WTF Friday, 1/22/2016

We have a lot to get through today, guys.

In addition to all their other great inventions/discoveries, North Korea announced that it has developed hangover-free alcohol. I’ll say this for them, they’ve got their research priorities right.

Tanzanian president John Magufuli believes, for some reason, that a nation-wide ban on miniskirts will be an effective means of combating the spread of HIV/AIDS.  (Update: The Tanzanian government has said that although “H.E. President Magufuli and his government are strong proponents of decent dressing”, reports of a mini-skirt ban were false. H/T: Felix Reimer.)

El Salvador’s government has asked its female citizens to please refrain from reproducing for the next two years to avoid birth defects caused by the Zika virus. (Note that there is no implication that El Salvador’s men might have a role to play in achieving a national pregnancy rate of zero.)

Oh, and apparently Sri Lanka has decided that a good use of police resources, and reasonable thing for a democracy to do, is to embark upon a nation-wide “crackdown on suspected lesbians“. Ugh.

And finally, if you missed this yesterday: discriminatory rules on blood and bone marrow donations from gay men are making it harder to save lives, for absolutely no good reason.

Panel Discussion on Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka

Are you in the Bay Area and interested in hearing about recent developments in Sri Lanka?

If so, good news!

I’ll be speaking on a panel at Stanford next Thursday (10/29) along with Bhavani Fonseka and Beth Van Schaack. We’ll be discussing the prospects for transitional justice, and I have it on good authority there’ll be chocolate chip cookies…

Sri Lanka panel 10.29

The Forever Victims?

NIM (1)If you’re in the market for some upsetting reading, look no further: I have a new report out, coauthored with Nimmi Gowrinathan, on the human rights situation of Tamil women in northern Sri Lanka.

It documents the effects that 6 years of militarization have had on women’s lives and shows that, perversely, efforts to protect women from sexual violence have undermined their political and economic agency, making them even more vulnerable to victimization.

Readers of this blog will probably be most interested in the fact that the livelihoods approach endorsed by the international community seems to be exacerbating the problem by reinforcing regressive gender roles. It turns out that women who fought on the front lines of combat find it a bit galling to be handed a sewing machine and told to make something pretty. And by sidelining women into traditionally “feminine” activities, these programs not only disempower them, they deprive the Tamil community of their contributions to rebuilding and shaping a way forward.

Check it out: “The Forever Victims? Tamil Women in Post-War Sri Lanka

WTF Friday, 7/3/2015

Hey, remember that time Sri Lanka shocked the world by booting Mahinda Rajapaksa out of office just as he was fixing to settle into the presidency for life? (I was there, it was pretty major.)

The new president, Maithripala Sirisena, was celebrated for his bravery in defecting from the regime, and for his principles in his campaign against the abuses of Rajapaksa rule. After the election, investigations of Rajapaksa and his family were announced on allegations of massive corruption, extrajudicial killings of journalists, and attempts to stage an election-night coup.

But six months later, things have gotten weird.

Sirisena’s coalition, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) said today that Rajapaksa will run on their ticket in next month’s parliamentary polls. Rumor has it he may even be the pick for prime minister.

If that sounds like an unbelievably speedy rehabilitation of someone whose ousting was met with global cries of “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead”, remember that the January election was close. Rajapaksa remains very popular with the majority Sinhalese community and their representatives in Parliament. And, in the absence of clear evidence that he tried to overturn the election results, the fact that he gracefully exited office allowed him to preserve the option of a comeback.

At the moment, it’s not clear whether Sirisena actually signed off on Rajapaksa’s return. Over the last couple of days, he’d sounded adamantly opposed to the idea. If he changed his mind, it would indicate a major split in the (always tenuous) big tent movement that brought him to power. If he didn’t, he may have lost control of elements of the UPFA.

And either way, looks like the lead up to the August 17 election is going to be another bumpy ride for Sri Lanka.

WTF Friday, 6/12/2015

Somehow it’s Friday again. And:

A Sri Lankan MP has called for legal action against the country’s Foreign Minister for his unacceptably friendliness to gays. FM Samaraweera betrayed his country by voting against a resolution that called for the withdrawal of marriage benefits to UN employees in same-sex relationships. In previous fits of pique against the UN, the MP in question, Wimal Weerawansa, has attempted a hunger strike and threatened to stop using Gmail.

A large population of Ukrainian prisoners is stuck in the war zone “in legal limbo“. With no one to judge their cases, thousands of inmates remain in prisons in the east, facing water and electricity shut-downs as well as artillery attacks. The kicker? The court system has no centralized database, so no one actually knows how many people are affected. (h/t goes to Lev, thanks Lev!)

