Geneva, India & fisher poaching
Posted on March 16th, 2017

Editorial Courtesy  Ceylon Today

The ‘Hindu’, on the seeming controversial death of an Indian fisherman by shooting on 6 March, in an article published on its issue of Friday under the heading ‘TN fishermen hit SL Navy water scooter, claim officials,’ said, ‘Officers investigating the gunning down of a Tamil Nadu fisherman allegedly by Sri Lankan Navy have claimed that the incident could have been triggered by the Rameswaram fishermen allegedly ramming against the Island Nation Navy’s water scooter or inflatable boat…The circumstances under which the boat dashed the water scooter are unclear. It could have possibly been an accident while trying to sail back. But officials said that since the Sir Lankan Navy or the fishermen concerned were not forthcoming on the exact developments, it has become difficult to come to any conclusion at this stage.

While the Indian fishermen claimed that they were fishing near the ‘Sethukalvai’ and fortified their claim with ‘GPS reading of 11/28′, investigating officials have countered it and claimed that the fishermen should have been at least six to seven nautical miles inside the Sri Lankan waters, towards Talaimannar when the Navy confronted them.

The Indian fishermen did not immediately hand over the GPS set to the Marine police of the Coastal Security Group (CSG). They handed over the set only after the police exerted pressure through the Fisheries Department, the sources said….It could not be ascertained whether the GPS was the one carried by the victims on Monday night, (Superintendent of Police (CSG)) R. Sakthivel said.

The set has been sent to Forensic Science Department in Chennai for analysis. …experts were exploring whether the erased data could be retrieved, he said…’

The officials referred to in ‘The Hindu’ are Indian officials.

Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) has denied any shooting, (Monday’s Ceylon Today).

Quoting SLN Commander Vice Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne, Ceylon Today reported, ‘…We asked the Indian Coast Guard to give us information tracked by the GSP devices that night. However, they are yet to send us the information. Once we receive it, we can conduct the investigations in a more accurate manner…

No Naval personnel are authorized to shoot poaching fishermen without a clearance from the Navy Commander. That night no one contacted me for such clearance…Wijegunaratne assured that investigations into the shooting will continue with the collaboration of Indian authorities…’

‘The Hindu’ article in respect of this controversy highlights six points in favour of Sri Lanka. Those are: 1.The Indian fishermen pussyfooting to give evidence.

2. Alleged attack on an SLN water scooter by these fishermen, 3. Indian fishermen were allegedly six to seven miles inside Sri Lankan territorial waters,

4. Indian fishermen handed over their GPS involuntarily, 5. Data on the GPS had allegedly been erased and

6. Doubts as to whether the GPS was carried by the victims (apart from a death, ‘The Hindu’ had also reported that there were five others in that boat).

To take those six points individually, if the Indian fishermen are innocent, why are they reluctant to come forward to give evidence? If the Indian fisher boat in question had actually ‘rammed’ the SLN boat, the SLN should be given credit for showing admirable restraint by not shooting at it. One may but conjecture, what could have had happened to a Sri Lankan fisher vessel, trespassing on Indian waters, if such a boat, in response to a challenge by an Indian Coastguard vessel, without surrendering, had allegedly tried to ram it?

The third point is that the Indian vessel was allegedly poaching deep inside Sri Lanka’s territorial waters. That, in itself is an offence and deserves punishment. Fourthly, the Indian fishermen had handed over their GPS to the Indian authorities, non-voluntarily. If, a person/persons is/are innocent of not contravening the law, why should such a person/persons be reluctant to hand over evidence that would exonerate them of any guilt? Fifthly, GPS data had allegedly been erased. That is also a pointer to the fact that those Indian fishermen were not squeaky clean and sixthly, doubts as to the GPS equipment in question was the one that had actually been in the possession of that ill-fated Indian fisher vessel in question?

This incident comes at a crucial point in the island’s history. It has taken place in the context that currently the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva is debating on Colombo’s ‘fate’, vis-à-vis alleged war crimes in its war against Tamil/LTTE terrorism.

A politically inflammatory point in the local context in Geneva is allowing for foreign jurists to decide on the island’s fate to which Colombo has agreed to, either voluntarily or by compulsion, at Geneva, 18 months ago.

Eighteen months was also the timeframe given by the UNHRC for Colombo to conform to this arrangement. Sri Lanka has asked for a further two years. Her former colonial master the UK which had its own cod wars with tiny Iceland, at least up to three decades ago, but which has since recanted, giving Iceland large areas of the North Sea as its exclusive fishing zone, has pleaded that Colombo be given more time. India and UK are voting members at the UNHRC this time. What will India’s stance be at Geneva in the context of this shooting is the question?

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