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What A Bloody Holiday: War Tourism In Sri Lanka

Since the end of its civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been criticised for its handling of thousands of Tamils displaced during the conflict and has faced a barrage of war crimes accusations. Now the government has laid out plans for promoting tourism at the expense of those who suffered most.

A Special Report by Gaanashree Wood

Deep in the jungle of the northern Mullaitivu district of Northern Sri Lanka, is the former LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) operations hub, now a ghost town. Visitors are offered a guided tour of the hub which comprises of a 3 story underground bunker, a firing range, a film hall, a semi-underground garage and a funeral parlour for fallen comrades. The package also includes a tour of the shipyard where the tigers held the decaying remains of a Jordanian cargo ship, Farah III.

Although these guides provide a rare glance into the inner workings of the LTTE, the majority of tourists are missing the “bigger picture”. What is glaringly absent are the details of the suffering faced by the Tamils who lived in fear of the LTTE and the aftermath of 30 years of civil war that has destroyed the social and economic infrastructure of the region. Instead the visitors, mainly Sinhalese seem intent on seeing war relics rather than truly comprehend the devastation that took place here.

“…most signs are in Sinhala only, little English and no Tamil. To many this seems to say to the Tamils, this isn’t really your country. One of the damaging attitudes that they would say triggered the war decades ago.” The BBC writes.

(Image Credit: James Gordon Losangeles via Flickr)

Since the end of the war, the military has taken an active role in the economy of the North and East by posting various checkpoints to control transportation, annexing civilian land and establishing High Security Zone restrictions. Schools have been shut down too, endangering children’s education. Furthermore, fishing restrictions have been placed on fishermen. It has been reported that over 200 families have been displaced in several towns in Mannar district.

Beaches in Trincomalee and Batticola are being commandeered by the government who are forcing the people off the land and denying them access to the beaches, seriously jeopardizing their futures in order to build resorts, villas and hotels. It seems that in its rush to improve tourist numbers, it has begun appropriating Tamil areas and landmarks.

The Mannar peninsula, which consists of MannarTown, and several smaller townships, including Talaimannar and Pesalai, were LTTE strongholds and caught in the middle of the civil war for at least three decades. The Navy runs a lucrative boat service for tourists to Mannar, preventing the Local Government officials or local businessmen from engaging in such activities.

There has also been active promotion of Sri Lanka at various international travel fairs. The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) under the guidance of the Ministry of Economic Development recently participated in an international travel fair in Chengdu, Western China. These have been part of the government’s efforts to promote Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. The Tourism Board plans to take part in another 6 international travel fairs in China alone. Along with the respective Sri Lankan embassies, the SLTPB has held successful tourism campaigns in India, Russia and Kazakhstan.

On 5th September 2011, the Ministry of Economic Development launched the Tourism Development Strategy which will last from 2011 to 2016. The objective of the new strategy is to achieve a target number of 2.5 million tourists by 2016. The World Bank got behind Sri Lanka in its initiative to revamp its image to bolster tourist numbers. However, there are no clear or definite figures of how of this money has been allocated towards building hotels and towards housing the displaced.

This increased tourism has led to repercussions for the environment and this in turn affects the locals and their livelihoods. The issue of poor environmental management, referring to the establishment of camp sites within the country’s nature reserves has been raised despite this not being permitted under the Flora & Fauna Act. Furthermore the Sri Lankan government has accused NGOs of attempting to limit Sri Lanka’s growth, under the façade of concerns over developments in the name of tourism. There is serious failure to address the plight of the locals or even acknowledge the suffering of the thousands who still remain displaced or are missing.

Many have criticized the Sri Lankan government of portioning significant amounts of investment and money from tourism to its defence budget. Sri Lanka continues to expand its already vast military in order to maintain order and control over Tamil territories. Despite accusations by the international community of war crimes, this has not deterred tourists from the West and India from making Sri Lanka their holiday destination.

(April 9th 2008. The aftermath of a Tamil Tiger suicide bombing in Sri Lanka. Image Credit: T Child via Flickr)



Why Is Palestine Running Dry?

The Palestinian capital Ramallah has greater annual rainfall than the English capital, London. So why is Palestine’s water running out? A special report by Yara al Wazir.

Another year has passed and 1 billion people in the world still don’t have access to clean water. The struggle for manhood’s most basic resource has earned a day in its honour.

