tortured Mvuselelo for hours, finally bringing him to the hospital in the afternoon. That evening, a fellow party member snuck into the hospital and helped Mvuselelo escape.

The police remain on the lookout for him. Mvuselelo said that he must soon flee the country. Most political dissidents pursued by the monarchy end up in exile, mostly in South Africa, after going underground. Others have been assassinated or imprisoned on charges of terrorism.

Credit Line: from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Marginalized women in Social Revivification: Why do their stories matter?

3 mins read

The following article is based on ideas shared during the recent residential workshop jointly organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, and Civil Society organizations

Marginalized women such as sex workers, single parents, and widows are among the most vulnerable groups in society, often facing discrimination, social exclusion, and economic hardships. Their stories are essential for social revivification, as they highlight the structural inequalities that exist in society and expose the systemic issues that need to be addressed. Why the life stories of marginalized women are important, why the media needs to respond to their plight, and how the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies’ responses show a lack of maturity and a disregard for fundamental human values.

The stories of marginalized women matter because they provide insight into the complex issues that these women face on a daily basis. These women often live on the fringes of society, facing multiple forms of discrimination and exclusion. By sharing their stories, we can better understand the root causes of their marginalization and work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society.

Moreover, marginalized women often have unique perspectives on social issues that are not represented in mainstream discourse. By giving these women a platform to share their experiences, we can broaden our understanding of social problems and generate new solutions that are more responsive to the needs of marginalized communities.

The media has a critical role to play in amplifying the voices of marginalized women and shedding light on the issues they face. It is essential for the press to report on these stories with sensitivity, respect, and accuracy, and to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes and stigmatizing language. They must avoid sensationalizing these stories or perpetuating harmful stereotypes that further stigmatize marginalized women. Instead, the media must work towards amplifying the voices of these women and exposing the systemic issues that contribute to their marginalization.

Moreover, the media needs to take an active role in challenging the systems of power that contribute to the marginalization of these women. This includes holding those in positions of authority accountable for their actions and advocating for policies that promote social and economic justice.

The responses of the Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies along with selected “media outfits” in planting acts to raid certain places such as Spas demonstrate a lack of maturity and a disregard not only for professional integrity but fundamental human ethics. These actions not only violate the rights of sex workers but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and stigmatize marginalized women. The actions of those who are working in these agencies also highlight the need for greater accountability and transparency in law enforcement. It is essential for authorities to respect the rights of all individuals, regardless of their social or economic status, and to uphold the rule of law in a fair and just manner.

One of the cases discussed during the event is a stark example of the crisis that exists in our society, particularly in the behaviour of the judiciary towards marginalized women. The actions of the police, in this case, were not only unconstitutional but also violated the rights of the sex worker in question. Moreover, the judge’s response to her statement was insensitive and demonstrated a lack of understanding of the systemic issues that contribute to the marginalization of women in society.

A woman was apprehended by the police and brought to court on charges of engaging in “adulterous behaviours” in a Colombo suburb. However, she denied the accusation and boldly stated before the judge, “I am unaware that my private parts are state property and not my own.” Moved by her defence, the judge had no choice but to dismiss the case and clear the woman of all charges. It is in situations like these that real-life storytellers have a critical role to play. It is their responsibility to use their platform to raise awareness of the injustices faced by marginalized women and to advocate for their rights. By sharing their stories, these women can inspire others to take action and work towards creating a more just and equitable society.

The real-life stories of marginalized women are critical for social revivification. These stories help us to understand the structural inequalities that exist in society and expose the systemic issues that need to be addressed. It is the responsibility of real-life storytellers to use their platform to raise awareness of these issues and advocate for the rights of marginalized women. Moreover, it is our individual responsibility that plays a critical role in promoting social and economic justice for all individuals, regardless of their social or economic status. This involves building a constructive approach to discussing and sharing real-life stories with sensitivity and respect and advocating for policies that support marginalized communities. That is where the existence of the communal currency of humanity ensures. As Vera Nazarian, a known author, says, “the world is shaped by two things: stories told and the memories they leave behind.”  Stories have a powerful impact on shaping our understanding of the world and can help to create a more just and equitable society. Therefore, it is crucial to use each of our platforms to amplify the voices of those who have been historically marginalized and promote narratives that uplift diverse perspectives.

Click here to read our previous essay on the same issue

Tunisians Mobilize Against Political Persecution and Government Failure to Address Economic Concerns

1 min read

Tunisians took to the streets by the thousands on March 4 and 5 to denounce President Kais Saied’s government for silencing the opposition with threats of arrest and intimidation and to protest against the administration’s failure to address basic economic concerns plaguing the people of the country.

