Webinar: Fishing Dispute Parallel to the 49th Session of UNHRC in Geneva

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Participants at a recent webinar held on “Fishing Dispute between India and Sri Lanka. The webinar was organized by the ‘Universal Human Rights Council’, ‘International Human Rights Movement and KRC Khiam’ on March 14, 2022. The discussion took place on the sidelines of ‘49th UNHRC Session in Geneva’ Switzerland.

The webinar was also linked with the discussions which are taking place as ‘Official Human Rights Council Events’, in parallel to the ongoing UNHRC Session in Geneva. The webinar was moderated by Damien Reggio, Human Rights Defender and Development Analyst.

 The other participants were Mohamed Shiraz Yoonus, SL Political Activist / Life Member UN Association of Sri Lanka, Mr. Asela Pushpa Kumara Wickramasinghe, Ex Political Advisor of Maldivian Democratic Party / Managing Director Asia Wickersinghe Foundation, Dr. Ahmed Lebbe Mohamed Ayoob Khan, Doctor of Philosophy / Senior Lecturer / Member of Editorial Advisory Board in South Eastern University of Sri Lanka / Awarded Senate Honours Award for High Impact Publication, Dr. Yousuf Marikkar, Masters in Human Rights, PhD from University of Colombo, Former Guest Lecturer University of Colombo & Ruhunu University, Sri Lanka. Moderator initiated the discussion with the elaborating the historical perspective of the Sri Lankan fishermen issue and recurring incidents of crossing maritime border by the Indian fishermen to fish in Sri Lankan waters. He also mentioned the arrest of few Indian fishermen along with boats by Sri Lankan Navy to stop illegal fishing

Mr. Shiraz Yoonus highlighted the agreement of 1974-76 and Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in 1987 despite all the crisis at different levels. He also noted that India is oppressing its own people in Manipur, Kashmir and Punjab. He emphasized that before involving in the matters of smaller regional countries, India should solve its own problems first. He also underlined the Indian involvement in Sri Lankan politics and internal matters. He highlighted the statement of Indian Politician Subramanian Swami (BJP) regarding Adam Bridge of Sri Lanka should be considered as cultural heritage of India. He further said that in future someone can claim that Port City, Eastern Terminal and Palk Strait belong to them. Shiraz also underscored the Indian hegemonic designs to control the SAARC region except Pakistan, because Pakistan is a nuclear power. Talking about the fishermen issue, he said that many innocent fisherman get killed due to tug of war between Sri Lankan and Indian Government. He said that Indian fishermen in big trawlers grab all the resources from Sri Lankan waters, poor Sri Lankan fishermen in small boats cannot compete them. About 22000 fishermen having 11600 boats belong to Northern Province. Fishing industry is one of the major economic resource for Sri Lanka, but Sri Lankan fishermen are the most oppressed people of the world. He requested to UN to take notice of the plight of fisherman community of Sri Lanka facing crisis on day to day basis. Dr. Sheraz also highlighted that India despite having a large Navy cannot stop the drug smuggling in the region. He claims that Indian Navy is a drug smuggling hub and fishing trawlers are being used by Indian Navy for drug smuggling. He insisted that SAARC should be active to counter Indian oppression in the region. Mr. Shiraz said that due to the geographical position there is involvement from regional and international powers in Sri Lanka.  He urged to International community to take attention of this issue. Mr. Asela underlined that Sri Lanka’s Northern Provincial Economy has been rising from the ashes of the civil war since 2009, and as per the latest data available, recorded the highest provincial economic growth rate annually amongst the nine provinces in the country. However, the growth of the fishing sub-sector has been stifled due to poaching by fisherpersons from India, particularly from the state of Tamil Nadu off the northern coast of Sri Lanka, largely off the districts of Jaffna and Mannar. The fishermen of Sri Lanka and India have been fishing in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay, Palk Strait and elsewhere harmoniously from time immemorial using traditional equipment and methods of fishing. However, due to technological advancements the marine resources on the Indian side of the Palk Bay and elsewhere have been aggressively harvested and overexploited. The fisherpersons of northern Sri Lanka have not been able to avail of such technological advancements. Therefore, due to the relatively greater stock of marine resources on the Sri Lankan side of the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Bay and Palk Strait, Indian fishermen have been poaching in Sri Lankan waters and are involved in illegal and unfair practices such as ‘bottom trawling’ and ‘pair trawling’.  Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a universally banned activity, but India continuing the said illegal activity, thus making the life of Sri Lankan fishermen miserable. The plausible cause of non-linear growth in fish catch in the Jaffna, Kilinochchi, and Mannar districts has been increased due to poaching by Indian trawlers.

Moreover, losses incurred due to Indian poaching, the fishing by bottom trawling kills future streams of income due to mass killings of under-grown fish as trawlers shovel the bottom of the seabed indiscriminately. The annual direct and indirect losses incurred due to poaching by Indian trawlers are more than USD 60 million and USD 20 million, respectively. So, we demand Indian Central Government to break their long silence on bottom trawling and meddling, hurting the poor fisher community mainly in Sri Lanka’s North thus leading to economic murder of Sri Lankan fisherpersons.

India needs to be magnanimous over Sri Lanka’s plea in the region. Dr. Ahmed Ayoob Khan pointed out that from centuries Sri Lankan fishermen were fishing in each other areas without conflict. This conflict started with the agreement on maritime boundary between 1974-76. Knowing the maritime border, why Indian fishermen cross border despite knowing the boundary line of their country. Indian Fishermen use large trawlers which hunt the non-targeted organism along with the young fish effecting the breeding cycle of fish; although this activity is banned for Sri Lanka fishermen but Indian fishermen do that recurrently. The Indian fisherman not only violate the maritime boundary but also use internationally banned fishing procedures. On the other hand, Sri Lankan fishermen are not allowed to fish on Indian side. Indian violence led to loss of Sri Lankan fishermen. Lot of Indian fishermen arrested due to illegal fishing in Sri Lanka waters. Sri Lankan fishermen cannot compete with Indian fishermen using advance technology for fishing. About 6500 fishing trawlers were spotted in Sri Lankan waters, which resulted in loss to Sri Lanka. India earned about 60 million USD through illegal fishing. He emphasized that illegal, unreported and irregular fishing should be stopped. The maritime boundary between the two countries is well defined, so both countries can solve the problem. Otherwise, international support is needed to solve the issue. Dr. Yousuf Marikkar also pointed out the Indian illegal poaching and bottom trawling by Indian fishermen violating maritime boundary with Sri Lanka. He noted that prior 1993 fishing was very peaceful but after civil war Indian fishermen enjoyed the fishing in Sri Lanka waters upto Mannar and Jaffna. The difference between the both countries is about 18 miles. South Indian fishermen continue fishing bottom trawling. He also mentioned illegal fishing which were caught by Indian fishermen with 50,000 MT fish from Jaffna, 12000 MT from Mannar and 2000 MT from Jaffna after war. He also highlighted the amount India earned through illegal fishing of Rs.700 crores. He also mentioned the loss of USD 60 million to Sri Lankan economy. He also suggested that Southern India and Northern Sri Lanka should solve the issue through dialogue to avoid any recurrences like killing of fisherpersons.

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