Rabat – Moroccan and Sahrawi flags were both seen in Cairo this past week at an African Union specialized committee meeting. The AU had invited officials from both Morocco and the Polisario Front to the summit, which took place from April 14-18. Polisario was represented by its secretary-general of transport, Salama Mohamed Youssef, and Morocco’s secretary of state for transport, Najib Boulif, led the Rabat delegation.While Polisario’s invitation to the meeting was not unexpected, since the self-proclaimed SADR is an AU member state, it does conjure up memories of past diplomatic tensions raised when delegations from both Morocco and the self-proclaimed SADR arrived at international summits. The AU’s specialized technical committees are the primary bodies in charge of its program and project implementation and work in areas that range from women’s empowerment to security and defense. They meet every two years.The specialized technical committee that met this week in Cairo was the committee on transport, infrastructure, energy, and tourism. It was billed as the “most prominent meeting of ministers responsible for transport,” bringing together the top transport officials of AU member states and hundreds of other professionals. Attendance from many African nations was key to push the AU’s goals for transportation forward, said Cheikh Bedda, African Union commission director of infrastructure and energy. “Our collective effort is critical,” he emphasized in his opening remarks at the meeting.For the AU, Polisario was included in that collective action.Throughout the week, Youssef joined other top officials from dozens of African nations to construct a vision for transportation and energy in Africa. The committee placed a particular emphasis on infrastructure development. The continent was at an important crossroads, Bedda said.“Whether it’s a new airport in Dakar in the West or a 300 MW wind farm in the East, major road and rail links in north, central and southern Africa, or energy generation and interconnection projects in various parts of the continent, infrastructure development in Africa is leaving a mark and making a difference in the lives of ordinary people,” he said.This week was not the first time Polisario has provoked questions about Egypt’s stance on the Western Sahara conflict. In October 2018, a representative from Polisario attended an event at the Egyptian embassy in Ethiopia, although Egyptian Ambassador to Morocco Ashraf Ibrahim said that the individual sneaked into the event and was not invited.Egypt officially supports Morocco’s stance on Western Sahara. The African Union has proclaimed its support for the UN’s role in the conflict, most recently when 37 AU countries attended a Moroccan conference in Marrakech in March on the issue.
“The many victims of Sri Lanka’s three-decade long civil war have seen their diminishing hopes for justice further delayed by presidential politics,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This tragedy highlights the failure of the Sirisena government to take swift, meaningful steps toward accountability.” In the 674-page World Report 2019, its 29th edition, Human Rights Watch reviewed human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth says that the populists spreading hatred and intolerance in many countries are spawning a resistance. New alliances of rights-respecting governments, often prompted and joined by civic groups and the public, are raising the cost of autocratic excess. Their successes illustrate the possibility of defending human rights – indeed, the responsibility to do so – even in darker times. Long-promised security sector reforms are also stalled. Although the government proposed a new counterterrorism law to repeal the draconian and long-abused Prevention of Terrorism Act, the bill did not meet international human rights standards.One important advance for justice was the indictment, in November, of the chief of defense staff, Adm. Ravindra Wijegunaratne, for protecting a navy officer accused of abducting and killing 11 ethnic Tamil civilians during the civil war.“Sri Lanka’s past pledges to provide justice to conflict victims and to initiate reforms have fallen by the wayside amid political turmoil,” Ganguly said. “Sri Lanka’s friends need to press the government to meet its commitments to people who have suffered for so long.” (Colombo Gazette) Sri Lanka’s political upheaval undermined stalled processes aimed at providing truth and justice for abuses from the country’s civil war, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2019.The crisis subsided after the Supreme Court ruled on December 13 that the president’s dissolving of parliament was unconstitutional, and Mahinda Rajapaksa stepped down as proclaimed prime minister. The administration of Rajapaksa was implicated in egregious violations during the final months of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war in 2009, and in suppression of freedoms of the media, expression, and association. After Maithripala Sirisena won the election in 2015, the government improved the climate for civil society, reversed some repressive measures, and supported a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council that promoted four transitional justice mechanisms for truth and accountability.Of these four, only the Office of Missing Persons has been formed, but it has yet to become fully functional. Families in the north and east have held protests and vigils to demand the return of their land from military occupation and to seek the truth about disappeared family members. The political turmoil over the country’s leadership and the possible return of a Rajapaksa administration raised fears not only of further delays in justice, but of retribution against those pressing for government action. The Supreme Court ruling and Rajapaksa’s concession ended the turmoil.