Protesters raised issues such as government restrictions on unions, the rising cost of living in Tunisia, and the government’s move to reduce subsidies on essential commodities like food and energy.

The protests on March 4 were organized by the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian Workers’ Party, among others. The protest on that day, which “appears to be the biggest” against Saied’s government so far, started from Tunis’s Mohamed Ali Square and ended at Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

More than a dozen activists, journalists, and judges have been arrested since February by the police in Tunisia. Some have been charged with “conspiracy against state security” and are being tried in military courts. The opposition said that this action by the government amounted to political persecution.

Those arrested so far include Issam Chebbi, head of the opposition Republican Party, two leading opposition members, Noureddine Boutar, a senior journalist, and Anis Kaabi, a senior union leader.

Addressing the protesters, secretary-general of the UGTT Noureddine Taboubi asserted that “the workers are united, and we have chosen the path of struggle; struggle does not come cheap.” He said that UGTT was opposed to the persecution of political figures and the “intimidation of their families,” and was committed to the protection of freedoms in the country.

Credit Line: from the Peoples Dispatch / Globetrotter News Service

Sri Lanka: Storytelling as a Tool for Healing and Empowerment

9 mins read


by Our Cultural Affairs Editor

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American Proverb

A residential workshop held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, brought together participants to explore the significance of real-life story writing in the local context, where the goals of reconciliation and economic growth are intertwined. Organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism and supported by civil society organizations, the workshop emphasized the power of storytelling in building social identity and empowering communities. Overall, the event served as a platform to highlight the importance of this creative medium for promoting positive change in Sri Lanka.

According to Chitra Jayathilake, a professor at Department of English and Linguistics, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, storytelling is a natural human activity and a primary form of expression. “Storytelling is in our blood,” says Robert Atkinson. People live surrounded by their stories and the stories of others. They see everything that happens to them through these stories and try to live their lives as if they were recounting them. The essential understanding laying on every human action, be it internal or external, is dialogue.

Resource persons: During the residential training for real-life story writing [ Photo Credit: Sri Lanka College of Journalism]

In storytelling, the convincing power of a story is not from its verifiability but from its verisimilitude. Stories will be true enough if they ring true, as Amsterdam and Bruner noted in their work. Storytelling has become more popular and useful than quantitative academic researches because it allows people to engage and empower themselves in building social identity through narrative turns.

During the workshop, participants engaged with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s influential essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Using deconstructionist approaches, Spivak’s work examines how global capitalism and the international division of labour shape our understanding of the world. In her essay, she aims to disrupt binary distinctions between subject and object, self and other, and center and margin, particularly as they relate to the divisions between the West and the non-West. By illuminating the intersection of factors like class, caste, religion, and nationality, Spivak highlights the deep-seated polarization that characterizes many parts of the world today.

M J R David, a noted journalist, who is the director of the Sri Lanka College of Journalism, emphasized the value of storytelling as a means of gaining deeper insight into ourselves and the world around us. As he explained, our lives are a collection of stories that reveal hidden truths and complexities beneath the surface. By neglecting these narratives, we risk overlooking important social, cultural, and personal realities. Only by acknowledging and engaging with these stories can we hope to create a more just and equitable future for ourselves and others.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that has been used for centuries to communicate ideas, beliefs, and values. It allows people to connect with each other on a deeper level and share their experiences, thoughts, and emotions. Through storytelling, people can learn from each other, empathize with others, and gain a better understanding of different perspectives.

From the Ancient Greeks to Contemporary Society

Storytelling has played a pivotal role in shaping historical narratives and interpreting events. From the ancient Greeks to contemporary society, stories have been used to pass on knowledge, create a sense of identity, and provide a platform for debate and discussion. In the United States, the narrative of the Civil Rights Movement was told through the stories of people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and others who fought for justice and equality. Their stories continue to inspire and educate people today.

During the workshop, a new publication on female biographies in Sri Lankan history was also launched. [ Photo Credit: Sri Lanka College of Journalism]

Similarly, in South Africa, storytelling was an essential tool in overcoming apartheid and promoting reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1995, used storytelling as a means of healing and rebuilding a fractured society. Victims and perpetrators alike were given the opportunity to share their stories in a public forum, allowing the truth to be exposed and the wounds of the past to begin to heal.

