Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: ethics

The EU as Moral Tutor

On May 9 there was a court hearing concerning a domestic-violence case in the eastern region of Gegharkunik, one of Armenia’s most socially conservative areas. Activist Robert Aharonian condemned two women’s rights advocates operating under the auspices of Open Society Foundation, part of the Soros network, for promoting “European values”. A man in Armenia “has a right to slap his wife,” he claimed. He opposes all those diaspora Armenians who use NGO grants to operate in Armenia, and “advocate European perversion.” Allowing wives to report their husbands to the police, he asserted, ultimately breaks families apart. Armenia wants to join the EU so has to pay lip service to “European values”.

The EU presents itself as a moral model to the world. The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.

One wonders how this will play given the results of the recent elections to the European Parliament (EP), where a number of far right parties scored big successes on low turnouts. Some wag answered the question:”What are European values?” thus. “Appeasement, bureaucracy, group-think, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, and not having babies.”

The values that the EU claims for itself are set out in Article I-2 of the Constitution and are supposed to be common to all member states. These values are characterised by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men. Any European state wishing to become a member of the EU must respect these. Any member state not meeting these criteria can, in theory, be kicked out.

Free Movement

The Constitution guarantees the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital within the Union (the famous “four freedoms”) and strictly prohibits any discrimination on grounds of nationality.

Nationalism raised its ugly head in the EP elections and many who do not believe in the “free movement of persons” won seats. Last week, I wrote about the problems many states will have because of declining fertility rates. If Europeans are not having enough babies, they will have to import workers to do the dirty jobs and to pay into their pension fund. Even when they admit this, right-wingers, like the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, do not like it: “Demography is the key factor. If you are not able to maintain yourself biologically, how do you expect to maintain yourself economically, politically, and militarily? It’s impossible. The answer of letting people from other countries come in…that would be an economic solution, but it’s not a solution of your real sickness, that you are not able to maintain your own civilization.”

If one looks at the treatment of Roma in Belfast as well as Bucharest, one can see that even the free movement of EU citizens within the EU is not universally welcomed. Many people in Western Europe feel little kinship with Bulgaria and Romania, which is why most west European governments limited the right to work of Bulgarians and Romanians.

One Spaniard was not too happy about the freedom of Britons to move around Europe: “I used to live on a beautiful section of coast. Now I live next to a nasty urbanization, full of English people who buy from themselves, drink English beer in English bars, visit English doctors and eat an abomination called Pukka Pies. Their refusing to learn even the most basic of Spanish is famous here, and even if I wanted to go to ‘The Queen Vic’, I won’t because they only have menus in English and German.”

Extraordinary Rendition

Many EU states helped with the movement of people when GW Bush wanted to torture them. A report published in 2013 by the Open Society entitled Globalizing Torture: CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition revealed that, of pre-2004 EU states, only three – France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands –did not cooperate with the rendition programme, in which suspects were picked off the streets and secretly flown from country to country to be tortured. Ireland, Finland and Denmark allowed US agents to transfer terror suspects secretly at their airports. Sweden arranged for suspects to be flown directly to Mubarak’s soundproof cells in Egypt. The UK government helped with every aspect of rendition, from arresting suspects to submitting questions for interrogation.

At the time the report was written, legal challenges to secret detention and extraordinary rendition operations were pending against Italy, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania before the European Court of Human Rights.


The Open Society report concludes: “by enlisting the participation of dozens of foreign governments in these violations, the United States further undermined longstanding human rights protections enshrined in international law—including, in particular, the norm against torture.” How does that fit with European values?



Many Sri Lankans take a masochistic pride in the corruption of their politicians. Sorry chaps, but Sri Lankans are mere minnows compared to the Grand Panjandrums of Europe. The human rights of Europeans are seriously undermined by the endemic graft and thievery within the EU.

