Sunday, November 2, 2008

Constipation – Pashtun warriors and me

Constipation – Pashtun warriors and me

Stewart Sloan

One of the most common problems amongst dialysis patients, as any one of them will tell you, is the very strict diet they have to adhere to. Depending on the severity of the affliction, often they are allowed only 500ml of water a day. This is because their bodies cannot handle fluids and any excess can build up in their lungs and cause a dangerous respiratory problem. A side effect of the strict diet and minimal fluid intake is constipation. My wife, who suffered renal failure four years ago, occasionally suffers from this and uses glycerin suppositories.

A few months ago as I was leaving for work on a Saturday morning my wife asked me to buy another packet of suppositories for her. As we were chatting before I left she also explained another problem, dry, painful skin around the nostrils. I recalled that a friend of mine suffered a similar problem and he treated it with a dab of Vaseline. I promised to buy her a packet of suppositories and a small jar of Vaseline and left for work.

A word of explanation: I go into the office on Saturday mornings to take care of any last minute emergencies (quite common in the human rights field) and tidy up any outstanding work. It is a good chance to work without interruption and enjoy an hour or two of peace and quiet.

On my arrival in the office this particular morning the very first thing I noticed was a green wallet lying on the floor. It was hard to ignore. I picked it up. It was made of soft green leather and was absolutely packed with money! “Oh Lord”, I prayed. “Don’t let there be an ID card.”

Of course there was. The owner of the wallet was a Pakistani gentleman named Ravi, who was a student with the Hong Kong University. There was a Hong Kong ID, a student ID, a Pakistani ID and a driving license. The man was firmly and positively identified.

As we have a Pakistani gentleman working at the office I called him to ask if he recognised the name and he explained that the fellow was in a panic, thinking that he had dropped his wallet in the street. I told my colleague to contact Ravi, tell him that I had his wallet and to come in and pick it up. As there was a Monday holiday, if he didn’t get it that day he would have to go for three days without any money or ID, bad enough for anyone in Hong Kong but for a foreigner definitely fraught with danger. I was told that Ravi would be in the office within the hour.

I carried on with my work and after about 45 minutes there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find the epitome of the original Pashtun warrior. This gentleman was six foot seven if he was an inch and had a short cropped, jet black beard and piercing eyes. The only things missing were the sword and the long muzzle loader. This was Ravi.

We went through a chorus of ‘thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you,’ and me going ‘OK, OK, OK, OK, OK, etc.’ He then put his hand on the broad expanse of his chest and said, “Allow me to buy you some food!” I thanked Ravi profusely, assured him that it was not a problem returning the wallet and hoped that this would end the meeting. He then said the magic words: “Then at least allow me to buy you some beer.” And I said, “OK”.

I packed up, closed up and we went to the nearest 7/11 and became acquainted over a few cans of Carlsberg. Then we got further acquainted over a few more cans of Carlsberg. Ravi, when we got past the ‘thank you’ stage was articulate, erudite, knowledgeable and very well educated. He was fascinated by life in Hong Kong and asked endless questions about the society and life style. All in all he was a genuine, pleasant person. And the more beer I drank the taller and broader he seemed to grow.

It was time for me to go and I started making excuses about how I had to get home to my wife, who was unwell. Ravi was genuinely concerned to hear this and I then explained her health situation over another round of beer. Finally I had to leave and explained to Ravi that I was going to take the train from Mongkok KCR station. Ravi put his hand on his heart and said, “I will accompany you to the station.”

Somewhat worse for wear after seven beers I made my way in the direction of the Mongkok KRC in the company of my very own Pashtun warrior.

At one point we were crossing the road and my mobile phone rang. It was my wife, remember my wife, this is an article about my wife. She asked me where I was and also whether I had bought her suppositories. I mumbled something about having just left the office and assured her that I was on my way at that very moment to buy her pharmaceuticals. Actually it wasn’t a lie for directly in front of us was a dispensary.