In the Middle East, specifically the Levant, we are no strangers to water outages, but for Palestine, a country whose cities enjoy more rain than London; the region’s most valued resource cannot be side-lined much longer without the risk of calamity.

What is usually seen as a symbol of good luck has turned into the epitome of despair in Palestinian cities, where the water usage per person falls 30% below the recommended amount by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of 100 litres. Conversely, Israelis enjoy 420% more than Palestinians, and three-times the recommended amount by the WHO.

In addition to controlling all the major water resources in the West bank, this cap is controlled by rejecting permits to build water wells, if submitted by Palestinians, or for operation in the Palestinian regions. In turn, Palestinians resort to drilling for their own wells, which leaves them with foul water. Without the technology to build efficient, sustainable water wells and pumps, the cycle will continue to repeat itself in the West Bank until the Settlers take over, or Israel eases it’s blockade on the Palestinians.

Organisations such as EWash and Visualising Palestine are no strangers to pointing out the injustice and promoting healthy water usage.

Although rainwater is abundant, the occupying Israeli Defence Force destroyed 34 rainwater cisterns and 21 wells in 2011 alone. The decrease in availability of water impacted the economy, with production rates of basic amenities such as locally produced juices and agriculture diminishing. Palestinians succumbing to unsanitary water affects their health directly, with increased rates of diarrhoea.

Left with no other option than buying Israeli goods, the scale tips in Israel’s favour as water transforms itself into money trickling into their economy.


It’s not just Palestinians who are suffering the pinch of Israel’s effects on the water supplies in the region. According to cables released by Wikileaks, in 2007, 900 residents of the Mafraq region in Jordan were “infected by a nonfatal parasite found in their water tanks”. Repairs of the water pipe that allegedly caused this issue were halted due to funding. Over one hundred thousand Syrians have now taken refuge in the makeshift refugee camp set up in Mafraq this past summer. Many have criticized the living conditions of that very refugee camp. Two years later, another cable published in 2009 showed that oil and sewage had made its way into the canal that supplies Amman with “one-third of its water needs…Jordanian authorities determined that the contamination originated from Israel…” Although the reasons for this contamination were never actually determined, it was suspected that they were caused by rainfall. In what can be seen as an admission of guilt, Israel agreed to compensate the Jordanian government. Perhaps they realized that they didn’t own enough tear gas to stop the Arab version of Erin Brockovich.

Land, energy, and power have been at the forefront of the region’s most recent wars over the past decade. From Iraq to Iran, to the power struggle fuelled Arab Spring, the region is not immune from a war over water. The late King Hussein of Jordan identified water as the only reason his country would go to war with a Jewish State. Following the signing of the 1079 Israeli-Egyptian peace treat, Anwar Sadat immediately turned to a sour note stating Egypt will “never go to war again, except to protect its water resources.”

Over half the Arab nations suffer from water scarcity. The top 10 countries in the world affected by water scarcity are in fact Arab, with Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait taking the top three. Israel takes the eighth position.

Water outages won’t teach anyone how to conserve water, it merely forces them to ‘stock up’ on water and store it in tanks. Instead, we need to address the crisis from a human perspective to sustain our futures and our economies. Instilling core water-conservation values in our younger generation, simultaneously investing in sustainable energy-efficient desalination technologies must become as vital in government policy as how much of Sharia law they want to implement.

Palestinian by blood, Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian and environmental activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. This article is brought to you in association with Inquire Magazine’s partners at The International Political Forum.

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Exposed: Slavery, Trafficking & Exploitation In Sweden

Over the past two years at least 47 Cameroonians have gone to Sweden to work in tree plantation in the northern forests. They were all expecting to return to their families with enough money to pay off debts, invest and start a better life. Instead, most of them are stranded in Sweden, homeless, helpless and heartbroken. The companies responsible are now being exposed. 

One Swedish company who have been exposed, Skogsnicke AB, sent a formal offer of employment to the Swedish Migration Board, which then granted the workers permission to enter the country. The same document, promising a monthly salary of 18,500 Swedish crowns ($2,800), and another 6000 ($900) per month for expenses, was then sent to the Cameroonians. With this salary, the workers were going to earn enough money to cover all costs and still return with the equivalent of three years’ wages in Cameroon. But such documents are not legally binding, and the employer was free to change the conditions. So when they arrived in Sweden they were given a new document: the real contract, with a much lower commission salary. At that point, when they were badly in debt due to flights, expenses and visas, they had no choice but to sign it.