Ubuntu is a Zulu word that refers to the interconnectedness of all things and the idea that an individual’s well-being is tied to the well-being of the community. It emphasizes the importance of empathy, compassion, and forgiveness, and it was a guiding principle for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

During the Commission’s hearings, victims and perpetrators were given the opportunity to share their stories in a public forum. The process was designed not only to uncover the truth about past injustices but also to promote healing and reconciliation. By telling their stories, both victims and perpetrators were able to humanize each other and begin to understand the complexities of the conflict.

The power of storytelling and the principles of Ubuntu were evident in the case of former South African President Nelson Mandela. After serving 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, Mandela emerged as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. He was able to forgive his oppressors and work towards a peaceful and democratic South Africa, all while maintaining his dignity and integrity.

Mandela’s story is an example of the power of storytelling to inspire and create change. His life and legacy continue to be celebrated around the world, and his story serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy, forgiveness, and unity in the face of adversity.

In India, the story of Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle for independence has become a symbol of resistance and peaceful resistance around the world. His story has been told and retold in countless ways, inspiring generations of activists and leaders.

The power of storytelling in shaping historical narratives is not limited to the West. In China, for example, storytelling has played a central role in shaping the country’s cultural identity. Traditional stories and legends have been passed down through generations, helping to create a shared sense of history and values.

The importance of storytelling cannot be overstated. From the earliest human societies to the present day, stories have been a fundamental part of our lives. They have the power to inspire, educate, and heal, and they can be used to shape our understanding of the world and ourselves. Whether we are sharing personal experiences or interpreting historical events, storytelling has the power to connect us and help us make sense of the world around us.

Storytelling in Sri Lankan Context

In the Sri Lankan context, where the country has experienced decades of ethnic conflict, storytelling can play a crucial role in promoting reconciliation and building social cohesion. By sharing stories, people can learn about the experiences of others and gain a better understanding of the root causes of conflict. It can also help to break down stereotypes and biases that may exist between different communities.

Storytelling can also promote a more positive attitude towards diversity and multiculturalism. By sharing stories that celebrate diversity, people can develop a greater appreciation for the unique cultural traditions, customs, and practices of different communities. This, in turn, can lead to a more inclusive and tolerant society that is better equipped to address the challenges of social and economic development.

Storytelling has the potential to reconstruct the deteriorated social structure by providing a platform for underrepresented communities to express themselves. Vaclav Havel’s words, “The rescue of this world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility,” highlight the significance of storytelling. By enabling individuals and communities to share their experiences and shape their own stories, storytelling has the power to instill confidence and influence positive change. Through the medium of storytelling, marginalized groups can establish their identity and demand acknowledgement and reverence from the broader society.

Storytelling can play a vital role in overhauling the attitude of society and re-engineering the deteriorated social structure in Sri Lanka. By promoting reconciliation, building social cohesion, celebrating diversity, and giving voice to marginalized groups, storytelling can help to create a more inclusive, tolerant, and just society. The residential workshop organized by the Sri Lanka College of Journalism on the importance of real-life story writing is a significant step towards achieving this goal.

In her session at the residential workshop, Hansamala Ritigahapola, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sinhala and Mass Communication at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, delved deeper into the classifications of storytelling. She explained the various types of stories, including myths, legends, fables, and fairy tales, and how they are used to convey moral and ethical values. Dr. Ritigahapola also emphasized the importance of storytelling in preserving cultural heritage and passing down traditional knowledge from one generation to the next.

During the workshop, a new publication on female biographies in Sri Lankan history was also launched. The book highlighted the importance of storytelling with references to the many notable stories in the cultural history of Sri Lanka. It showcased the remarkable achievements of Sri Lankan women who have made significant contributions to society, but whose stories may have been overlooked or forgotten. The publication served as a reminder of the power of storytelling to elevate marginalized voices and empower underrepresented groups.

Power of Counseling

The day concluded with an inspiring session by H.M.C.J. Herath, the Head of the Department of Physiology and Counseling, the Open University of Sri Lanka. She described the basic principles and behavioural attitudes of counselling and victim narrations. Dr. Herath emphasized the importance of empathy, active listening, and trust-building in the counselling process. She also highlighted the critical role that storytelling can play in the healing process of victims of trauma and violence. Through the power of narrative, victims can reclaim their agency and gain a sense of empowerment over their own lives.

Counselling is a vibrant process that aims to help people overcome their emotional and psychological challenges. It involves a one-on-one conversation between the counsellor and the client, where the client can share their feelings, thoughts, and concerns in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Through active listening, empathy, and trust-building, the counsellor can help the client gain insights into their problems, develop coping strategies, and explore new ways of thinking and behaving.

