Rochdale Red Cross worker Khuram Shaikh was brutally murdered on Christmas Day on a Sri Lankan holiday just over 12 months ago.
Khuram was used to working in some of the most dangerous places on earth. He worked in prosthetics and helped people who’d lost limbs from bombs, landmines and diseases. But it wasn’t a warzone where he was killed. He was shot and stabbed by a gang of drunken thugs at a hotel overlooking white sands and an azure sea shimmering under the sun. Fringed by palm trees with a warm sea breeze coming off the Indian Ocean, his place of death seemed the perfect holiday, a veritable tropical paradise.
But scratch beneath the idyllic veneer and there is another side to Sri Lanka that you won’t find mentioned in glossy holiday brochures. There is a hint of it, though, on the Government’s travel advice page at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website.
Here you’ll find a warning that sexual attacks in Sri Lanka are increasing. Last year saw 700 child rapes in the first six-months alone with politicians from the country’s governing party named as suspects in several cases.
You’ll also see warnings that tourists should “exercise a high level of vigilance” due to “organized and armed gangs” frequenting tourist areas.
On top of which there is Sri Lanka’s long litany of human rights abuses, too many of which to document here, and a worrying absence of the rule of law. In Khuram’s case a politician was among those initially detained, but all suspects have subsequently been released, no charges brought and no trial planned.
All of which begs the question why on earth has British Airways decided to make Sri Lanka their top recommendation for New Year travel? Britain’s leading airline has recently published a list of top travel destinations for 2013 with Sri Lanka their number one choice ahead of Brazil, Croatia and Las Vegas.
It is not only irresponsible but unethical of BA to be promoting a country with an appalling human rights record that has shown little interest in investigating the murder of a British national at one of their leading resorts.
BA’s destination manager talks about ‘endless beaches’ and ‘elephant treks’ to promote Sri Lanka but ignores the fact our own Government has acknowledged that there is an ‘underlying threat of terrorism’ there and attacks can be ‘indiscriminate’. Not to mention growing concerns in the international community about human rights violations.
Tourism trends change from year to year with new destinations competing for what is an extremely lucrative global market. Stunning beaches and warm weather are very enticing to anyone struggling through a freezing January. But this means very little when the rule of law doesn’t apply and justice is denied to British tourists murdered in appalling circumstances.