12 5 / 2014
Instead of me having to explain why I don’t like rape jokes, how about you explain why you find them funny.
This is my new strategy for dealing with unfunny “jokes” (you know, the ones that make fun of homelessness, poverty, race, ethnicity, gender, gender-nonconformity EVERYTHING).
- Demonstrate you don’t understand how it’s a joke: “I don’t get it.”
- Ask why they’re laughing: “Can you please explain your joke?”
- Watch as they fall all over themselves trying to come up with an explanation that doesn’t expose them for the idiots that they are.
06 5 / 2014
I’m a member of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and I am just one of many. For us, civil war is not something that cropped up in the last decade. This war is part of our histories, and has been for a few generations. We can’t pretend that it’s over, or that “homeland” is a meaningful notion for us.
This is a post I’ve been mulling over for a while: I don’t want to judge a conference before it happens; I don’t want to cast aspersions out of reliance on imperfect information. But a couple of friends (thanks Dilip and Rennie!) pointed out that little has been said about aspects of the WCY that I’m deeply uncomfortable with.
Disclaimer: Links are not source endorsement but an attempt to grasp at factual certainty.
The World Conference on Youth 2014 starts today in Sri Lanka. It will be attended by 1500 people, half of whom will be youths from around the world and of whom 350 will come from “marginalised backgrounds” or “under-represented groups”.
The Sri Lankan government is sponsoring the attendance of all young people, including two from New Zealand who have been chosen by the Ministry of Youth Development.
The conference will be held in Colombo, but the opening ceremony will be attended by UN General Assembly President John William Ashe and takes place in Hambantota. Hambantota is on the southeastern coast of Sri Lanka (i.e. as far away from the troubled Northern Province as you can get — out of sight, out of mind!). In terms of ethnicity it is overwhelmingly Sinhalese (> 97%) and Tamils make up 0.4% of the district’s population.
Why this is a problem
In case you missed it: the Sri Lankan government is sponsoring all young attendees. Assuming my math is right, this means they’re funding the attendance of 750 people from all over the world. And anything that is sponsored by the Sri Lankan government should be treated with a high degree of scepticism.
Accepting Sri Lankan government sponsorship ignores what is still happening there today. This is a country that maintains war-time legislation such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain human rights advocates. This government’s military occupies massive tracts of people’s land and instead shuts them in IDP camps for years instead. This same military has been implicated in violence (including sexual) against Tamils. This is a country that has a revolving door policy for foreign journalists (when it isn’t actively restricting their access to “troubled” parts of the country). There is still a massive troop presence in the north today — though the Sri Lankan government have attempted to fudge numbers, around 80,000 military personnel remained in the north at the end of 2013. This government has also turned a blind eye to attacks on Muslims and evangelical Christians. “Reconciliation” is being carried out under the shroud of authoritarianism — and this is the Sri Lanka that WCY organisers seem to have ignored.
Unless Sri Lanka’s historical wrongs and current instability are addressed, WCY will only serve to normalise Sri Lanka’s place in global politics. CHOGM created a minor stir (especially when Stephen Harper and Manmohan Singh chose not to attend) but not lasting impact. Global gladhanding in the name of WCY lets the international public gloss over alleged war crimes, suspension of democracy, and continuing human rights abuses in the Northern Province.
How this can be addressed
I don’t think that international summits and conferences should only be held in countries with perfect rights records or who are leading change in the relevant field. Apart from being near-impossible, this would remove much-needed diversity and representation from international politics. But in an ideal world (or my ideal world), WCY would not be financially beholden to the Sri Lankan government. That can’t be changed now. What can be changed are the objectives and agenda of international attendees — especially our own.
To international delegates: just because you are attending WCY in Sri Lanka and might be able to raise this does not mean you can solve all of Sri Lanka’s problems. It doesn’t even mean you can start to meaningfully address them. Your hotel stays and guided motorcade tours — not to mention your extremely privileged positions as foreigners, as tourists, as guests of the Sri Lankan government — make you part of the problem. “Caring” isn’t enough; “wanting to help” isn’t enough.
But you are at WCY on the Sri Lankan government’s coin and this doesn’t mean you have to be a part of their façade. Remember that you are visiting (and being sponsored by) a country that refuses to heed calls for a probe into alleged war crimes committed not five years ago. Remember that Sri Lanka represents a failing state by most sensible measures. Think critically about what you hear and see while at WCY, especially in the context of what WCY aims to discuss.
One of the key tenets of the post-2015 development agenda is building peace and effective institutions, especially in post-conflict societies (i.e. SRI LANKA! Though the “post” part of that can be disputed). You will probably be addressing these topics during the course of the conference, but they can’t be discussed in a vacuum. What does the post-2015 agenda mean for Sri Lanka; and what does it mean for the Sri Lankan youths who will make up a significant proportion of attendees (and who picked them; who do they represent)? There is a very real failure of post-conflict development in Sri Lanka and you will be given a platform from which to raise this. These questions are not ones that I have answers to, but I’m hoping they are ones that are considered during WCY.