UN Humans rights council charges Sri Lanka amidst country’s environmental crisis

On March 16th, The Human rights council of the UN  brought detailed charges against Sri Lanka over alleged human rights violations. This new wave of charges is being called baseless and flawed. A particular characteristic that is being enjoined with the charges is their hegemonic or selective nature.

Ignoring ecological toll:

While the Western-led human rights regimes emphasize the observance of rights. The regimes are also partial in their behaviour.  As many third world states, including Sri Lanka, have witnessed an ecological onslaught in their territory. The colonial-era marks the beginning of these environmental damages.

It is notable that Western powers exploited nature for their gains. Now, these powers misuse the context of human rights violations against developing states.

History of exploitation:

Ancient Sri Lanka was renowned for its nature-loving Buddhist way of life. The ecological and social crisis can be traced back to the colonial era and the country\’s integration into the global capitalist system.

The right to work on ancestral land was denied. Locals earned their living by growing coffee and tea. This resulted in vast losses of forest lands as well as waterways. This had a domino effect on the availability of food for locals.

Sri Lanka\’s forest cover decreased from 84 per cent in 1881 to 70 per cent in 1900 and to about 50 per cent in 1948. The year 1948  marked the departure of colonial British from Sri Lanka.

Human-Elephant conflict:

Furthermore, deforestation also resulted in decreased wildlife, particularly the elephant population. Elephant holds a religious significance for the locals. Unfortunately, the animal became a victim of colonialist’s hunting sport and trade.  At the time, it was common to hunt for Elephant\’s heads. Which valued only a few shillings.

The neo-liberal toll on the environment:

With the implementation of the open economy in 1977, Sri Lanka became subject to neoliberal policies such as privatization and structural reform, primarily as a prerequisite for World Bank and IMF loans.

However, during this time period, the massive Mahaweli River Development Program provided people with land access and increased the country\’s food production and power resources. The construction of dams and irrigation networks and highways, dramatically altered land and water systems. This resulted in watershed destruction and the loss of wildlife habitat and populations.

Moreover, the use of agrochemicals brought by the Green revolution of the 1960s greatly damaged local seed types.

Global North-South dilemma:

The developed countries produce 80 per cent of carbon emissions that is the primary cause of environmental damage. It is discernible that the actual victims are third world countries. These countries contribute very little to global carbon emissions. However, the damage is apparent in these countries.

Additionally, Sri Lanka provides a perfect example of this dilemma. Between 1961 and 1990, the air temperature rose by 0.016 degrees Celsius per year. Annual average rainfall decreased by around 7% between 1931 and 1960 and 1961 and 1990. With sea levels rising, Sri Lanka will face a catastrophic coastal erosion rate of 0.30-0.35 metres each year, impacting nearly 55 per cent of the shoreline.

Where does Sri Lanka stand now?

In the 2019 Global Climate Risk Index, Sri Lanka was ranked second among countries most affected by extreme weather events, and sixth in 2020.

The Island nation is facing the brunt of global politics. This is majorly due to geopolitical competition between American, China and India. These three countries are also the biggest carbon polluters, pursuing unrestricted economic development amid an imminent global climate disaster.

A renewed approach: the need for time:

\’Tragedy of Commons\’ is yet another name for Climate Change. Economic endeavours overlooking their environmental toll cannot benefit anyone in the long run. It is about time that we adopt a linear global approach. In other words, the division of global North-South must end. This is essential to contain the impending disaster. This approach must be free from any political, racial or national agenda if it has to suffice.


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