And it was here that everything went wrong. I entered, my six foot, seven inch Pashtun warrior at my side and said, quite innocently to the shopkeeper, “May I have a packet of glycerin suppositories and a small jar of Vaseline.” The shopkeeper looked at me, looked up at my Pashtun warrior, who, under the effects of seven cans of Carlsberg was gazing down at me fondly, and then back at me. His faced quivered and he tried hard to suppress the smirk that was even then creeping across it. He took my money wrapped up my purchases and gave me my change. Once again he looked at me, up at the warrior and then shrugged his shoulders.

“Hey,” he said. “It’s none of my business.” And at that point he gave up all pretext of not laughing. I looked up at my Pashtun warrior and sighed. We left the shop in gales of laughter.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The following article was published in the Asia Sentinel on September 29th 2008

Keystone Cops
Stewart Sloan
Monday, 29 September 2008

Police brutality in Sri Lanka takes on a whole new meaning

A significant problem facing the average Sri Lankan citizen is the real possibility of being illegally arrested, illegally held long past the judicial period of 24 hours and brutally tortured to confess to a crime or crimes they have no knowledge of.

There is a huge list of arrests of this type which anyone from a western culture would dismiss out of hand as being unlikely if not impossible. In any civilised society the police would only arrest a person after making inquiries. That person would not be tortured or pressurised in any manner to make a confession and they would then appear before a court of law. If they wanted to make a voluntary confession, this would happen in the presence of a lawyer. If in the course of the arrest they were injured in any way, they would be offered medical treatment prior to being questioned.

None of this happens in Sri Lanka. The police arrest someone off the street, often beating them up in the process, then take them to a police station and torture them into making a confession. Could this happen in any civilised society? It does happen, on a daily basis in Sri Lanka.

One recent case involved a young man who had acid thrown in his face. The assailant had connections with the local police, and it was actually the victim who was arrested and held in custody for over a week without medical treatment. After pressure from local and international human rights groups the police finally allowed him medical treatment, but by then he had lost his sight in one eye.

In another case a man was arrested in front of his family, held for 12 days and tortured severely to hand over gold items he was supposed to have stolen. During his illegal incarceration he was visited by two lawyers and five members of his family. He eventually appeared in court charged with the possession of a large quantity of heroin, a non-bailable offence that carries the death penalty. The only flaw in police thinking was that the charge indicated he was arrested in possession of the heroin at a time when he was actually already in police custody - a fact confirmed by affidavits filed by the five family members. However, the higher ranking Sri Lankan police authorities, including the Inspector General of Police, National Police Commission and even the Attorney General's Department have done nothing to investigate and verify the validity of these affidavits.

Recently however, the Sri Lankan police showed a remarkable new side to their expertise. A group of senior officers from the Ratnapura Police Station arrested two officers from the Angunukolapelessa Police Station, Tangalle district. These officers were beaten up, taken to the Ratnapura Police Station and beaten again. They were “treated” by an unlicensed medical officer who filed a report that they were drunk at the time of arrest. The reason for their arrest and subsequent torture was that they had had the temerity to overtake a vehicle containing Ratnapura officers.

While this is certainly shocking and is yet another example of police brutality in Sri Lanka there is a bright side to all this. To put it quite simply, when the Sri Lankan police are busy beating each other up it leaves them little time to beat up innocent members of society. That the Tangalle officers were innocent of any crime is beside the point here. At the very least, if and when they return to active duty they might think twice about beating up an innocent citizen.

