Monday, November 14, 2016

 

Recently the Sri Lanka Thawheed Ja’maath, an extremist religious group protested against the proposal to amend the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act as a pre-condition to re-grant the GSP+ by the European Union.

Background 

In 2010 the Council of Ministers of the European Union decided to withdraw its GSP+ tax concessions on Sri Lanka. These concessions are granted to a selected number of countries under stringent criteria which includes specific human rights and governance objectives that must be met. After the civil war the Rajapaksa government was accused of violations of human rights (ICCPR and convention on torture in particular) and nepotism which led to the devastating decision by the EU. More recently the present government opened up high level talks to regain the GSP+ but the EU placed strong criteria which included devolution, amendment of Prevention of Terrorism Act and penal code, reviewing laws on child marriage and gender equality. The Government thus decided to set the minimum age of marriage to 18.

Angered by this decision the SLTJ launched protests against any decision to amend the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act while other personal laws such as Kandyan Law and Thesavalame remained unchanged. The current law in Sri Lanka is that any girl under the age of 16 who is married off even with consent is regarded as statutory rape. The moment I saw the protests and listened to the SLTJ leader’s rhetoric I was greatly angered at the ignorance and vulgarism that was spread in the message. Although it is a constitutional right to protest what angered me more was that women and children participated in this protest as well. This is more than religious extremism; it is the lack of education that sparks these types of protests across communities.

IN RESPONSE TO SLTJ

I decided to call these protesters ‘basket cases’ and also provide them with some education that they seem to lack.



  • A girl may attain puberty at the age of 12 or younger thus enabling her to reproduce but there are many dangers in impregnating a child which has serious health implications on both the mother and the baby. 
  • A woman’s body has not fully grown on attaining puberty. Childbirth at teen ages can result in: premature labour, prolonged labour, obstructed labour, anaemia or infant and/or maternal death. 
  • Children born to teen mothers could result in birth asphyxia as well. (A complication arising during labour when the umbilical cord entangles the foetus suffocating it resulting in loss of oxygen to the brain)
  • 12 year old girls belong in schools. They should receive proper education so that they can earn and support themselves instead of being abused by husbands. 
  • SLTJ leader mentioned that ‘men should satisfy their needs’ which isolates the woman who also has the same needs as a man and also the right to say ‘no’ to sexual advances even under the auspices of marriage. 
  • A woman’s bodily integrity should not be violated. 
  • Child marriage is a violation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW)
The ‘rhetoric’ that contradicts the religion

The SLTJ quotes sharia law which states a girl is allowed to be married - regardless of whether she is 9, 11, or 15 if she had attained puberty. The SLTJ leader then calls upon the government to ask ‘a ten year old child’ what they do after marriage thus implying that even 8 or 7 year olds today are aware of the concept of having sex. This does not come as a surprise because in 2012 Sri Lanka was ranked number one in ‘sex’ searches on Google and even little kids today have access to computers and the internet. Even though this is the case ‘sex’ is a taboo subject in Sri Lanka and national curriculums provide dis-satisfactory sex education which does not include gender mainstreaming, bodily integrity rights and safe sex. Our children hence grow up watching some clandestine porn.

The manner in which he refers to the sexual needs of a male completely disregarding the female is cringe worthy. This type of rhetoric demonstrates the lack of respect the protesters have towards women. They also profess to be highly educated in the Islamic religion. I am definitely no expert on Islam as a religion but this incident made me search for some interesting quotes from the Qur’an about women:


  • "O You who have chosen to be graced with belief! It is not lawful for you to force women into marrying or holding on to them in marriage against their will.” (Quran, 4:19)
  • "O you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness… live with them on a footing of kindness and equity." [ Quran 4:19]
  • "Anyone who acts rightly, male or female, being a believer, We will give them a good life and will recompense them according to the best of what they did" (Surat an-Nahl: 97)


In a Sri Lankan context allowing the SLTJ demands will impose a severe burden on maternal and child care clinics in the country and the Ministry of Health has a strong standpoint in not allowing such considerations to be executed. A minimum age on marriage is reasonable no matter how contradictory it is to sharia law. 

Religious extremism and the lack of proper religious education is a major problem to building religious tolerance in Sri Lanka. This goes the same for other religions as well. The rhetoric of the SLTJ is asymmetric to the above mentioned teachings of Allah. I do not think that Sri Lanka should follow in the footsteps of countries with Islamic extremism. There are many educated Muslims who condemn these protests. Political leaders must approach this incident carefully. It is not wise to treat them with contempt for exercising a constitutional right to protest while also taking into consideration that a minimum age for marriage is established even if that means it is against islamic law

Wednesday, November 9, 2016



The latest figures on the number of refugees in the world according to UNHRC sources stands at 21.3 million. Out of that number 16.1 million is within the UNHRC mandate. There are 65.3 million people worldwide who are forcibly displaced. 54% of the refugees have come from Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria and the countries that host a majority of the refugees in the world is in the Middle East and North African regions. Ironically Europe only hosts 6% of the refugees. This is currently the chaotic state of affairs in the global system.

