The World Today for September 12, 2023

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Where the Truth Goes to Die


On Easter Sunday in 2019, a series of bomb blasts at churches and luxury hotels rocked Sri Lanka, killing 269 people. Authorities blamed members of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a local Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group.

A few months later, Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the South Asian island nation’s presidential election on a law-and-order platform. Then in 2022, he resigned amid mass protests over the failing economy. Today, incidentally, the country is bankrupt and is renegotiating its debts, the Financial Times noted.

Recently, however, British television news station Channel 4 reported that whistleblowers from within Rajapaksa’s government claim his intelligence officials were behind the attacks. He engineered the bombings, in other words, to capitalize on a climate of fear.

The former president, describing the Channel 4 broadcast as an “anti-Rajapaksa tirade” whose findings were “absurd,” denied the allegations, the Associated Press reported.

Sri Lankan officials said they would convene a special parliamentary committee to conduct a probe into Channel 4’s findings, Al Jazeera wrote.

Sri Lankans could be forgiven for not knowing whom to believe. Unfortunately, they face similar problems in parsing out other aspects of their country’s fraught history, including the 25-year-long civil war that ended in 2009 with more than 80,000 people having perished in the fighting. That war pitted Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese Buddhist majority against rebels who wanted to create a separate country for their ethnic Tamil, largely Hindu minority.

Current Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to explore and attempt to exorcise the anger and enmities that still linger from the civil war. But, as the Economist argued, however, the commission has no teeth and is not accomplishing its goals.

As the International Crisis Group explained, Sri Lankan officials appear reluctant to really bring perpetrators of massacres and other horrors during the civil war to justice. A culture of impunity dominates the government when it considers how to bring its former military leaders and others to account.

Rather than producing reports and recommendations, the commission needs to investigate alleged misconduct and misdeeds, punish perpetrators, consider reparations for the victims, and other measures, added the International Federation for Human Rights.

“Truth-seeking alone will not suffice,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk in a statement. “It must also be accompanied by a clear commitment to accountability and the political will to implement far-reaching change.”

Politicians everywhere pass the buck to committees that make it look like the government is doing something when it isn’t. Many hope that won’t work this time in Sri Lanka.


‘Empty Elections’


Russia’s ruling party won most of the votes in elections held in occupied Ukrainian territories, in a poll that Ukraine and Western countries decried as a sham, the Associated Press reported.

Russian election officials announced Monday that lawmakers from the United Russia party came out on top in the four Ukrainian regions illegally annexed by Moscow last year – namely, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. They added that ruling party legislators also lead in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

The election in the occupied territories took place as Russia was holding nationwide polls in its 16 regions: These included local legislatures, governor races, city and municipal council elections, and a few vacant seats in Russia’s lower house of parliament.

In Moscow, the United Russia party emerged victorious, securing the reelection of Sergei Sobyanin as mayor with more than 76 percent of the vote. Voter turnout averaged 43.5 percent across all Russian territories and the occupied Ukrainian regions.

The election took place as the Russian government is trying to tighten its control of those annexed territories amid a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

The vote in the Ukrainian regions was marked by attacks, with pro-Kremlin officials blaming guerrilla forces loyal to Kyiv.

Western nations condemned the elections as a violation of international law, calling it an “attempt by Russia to legitimize or normalize its illegal military control and attempted annexation of parts of Ukrainian territories.”

The Ukrainian government, meanwhile, called them “fake elections” and urged other countries not to recognize the results.

Meanwhile, analyst Abbas Gallyamov described them as “empty elections,” noting that politicians did not campaign on the key issue of the Ukraine war.

Gallyamov, a former speechwriter for Russian President Vladimir Putin, explained that many candidates avoided the topic: either out of fear of losing votes for supporting the conflict, or the threat of facing legal repercussions for standing against it.

The Power of Water


Ethiopia completed the filling of its hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile River this week, a move that could stir up tensions with its neighbors amid a years-long dispute over the controversial megaproject, Sky News reported.

On Sunday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hailed the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), saying that the project had faced “internal and external obstacles,” but “we endured all that.”

Construction of the $4 billion project began in 2011 and the dam is considered integral to Ethiopia’s economic development.

It is expected to generate more than 6,000 megawatts of power, with officials hoping that the GERD will turn Ethiopia into Africa’s biggest power exporter.

But Egypt and Sudan have complained that the megaproject threatens their vital water supplies from the Nile.

Following Abiy’s announcement, Egyptian authorities criticized the move and accused Ethiopia of not taking into account the interest of downstream countries, the BBC wrote. Sudan did not comment on the dam’s filling.

The three African countries have been engaged in protracted negotiations to resolve the dispute over the infrastructure project for more than a decade.

In 2013, Egyptian politicians were recorded discussing potential military action against the GERD, warning that the dam threatened Egypt’s existence.

Ethiopia has denied accusations that the dam will cut its neighbors’ share of the Nile River.

The Elephant Mirror


Vietnamese conservationists and wildlife officials are working on a project to create unique “elephant ID cards” for the country’s pachyderm population in an effort to ensure their survival, and promote harmony between the animals and local communities, Al Jazeera reported.

The Dong Nai Biosphere Reserve in Vietnam, which includes the Cat Tien National Park, is installing “camera traps” along the elephants’ forest pathways that will take images of the large mammals and monitor their behavior.

These images will be used to create a comprehensive catalog of individual elephants, detailing characteristics such as age, sex, physical traits, and overall condition.

Officials explained that the project is aimed at monitoring and protecting the endangered Asian elephant population. They added that by closely tracking their movements and habits, conservationists can better understand the animals’ needs and behaviors.

While these camera traps are a novel approach in Vietnam, they have been used in other countries, including Thailand, India, and Tanzania, primarily for monitoring wild animals in their natural habitats.

In Vietnam, elephant populations have significantly declined over the years. Conservationists say creating individual identity profiles for endangered animals is important.

The protection of both elephants and the human communities residing near their habitats remains a major issue.

Human-elephant conflicts have been reported in the past, with residents often employing various methods to deter elephants from their farmlands. Conservationists added that a significant part of fostering coexistence involves educating communities about elephant behavior and the importance of conserving these animals.


A Luminous Mystery

Scientists discovered what they believe to be the brightest supernova ever seen, even though it faded away very quickly, New Scientist reported.

Astronomers spotted the celestial object called AT2022aedm – nicknamed Adam – lying near the edge of another galaxy known for housing relatively old stars.

In their study, the team observed that Adam became hundreds of billions of times brighter than the Sun. But within a month, this record-breaking luminosity just disappeared.

They described Adam as a completely new type of cosmic object known as “luminous fast coolers” (LFCs).

The new finding has raised a lot of questions about what could cause such a massive and bright supernova.

Adam is located far from its galaxy’s center, which therefore discards the theory that the supernova was caused by a process that has to do with the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s center.

The researchers suggested that the explosion was created by a rare intermediate-mass black hole consuming a star, which explains its brightness and quick-dimming nature. Intermediate-mass black holes are believed to be fast eaters.

However, the latter process would have resulted in the creation of X-rays. Adam created only a few X-rays, causing lead author Matt Nicholl and his team to scratch their heads.

“It’s a combination of properties that don’t match any known kind of object we’ve seen before,” said Nicholl. “We’ve seen really bright supernovae before and we’ve seen supernovae that fade really quickly, and we’ve seen supernovae in old galaxies, but never all three at the same time.”

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