Dr H.M.C.J. Herath, Department of Psychology and Counselling, Faculty of Health Sciences, The Open University of Sri Lanka [ Photo Credit: Open University of Sri Lanka]

However, counselling is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Each client is unique, and their needs and challenges must be approached with sensitivity, respect, and cultural awareness. Counsellors must adhere to certain ethical guidelines to ensure that they provide effective and ethical counselling services. These guidelines are established by professional associations such as the American Counselling Association (ACA) and the International Association of Counselling (IAC).

One of the fundamental ethical principles in counselling is confidentiality. Clients must feel safe and secure in sharing their thoughts and feelings, knowing that their information will be kept confidential. Counsellors must maintain strict confidentiality unless there is a risk of harm to the client or others. In such cases, the counsellor must inform the client of their intention to break confidentiality and seek their consent before doing so.

Another essential principle in counselling is informed consent. Counsellors must obtain the client’s consent before starting the counselling process, explaining the goals, procedures, and risks involved. The client must also be informed of their right to terminate the counselling process at any time and for any reason.

Counsellors must also be aware of cultural and diversity issues when working with clients from different backgrounds. They must respect the client’s cultural values, beliefs, and practices and avoid imposing their own cultural biases. Counsellors must also be aware of the potential power dynamics that can exist between the client and themselves and strive to create an equal and collaborative relationship. Counselling is an inseparable part of the process where the true stories of marginalized communities shall play a crucial role in social justice.

Lessons to be Learnt

Sri Lanka can learn a lot from other countries in terms of storytelling and its potential for promoting reconciliation, empathy, and understanding. For example, in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided a forum for survivors of the residential school system to share their stories and promote healing. The Commission’s final report emphasized the importance of storytelling in advancing reconciliation and recommended that the education system include indigenous history, culture, and perspectives.

Similarly, in Rwanda, the Gacaca courts provided a space for victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide to share their stories and promote reconciliation. The courts were designed to be community-led and focused on restorative justice rather than punishment. Through the process of storytelling and dialogue, many individuals were able to reconcile and move forward.

Resource persons and Participants during the residential training for real life story writing [ Photo Credit: Sri Lanka College of Journalism]

The aforementioned instances provide empirical evidence on the potency of storytelling to foster comprehension and reconciliation, hence serving as a paradigm for Sri Lanka’s own efforts towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka could implement storytelling and dialogue programs in schools and communities, emphasizing the promotion of empathy, comprehension, and reconciliation amongst diverse ethnic and religious groups. Such an initiative could dismantle prejudiced beliefs and encourage better comprehension among different communities.

Moreover, Sri Lanka can exploit its rich cultural heritage of storytelling and assimilate it into its reconciliation endeavours. The country has a longstanding oral storytelling tradition, which could be leveraged to cultivate understanding and dialogue between different groups. By accentuating shared values and common themes, such as community, empathy, and compassion, Sri Lanka could work towards fostering a more cohesive and comprehensive society.

Quoting the insightful words of Steve Jobs, we are reminded that the storyteller wields tremendous power. “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come.” As Jobs observed, the storyteller has the ability to shape the vision, values, and agenda of entire generations to come. This underscores the importance of storytelling as a means of creating positive change and promoting shared understanding.

Undoubtedly, storytelling is of paramount significance in advancing reconciliation and comprehension. Sri Lanka can capitalize on both international and domestic examples, including its own cultural traditions, to harness the potential of storytelling in promoting healing, empathy, and a peaceful future.

UN Expert: US Sanctions Violate Human Rights in International Jurisdiction Expansion Efforts

1 min read

The United States is using extraterritorial jurisdiction to impose sanctions on foreign individuals, UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan said today, raising concerns about human rights violations, including the right to due process.

“The United States has for years been imposing sanctions on individuals and entities without national criminal jurisdiction and in the absence of universal jurisdiction,” said Douhan who is the UN expert on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

“This is a clear violation of due process rights, including the presumption of innocence and fair trial,” Douhan said, highlighting that these rights are guaranteed under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights – which the United States has ratified and must fully implement.

“Unilateral sanctions target individuals abroad for alleged activities outside the United States, including activities that are legal where they occur,” she said. Douhan indicated that secondary sanctions target foreign individuals and companies for alleged interaction with sanctioned parties or for evading sanction regimes.

