Sri Lanka on Security Alert Long After Easter Bombings

By Emily Thampoe
NEW YORK, Jul 3 2019 – Sri Lanka continues to be on a security alert long after the devastation caused by a string of bombings on Easter Sunday this year.

Raisa Wickrematunge, Editor of Groundviews, told IPS: “There has been a tightening of security. There are now security checks being carried out outside hotels and shopping malls – either through scanners or bag and body searches”.

“At the St Anthony’s Church, where the first blast occurred, there are bag and body searches conducted before worshippers can go inside, and bags are left outside the Church premises. Many churches and some schools have also increased their security.”

Curfews were put into place and a social media ban was enacted temporarily, in order to prevent the graphic nature of the tragedies from being broadcast publicly. There has been much damage of the emotional and physical varieties in the once war ridden nation.

For one thing, this attack was not expected by the Christian minority in Sri Lanka. Despite this, they have persevered.

Father Rohan Dominic of the Claretian NGO told IPS: “For quite some time, there were attacks on the Muslim and Christian minorities by extremist Buddhists. In places, where the Buddhists were the majority, Christians lived in fear.”

However, in a turn of events that left many in shock, one of the minority groups seemed to be the ones that initiated the attacks that occurred on Easter.

All seven of the perpetrators allegedly belonged to a local Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath, according to government officials from the country.

In response to this, there have been bans put in place for burqas and niqabs, traditional facial coverings worn by Muslims and people have been denied entrance into establishments, even while wearing hijabs.

There were smaller bombings in Dematagoda and Dehiwala later on that same day. With a death toll of 290 people and 500 injured, domestic measures to protect the citizens were taken.

After its 26 year long civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups came to an end in 2009, conditions in Sri Lanka were mostly calm.

However, on 21 April, 2019, the country erupted into violence. Three churches in the cities of Negombo, Batticaloa and Colombo, along with three hotels in the city of Colombo, were targeted in bombings by a group of seven Sri Lankan citizens.

The churches were St. Sebastian’s Church, Shrine of St. Anthony Church and Zion Church and the hotels were Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury Hotel and Shangri-La Hotel.

Sri Lanka is a country that is primarily Buddhist with a large Hindu population and Christian and Muslim minorities.

Father Dominic said that, “The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka was able to recover from the attack quickly and aided the survivors and the families of the victims by consoling and caring for them. The Church also has guided the Christian community at moments of anger and frustration in controlling their emotions and not to blame the Muslims. This position of the Church has helped to prevent violence and created common understanding and religious harmony.”

According to Wickrematunge, there has been much help in helping the community adjust to life after the attacks and in restoring what has been lost.

Other efforts have been led by organisations such as the Red Cross, Kind-hearted Lankans, the Archbishop of Colombo and the Church of the American Ceylon Mission in Batticaloa. There have also been crowdfunding efforts on popular websites like GoFundMe.

Since the attacks have affected lives in a physical and emotional way, the state has given financial support to the affected as of 21 June.

There has also been a trust fund set up for children who have lost family members to the attacks.

Some of the industries affected, such as tourism, have been offered subsidized loans in order to help with paying employees. Psychological support and educational resources are being provided to citizens as well.

While it has only been three months since the attacks affected the lives of many, steps towards rebuilding have been made and the future appears to be promising.

Indigenous Communities Head Towards Energy Self-Sufficiency in Guatemala

By Edgardo Ayala
USPANTÁN, Guatemala, Jul 3 2019 – Because the government has never provided them with electricity, indigenous communities in the mountains of northwest Guatemala had no choice but to generate their own energy.

Now electricity lights up their nights and, most importantly, fuels small businesses that provide extra income to some of the 1,000 families who benefit from the community energy projects.

These community projects have been implemented in four indigenous villages located in the Zona Reina eco-region, in Uspantán municipality in the northwestern department of Quiché.

The miracle of having light initially occurred more than 10 years ago in 31 de Mayo, a Maya indigenous village.

 

 

Thanks to financial cooperation from organisations in Spain and Norway, the hard work of the community and support from the environmental group MadreSelva, the first mini-hydroelectric plant began to operate there, harnessing the waters of the Putul River.

Given the success of the first community hydropower plant, other villages also decided to generate their own electric power: El Lirio, in May 2015; La Taña, in September 2016; and La Gloria, in November 2017.

And these four villages share their electricity with five neighbouring communities.

Life has changed today in these villages, local resident Zaiada Gamarro told IPS. She stressed the importance of electricity for women, who can now cook and perform other household tasks at night, for children, who can now do their homework after dark, and for businesses like small bakeries or shops that can now sell refrigerated products.

