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[A shorter version of this appeared in The Hindu’s op-ed pages on Jan 4, 2016]

 

The lesson from Paris 2015 is this: until world powers don’t stop digging black gold out of the bellies of Iraq, Africa and Saudi Arabia, the convoluted webs of violence, terror and climate change, will continue to keep us trapped in the times to come

 

 

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Bullet holes in the wall at Bataclan, Paris terror attack site

New Year is the time for making resolutions, for turning back on the year that went by and reflecting on what lessons could be learnt from the past so we do not repeat our mistakes. Last year, Paris witnessed one of the worst terror attacks, besides those in Beirut and Baghdad. It also saw the climate change agreement being finalised. Could the latter be an answer to the former?

The thought had originally struck me while I was standing outside the Bataclan café in Boulevard Voltaire in Paris, staring at the bullet holes on the walls of the building at the site of the November 13 terror attack by Islamic State (IS) terrorists. It was the last week of November, and I was in the city to attend the UN climate summit – the 21st Conference of Parties (CoP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – where heads of states of over a hundred UN member countries were working out a deal to save the earth from the climate catastrophe.

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Shooting the messenger

First published in The Hindu

Though there is a law in place to “protect” people coming forward to expose corruption, the safety of whistle-blowers cannot be guaranteed in India


whistleblower

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

– George Orwell

The Supreme Court’s insistence that the identity of the secret informer — who gave the copy of the entry registers of the official residence of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director, exposing his meetings with 2G spectrum scam accused — be revealed, has the potential to seriously deter anonymous whistle-blowing in India. The lawyer, Prashant Bhushan, who submitted the document against the CBI chief in the form of an affidavit in the on-going investigations into the 2G scam, will now have to satisfy the court regarding the veracity of the evidence. The court, for its part, has taken recourse to the justification that court rules obligate every person filing an affidavit to disclose the source of his/her information. It has sought the information in a sealed cover.

Though there is a law in place with the apparent intention to “protect” people coming forward to expose corruption, the safety of whistle-blowers cannot be guaranteed in India. In an affidavit filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL) on September 18, the appellants have noted that “revealing the identity of informants in the corruption case would not only be a breach of trust on the part of the organisation, but would also tantamount to putting them under serious risk of bodily harm, harassment or victimisation.” It has further argued that revealing the identity of the whistle-blower is not pertinent, as in most cases involving public interest, the court “has taken cognisance of information placed before it without asking the source of the information from the petitioners.” It cites the example of a bench headed by Justice J.S. Verma who never asked for the source of the ‘Jain diary’ in the Hawala case and yet ordered a court-monitored investigation into the Vineet Narain case (1998) 1 SCC 226.

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[First published in Groundviews]

The choice of Sri Lanka as a venue for CHOGM 2013 has always remained controversial. 

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Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking at CHOGM 2013

Two weeks from now, the Heads of Government of 53 Commonwealth countries will congregate in Colombo’s Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall to discuss, among other things, the Commonwealth’s commitment towards the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in keeping with the Harare Declaration. Sri Lanka has consistently breached all three values. Two years have passed since the decision to allow Sri Lanka to host CHOGM was taken in Perth but little progress has been made by the island nation with regards to initiating accountability measures for credible allegations of war crimes.

On October 31, I had attended a meeting organised by the Human Rights Watch in New Delhi in which torture victims from Sri Lanka who have been brutally beaten, raped and abused by either the police or military personnel in 2012 gave testimonies over Skype from their hospital bed. These were a handful of people who have been fortunate enough to escape from the island nation and find refuge in a foreign land. Charu Lata Hogg, a London-based human rights researcher said that between 2006 and 2012, 75 cases of sexual violence against men and women from the Tamil minority community have been found and several of these victims hail from the camps for internally displaced persons. According to the Sri Lankan military’s own admission there have been 11 cases of sexual abuse against Tamils by military personnel in 2012, but this is a highly underestimated number, according to Ms. Hogg.

It is worth recalling the very serious violations of Commonwealth values committed by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has not implemented the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Add to this the consolidation of powers in the hands of the President and his family; the impeachment of the Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake in January which the Sri Lankan Supreme Court held unconstitutional; the killing and abduction of journalists resulting in suppression of free speech; excessive militarisation in Tamil-dominated regions which proved to be a “significant obstacle to a credible electoral process” according to Commonwealth monitors who oversaw the recent elections in the northern provincial council.

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