Comments (3)

Police brutality in Sri Lanka
written by A Tamil , September 29, 2008
The bottom line for all crimes in Sri Lanka is that the country had abandoned the 'rule of law' some 25 years ago and replaced it with the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act imported from former Apartheid South Africa which has been used against Tamils, and against anyone including majority Sinhala people, who may dare to intervene in any manner on their behalf or on the side of the rule of law. Recall how this monstrous law was used only in limited number of cases in the former racist state of S.Africa. The manner of its use in racist and religious bigoted state of Sri Lanka by the ethnic military and ethnicised Sinhala police are fit for the Guiness Book or Records as to number and type of cruelties. It is a lawless state which keeps on committing gross crimes against humanity and war crimes against Tamil people by chicane exploitation of the 'war on terror'after 9/11 with which it is totally unrelated to carry on its long term political agenda of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The UNHRC is well aware of these crimes under international law. But the UN keeps meekly looking on with folded arms.
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written by Joe , September 29, 2008
These kinds of practices are common in India, Pakistan and other 3rd world countries. Sri Lanka is the worst when it comes to Tamils. So pathetic. They all have to be exposed and theeir leaders should be shown these tortures on their faces when they try to make a BIG face.

written by Prem Jayanthan , September 29, 2008
Your article is great, showing the barbarism of Sri Lanka's police system. Even Sri Lanka's torture tactics are far more gruesome than in civilized countries (chili powder into orifices, nails into toes, sodomy, etc.)

The only thing I would add is that you failed to mention that ethnic minority Tamils face the brunt of this harassment and ethnic profiling as is evident in a government ordered "census" of Tamils in Colombo last week, forcing hundreds of thousands of Tamils to register with the police.
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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dear Friends,

The following piece was published in the Asia Sentinel on September 12.

Nobody seems to be weeping for hundreds of thousands of dead non-Americans

Sadly it’s that time of year again when we are subjected to Americans trumpeting the tragedy and misery caused by the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. I in turn say the same thing every year, it was sad, it was tragic and if I could have done anything in my power to have prevented it I would have done so.

My heart goes out to the people who lost fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands and friends when the passenger planes struck.

However, the greatest loss of lives has been caused by America’s continuing quest for vengeance.

Civilian deaths in Iraq: 655,000 and counting.

Renditions: What renditions? Never happened.

And what about Dr. Afia Siddiqui and her children? Kidnapped in Pakistan in March 2003 along with her children, she miraculously turned up in Bagram a few months ago after an international outcry. The fate of her children remains uncertain and she has been charged with attacking American soldiers after wresting a weapon away from one of them.

The last time I looked a fully armed and well trained American soldier would have had no problem with slightly build Pakistani lady who by that time had been incarcerated for five years.

Oil stolen from Iraq: 1,000 barrels a day valued at US$100 plus per barrel. Never acknowledged, never explained. Where is the money going?

And yet America is still seeking out terrorists, real or imagined. What right does any country have to carrying out bombing raids on another country’s sovereign territory? Apparently this most basic rule does not apply to America, which very recently carried out a bombing raid on Pakistan and some months ago bombed a wedding party in Afghanistan. What was their crime?

People are being killed and lives altered irreparably because of America’s war on terror. It is time that the international community pointed the finger at George Bush and addressed him for what he is; a murderer of innocents.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dear Friends,

I am happy to inform you that the Asian Sentinel has plublished another of my pieces.

Just Suppossing

Stewart Sloan
20 July 2008

East is east and west is west, but what if the twain had met?


Zheng’s flag ship next to the Santa Maria.

Columbus set off in 1492 in three ships, the Santa Maria of approximately 90 feet, the Pinta, between 60 to 80 feet and the Niňa of 60 feet, the best that Spain had to offer at this time. As history confirms, Columbus set off, not really knowing where he was going, arrived and certainly didn’t know where he was, and came back, not knowing where he’d been.

Let us not be too harsh on the man. This was an age of church-controlled exploration and in the Europe of those days nothing happened without the blessing of the church. Indeed, Columbus was interviewed by no less a personage than Tomás de Torquemada, a prominent figure in the infamous Inquisition that was taking place in Spain at that time, to ensure that he was undertaking this expedition for all the right reasons.

Those reasons, Columbus assured Torquemada, were in keeping with the aims of the Catholic Church. To spread the word of God to the heathens, find a shorter, safer trading route to the Indies, and, if they found any gold along the way, so much the better.