A similar plan is under way to build mini-dams in eight other indigenous villages in the neighbouring region of Los Copones. They will also share their electricity with 11 communities in the surrounding area, in a project for which the German development aid agency has contributed 1.25 million dollars.

For further information, read the IPS article: Against All Odds, Indigenous Villages Generate Their Own Energy in Guatemala.

 

Are We Fighting a Losing Battle in the War Against Drugs?

By Lakshi De Vass Gunawardena
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 3 2019 – How effective is the global war on drugs?

The latest statistics released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are staggering: 35 million people across the globe currently have a substance use disorder, and as of 2017, 585,000 people have died worldwide as a result of drug use.

According to a recently-released UNODC report, the lack of proficient drug treatment and facilities for those that need it is impacting mortality rates at alarming levels.

Hence, it stands to reason that treatment and prevention are immensely falling short of the mark on a global scale.

Prisons are also no exception to these shortcomings. In fact, the Report unmasked that those incarcerated for drugs are more likely to continue being exposed to drugs.

The Report also highlighted that out of the 149 countries that were surveyed, about 1 in 3 people reported that they consumed drugs in prison at least once while incarcerated, and 1 in 5 people who are currently incarcerated reported that they have used drugs within the past month.

“In terms of data, we did some data collection, always trying to get as much as possible, in terms of socio-economic characteristics, we would have this type of data, I imagine, and this is also something that will run throughout the new report, and is being discussed now.” Chloé Carpentier, Chief of the Drug Research Section told IPS.

The issue between drugs and human rights is on Secretary General António Guterres’ radar as well.

“Together, we must honour the unanimous commitments made to reduce drug abuse, illicit trafficking and the harm that drugs cause, and to ensure that our approach promotes equality, human rights, sustainable development, and greater peace and security.” Secretary General António Guterres stated on the International Day Against Drug Use and Illicit Trafficking.

“We will make sure that no one with a drug problem is left behind” Dr. Miwa Kato assured, during the official launch of the Report on June 26.

Dr. Kato continued to push this message throughout her speech and cited that “Health and justice need to work hand in hand.”

Beyond the UN, this is a topic of interest for the academia world as well, since young people are heavily susceptible to a substance use disorder.

“It is important that we say people— not user or addicts, that language itself is stigmatizing.” Dr. Danielle Ompad, Associate Professor, College of Global Public Health and Deputy Director, Center for Drug Use and HIV Research at New York University (NYU) told IPS.

Dr. Ompad highlighted the importance of person-first language, citing that “It is important how we refer to people, and view them as humans, and not just the behavior (the substance use).

In terms of the World Drug Report, she noted that “The war on drugs, if you look at it, hasn’t really been an effective war”, and elaborated that the focus should not be supply- side intervention, because in the long run, drugs are going to be produced and sold no matter what, which leads to mass incarceration, which doesn’t benefit any party.

It is also important to recognize that “not everyone needs treatment, and those that do should absolutely have access to it. But just because you use marijuana does not mean you are an addict”.

She went on to suggest a harm- reduction approach. The harm-reduction approach blends a plethora of strategies from safer use to managed use to abstinence- it meets the need of the person.

www.HarmReduction.org

Meanwhile, tracing back to the issue of treatment, the Report affirmed that over 80% of the world’s population lack access to adequate treatment with only 1 out of 7 people with a substance use disorder receiving treatment each year.

The Report showcased that women cited a strong sense of fear that kept them from seeking the help that they needed for a variety of reasons that ranged from possible legal issues to the lack of childcare while in treatment.

Another issue is several countries, particularly in Asia, is the death penalty for any person found guilty of a drug ‘offense.’

Last month, Sri Lanka’s President, Maithripala Sirisena signed death warrants for four convicts- thus pushing the notion that those who have a substance use disorder are ‘dirty’ and should be disposed of.

Similarly, in a 2014 study conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, it was shown that drug addiction was viewed more negatively than mental illness. Ironically, however, the two are all but intertwined.

This is also evidenced by the Report- about half of the world’s population that develop a mental disorder will also experience a substance use disorder in their lifetime.

However, it is to be noted, that despite all of the above, the Report only cited the “lack of effective treatment interventions based on scientific evidence and in line with human rights obligations.” but made no further elaborations on the what’s and how’s and was only discussed briefly at the official Report launch.

That said, the issue of ensuring those that do have a substance use disorder are provided for while figuring out more beneficial and healthier initiatives to reduce drug rates across the globe are currently being discussed among the United Nations (UN) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Dr Omad said for better and or worse, licit and illicit drug use is part of our world.

“Focus a little bit more on harm reduction,” Dr. Ompad stated, and above all “We need to stop the war on the people who use drugs,” she declared.