"Women and girls are among the most vulnerable groups of refugees because when they flee persecution in their countries through dangerous routes they are more susceptible to sexual abuses" 

Who is a refugee?

Article 1 of the 1951 convention on the Refugee provides an elaborate definition of who a refugee is. It is someone who flees one’s own country for fear of being persecuted. However, it is ultimately up to the hosting state to determine the status of the refugee, asylum seeker or economic migrant. It is important to understand that each of these groups is distinctive but providing a working definition for each has been difficult and confusing. This is because affirming the status of a refugee is politically rigged.

In November 2002, all claims for asylum to the UK from countries which were at the time acceding to the EU were rejected but from May 2004 onwards nationals from those same countries could enter the UK as citizens of the EU. According to this example a national from one of those countries who sent in an application before May was an Asylum seeker and a national from the same country who applied after the deadline in May was an EU citizen. This example shows the difficulty as mentioned above in providing a proper definition of a refugee.

The most important right that refugees have under the 1951 convention is the principle of nonrefoulement. It asserts that a refugee may not be returned to their country where they are faced with a threat to life. This has also become part of customary international law. They are also entitled to employment rights, housing rights, education and religious rights among various others. The refugee too has a set of obligations towards the host state as per Article 2 of the convention whereby the refugee must abide by the laws and regulations of the host state.

Why has this become a ‘problem’?

The figures mentioned at the debut of the article suggests that a majority of the refugees are hosted in the developing countries and there is a disproportionate burden on them. There is a lack of support from developed rich countries to accommodate refugees. The result is that developing countries continue to be stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty due to the influx of refugees into already plummeted populations. 

The question that must be raised is why these rich countries are reluctant to accommodate refugees. Tuitt provides an analysis that there are internal and external costs incurred by states with regards to administration of the refugee. Significant amounts of money must be allocated to regulate refugees and they also alter the cultural and political dimensions in the states they seek refugee status. Due to these issues states would much rather ‘problematize’ the refugee than provide them with solutions and accommodation.

Tuitt observes that international law of refugee status is a product of European political culture which is resistant to expansive ideologies concerning protection of refugees. This makes me backtrack into the very definition of the refugee in the 1951 convention which sets temporal and geographical limits to who is a refugee which was later removed by the 1967 protocol. Refugees cannot be limited to the events that occurred before January 1st 1951 because since then terrorism, elective dictatorships, and military juntas have caused people to flee their countries. The major reasons Syrians flee their homeland include fear of political persecution of President Assad’s dictatorship, internal instability within Syria due to the rise of the ISIS.

How is the ‘problem’ aggravated?

The status of the refugee, asylum seeker, economic migrant and immigrants in general has greatly altered due to anti-globalization sentiment that is spread around the world. ‘Brexit’ and the US presidential elections are an example. Waves of nationalism and spread of unreasonable fear towards immigrants through islamophobia and hateful rhetoric has taken over the most powerful countries in the world. UK has decided to stand against regional integration, France is increasingly hostile towards Muslims and Donald Trump has added to this growing fear.

Donald Trump has a terrifying foreign policy that includes closing borders to immigrants and asylum seekers from countries that sponsor terrorism. He also says that USA will remove troops from the NATO if the other allies do not contribute equally. Trump attempts to shift the focus of NATO from Russian deterrence towards combatting the ISIS and dealing with migration issues. Combatting the ISIS with help from Russia sounds a plausible plan but Russia is not a US ally and history has taught many lessons on how appeasing an enemy can have detrimental effects like how the British appeased Nazi Germany. Russian activity in the countries of the former Yugoslavia has to be monitored to prevent Russian aggression.

During the bush administration after 9/11 attacks, there was growing fear of immigrants and every Muslim was feared to be a terrorist. That environment of fear and panic had detrimental effects on human rights discourses around the world. There were people arrested on suspicion and was denied the right to a fair trial among other civil and political rights that were violated. Trump and Nigel Farrage are not on the right track towards handling issues of global migration through their anti-globalization sentiment and fear campaigns. These dangerous tendencies will only ‘problematize’ the refugee and other types of migrants further. Lessons must be learned from Political leaders such as Angela Merkel who has respect for article 51 of the refugee convention. If developed rich countries do not respond towards migration issues in a positive approach, the numbers mentioned above of stateless persons and refugees shall increase.





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I share my writing on an online platform because knowledge has to be shared. Margaret Fuller said : "If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it"

Natasha Fernando

Natasha Fernando

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Natasha Fernando is an undergraduate double majoring in Law and International Studies. This is her blog sharing her academic writing, essays, poetry and creative passages. She is also a volunteer blogger for the UNDP UNLOCKED Blogging platform.

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