“It is disgraceful that we have laws in Sweden that enable businesses to deceive their workers in this way, without risking anything. And this type of legislation exists in many other countries within the European Union. It allows employers to take advantage of people,” said Swedish journalist Ali Fegan who, along with Lars-Göran Svensson, brought this case national attention through an investigative programme on Swedish Television.

The Cameroonians had to work 10-12 hours per day, six days a week. But with the new commission salary of 0.2288 Swedish crowns per planted tree sapling, it still did not make them enough money. Their hard work did not amount to more than 6000 Swedish crowns (around $900 USD) per month under the new contract. To make matters worse, they were only given three months of work instead of the promised six months, had no expenses paid, were overcharged for accommodation and charged for a union membership that did not exist. The full salary for the summer would not even get them back to Cameroon.


With no knowledge of the country they were in, the workers were at the mercy of their employer. They had no way to voice their complaints, and so they kept working. It was by chance that one of the 2012 workers, Ndjomo Denis, made friends with the retired teacher Erik on the bus from Stockholm to Umeå. They kept in touch during the summer, and so Erik was the first to find out about the deteriorating working conditions. Apart from the changed salary, the workers were also ill treated. They were not given enough food for the hard physical work in the forest, and were forced to sleep on the floor with up to fifteen people in one room.

Erik contacted the local union who opened an investigation. They found the commission contract completely unacceptable, and started negotiating with the company about a new deal for the Cameroonians. But the negotiations continued for many months after they had stopped working, leaving the workers stranded in Sweden, waiting for their money. In March 2013, when the parties finally reached an agreement, it did not get the workers much. The compensation of 10,000 Swedish crowns per person will not pay for their flights or cover the debts for them and their families. But there is nothing more the union can do for them. The figures in the employment offer had no legal bearing, leaving the union unable to demand the salary the workers were expecting. The money they did receive in the end was just the difference between the commission salary and minimum wage.

Since the case emerged into public attention, there has been talk from politicians about changing the laws that caused this situation. But there is little to be done for the people who are suffering from it today. They are still in Sweden, they are still in debt, they are still homeless.

“Their future is not looking bright. The legal and bureaucratic means to rectify this have been exhausted. The only way out of this situation is if another Swedish company hires them for next season to let them work and earn the money they once came for, or if the fundraising efforts that are starting now can eventually help them,” said Ali Fegan.

A Special Report by Boel Marcks von Würtemberg. This article is brought to you in association with Inquire Magazine’s partners at The International Political Forum.

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A Terror in the Sky

Reporting by Chris Wood

The near constant presence of CIA drones “terrorises” much of the civilian population of Pakistan’s tribal areas according to a new report.

Men, women, and children are subjected to almost constant trauma – including fear of attack, severe anxiety, powerlessness, insomnia, and high levels of stress – says a nine month investigation into CIA drone strikes in Pakistan by two top US university law schools. More than 130 “victims, witnesses, and experts” were interviewed in Pakistan for the study.

A number of those eyewitnesses corroborated the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s recent findings – that rescuers have been deliberately targeted by the CIA in the tribal areas.

The new study heavily challenges US government claims that few civilians have died in CIA drone strikes, saying that there is “significant evidence” to the contrary.

As the report notes in its executive summary: “In the United States, the dominant narrative about the use of drones in Pakistan is of a surgically precise and effective tool that makes the US safer by enabling “targeted killing” of terrorists, with minimal downsides or collateral impacts. This narrative is false.”

The joint report, Living Under Drones, is by Stanford University’s International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, and New York University School of Law’s Global Justice Clinic. The 165-page study looks at key aspects of the CIA’s drone programme – its legal basis, how strikes are reported, their strategic implications – and how civilians are affected.

Psychiatrists and doctors report a deeply stressed population in parts of the tribal areas. In their ninth year of bombing, US drones now fly almost constantly over towns such as Mir Ali and Miranshah.

One psychiatrist told researchers that many of his patients experience “anticipatory anxiety,” a constant fear that they might come under attack. The report goes on to note that:

Interviewees described emotional breakdowns, running indoors or hiding when drones appear above, fainting, nightmares, and other intrusive thoughts, hyper startled reactions to loud noises, outbursts of anger or irritability, and loss of appetite and other physical symptoms. Interviewees also reported suffering from insomnia and other sleep disturbances, which medical health professionals in Pakistan stated were prevalent.