Barbie’s finally getting a pair of flats.

Come Hear Me Talk About Sri Lanka

PSA: I’ll be participating in a screening and discussion of “No Fire Zone“, a documentary about the Sri Lankan Civil War, along with the director, Callum Macrae. It’s next Monday (2/2), 12:30-2pm in room 1512 at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. I have it on good authority there will be snacks.

Check out the trailer below, and if you want to come, more details and RSVP info are up on the Pulitzer Center’s website.

WTF Friday, 1/16/2015: Sri Lankan Election Edition

Last week, President Mahinda Rajapaksa was unexpectedly unseated in an election in which nearly 82% of eligible Sri Lankans turned out to vote. I was there, and wrote about how exciting it was for the The Washington Post’s political science blog, Monkey Cage.

I left a few highlights out, though, so to supplement that post, I give you my top 5 WTF moments of the Sri Lankan presidential election:

1. In the last week of the campaign, Rajapaksa made a visit to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, where he asked Tamils to vote for the “known devil” (himself, the commander-in-chief who presided over mass bloodshed in the region at the end of the civil war) over the “unknown angel” (Sirisena). Shades of Charles Taylor’s “he killed my ma, he killed my pa, I’ll vote for him“, anyone?

2. Campaigning ended on Monday, January 5 at 11:59pm and all campaign posters were supposed to come down at that time. They didn’t. A day or two later, someone got around to blacking out Rajapaksa’s face on billboards around town. This is what it looked like:

campaign poster

3. In the final hours of the campaign, state-aligned media paired coverage of the terror attacks in Paris with graphic footage of LTTE bombings, reminding voters that Rajapaksa had been responsible for the defeat of the insurgency.

4. On election day, Rajapaksa went to cast his vote accompanied by a doppelganger of his rival Maithripala Sirisena (now the president). The look-alike was one of several “joke candidates” fielded by both sides in an attempt to confuse voters. You can see him here.

5. In the days following Rajapaksa’s ouster, a number of things have emerged, not just coup attempt rumors and allegations of corruption, but secret helicopters (actually a persistent campaign issue symbolizing Rajapaksa extravagance) and illicit elephants.

Electoral Politics at Its Best

Former commander of the Sri Lankan Army Sarath Fonseka is on the campaign trail in Uva province, and he’s brought some unconventional props with him. Fonseka, who was badly wounded in a 2006 suicide bombing in Colombo, is traveling with the shrapnel-pierced Peugeot 406 he was riding in at the time, and a cardboard cutout of the woman who attacked him.

If this is successful in winning seats for his Democratic Party in the Uva provincial polls, I can’t wait to see what candidates decide to lug around in next year’s presidential election.

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 9.56.41 AM

via The Republic Square, photo from the BBC Sinhala’s Facebook page.

WTF Friday, 7/25/2014

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on Wednesday to establish an international commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by Israel during its current Gaza offensive. Of the 47 Council members, 29 voted in favor, 1 (the U.S.) against, and 17 abstained.

Gaza vote

UNHRC Gaza votes

Four months ago, I was in the Council chamber as another probe into possible war crimes was debated. Here is the outcome of voting on that resolution, which established an international investigation into alleged abuses at the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009:

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

UNHRC Sri Lanka votes

Notice anything?

With the exception of a handful of Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries, almost everyone has flipped their position.

This is interesting (or depressing, depending on how you look at it) because when countries explain their votes, they almost always speak in absolutes. In March, I heard numerous Western countries stress the legal obligation to provide justice for international crimes and the duty of the Council to stand with the victims of human rights abuses. I heard non-Western countries object categorically to “country-specific” resolutions (i.e. initiatives that single out a country for censure or investigation without its consent) and emphasize that the Council must respect sovereign governments and avoid an interventionist approach.

This week, it appeared that none of these positions were particularly deeply held.

*Photos of the vote board are courtesy of the United Nations office at Geneva.

WTF Friday, 3/7/2014

This week’s WTF comes to you from Sri Lanka, where I’ve been for the last couple of weeks.

The Daily Mirror reports that late on Wednesday night, police in a Colombo suburb picked up two high school girls who were (gasp) waiting at a bus stop and wearing t-shirts. According to the cops, the decision was made to bring the girls into the police station to “protect them from rapists who were in the vicinity”.

That’s some fine police work, sirs. We can only hope that law enforcement in all of our communities would respond to the news of rapists on the loose by rounding up any unattended young women with such alacrity.

(And for readers who lack the ability to detect absurdity and/or sexism, Groundviews helpfully gives us the story rewritten as if the kids were boys.)