The voyages of Columbus are well documented and there is no need to repeat the details here, other than to say that there is a faction that suggested that Columbus, instead of being hailed as a great explorer, should be classified as a genocidal maniac ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of natives.

Interestingly Columbus was reported to have used a map originally drawn by a cartographer who sailed with the Eunuch Admiral, Zheng He, and this brings us on to the next point.

About 70 years earlier another explorer set sail with the express purpose of opening up new trade for his country. There was no ulterior motive of spreading religion to the heathen or making them change their life styles to suit his own, his quest was purely and simply trade.

Zheng He’s fleet consisted of over 300 ships and his flagship, while reports vary, was supposed to have been about 400 feet in length. Interestingly, an archeological dig in Southern China in a location believed to have been a shipbuilding area discovered a tiller post some 30 feet in length. It is estimated that the vessel that carried it was in excess of 300 feet.

Zheng He’s flagship carried nine masts and her mainsail was of such size that it took one hour to set. His armada set sail self reliant with supply and treasure ships, and a sizable detachment of marines. His expedition was well planned, well organized and well executed. Zheng He’s fame and exploits, like those of Columbus are also well documented up to the point where it is believed that he rounded the Cape of Good Hope, sailed up the Atlantic and discovered America.

As exciting as this may sound it has never, and will probably never, be confirmed. It does however, open up an interesting scenario.

Just supposing, as Zheng He’s fleet sailed up the Atlantic a space, time warp continuum brought Columbus’s fleet in direct contact with that of Zheng He’s. Let us try to imagine what might transpire as the very latest in Spanish maritime technology comes into contact with that of China.

The crew members of the Santa Maria, when confronted with Zheng He’s flagship might well have thrown themselves to their knees and implored God to save them from this heathen behemoth.

And on Zheng He’s ship his executive officer might well have said, “Ah Sir, look, Spanish boat people. Should we offer them assistance?”

The epilogue, of course, is that the Ming emperors turned their backs on the seas and left Zheng He literally and figuratively high and dry, while the seafaring nations of Europe went on to conquer the world.

Of course this never really happened. But, just supposing……..

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Dear Friends,

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that the Asia Sentinel has published several of my articles. I attach two of them here for your reading pleasure:

President Rajapakse seeks to deflect criticism by pointing the finger at other countries

Stewart Sloan 13 June 2008

In January 2007, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, under pressure from human rights activists around the world, did what politicians always do when they want to pass the buck. He created a body with the cumbersome name of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Serious Violations of Human Rights.

Known simply as the Commission, it was doomed from the very start, as numerous commissions of inquiry have been over decades in Sri Lanka, to investigate human rights abuses. None of them ever produced anything.

Rajapakse had the sense to realize that there was a credibility problem with this latest one, so to convince people of his good intentions he set up the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (the IIGEP). The IIGEP was a group made up of jurists from around the world, each a leading figure in his field. This group was given the job of overseeing the commission, making sure that it was doing what it was supposed to be doing and that everything was open, above-board and transparent.

The problems started almost immediately. None of the victims or their families wanted to give evidence before the commission for fear of possible retaliation by the perpetrators they might identify. The IIGEP raised the question of witness protection in one of their first interim statements. This annoyed the president immensely. No one had given them permission to issue reports, interim or otherwise. The government, through the Attorney General's Department, denied the validity of the IIGEP statement and that set the ball rolling for the jurists’ eventual departure, in April 2008.

Why did all this come about? There has been an international outcry about human rights abuses in Sri Lanka for decades. Rajapakse’s regime is not the first to ignore calls for accountability and an end to what appears to be state-sanctioned impunity. But what made it different for this regime was calls by the United Nations for a UN Monitoring Mission to be set up in the country. The response from the regime was that Sri Lanka was quite capable of handling its own human rights violations, thank you very much.

However, with the departure of the IIGEP and its damning condemnation of the commission, which included the statement that Sri Lanka didn’t appear to have the political will to investigate human rights abuses, the president’s claim that Sri Lanka could do the job appeared to be less than accurate.

