Accountability Process in Sri Lanka Disputed

Sign here and smile for the camera, please. Photo: vikalpasl/flickr

The report of the UN Secretary-General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka, published on 31 March 2011, reveals “a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka.” The panel findings indicate that serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law were committed by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Some of these violations, if proven, “would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.” The UN also got its share of criticism, for failing to take action that might have protected civilians during the final stages of the war.

Unsurprisingly, the Sri Lankan Government denounced the report as “fundamentally flawed”. The Ministry of External Affairs alleged that, among other deficiencies, the report was based on biased material and presented without verification. Although it was originally a joint commitment by the UN Secretary-General and the President of Sri Lanka, the government objected to the publication of the report and claimed that it could damage reconciliation efforts between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority in the country. The government is now seeking international and local support as part of an effort to counter the UN panel report and the implementation of its recommendations.

On the other hand, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) – the main political party representing the ethnic minority – welcomed the panel’s recommendations and expressed hopes that they will be implemented.

Repatriation of Migrant Workers from Libya

Let's go home. Photo: magharebia/flickr

The Kuwait Times reports that before the uprising, there were some 2.5 million migrant workers from various countries in Libya. Some have since returned to their native country on their own, while some required consular or diplomatic assistance. According to international migration officials, 191,748 foreign migrant workers have already left Libya. Of these, 104,275 crossed into Tunisia, 84,973 to Egypt, 2,500 to Niger and 4,000 went to Algeria.

The situation of the remaining migrant workers is tenuous: They have been left to fend for themselves, after employers abandoned them. Unskilled workers do not dare go out as they are fearful of being shot, either by protesters or by forces loyal to Muammar al-Gaddafi. With food, water and medicine shortages, local shops are selling the few available products to Libyan citizens, not migrant workers. This has meant some workers have no money or food, and are approaching the verge of starvation.

The governments of developing countries in Asia – such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, and India – are struggling to evacuate their nationals from Libya. Among the masses of foreign workers trapped in Libya and desperate to leave, migrants from Bangladesh comprise the largest number of foreigners ensnared in the crisis and unable to flee.

In a recent article, World Bank senior economist Jahed Hossain Khan said that the World Bank will loan Bangladesh $30 million for the evacuation of expatriates from Libya.

New ISN Partner: Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC)

We, the ISN family, gladly announce and welcome the Chronic Poverty Research Centre as a new partner.

The Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC) is an international partnership of universities, research institutes and NGOs that exists to focus attention on chronic poverty. It was established in 2000 with initial funding from the UK’s Department for International Development and is based in Manchester, UK. It aims to stimulate national and international debate; deepen understanding of the causes of chronic poverty; and provide research, analysis and policy guidance that will contribute to its reduction.

CPRC expects its research and analysis to result in policy relevant findings which will be useful to all those working to combat poverty. This includes people in community level organizations, government and official agencies, NGOs, political parties, other researchers, the media, trade unions and the private sector.

The people who should ultimately benefit from CPRC’s research are those whose deprivation is sustained over many years and who are least likely to benefit from current national and international development efforts.

CPRC research themes aim to deepen our understanding of poverty dynamics and, in particular, our consideration of the nature, causes and remedies of chronic poverty, including:

  • Conceptualization of poverty dynamics and persistent poverty;
  • Empirical approaches to the study of poverty dynamics and economic mobility;
  • Empirical approaches to the study of the inter-generational transmission of poverty;
  • Insecurity, risk and vulnerability;
  • Assetlessness, low returns and inequality;
  • Adverse incorporation and social exclusion; and
  • Gender.

In the past, CPRC research has considered:

  • how chronic poverty can best be understood – through measurement,  “participatory” research, or other approaches
  • the characteristics of chronic poverty – in relation to other concepts such as the “ultrapoor”, inter-generational poverty, relative poverty, and durable poverty
  • the causes of chronic poverty, including: culture, social relations, agency and identity.

We are very happy to have the Chronic Poverty Research Centre as part of the International Relations and Security Network and look forward to a fruitful and mutually enriching cooperation.

