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DateLine Wednesday, 27 June 2007

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Double standards on human rights

Air strikes on an Al-Qaeda compound in Iraq by the U.S. led coalition forces had killed at least seven children on June 18, 2007 according to CNN reports.

The coalition forces made a statement saying the children were inside the compound and they had no clue about the children living inside the compound before they carried out the strike. Apparently, the al-Qaeda may have used children as human shields.

Now if the same thing happened due to a mistake by Sri Lankan Forces, there would be a lot of hue and cry calling for UN interference by feral forces to condemn our Government. The human rights groups have double standards for human rights.

I could not find any human rights watch dog barking against this violation on international media yet.

Now that the West has violated human rights, even by mistake, they should impose their own rules - travel restrictions on themselves!

In recent news, there was a report that a Sri Lankan woman was tortured, dragged, raped and was kicked by her employer family in Bahrain in the Middle East.

She had sought a shelter in an association for abused women. But it was not clear if an investigation was launched by the authorities in Bahrain. What a shame! Our women's rights defenders are silent on this. They shout only for political gain and they do not shout at oil or weapon-rich nations.

In my opinion, the human rights watchdogs are functioning mainly to protect the Western interests around the globe and in some sense these groups are created and controlled by the Western Governments only to protect their narrow interests.

How come the democratic nations like Sri Lanka are insisted to bow down to terrorism by way of cutting aid under the pretext of inflated human rights records demanding that we negotiate with the terrorists while only the West who are weapons-rich can claim to reserve the right to fight terrorism? Poor nations also have the God given right to protect its people from terrorists.

Every citizen in Sri-Lanka should feel responsible for saving our country from the terrorists, and together we will be able to defeat terrorism and at the same time establish a United Sri Lanka.

And what a shame on the Opposition Leader who seems to be against on everything that Government is doing. It seems like he has a personal grudge on President's brothers.

But he must love our land enough to forget the personal grudges and work with the President to save the nation from the terrorists. No peace loving person should support terrorism for any reason.



Maid abuse

It's a pity Sri Lanka does not seem to have the courage nor the conviction of Malaysia who reportedly has suspended the licenses of 20 maid agencies and blacklisted 85 employers after complaints. (Reference DN June 23). The systematic abuse of Sri Lankan maids abroad warrants similar action and nothing short of a blitz would ensure good employers (of which there are many) are rewarded and the nasty ones vilified.

Shaik Anwar Ahamath


Plight of differently abled passengers in air travel

I wish to respond to Dr. Bandula Kothalawala's letter which appeared in the Daily News of June 11, regarding my artlcle of May 22. First, I must thank Dr. Kothalawala. It is always nice to receive feedback on one's writings. Dr. Kothalawala makes some very good points which I cannot dispute. However, a few things about his letter causes me some concern.

How differently abled is a person who cannot walk to an aircraft? What special abilty does he have over a person who can walk normally? Even the United Nations does not use such a term. Of course, understandably, people use certain terms which are 'politically correct' such as calling a short person 'vertically challenged' but let us call a spade a spade. It is only then can we help the disabled.

Admittedly, I do not really know how difficult it is for a wheelchaired passenger to use a toilet in the aircraft, not being a physically disabled person myself. However, I find it difficult to accept Dr. Kothalawala's contention that my article might convey the impression that persons with disabilities always get a fair deal from the airlines and airport authorities.

At no point in my article do I say that, and in fact, I believe that my article says the contrary, and that it conveys the impression that although there are international regulations, not always is there adherence.

My article was meant to inform the reader as to what the internationally accepted definitions are, and what international regulatory bodies such as ICAO and IATA have recognized as standards and recommended practices.

It will be noted that I have included a paragraph on ICAO's and IATA's findings through surveys that there is legislation in some States that give consideration to the elderly and the disabled.

This is just a plain fact. Also, the fact that some aircraft manufacturers have taken proactive measures to accommodate the elderly and the disabled passenger is an incontrovertible fact which no individual can deny.

It will also be noted that the main substance of my article comprises a series of recommendations, which means that all is NOT right with the world in this area.

Recommendations are made to rectify existing lapses and/or to improve things and that was the main purport of my article.

As an international civil servant in the United Nations System for the past 18 years (four of which were dedicated to facilitation of air transport) I have actively worked and contributed towards obtaining consensus of the 190 member States of ICAO to put in place Standards and Recommended Practices in Annex 9 to the Chicago Convention which call upon States to ensure that their airlines provide adequately for the comfort of the elderly and disabled passenger.

As I say in the concluding sentence of my article: "International air transport involves international commitment on the part of all concerned who provide it, without exception". This is the theme of my article.

I fully empathise with Dr. Kothalawala and I am happy to see his comments printed, so that the public will know of his experiences, and form their own views on the subject. However, I believe it would be wrong to convey the message that, as a blanket rule, disabled people do not EVER get a fair deal from airlines. This is what Dr. Kothalawala says in the last sentence of his first paragraph.

In my 26 years in the aviation industry (eight of which were in what was then AirLanka) I too have travelled extensively, to all continents involved in air transport. I have seen instances of kindness and instances of callousness both on the part of airlines and on the part of customs and airport authorities.

This does not impel me to consider anything a general rule. There have been instances where, fifteen years ago I was travelling with my two children (who were toddlers then) and my family were deprived of consideration for my young children by some airlines.

That still does not make me tar all airlines with the same brush. Also, I believe my article, which was a general expose on the issue, should not be used to air a personal gripe.



Security at Colombo International Airport

Colombo Airport is reopened for 24 hour operation once again. I wrote about security lapses at the airport on a previous occasion when I walked out after check in, came back to Colombo, re-entered Airport with no valid ticket and boarded a plane.

The security at the entrance still read the ticket in bad light. Name on ticket and name on passport was not certified. There should be illumination at the entrance. Loading bags to the bag-scanner is unorganised.

Although there are many security officers present, none instruct the passengers to keep a gap between bags nor do the security adjust the space between bags. The security officers monitoring scanners must be super humans, better than any in the world to scan bags next to each other or on top of each other.

Seasoned professional travellers like us are used to taking all metal objects out of pockets including belt and jacket if wearing one and place them in appropriate container/s and walk through scanner.

There are no utensils at the scanner to place metal objects, belt, jacket etc. Just walk through scanner. Most of the time scanner beeps. Then a lone male security officer or a lady security officer will do a minimal body search and allow the passenger to proceed.

Body search is no longer in operation in airports. If the scanner beeps, one is made to walk through scanner till it stops beeping or checked with a hand held scanner and ordered to pull everything out till no beep is heard.

What is more frightening is the check before boarding. People in this country are always in a rush. The man behind will push the person in front to place his/her hand carry on conveyor. When people walk through body scanner 99 per cent of the time it beeps.

In most airports, shoes have to be removed and sent through a scanner. Laptops, cameras have to undergo a test for explosive dust. Body search is once again performed in a very soft manner by the Security.

This type of search will not detect anything. People must be made to walk through the scanner till it stops beeping or rechecked by a hand held scanner as done in India with the passenger standing on a platform.

It is high time the security of the airport is trained in proper Airport Security in prevention of hijacking and terrorism in airports. Sri Lanka is famous for closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. May be AASL is waiting to do so.



Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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