Sri Lanka in the Dock
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
Two days ago the streets of the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo, played host to a thundering parade of military hardware, as the Government of President Mahindra Rajapaksa celebrated the first anniversary of the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels. The conflict, which has estimated to have killed more than 80,000 people ended last year, when Government forces finally crushed the rebels who had fought for a separate state for ethnic minority Tamils after decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.
With thousands of troops, helicopters and navy gunship patrolling the harbour, the President dismissed claims of war crimes by his Government. “Not a single bullet was fired at civilians from your weapons” he told cheering crowds. Yet the United Nations appears not to agree with Mr President. It says 7,000 civilians died in the last five months of the conflict, with Government troops accused of shelling a small strip of lands where thousands of people were faced by the rebels on one side and the army on the other.
One man who might have expected to have been at the parade was the General who led his forces to victory over the Tamil Tigers, General Sarath Fonseka. But unfortunately for him he is being held in custody facing court martial for allegedly planning to run for the Presidency himself, while still in uniform. For good measure Fonseka also appears to concur with some of the UN’s findings – having infuriated the President whom he seeks to topple by agreeing that the army did indeed shell civilians in those final days.
And now the United Nations is proposing to set up its own independent Commission of Investigation, which will infuriate the Sri Lanka Government further. Not surprisingly perhaps the UN is not exactly convinced that the President’s own internal inquiry into what went on will be quite as unbiased and truthful as the Government claims.
While there is a huge degree of international relief that the vicious civil war is over – for now at least, there does appear to be an international consensus that the deeds of the Sri Lanka Government cannot be over looked. There is a feeling abroad that if the Sri Lankans do not face up to what was done in the name of the State, and if it does not seek to redress the very real grievances of the Tamil minority, the while spiral of conflict will begin all over again.
Which all goes to make the position being taken by the European Union, the biggest donor and assister of Sri Lanka all the more bizarre. A decision whether or not to withdraw special trade dispensations for Sri Lanka was expected to take place in August, with a good deal of pressure from human rights groups, trades unionists and NGOs for the European Union to suspend what is known as GSP+ special status for Sri Lanka. But suddenly the European Union Commission seems to have gone all cold, and the timetable is slipping. In truth key EU Commission officials don’t seem to want to rock the boat, and seem content to accept that limited reforms offered by the Sri Lanka Government are the harbinger for something much bigger.
Judging by President Mahindra Rajapaska’s speech to his troops, there is not only an unwillingness to confront the real truth, but anyone who dares try and speak it potentially faces a term of imprisonment.
Those who might accuse the United Nations of being toothless and frequently failing to act in other parts of the World might like to look at the Sri Lanka experience, and ask themselves whether this time it is Europe that is planning to turn a blind eye to humanitarian abuses on the island whose name is a literal translation of ‘Island of Splendour’.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
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