Colombo Telegraph

Exposed: Rajapaksa’s Blood Ivory Robbery: Justice Rohini Lies Internationally

Despite Sri Lanka’s obligations under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, there has been a surreptitious move by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa to misappropriate an entire stock of blood ivory seized by the Sri Lanka Customs, the Colombo Telegraph can exclusively reveal with the documentary evidence today.

On 19th December 2012, on the orders of the President Rajapaksa, the Director General of Customs was directed by the Presidential Secretariat to hand over the entire stock of blood ivory to the Presidential Secretariat to be utilize them for a ‘magnanimous trust work’ launched by the Presidential Secretariat and the DGC Jagath Wijeweera directed the Additional Director General (Enforceemnt) to ‘attend soon’  to the President’s directive.

Any ivory seized shall be destroyed

Despite an international ban adopted in 1989, the global ivory trade seems flourishing. And according to the statistics published by the National Geographic Magazine, last year alone over 25,000 elephants have been killed mainly in Africa to satisfy the human greed for blood ivory, resulting Africa’s elephant population and range dramatically shrinking. And in 2011 poaching hit the highest levels with the greatest impact in the central Africa region.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was adopted in 1973 to regulate worldwide commercial trade in wild animal and plant species and Sri Lanka is a party to it since 1979. This convention requires that any ivory seized shall be destroyed. This is to show the world that there is zero tolerance of illegal trade of blood ivory worldwide.  And the Philippines Government in keeping with its obligation under the CITES have taken measures to destroy over 5 metric tons of blood ivory seized by the Philippine authorities, with an estimated street value of over $10million, in support of the global effort to end the illegal trade of wild life species. The ivory will be crushed using a road roller and burnt in the presence of foreign experts and anti-ivory trade advocates on 21st of June 2013.

In June 2012 Sri Lanka Customs seized 1.5 metric tons of ivory smuggled out from Kenya when the shipment was in transit in the port of Colombo destined to China via Dubai. The said seizure was made following a tip-off from the World Customs Organization’s Regional Liaison Office for Asia and Pacific Region (RILO-A/P) based in Seoul, South Korea.

Rajapaksa regime swindles the CITES

Despite its obligations under CITES, there has been a surreptitious move by the Presidential Secretariat to misappropriate the entire stock of blood ivory seized by the Customs and on 19th December 2012, on the orders of the President Rajapaksa, the Director General of Customs was directed by the Presidential Secretariat to hand over the entire stock of blood ivory to the Presidential Secretariat to be utilize them for a ‘magnanimous trust work’ launched by the Presidential Secretariat and the DGC Jagath Wijeweera directed the Additional Director General (Enforceemnt) to ‘attend soon’  to the President’s directive.

Blood ivory seized by the Customs

Blood ivory seized by the Customs

However, sensing that higher ups in the echelons of power were up to a racket to lay their hands on the entire stock of ivory seized by the Customs, some print media accused the government of violating its international obligations under CITES.  This was followed by a query by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the state agency of Kenya protecting its wildlife. Based on the press reports that the ivory is to be released, the KWS queried from Government of Sri Lanka about the impending act. With these developments the government immediately backtracked from its move pretending that there was no truth in the accusations leveled against the government.

Gross denial of the government wrongdoing at CITES conference

In the meanwhile the CITES Bangkok conference was scheduled from 10th to 12th March 2013. And the topic for discussion was on Wildlife Crime with special reference to Securing Enforcement, Ensuring Justice and Upholding the Rule of Law. At this conference, the government of Sri Lanka was represented by Justice Rohini Marasinghe of the Court of Appeal (now appointed to the Supreme Court).

Justice Rohini Marasinghe

The fate of the haul of ivory seized by Sri Lanka Customs was a hot topic in the summit and international criticism was launched by Dr. Kala K Mulqeeny, the National Advisory Councilor at World Wildlife Fund (WWF – the leading international body in wildlife conservation and endangered species), against the government’s alleged move to misappropriate the entire haul of blood ivory against the laid down procedure of disposal of seized ivory regulated by the CITES. Justice Rohini Marasinghe vehemently rejected the accusation, saying that they were baseless and unfounded. When a similar accusation was leveled against the government by the Leader of Opposition on 21st of February 2013, in Parliament, the government spokesman too made similar statement that there was no attempt whatsoever, made by the Presidential Secretariat to misappropriate the blood ivory violating its international obligations under CITES.

This is just another example of Sri Lankan government’s routinely adopted deceptive policy, whenever its deplorable and untoward actions were challenged in whatever forum, whether internationally or locally of which the people of this country is tired of, but forced to keep silence in fear of repression.

At least now following the example set by the government of Philippines which announced yesterday that it would destroy 5 tons of seized ivory under international supervision, the Government of Sri Lanka should admit the wrongful attempts made to misappropriate the priceless blood ivory and to initiate immediate steps to destroy the entire stock of 1.5 metric tons of ivory under international supervision, sending at least a late message to the world community that the government of Sri Lanka too is against the illegal trade of ivory and the merciless massacre of elephants.

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