The Special Rapporteur observed that US sanctions typically prohibit entry into the United States and freeze any assets with a US connection, thereby violating the rights to freedom of movement and not to be arbitrarily deprived of property.

“Fear of US sanctions has led many foreign companies and financial institutions to over-comply in order to reduce their risks. This only exacerbates the impact of sanctions on human rights,” Douhan said.

The expert added that human rights are infringed when US trade bans against certain countries penalise foreign companies for doing business. “These policies affect labour rights, freedom of movement, and the rights of foreign individuals who may be associated with these companies,” she said, citing harm to the rights of individuals who rely on the companies’ goods or services, including such as medicines and medical equipment.

The Special Rapporteur questioned the compatibility of this type of imposition of extraterritorial jurisdiction with international human rights standards, and invited stakeholders to reflect on its meaning vis-à-vis the international principle of non-interference in domestic affairs.

Trailblazers of Equality: Celebrating Women’s Advocacy for Social Justice

1 min read

On this International Women’s Day, we honour the remarkable strength, perseverance, and accomplishments of women worldwide. We also recognise the challenges that women continue to confront, such as gender discrimination, injustice, and violence.

Women have made major contributions to the advancement of human civilisation throughout history. Despite tremendous challenges and prejudice, women have achieved great advances in science, politics, the arts, and literature. Women have made significant contributions to the advancement of medicine and healthcare, including renowned pioneers such as Marie Curie, who pioneered research on Radioactivity and Florence Nightingale, often regarded as the creator of modern nursing.

Women in politics have inspired and paved the way for future generations of female politicians, and we need not look further than our own Country where the world’s first female Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike inspired generations across the world. Women have also made substantial contributions to the arts and literature, with works by writers such as Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, and Maya Angelou having far-reaching social influence. Women have also played an important role in advocating for social justice & human rights, playing key roles in movements including those for civil rights, women’s suffrage and LGBTQ rights.

Women’s contributions to the economy are critical for the growth and development of societies worldwide. Women constitute a sizable proportion of the working force, and their efforts contribute to the creation of goods and services that fuel economic growth. Women also play an important role in the family economy, providing unpaid labour such as childcare and housekeeping, allowing others to join in the paid labour force.

We must guarantee that every woman has access to the resources and opportunities she requires to reach her full potential. We have more to achieve, and thus must continue to strive towards women’s empowerment in all aspects of life, from education and employment to political representation and leadership.

International Womens’ Day – Have We Got It All Wrong?

9 mins read

O, Woman! in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!

Walter Scott

Some Depressing Facts

International Women’s Day falls every year on 8 March.  This year in particular, it happens to fall at a distressing and depressing time (from the women’s point of view, that is) and it seems we are missing a crucial point. 

I am a news and commentary junkie and I tenaciously “catch up” with the news on BBC, CNN and assiduously watch programmes such as “60 Minutes” on CBS and “Panorama” on BBC. 

The first bit of news I watched this week was on BBC which reported that “Wayne Couzens, the former London police officer who abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard in 2021, has been sentenced to 19 further months in prison for indecent exposure incidents that took place while he was serving in the force. Couzens, 50, was already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the killing of 33-year-old Everard, which sparked outrage towards the Metropolitan Police and began a national debate about violence against women”. Sarah was a marketing executive who went missing on the evening of March 3 after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham, south London. Her remains were found days later in woodland near Ashford, Kent.

The second report came in the form of a commentary on BBC’s Panorama on the blatant sexual exploitation of women workers on a tea plantation working as tea pluckers by their supervisors who refused to give them work unless they slept with the supervisors.  Some women interviewed by Panorama admitted that they were forced to comply as their jobs were the only means of income that sustained their children. BBC has reported that, as a result of this exposure by Panorama “Kenya’s parliament has ordered an inquiry into allegations of sexual abuse on tea plantations revealed in a BBC report. Lawmaker Beatrice Kemei said she watched the report with “utter shock”. The BBC found more than 70 women had been abused by their managers at plantations operated, for years, by two British companies, Unilever and James Finlay. The companies say they are shocked by the allegations. Four managers have been suspended”.

The third commentary was on CBS’ 60 Minutes which interviewed three Ukrainian women who had been taken prisoner by Russian soldiers and tortured.  One of the women, a medic, said: “They were making our men scrape off their tattoos. They were beating them badly. They did the same to women – they would beat them, pour boiling water on them…the beating was brutal, abuse was very bad”.