Thus calls for a UN monitoring mission continue, as does the regime’s refusal to consider it. International condemnation by persons none other than Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and other notables continued and eventually led to Sri Lanka being forced out of the United Nations Human Rights Council, an organization the country had belonged to since its inception. And yet Sri Lanka continues to claim that it is capable of handling its own human rights problems.

There is of course the question of sovereignty. No country wants an independent international organisation peering into day-to-day goings-on and it does not help that several western countries are not so squeaky clean either. And, while no argument can excuse human rights abuses taking place with impunity, Sri Lanka’s statement that the international NGOs should take a look at the US, Great Britain and Australia before condemning Sri Lanka is perhaps valid. It simply does not help the international argument for human rights monitoring when a country like Pakistan allows the Americans to carry out renditions of Pakistani citizens, especially when very few voices are raised against it. Certainly the US, Great Britain and Australia have plenty to answer for in the past. The message is quite clear: clean up your own back yard before pointing the finger at us.

But the regime of President Rajapakse is missing one essential point. It does not matter who is carrying out renditions with impunity, it does not matter who is turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in the name of the war of terror, the fact is that human rights abuses and the protection of offending state agents is wrong and must be stopped. Whether this is done with the help of international monitors or by the Sri Lankan state itself does not matter. What matters is that it must be done, and done quickly.

Stewart Sloan is a Hong Kong-based human rights activist.

Civilians Become Cannon Fodder in Sri Lanka


Stewart Sloan

09 June 2008

More bombings take the lives of the innocent in a war without end

Murderous attacks on civilians in Sri Lanka appear to be on the increase with several bombings in the last few days in and around Colombo, the capital. The latest attack came last Friday and killed at least 21 people who were travelling on a bus. Twice that many were injured, the numbers including woman and children alike. The bomb itself was a claymore set on the side of the road and detonated by remote control as the bus passed by. The force of the explosion knocked the bus on its side.

Just a few days earlier another bombing injured 18 people travelling on a train. It was the second such bombing within a fortnight and in the previous incident nine people were killed and more than 80 were wounded.

So far an estimated 70,000 people have been killed since 1983 in one of the world’s longest-lasting and deadliest armed conflicts, although relations between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority had been tense since the British granted the island independence in 1948. Since 2006, in defiance of cease-fire agreements, as many as 200,000 people have been made refugees in their own country as the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fight for the creation of a separate Tamil state in the northeastern region of the country.

At one point, during the height of the conflict, as many as 1 million of the country’s 21 million people were refugees. Despite the signing of cease-fire in 2002, the conflict has continued at varying levels almost without cease. An estimated 4,000 people have died since it evolved again into open conflict in 2005. As many as 200,000 Tamils have simply left and sought refuge in the west and several hundred thousand more have moved to India, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The latest bombing, like the others, is suspected to have been the work of the LTTE. However, the question of who carried out the bombings is not the issue. The issue is that both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces are killing and injuring innocent civilians in the name of the conflict and in violation of international law.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has made several recent statements in which he has said that victory is at hand in this 25-year-old conflict, which has claimed the lives of both military personnel and civilians. Unlike his predecessors, Rajapakse has refused to even consider the possibility of holding peace talks with the LTTE. And while both sides are claiming to be the victims of atrocities committed by the other, it is the civilians who are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

Reports of civilians being caught up in Sri Lankan Army air raids and shelling are either denied by the government or said to be exaggerated. However, the use of claymore land mines is not the exclusive right of the LTTE, who have complained frequently about the army using them against civilians in attempts to hit their soldiers.

Terrorism in any name is still terrorism; whether it is the army carrying out operations in which civilians are killed or injured or the LTTE hitting back at the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka has already stated categorically that the government will have nothing to do with UN human rights monitors in the country but this should not prevent the UN from making the effort to bring both sides of the Sri Lankan conflict to the negotiating table to prevent further needless death.

