Europe is reeling under yet another terrorist attack on one of its capitals; its cities are locked down and on high alert. All Sri Lanka can say is “we’ve been there before; we’ve seen it all”. We know the pain and anguish law-abiding peace-loving citizens are going through in those countries.
Even across the Atlantic, in the US, all major cities are calling their security services out of their barracks to patrol the streets. As any terrorist organisation gets a pounding on the ground, that they resort to cowardly attacks on civilian targets as happened in Brussels on Tuesday is as certain as night follows day.
Ask the Sri Lankan Intelligence service and they will tell their European counterparts this. It was a lesson learned the hard way here in Sri Lanka and European Intelligence networks are only learning now that the terrorists suffering military setbacks in West Asia would bite back on soft targets. That was a ‘dead cert’. No wonder these spy agencies in the West are at the receiving end of public criticism. There was a time when Sri Lankan Intelligence had a thing or two to learn from the West. It is now time, for the West to swallow their pride and learn a trick or two from here.
It was heartening to hear what the US President said in Havana where he was at the time of the coordinated attacks in Brussels. He said it was time for the whole world to unite to defeat the ‘scourge of terrorism’. When Sri Lanka long advocated this same message, it was a different reception and response we received from Europe and the US. They just didn’t listen, had their own theories on how to combat terrorism and continue to still prod the duplicitous human rights line even compromising on the call to defeat the ‘scourge of terrorism’. In Havana, the US President did get an earful from his host when he spoke of human rights in Cuba. He was reminded of the continuing violations of human rights on Cuban soil by the US Administration at the Guantanamo detention centre.
As long as one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, this ‘scourge of terrorism’ will never end. The UN ad hoc Committee on International Terrorism – a body chaired by Sri Lanka — has been unable to come up with an acceptable definition for “terrorism” for the past several years. Until the duplicitous political cum diplomatic element is taken out of the ‘scourge of terrorism’ and a universal agreement is reached that terrorism means simply the use of terror for political goals, by whomsoever, the ‘scourge of terrorism’ will keep raising its ugly head around the world.
It is when you begin theorising on ‘what is terrorism’, or ‘what is ‘state terrorism’ and so on that one gets into difficulties and cannot reach compromise. The partisan nature of the big powers that look at the world from their own prisms and national interests rather than in a holistic manner is at the root of this log-jam in seeking a solution. And there is some justification in the argument that invasions of other countries by the big powers, drone attacks and so-called ‘collateral damage’ of civilians are the incubators for breeding ‘terrorism’ that has now enveloped the West.
These infamous double standards of the big powers extend to the economic arena aslo, and it is the West that exploits the issue best — or worst, depending on how one looks at it. Embargoes, and trade sanctions are modern weapons of war to cow down nations not toeing their line. In Sri Lanka, the European Union’s (EU) suspension of the GSP plus preferential tariffs system and the ban on fish imports are textbook cases of duplicity.
It is time they turned the searchlight inward and found out where they have gone wrong. It is their inconsistency in handling the ‘scourge of terrorism’.
RTI: Do not water it down At last, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill has been tabled in Parliament nearly 365 days after it was promised in the 100-day programme of the ‘Yahapalanaya’ Government and 12 years after it was first presented as a bill by the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government of 2004.
From earning what would have been the distinction as the first to enact such a progressive law in South Asia, Sri Lanka has become the last and the one hundred and whatever country to do so in the world. The bill has only been tabled in the House. It has been presented by the Media Minister but the proposed law to provide access to official information (subject to certain exemptions) is not a law exclusively for the media. It is one for every citizen of this country; from the farmer to the scholar, the parents seeking admission for their child to a school, to the building contractor who has lost a tender, and to every taxpayer, this is truly a revolutionary piece of legislation – if and when passed into law.
The present bill has gone through a fairly comprehensive study. The 2004 bill was the basic working paper. Then, a working group at the Media Ministry put the finishing touches for an updated law. However, it got lost in the process of going to the Attorney General’s Department and what is before Parliament is not entirely the ideal piece of draft legislation. The bill is now in the hands of the parliamentarians. When it will see the light of day as law, we do not know. But if it is passed into law further emasculated and watered down, it would be an exercise in futility where the law will not be worth the paper it is written on; a laughing stock among the comity of modern democracies that this new Government in Sri Lanka is hoping to join.
Water and the Weather The heat is on; a doctor has written (on Page 10) of heatstrokes. Schools have cancelled their sports meets and power cuts have made a bad situation worse.
These are all signs of Climate Change that is gripping the whole world. An Oscar winner revealed how they had to go looking for snow to make their film. In the nearby state of Kerala in southern India, the population is undergoing a severe water shortage and the Elections Commissioner says that the Government offering water to the voters constitutes a bribe.
World Water Day was marked this week. It is a welcome sign that the Government is following up on the Climate Change Conference of Paris late last year (COP21) and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a dedicated desk to this subject.
Water, or the lack of it, has seen wars in ancient times and the scarcity of it in the future presents a frightening prospect of wars over it. In Sri Lanka, a UNICEF head spoke of water being threatened by industrial waste and poor solid waste management in schools, hospitals, homes and workplaces. Some 1,299 schools in Sri Lanka do not have any functional sanitation facilities and 11 percent do not have any form of water. Considerable disparities remain between rural and urban areas and the water quality remains an issue. That is why one must appreciate the little mercies one has by having access to clean water.