These three deeply upsetting bits of media coverage came two days before March 8 along with another report from the United States where CBC reported that “A Los Angeles judge … sentenced Harvey Weinstein to 16 years in prison after a jury convicted the former movie producer of the 2013 rape and sexual assault of an Italian actor and model. The sentence comes on top of the more than 20 years the 70-year-old Weinstein has left to serve for a similar 2020 conviction in New York, furthering the fall of the former producer”.  So, it was happening from Hollywood to Kenya!!

Rahul Gandhi appeared on Chatham House on 6 March and he was asked by a member of the audience what he would do to change India if he were one day to become the Prime Minister of India.  He said that a young girl had come up to him and said that she had been raped, and Mr. Gandhi had asked her whether she had complained to the police.  The girl had said “ I did not go to the police because I did not want to be shamed”.  Mr. Gandhi said that this is one thing he would like to change in India where women would not be ashamed to complain that they had been subject to sexual abuse.

We seem to be living in a world infested with perverted specs of male humanity bent on committing sexual and other types of violence against vulnerable women – from sexual trafficking to domestic abuse.

After this barrage of information, I turned to the latest Open AI innovation ChatGPT to see what it would say about the special day allocated to the welfare of women.  It said inter alia: “International Women’s Day is celebrated in countries around the world and is recognized as an important opportunity to raise awareness about gender inequality and to promote women’s rights. It is a day to honor the achievements of women in various fields and to renew the commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment”.  The question arises : “is it enough just to raise awareness of “gender equality” and promote women’s rights? Could there be some mechanism to stop this heinous abuse with concrete and global accord? Like addressing COVID or climate change, with targets and reporting by countries on progress made? Isn’t the worldwide abuse and exploitation of women as virulent a disease as COVID and as ethically and morally unacceptable as pollution of the atmosphere? Or even more unacceptable?

United Nations Involvement

This year, the United Nations has adopted the theme  “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality… the United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day 2023 will highlight the need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education”. How ironic is this? Shouldn’t women’s bodies be protected before their achievements are lauded and minds receive digital education? Has the United Nations initiated and introduced a global mechanism to put a stop to the abuse of women all over the world? Doesn’t the United Nations Charter guarantee  “fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”? 

Of course there is a fancy term “ gender equality” that has been bandied around since almost the inception of the United Nations : A functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) called The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) was  established as the first global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. In 1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted which talked of basic civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all human beings — men and women alike — should enjoy.  This does not seem to have done anything much – for women.

Of course, in theory, certain things have been done on a multilateral basis. The UN General Assembly adopted in 1979 the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which some identified as the “Women’s Bill of Rights”. Correctly focused on the protection of human rights of women. It is definitive on what discrimination against women is and establishes legal obligations for countries that are parties to it (i.e. States Parties) to end such discrimination. But the word “ discrimination” is different from “sexual abuse and exploitation”. CEDAW only talks of States Parties eliminating discrimination against women in the public as well as the private sphere, including the family, and aims to achieve substantive equality between women and men — not just in laws, but also in reality on the ground.

The United Nations admits that “one in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner. Violence against women and girls is a human rights violation, and the immediate and long-term physical, sexual, and mental consequences for women and girls can be devastating, including death”. A proactive Organization – UN Women – a global champion for gender equality – “works to develop and uphold standards and create an environment in which every woman and girl can exercise her human rights and live up to her full potential”. As part of its prevention strategy, UN Women focuses on early education, respectful relationships, and working with men and boys, especially through, and in, the media, sports industries, and the world of work. “UN Women helps conduct research on attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors of men and boys, as well as young people, related to various forms of violence, and supports advocacy, awareness-raising, community mobilization, and educational programmes, as well as legal and policy reforms”.

The Historical Perspective

The issue is whether this is enough to combat the heinous and egregious sexual abuse blatantly carried out against women around the world.   An overview paper of the Government of Canada says: “ Any woman—regardless of her age, race, ethnicity, education, cultural identity, socioeconomic status, occupation, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental abilities, or personality—may experience abuse. A woman may be at risk of abuse at virtually any point in her life—from childhood to old age”. The paper also addresses issues such as wife abusewife assaultwife batteringspouse abuse, and partner abuse. Recently, activists within the shelter movement have begun to use the more inclusive term woman abuse or woman battering.