Some people blame this on enlargement – things got worse when we let those dodgy eastern Europeans in. Optimists hope that the magic wand of western European values will reduce the corruption of these shady newcomers and one day do the same for the Western Balkans and Turkey, and perhaps even Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus.

Unfortunately, the really big corruption is in the older member states and the culprits are senior statesmen.

Helmut Kohl was German Chancellor for sixteen years. He took two million in illegal donations. When he was exposed, he refused to reveal donors’ names for fear of revealing the favours they had bought. Gerhard Schröder guaranteed a billion-euro loan to Gazprom for the building of a Baltic pipeline. A few weeks after leaving government, he was working for Gazprom at a salary larger than the one he received as Chancellor. Current Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen two presidents of the Republic in succession forced to resign under a cloud of corruption.


Jacques Chirac, president of the French Republic for twelve years, was convicted of embezzling public funds, abuse of office and conflicts of interest. Nicolas Sarkozy allegedly took some $20 million from Gaddafi for the electoral campaign that won him the presidency. Christine Lagarde, who now heads the IMF, is under interrogation for her role in the award of €420 million in “compensation” to a friend of Sarkozy, Bernard Tapie, a well-known crook with a prison record. The socialist minister for the budget, Jérôme Cahuzac, whose brief was to uphold fiscal probity and equity, had €15 million in hidden deposits in Switzerland and Singapore.

In Britain, Blair lied to Parliament about £1 million paid into party coffers by racing car magnate Bernie Ecclestone, currently under indictment in Bavaria for bribes of €33 million. Currently, Blair takes cash from a South Korean oil company run by a convicted felon with interests in Iraq and the feudal dynasty of Kuwait. He also does PR for the Nazarbaev dictatorship in Kazakhstan, whose human rights record would not meet EU standards.

In Ireland, the Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, as well as allowing Shannon Airport to be used by the CIA for its torture programme, channelled into his bank account more than €400,000 in unexplained payments before becoming Taoiseach. He then voted himself the highest salary of any premier in Europe – €310,000, more even than the US president – a year before having to resign. Even after his disgrace, he wangled himself a handsome pension and generous expenses. In 2011, €8.8 million of taxpayers’ money was paid out in pensions for 109 former ministers, Ahern topping the list with €152,331.

On a public appearance at a ploughing contest, Bertie was described as adopting a demeanour of martyred vindication. Some commentators saw the public’s complaisance as evidence of the corrosive effect on the Irish nation of corruption at the top. Daniel Finn in the New Left Review, described Bertie Ahern as “A shrewd political operator with a gift for speaking at length without supplying his audience with any information”. At a corruption tribunal, Ahern’s testimony was described as “rambling and incoherent” and he changed his story so many times some of it had to be lies. Polls showed that less than one-third of voters believed him. Last November, a drunken man attacked Ahern with a crutch inside the Sean O’Casey bar just off O’Connell Street. Ahern declined to talk about the attack, which came three years after number of customers in another Dublin pub verbally abused him.

The European Value of Impunity

Bankers and leading politicians do not usually go to prison. Elites can enrich themselves without fear of retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes the only real value in political life. When it all goes wrong, the public has to pay by bailing out the banks and the state and by enduring austerity measures. Austerity is not thrift, which is generally seen as a morally virtuous. Austerity benefits the already very wealthy, who can profit from cheaper asset prices by picking them up now and selling them later. That is European value.



This article was published in Ceylon Today on May 21 2014, where it was given the title: “Savagery in a Surgery. Hitlerian Experimentation.


Colman's Column3

Names have been withheld to protect the guilty – you know who you are!

May 23, 2014 marks the seventh anniversary of the death of Polly.


I enjoy reading crime novels. The older ones, like Agatha Christie’s, give the satisfaction of solving a puzzle and finding resolution in the end. Even the less cosy modern novels, like Nordic Noir, give the reader a sense of closure. Although the detective may be flawed, the crime is solved, the perpetrator caught and punished. Justice is seen to be done.