The Price of Political Scandals in India

When business and politics collide, photo: Dinesh Cyanam/flickr

2010 was a year of scandals for India, from the corruption surrounding the Commonwealth Games and the Adarsh Housing Society, to the bribes-for-loan scam affecting the Indian banking industry.  These scandals involved billions of rupees, most of which was public money. One of the biggest scandals uncovered last year, however, was the 2G (second generation) telecom spectrum scam in which the former Telecommunications Minister A Raja is suspected of having sold 2G spectrum phone licenses to telecom companies for a fraction of their value. This is reported to have cost the government $37 billion in lost revenue, equivalent to 14 percent of India’s GDP.

Thousands of scandals take place in India every day, ranging from small to huge, from the local all the way up to the national level.  Such behavior is accepted as a normal part of life, so it mostly goes unreported in the media as it is nothing ‘new’.  Some schemes are just too big to be ignored, however. Scandals that have previously found their way into the national – and international − media because of their magnitude include:

•    Fodder Scam : involved the fabrication of “vast herds of fictitious livestock” for which fodder, medicines and animal husbandry equipment was supposedly procured.

•    Bofors Scandal : the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several others were accused of receiving kickbacks from Sweden’s Bofors AB for winning a bid to supply India with 155 mm field howitzers.

•    Bombay Stock Exchange Manipulation and Fraud :  exploiting several loopholes in the banking system, stockbroker Harshad Mehta and his associates siphoned funds from inter-bank transactions. They bought shares at a premium across many segments, triggering a rise in the Sensex, Mumbai’s Stock Exchange.

•    Cash-for-votes scandal : the United Progressive Alliance allegedly bribed Indian MPs with cash or currency-notes to the tune of millions of Rupees in order to survive its very first vote of confidence on 22 July 2008.

•    Madhu Koda: During his tenure as Chief Minister of Jharkahand, Madhu Koda was charged with laundering over Rs.40 billion ($880 million) through his assets. These included hotels and three companies in Mumbai, property in Kolkata, and a coal mine in Liberia.

Everyone in India speaks English… Right?

Is the English language losing clout in India? photo: Gregory Melle/flickr

A recent BBC article takes up the debate that has been ongoing in India on whether to teach English in schools and colleges. The issue is like a double-edged sword. In a trend towards “Indianization”, many schools and colleges are putting increased emphasis on teaching and even academic writing in vernacular languages. Yet those schools and colleges that teach exclusively in English are often considered of higher quality, and the students of these institutions are privileged because they can get better jobs, rise in social status and get a piece of the cake of India’s tremendous economic growth. Such is the role of English as a social divider that there are plenty of politics involved in preventing the lower classes and castes from learning it.

When the (British) East India Company first came to India, members of high castes became intermediaries between the British rulers and Indian society at large. They were privileged and acquired good positions during the British rule. Today, those who are proficient in English are privileged because they can get one of the numerous jobs created through the outsourcing of services from the western world to India. Knowing English is a crucial skill on the Indian labor market. Even university graduates can’t hope to get a decent job if they don’t know English, which is one reason why educated unemployment is so high.

Though English has become part and parcel of Indian society, the impression in the West that “everyone in India speaks English” is simply wrong. There are 22 constitutionally recognized languages in India. And while India has two national languages for central administrative purposes, Hindi and English, it is Hindi that is the national, official, and uniting language of India. English is an associate official language, useful in particular because while Hindi is spoken and understood in most parts of North India, this is not the case in the South.

Apart from being the glue that holds the large bureaucracy together if all other languages fail, English is popular in the Indian parliament, judiciary, in the media, business and of course in the world-famous Indian IT industry. Generally, the growing role of the internet in all these fields has only contributed to the popularity of English as a lingua franca. English has also made its way into the ordinary language of people who would consider themselves non-English speakers or are illiterate: Time kya hua, bhai? (What’s the time, brother?); aaj date kya hai? (What’s the date today?); kya tum school jaate ho? (Do you go to school?); or, election kab hai? (When is the election?) etc.