Published on Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sri Lanka activist gets human rights award at ITB

TO DO! Awards- the Human Rights Award goes to Herman Kumara

The TO DO! Award for Human Rights in Tourism was given to Herman Kumara. The internationally renowned human rights lawyer and head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement Sri Lanka defends the rights of local fishermen whose fishing grounds are threatened by tourism projects.

Herman Kumara is a well-respected Sri Lankan human rights defender. Convenor of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, founder member of People to People Dialogue on Peace and Sustainable Development [PPD], an active member of Platform for Freedom [PfF], and a board member for the Women for Development Alternatives of Sri Lanka. He has been active in many projects and has made an incredible contribution to Sri Lankan, as well as international, human rights campaigns.

This leading figure of the Sri Lankan civil society was accused wrongly of being the cause of protests by fishermen against fuel price increases of up to 50% as announced by the Government, in February 2012.

He has received repeated threats, surveillance and intimidation. Fearing to be murdered or abducted he has been obliged to live covertly for a while.

Returning from an international conference in Rome at the end of February, Herman found out that he was being closely watched by the Government. He was being followed by suspicious cars, people in his village - as well as direct neighbours - had been questioned about him and asked his family's details: including his address and his vehicle number. Meanwhile five of NAFSO's employees were visited at their homes by intelligence officers and questioned about the Herman and the organization's activities.

There was clearly a plan to abduct and/or murder him.

Mr Kumara's wife and NAFSO filed official complaints about the threats and surveillance against him. However, no credible action appears to have been taken to investigate the threats or to provide him with adequate protection.

This case is far from being unique. Since the end of the war, arbitrary arrests and abductions have become common in Sri Lanka. 58 abductions have been registered in the last 6 months. Many of the victims were those who are not afraid to talk against Rajapaksa's Government: journalist, human rights defender, and religious leaders -all of them now defined by the title of "anti-Government forces" or Traitors. People like Herman Kumara testify to the critical condition of the rule of law in Sri Lanka.

At ITB Berlin two projects from Ecuador and one from South Africa received awards for their socially responsible approach to tourism. In the opinion of the jury and the Study Group for Tourism and Development all three projects "fulfilled the main criterion of the TO DO! Awards, namely involving local residents in planning and realising tourism projects." The projects provided alternative sources of income and improved the self-esteem of the local population.

Tren Ecuador - Ecuador

Since 2010 the state-run company has been offering four-day rail tours between Guayaquil and Quito, while involving and strengthening local communities along the route. The concept involves visitors encountering local cultures - at cafés, arts and crafts markets and museums, for example. A total of 5,000 jobs have been created as a result. 180 micro-businesses have been contracted which operate according to fair trade guidelines. This includes consultation and training.

!Khwa ttu - South Africa

The aim of the organisation is to restore and preserve the San culture, whose home is the countries of southern Africa. The focus is threefold: firstly, a restaurant offering various forms of accommodation. Secondly, the organisation offers a vocational training centre for young San members. Following their displacement, the aim is to provide them with job prospects. The third focus is on implementing sustainable nature projects and promoting cultural measures for preserving the San culture.

Valere Tjolle


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