Poaching crisis: Haul India before ICJView(s):
With the recently concluded CHOGM we saw that multilateralism nowadays is a fading concept in international affairs, and bilateralism — issues between nations, enveloped in the domestic compulsions of political parties — is now the order of the day.
The excitement in the corridors of power in Canada, Britain and India demonstrated that even when it comes to a group of 53 nations, priority rests with the pressures of the electorate rather than the bigger picture of world affairs. So, we must also revert to the bilateral issues this country faces, and none more important right now than our troubled relations with neighbouring India, and none more current than the unresolved, continuing problem of poaching in the waters of the Palk Strait. The issue is now taking a new dangerous dimension. At this week’s Galle Maritime Security Forum, the discussions deftly bypassed this contentious issue, and the Indian naval chief, who attended, ducked being interviewed by this newspaper. But there is no denying that the issue is high voltage, and a small wave is turning out to be a tidal wave; a new dimension is brewing into the proportions of a ‘war’ similar to the ‘Cod War’ between Iceland and Britain back in the 1970s over fishing rights in the North Atlantic.
The ‘Cod War’ nearly brought the two NATO allies to the brink of a real war. It was a time when the Brits, with the advent of long-distance steam ships began exploiting new areas due to depleted stocks in their seas. Their boats would ram the Icelandic fishing vessels. What is happening in the Palk Strait is a scenario very similar to the ‘Cod War’ and can be called the ‘Shrimp War’. That issue was about a disputed economic zone for fishing rights. Sri Lankan waters in the Palk Strait are undisputable. This is not about poor Tamil Nadu fishermen and their livelihoods, but all about the big Tamil Nadu state (and by extension India’s) shrimp export industry and the foreign exchange they earn using Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing methods that are banned worldwide. All this is at the expense of the poor northern Sri Lankan fishermen who have lost their livelihood as a result.
The Tamil National Alliance that now self-rules the north of Sri Lanka is afraid to rub its benefactor India the wrong way on the issue and it is left to the Sri Lankan Government to take up cudgels. Sri Lanka’s Deputy Minister of Fisheries met the Indian naval chief this week on the sidelines of the Galle Dialogue and complained, but was met with stoic silence.
The Indians have upped the ante in recent weeks by starting to arrest Sri Lankan fishermen on their way to international waters in the Arabian Sea as a tit-for-tat for the arrest of Indian fishermen systematically poaching in Sri Lankan waters with the connivance of the Indian authorities. The Indian activities are reportedly a violation of the Law of the Sea Convention of enabling “innocent passage” to fishermen merely passing through. Most of those arrested are Sinhala-Catholics from the south of Sri Lanka.
With the Indians continuing to ignore summoning a meeting of the Joint Working Group on Fisheries (which should be renamed JWG on Poaching), Sri Lankan will have no alternative, if it has the diplomatic capability and the political guts (as it did during the Kachchativu issues from 1960-74) to take the matter before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Iceland did this, and Norway before it, successfully against the mightier Britain. The British Government was forced to back off and enter into an agreement in the face of such a challenge.
A retired public servant has written a letter to this newspaper (Plus Page 2) raising a pertinent point whether one should refer any longer to an ‘Indian Ocean’. India seems to be running away with the idea that therefore, that part of the sea – and all the fish and mineral resources in it – belongs to it, and it can do as it pleases in these waters.
The records of the Tamil Nadu state government and the Indian central government show the increasing revenue earned from the export of ‘their’ shrimp. The European Union (EU) is their largest emerging market, while Japan offers better prices. The US is also a key importer of Indian shrimp.
Just this week, the European Commission proposed an EU-wide ban on fisheries imports from Cambodia, Belize and Guinea, saying they had not done enough to stamp out illegal fishing (IUU). It also ‘warned’ — a ‘yellow card’ was issued — South Korea and Ghana, something it has done with Sri Lanka before. A Reuters news agency report datelined Brussels (Nov. 26) states; “The EU is the world’s top importer of fresh and frozen fish and seafood. It has been criticised for not doing enough to prevent fish caught illegally in other parts of the world from ending up on European dining tables”. The EU statistics office, Eurostat says the EU imported 50 million tons of fish products worth 18.5 billion Euros in 2011.
Upto 26 million tons of fish are caught illegally each year. The EU office in Colombo is asleep, failing to alert the EU in Brussels of the plunder taking place by armadas of Indian fishermen entering Sri Lankan waters thrice a week, and week after week with fishing nets that engage in ‘bottom trawling’ IUU methods. Or is the EU – and the US for that matter, like in most other issues in world affairs — adopting a hypocritical approach towards smaller nations only, while they dare not take on the ‘big fish?’
Act now to empower the ‘disabled’
Today is International Aids day and Government figures of the increasing number of Aids patience has already been challenged in Parliament. While this is a matter of concern, the theme of this year’s International Day for persons with Disabitites Disabled which falls this week on December 3 is “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”. It seems particularly apt for Sri Lanka for while the world still struggles with a politically correct word for the ‘disabled’, Sri Lanka continues to struggle with providing proper access to public places for the physically incapacitated.
The Supreme Court has been egged on to make determinations by a lone crusader (his article appears in ST 2 Page 6), but what is most frustrating is the slowness at which both, the public sector and the private sector have recognised the need to bring Sri Lanka up to speed on the fundamental right of those who have been physically impaired, either temporarily or permanently (the number is growing), to be provided safe accessibility and mobility.
The Social Services Ministry, all the affiliated associations of the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA) and the Chambers of Commerce, hotels, banks, supermarkets and other institutions must wake up to this call sooner than later.