Real life is not always like that.

Three Dogs

Three dogs were removed from an animal shelter on May 22 2007 by a professor who said he wanted to give them a home. That was his first lie. He did not give them a home. They were taken to a government veterinary hospital where extensive and savage surgery was performed. Someone at the hospitalreported that the three dogs were “all cut up and mauled and killed”.

Polly had her adrenal glands removed. She died the next morning and was buried at the hospital. The body was exhumed on 28 May 2007 and a post mortem showed no trace of her kidneys. The inference is that the kidneys were removed during surgery. A piece of cotton wool wrapped up in a large piece of gauze was inside her sutured abdominal cavity. It seems that a chemical substance was inside her dissolving her organs as she lived. She died a slow and agonising death. She had been wagging her tail when she was taken for surgery.


Perry had both vertical and horizontal incisions on her abdomen with nearly 30 sutures. Six days after this butchery, pus and blood were still oozing from the incision.


Wussie had her pancreas removed and had a huge incision down her abdomen. Blood tests showed high blood-sugar levels resulting from the absence of the pancreas. Her front legs were so bruised she was given a drip intravenously from a hind leg. She was restless and totally traumatised. Her incision was infected. She had not eaten and could hardly stand up, as she was very weak. Her fur was shaved almost up to the spine from both sides of her body and there were many lacerations and small shaving wounds.

Wussy stitch


This butchery was conducted by the head of a government veterinary hospital. He refused to tell Dean of the Veterinary Faculty on 29 May 2007 the nature of the surgery he had done on the two surviving dogs. This information was crucial to the clinicians of the veterinary faculty of the university who were primarily concerned with treating the sick dogs.


Wussie in the care of more humane humans. Despite their best efforts she died six months later.

The matter was referred to the police and the SLVC (Sri Lanka Veterinary Council). I wrote to the SLVC on 24 September 2007 to inquire about the progress of their investigation. They replied on 19 October, informing me that my letter had been submitted to the inquiring panel.

“I am pleased to inform you that the Council is seriously thinking about formulating a set of regulations which will clarify the Veterinary professional ethics and responsibilities of Registered Veterinarians in this regard. Please be informed that your letter will be tabled at the next council meeting to be held in November 2007. I have the honour of thanking you for your constructive ideas and comments”.

The SLVC stonewalled innumerable queries. It seems that the SLVC did eventually rule that the actions of the two vets was “unethical and inhumane” but refused to say so publicly. They would not say what punishment they meted out.

The University was also evasive. They claimed that an Inquiry would be carried out but have kept quiet about it ever since. The Provincial Governor is a decent man who has done good work in the cause of animal welfare. The Provincial Governor wrote to me on July 1 2007: “I wish to state that an inquiry has been conducted by the University … subsequent to my request and necessary action will be taken against the perpetrators.” The Deputy Vice Chancellor responded to an enquiry from the Hon. Provincial Governor on December 4 2007 by saying that a Committee of Inquiry was “in the process” of finalising a report. No report has yet appeared. This shows great disrespect to the Hon Governor.

International Outcry

There was an international outcry, which shamed the Sri Lankan veterinary profession and shamed the nation itself. Foreign academics who had worked with the professor refused to believe he had done this. An Australian professor wrote to me: “If he is as flagrantly in breach of these laws as claimed, then his detractors in Sri Lanka have a clear legal avenue for punishing him.” The Australian professor eventually realised that he was mistaken in assuming that unethical veterinary behaviour will automatically find remedy in legal systems or with the Sri Lankan authorities. “I didn’t believe it at first, but it does seem to be the case that there are no laws in Sri Lanka about animal welfare.  So maybe the time has come to develop a lobby group to push for that.”