Earlier Friday another land mine was defused in Dehiwala. The 5 kg Claymore would certainly have caused more bloodshed and mayhem and no doubt, death and injury to more innocent civilians.

It is time to for both parties, the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to return to the negotiating table now. In the meantime, the bombing continues.

Stewart Sloan is a Hong Kong-based human rights activist.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Dear Friends and Readers,

It gives me great pleasure in posting one of my favorite stories, THE THING, which was first published in the AECS Magazine (Association of Expatriate Civil Servants) in the early nineties. It is now included as a short story in Eastern Horrors, a collection of my published and unpublished short stories.


The sun set in the western hills leaving the Shatin Valley aglow in its red aftermath and as its light faded the street lights came on, as did the lamps that stood on the promenades that ran along the Shing Mun River.

Up towards the beginning of the river where the storm drains from Tai Wai and the other estates fed into it, the toxic ooze and sludge bubbled in the light of the antique street lamps. One particular bubble grew larger and larger until it was a good three feet in diameter before it burst. Then, as the ooze began to settle back into the fast filling crater caused by the explosion, a cross between a hand and a flipper reached upwards into the evening sky. The hand-like thing was followed by an arm-like thing and after an agreeable amount of time THE THING itself, emerged. It stood waist high in the ooze and looked about itself, reaching up one of the things that it used for a hand to wipe the slime off its one, enormous eyeball. Then it burped, and the stench of its breath made the normal pong of the river seem like rose scented bath water.

It looked towards the first foot bridge and saw dinner travelling along it in the form of three little boys on bicycles. It was not too keen on the bicycles having tried one before that had been dumped in the river by a drunken lover; the lover though, had been quite tasty. THE THING took a step forward and found that its feet-like things were stuck in the mud. It muttered a curse and wrenched them out, one after the other. Now it had to move fast because every time it took a step it started to sink back into the slime and ooze that it had come from. By the time it had got to the foot of the bridge the little boys were gone and it muttered another curse. Then it heard someone calling to it and turned its face upwards into the dim torch beam of a police constable.

“What are you doing down there?” Asked PC Wong, from the safety of the bridge; all he could see was a slime coated figure floundering about in the mud. Must be another drunken lover, P.C. Wong thought to himself. They were forever bringing their lady friends down here, discovering that they wouldn't put out, getting drunk and then throwing their bicycles in the river. How it made them feel any better he did not know, but it happened all the time.

Then another thought occurred to him. This man might not be a drunken lover; he just might be a drunken illegal immigrant pretending to be a drunken lover.

“All right you,” said Wong, as sternly as he could. “Just paddle over there to those steps and you'd better have an I.D. card on you.”

THE THING did not have an I.D. card on it and in fact was not even sure of what an I.D. card was. To the best of its knowledge it had never eaten an I.D. card before. It paddled over as instructed, not the slightest bit put out, it had never eaten a policeman before either and was looking forward to a new culinary experience.

Wong had come off the bridge and was standing at the top of the steps that led down to the river. He watched the dark figure floundering towards him and began to wish that the lighting was a bit better; he looked wistfully at his torch and cursed himself for not changing the batteries before starting his beat.

Then THE THING stood up in front of him and Wong realized that it was not another drunken lover. It was not even a drunken I.I. Although the thing in front of him was still largely covered in slime he could see that it had a face only an Inland Revenue Department, Income Tax Assessor could love.

“My God.” Said Wong.

Burp went THE THING and as its breath intoxicated the unfortunate P.C. it reached out one of its hand-like things and shoveled Constable of Police Wong, into its mouth.

When it had finished it smacked its lips and slowly made its way back to the toxic culvert that it called home, burping happily as it went. It decided that it might give the little boys a miss in the future, there was much more meat on P.C.s and though it was hard to tell from just the one experience, they did not appear to scream quite as much. It just hoped that they would be another one around tomorrow night. But then it thought, you know what they say about policemen: there's never one around when you need one.