(Image: Soldiers load Hellfire missiles onto an MQ-1B predator drone at an Air Force base in Afghanistan. Image Credit: US Air Force)

Pakistani MP Akhunzada Chitan reported that when he visits Waziristan to see his family, people “often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming” because of the drones.

The Stanford/ NYU report also examines in detail three Obama administration drone strikes. Multiple eye-witness reports of civilian deaths are accompanied by “corroborating evidence from other independent investigations, media accounts, and submissions to the United Nations, and courts in the UK and Pakistan.”

In total, more than 50 civilians are likely to have died in these three strikes alone, the report concludes. Anonymous US officials were still claiming recently that civilian deaths have only been in “single digits” during Obama’s entire four years in office.

The NYU/ Stanford report also independently corroborates a major Bureau investigation with the Sunday Times, which found that multiple CIA strikes between 2009 and summer 2011 had deliberately targeted rescuers and funeral-goers. Citing a number of eyewitness accounts, the study notes:

Secondary strikes have discouraged average civilians from coming to one another’s rescue, and even inhibited the provision of emergency medical assistance from humanitarian workers.

Hayatullah Ayoub Khan was driving in North Waziristan when the car ahead of him was damaged in a drone strike. The report says that as Khan approached on foot to see if he could help “someone inside yelled that he should leave immediately because another missile would likely strike.” As he returned to his car, a second missile killed whoever had been inside.

CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan 2004 – 2012

Total US strikes: 349
Obama strikes: 297
Total reported killed: 2,587-3,363
Civilians reported killed: 474-884
Children reported killed: 176
Total reported injured: 1,243-1,390
For the latest Pakistan strike data click here.

A second anonymised man told researchers of an attack on the home of his in-laws: “Other people came to check what had happened, they were looking for the children in the beds and then a second drone strike hit those people.”

People now avoid assisting victims of drone strikes, researchers were told. One “leading humanitarian organization” said that it insists on a six-hour mandatory delay before its workers are allowed to assist, meaning it is “only the locals, the poor, [who] will pick up the bodies of loved ones.”

When seven of Faheem Qureshi’s family and friends died in Obama’s first ever drone strike, he believes he only survived because he was able to walk out of the smoking rubble of the house unaided.

“Usually, when a drone strikes and people die, nobody comes near the bodies for half an hour because they fear another missile will strike,” Qureshi told researchers.

Funeral practices have also changed in the tribal areas because of fears of CIA attack, according to a number of witnesses. Firoz Ali Khan told researchers:

Not many people go to funerals because funerals have been struck by drones. Many people are scared. They don’t go to funerals because of their fear.

US Covert Action in Yemen 2002 – 2012

Total confirmed US operations (all): 52-62
Total confirmed US drone strikes: 40-50
Possible additional US operations: 119-138
Possible additional US drone strikes: 63-76
Total reported killed (all): 357-1,038
Total civilians killed (all): 60-163
Children killed (all): 24-34
For the latest data from Yemen click here.

The UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Professor Christof Heyns, recently described the deliberate targeting of civilian rescuers as “a war crime.”

The joint report by two of the US’s biggest university law schools came after legal campaigning group Reprieve suggested a study into the impact of drones on civilians. It also assisted in putting researchers in touch with some of those affected in Pakistan – although Reprieve has had no editorial input, according to the report.

Professor Sarah Knuckey of NYU’s Global Justice Clinic co-authored the study with Professor James Cavallaro at Stanford. The pair visited Pakistan twice with a team of young lawyers, interviewing more than 130 people in connection with the CIA’s bombing programme.

Knuckey, who has previously investigated killings by the Taliban in Afghanistan, told the Bureau she had been surprised at the high levels of civilian trauma described by health professionals in the tribal areas. Incidence levels more closely resembled those found in higher intensity conflicts, she said.

Asked what she thought the study would achieve, Knuckey said that she hoped that those responsible in the US for covert drone strikes “look at this and say there are extremely well documented and serious concerns, both about the impact of our policies on Pakistani civilians, and also on the US’s own interests, and we need to consider this very seriously.”

The Obama administration has so far not engaged with the authors. A July 18 request for a meeting with the US National Security Council has yet to be answered.

Editors Note: This report is by Chris Wood, a reporter working with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London.