An English academic also started from an assumption of civilised behaviour and reasonable institutional procedures. He said, “an issue as serious as this needs to be dealt with by established protocols in which everyone concerned has an opportunity to put forward their case in a free and fair way.” He continued: “I certainly would not condone any scientist engaging in experimental work on animals and acting on a freelance basis without a licence or institutional monitoring. Any such action in the United Kingdom would be dealt with under criminal law with serious consequences for those involved; moreover, such actions damage the reputation of legitimate scientists and bring discredit to the profession.”

Ethical Protocols

I studied the ethical protocols of over thirty countries and it became obvious that the professor’s actions would not be condoned in any jurisdiction. No-one could act as a freelance in this way, without a licence, without a research plan, without a stated objective, without arrangements for after-care, without monitoring and supervision. In most countries, it is specifically stated that it is not acceptable to use animals from pounds or the streets.

I have just finished reading an Ian Rankin novel. By the end, I know who committed the crime and what the motive was. The villain is captured and locked up. Seven years on, I do not know why these two people behaved with such barbaric savagery to three innocent animals. In a grovelling letter, the professor tried to justify himself to animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi: “First of all I would like to briefly explain the experimentation we planned to perform with these three dogs. I was doing a trial on ‘Therapy for Diabetes Mellitus with medicines of Plant origin and Gene Therapy’. This will bring out great implications and benefits to the Veterinary as well Medical fields.”


She was not impressed and published an article condemning his lies. In a letter to him, she wrote: “You have not done research on these dogs – you have simply killed and killed and killed. Such is the way of the world that you have been repeatedly rewarded for doing what we look down on in slaughterhouses. Please do not believe that you have ‘brought grace’ to Sri Lanka. This is a land of supreme grace and dignity and you have merely shamed her by your actions”.

An Argentinean animal welfare campaigner wanted the culprits castrated. My hope was that the three dogs’ suffering might have some point if steps were taken to ensure that such atrocities could not be repeated. Even if the perpetrators were allowed to go free and prosper, we hoped that such brutality and insensitivity would not be possible in the future.

Animal Welfare Legislation

Sri Lanka’s Constitution casts a duty on citizens to protect nature and conserve its riches. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance enacted by the colonial government in 1907 makes it a criminal offence by any act or omission to cause unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal. It is an offence to kill any animal in an unnecessarily cruel manner. Anyone who ill-treats, starves or mutilates an animal commits an offence.

The main reason why this Ordinance is not effective is that the penalties, which stand at an incredibly low Rs.100 ($0.93) and/or three to six months imprisonment (rarely or never meted out by the courts), have no deterrence value. The authorities have therefore tended to think it not worthwhile to pursue even cases involving extreme or heinous cruelty to animals.

In 2006, the Law Commission prepared a draft Animal Welfare Act (AWA), based on an exhaustive study of relevant legislation elsewhere and the views of the public. It took the Law Commission over six years to finalize the draft Animal Welfare Act, after reviewing many drafts. The project to replace the obsolete Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No. 13 of 1907 was steered by the lawyer, writer and animal welfare activist Senaka Weeraratna. Mr Weeraratna was appointed as the Honorary Legal Consultant to the Law Commission on Animal Welfare legislation and many eminent lawyers worked on the drafts before the final version was approved in May 2006.

An Animal Welfare Bill based on that Law Commission draft was gazetted as a Private Member’s Bill tabled by Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thero, MP, in October 2010. This Bill could enable Sri Lanka to provide a model for other Asian countries to incorporate in their legislation modern standards in the way humans co-exist with other sentient beings.

An Animal Welfare Bill also based on the Law Commission draft has been finalised by the authorities and will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers on 29th May.

Let us pray!







Ethical Dilemmas in the Gift Relationship

This article appeared in the Sri Lankan newspaper The Nation on November 6 but it has disappeared from their website.

Sophocles: “An enemy’s gift is ruinous and no gift”.

At its annual Berlin Humanitarian Congress, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) discussed  some of the ethical dilemmas it has faced over the past 40 years. The report, published this month,  is entitled  Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience.