Before we concentrate on equality of women in the workplace or any other nuance of a social construct, there should arguably be on the table the bestial superiority (mostly physical) exercised by the male on the vulnerable female which goes back to early ages. Looking back at early human society, historian Yuval Noah Harari in his celebrated book Sapiens refers to various theories of male domination over women citing social rules that varied widely across societies and time periods, where “nearly all human societies since the Agricultural Revolution have been patriarchal—they tend to place men at the top of their social hierarchies”.  Harari refers to “many theories suggesting that men are biologically superior to women” among which is one theory which suggests that men are physically stronger, and they used their physical power to suppress women. The innate tendency of men to be more violent and aggressive has also been a theory that has percolated from early periods of human history. “Yet another theory suggests that biological differences (such as childbearing) made women evolve to be dependent on men to survive”.  Needless to say, Harari disagrees with all these trends.

Simone de Beauvoir, in her book The Second Sex,  posits the fact that “men fundamentally oppress women by characterizing them, on every level, as the Other, defined exclusively in opposition to men. Man occupies the role of the self, or subject; woman is the object, the other. He is essential, absolute, and transcendent. She is inessential, incomplete, and mutilated. He extends out into the world to impose his will on it, whereas woman is doomed to immanence, or inwardness. He creates, acts, invents; she waits for him to save her”. This distinction is the foundation of the overall thesis of de Beauvoir of exploitation of women.

After explaining how male superiority in society developed from ancient times – from nomadic hunter-gatherers through the French Revolution and contemporary times, where female subservience and inferiority were forced on the women through the exploitation of their physical frailty and vulnerability  de Beauvoir credibly explains how myths have been concocted along the lines of male superiority, effectively depriving women of opportunity and relegating them to the background of ignominy.

My Take

At least, there is good start to internationally criminalize any form of abuse against women in  work initiated by UN Women which says: “ For more than 10 years, UN Women’s global initiative, Safe Cities and Safe Public Places, has worked to prevent and respond to sexual harassment against women and girls in public spaces, and since 2017 we have also been a key member of the EUR 500 million Spotlight Initiative that deploys targeted, large-scale investments in ending violence in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific”.

I believe this initiative as well as other similar proactive measures,  should be accompanied by an enforceable international instrument with obligations of State accountability that criminalize abuse of women.Admittedly, there have been some United Nations Resolutions: e.g. Resolution 1325 (2000) which inter alia emphasizes the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls, and in this regard stresses the need to exclude these crimes, where feasible from amnesty provisions; Resolution 1820 (2008) which urges appropriate regional and sub-regional bodies in particular to consider developing and implementing policies, activities, and advocacy for the benefit of women and girls affected by sexual violence in armed conflict.

Another is Resolution 1960 (2010) which requests  the Secretary-General to continue and strengthen efforts to implement the policy of zero tolerance on sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations peacekeeping and humanitarian personnel, and further requests the Secretary-General to continue to provide and deploy guidance on addressing sexual violence for predeployment and inductive training of military and police personnel, and to assist missions in developing situation-specific procedures to address sexual violence at the field level and to ensure that technical support is provided to troop and police contributing countries in order to include guidance for military and police personnel on addressing sexual violence in predeployment and induction training.

Resolution 2106 (2013) focuses on accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict; stressed women’s political and economic empowerment; Resolution 2122 (2013) addresses persistent gaps in the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda; identifies UN Women as the key UN entity providing information and advice on participation of women in peace and security governance; 2242 (2015) focuses on women’s roles in countering violent extremism and terrorism; improved Security Council working methods on women, peace and security. 

Regrettably, these are all the outcomes of political compromises which are optional and do not carry the obligation of monitoring and accountability of States to address this worldwide issue.  They just wouldn’t do as an effective global solution.

Famous Russian Women – Example for Us Today

4 mins read

On March 8 the International Women Day is celebrated in the World. The origins of this eve lays in the 19th century, when there were several movements for the rights of women, mostly in the western countries. After the October Revolution in Russia, this day was established as a state holiday to commemorate the women’s fight for their rights.

This day we congratulate all women in Russia and outside the country. It is a great tradition to present them tulips, to make some small but pretty things for them. We always love them, but it is a good occasion to demonstrate, to raise our feelings that are deep in our souls.

And this day we would also like to tell you about women who have reached some heights and are well-known in Russia, and, maybe, all over the world. We are proud of them and state them as an example for everybody.

  1. Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is a Russian engineer, member of the State Duma, and former Soviet cosmonaut. She is known for being the first and youngest woman in space, having flown a solo mission on the Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. She orbited the Earth 48 times, spent almost three days in space, and remains the only woman to have been on a solo space mission. Before her selection for the Soviet space program, Tereshkova was a textile factory worker and an amateur skydiver. She joined the Air Force as part of the Cosmonaut Corps and was commissioned as an officer after completing her training. After the dissolution of the first group of female cosmonauts in 1969, Tereshkova remained in the space program as a cosmonaut instructor. She retired from the Air Force in 1997 having attained the rank of major general. Tereshkova was later elected in 2008 to her regional parliament, the Yaroslavl Oblast Duma. In 2011, she was elected to the national State Duma as a member of the ruling United Russia party and was re-elected in 2016 and 2021.

  • Valentina Matvienko

Valentina Ivanovna Matvienko is a Russian politician and diplomat serving as a Senator from Saint Petersburg and the Chairwoman of the Federation Council since 2011. Previously she was Governor of Saint Petersburg from 2003 to 2011. She was born in Western Ukraine, graduated from the Leningrad Institute of Chemistry and Pharmaceutics. Being a member of the Communist Party, she started her political career from the lowest ranks in the municipal councils in early 1980s, and then due to her talent was promoted as an Ambassador to Malta and Greece, and then gained other higher positions, serving in the Federal Government. In 2003 she became the first female governor of Saint Petersburg and made an enormous contribution to the development of the second Russian capital. During her rule the city became one of the leaders in foreign investments to the industry, and started to be one of the attraction points for international tourism. The most crucial development project was the Saint Petersburg dam that was completed in 2011. Later, she resigned from her posture, was elected to the Federal Council and became its first Chairwoman.

  • Maria Zakharova

Maria Vladimirovna Zakharova is a career diplomat, spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the first female Director of the Information and Press Department of the Russian MFA. She is well-known in Russia and abroad for her participation in political talk shows on Russian television and for contributing commentary on sensitive political issues on social media. She is one of the most quoted Russian diplomats.

  • Margarita Simonyan

Margarita Simonovna Simonyan is a Russian journalist. She is the editor-in-chief of RT and “Rossiya Segodnya”. As a correspondent, she began her carrier in her homeland in Krasnodar region. She covered the counter-terrorist operation in Chechen Republic, and also serious flooding of the Krasnodar region, for her local television station, receiving an award for professional courage. In 2002, she became a regional correspondent for Russian federal “Rossiya” television channel and covered the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis. She then moved to Moscow where she joined the Russian pool of Kremlin reporters. Mrs. Simonyan was the first vice-president of the Russian National Association of TV and Radio Broadcasters and a member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation. Simonyan was only 25 when for her talent she was appointed the editor-in-chief of RT (then known as Russia Today). She has numerous awards for her professional achievements.

  • Elizaveta Glinka

Elizaveta Petrovna Glinka was a Russian humanitarian worker and charity activist. She studied at the Russian National Research Medical Institute in Moscow, graduating in pediatric anesthesiology and later got her additional medical education in the US, where she studied palliative care. In 2007 she founded a humanitarian NGO “Spravedlivaya Pomoshch” (in English, “Fair Care”). The organization works to support terminally ill cancer patients, vulnerable and homeless people by providing medical supplies, financial and legal aid, and other essential services. In 2010, her foundation collected and distributed aid for victims of forest fires and in 2012, for those who lost their homes after floods in the Krasnodar region of Krymsk. Since November, 2012 Glinka was a member of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights (HRC). With the outbreak of the War in Donbass she became involved in evacuating the sick and injured children from the territory of the newly founded Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics to the hospitals in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, where they could receive medical attention. It has been estimated that she travelled more than 20 times into conflict zones, and saved about 500 children. For her civil heroism she was decorated with numerous awards and the Russian state prize. Unfortunately, Elizaveta Glinka aged 54 died in the Russian Defense Ministry Tupolev Tu-154 crash on 25 December 2016, while travelling to Syrian Latakia to deliver medical supplies to Tishreen University Hospital.

  • Darya Dugina

Darya Alexandrovna Dugina was a Russian journalist, political scientist and activist. After graduating from the Moscow State University, she worked as a journalist, writing for RT and conservative channel “Tsargrad”. She was affiliated with the International Eurasian Movement, and worked for them as a political commentator. She was killed by Ukrainian terrorists in the Moscow region, while her car was exploded on the route to annual festival “Tradition”. Four months later she might have reached her 30 years.

Our dearest women! We use an occasion to congratulate you on Your Day! This congratulations are going from the very depth of our hearts! Remain being beautiful and inspire us for the further fulfilments in this hard but interesting life!

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