Dutch journalist Linda Polman argued in her book War Games that humanitarianism has become a massive industry that, along with the global media, forms an unholy alliance with warmongers. She cites a damning catalogue of examples in which humanitarian aid has helped prolong wars, or rewarded the perpetrators of ethnic cleansing and genocide rather than the victims. Polman believes aid enabled the interhamwe, Rwandan  Hutu extremists, from the security of the UNHCR camps in Goma,  to continue their attempt to exterminate  Tutsis.

A number of people from the NGO world rushed to attack Polman but they failed to address substantively her central thesis. The May 2010 issue of Opinion, the journal of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute, carried a long article by Matthew Foley intended to be a rebuttal of Polman’s book. Foley  complains:We tell donors that they’re not giving enough, while simultaneously telling ourselves that giving too much creates aid dependency… A lack of contextual knowledge, plus cultural insensitivity, often lead to inappropriate, unwanted or unsustainable projects. Displaced people are still herded into massive camps because delivering aid is easier and cheaper when they are in one place, despite evidence that camps are often incubators of disease and crime, and often develop into more-or-less permanent communities. At higher policy levels, we worry that humanitarian aid may become a substitute for the state, freeing governments of their responsibility to their own people.”

Fabrice Weissman, one of the co-authors of the MSF book was quoted as saying:

“In Sri Lanka in 2009, the government rounded up some 270,000 people it suspected of supporting Tamil rebels and then gave aid groups the job of providing the basic services. We did not want to be supporting a vast prison for an innocent civilian population which the state was unjustly labelling criminals, but we were also concerned about what would happen to the civilians if we didn’t assist them.”

“The Sri Lankan Ministry of Health have mobilized significant resources from all over the country to provide health care in the camps; deploying doctors and nurses in 24 health structures, and therefore considers MSF medical assistance in the camps unnecessary. Some primary health care facilities have been set up in camp zones and a referral system has been implemented gradually since February. MSF teams are currently working in three hospitals outside the camps… Two of the Ministry of Health hospitals, Vavuniya General Hospital and Pompaimadu Hospital, are supported by MSF with extra human resources and some equipment. .. However, despite significant effort, the needs of a population trapped in conflict for so many years remain substantial and concerning. MSF is ready to scale up its activities to assist the Ministry of Health in their efforts to provide quality health care in the camps and during the resettlement process.”

When Henri Dunant set up the Red Cross, he was keen to stay neutral in any conflict. He wished to ease the suffering of all victims of war, which at that time were mostly soldiers. These days civilians are usually caught up, and even used as human shields, in conflicts. Dunant was opposed by Florence Nightingale who argued that Dunant’s compassionate vision was a charter for prolonging war. Linda Polman agrees with Nightingale that neutrality is as much of a problem as taking sides.

Humanitarianism is a multi-billion-dollar business – at least $18 billion in 2008. NGOs  are huge corporate businesses and they offer a career structure. NGO workers can build up an image of saintliness as well as developing a lucrative CV.

During the Sri Lankan conflict  there were many accusations of NGOs supporting the LTTE rebels beyond a reasonable boundary of humanitarian neutrality. Two employees of Care International were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. It  is interesting to note that Care is based in Atlanta, Georgia but in its mission statement specifically excludes itself from doing any poverty alleviation work in the USA. Is there no poverty in the USA? Athens-Clarke County in Georgia, home of REM, has 28.6% of its population living below the poverty line.

Giving humanitarian assistance directly to armed groups is another topic tackled in the MSF book. “Combatants are also human beings and sometimes they need humanitarian assistance more than civilians,” Weissman said. “When combatants are wounded we no longer consider them combatants.”

Considering the comments about the IDP camps, one wonders whether MSF were neutral when it came to those combatants known as the Tamil Tigers. Is Weissman expressing personal views or has the MSF, since September 2009, altered its stance and added to  the chorus of western lies about Sri Lanka?

I intend to write more later on the topic of aid.

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