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Berne, London, March 2013
Political exploitation of Lonely Planet regarding the human rights situation in Sri Lanka Dear Mr. Stringer Thank you for your answer. We appreciate your decision to include ongoing political and human rights issues in the Sri Lanka Today section of the next edition of the Lonely Planet. Furthermore, we acknowledge your intention to bring forward the publication date of the new edition. Can you tell us the new date, and whether it is now definitely fixed? We are aware that travellers visit a lot of countries with violent political histories and regimes. However, your guidebooks to other such countries do at least mention the human rights situation there. And Sri Lanka today is definitely ruled by an oppressive regime – as the latest reports, “We will teach you a lesson” 1 from Human Rights Watch and “Sri Lanka’s authoritarian turn” 2 from the International Crisis Group, clearly prove. Further, we were deeply disappointed by your sentence: “We chose Sri Lanka for the amazing experiences that it can offer to travellers, separate from its current political situation”. Surely it is irresponsible to suggest that people should simply enjoy the beach without paying any attention to the atrocities happening a few kilometres away? We would also like to draw your attention to the fact that your work is being used for political ends whether you like it or not. Your decision to declare Sri Lanka the number one travel destination in 2013 has been heavily exploited by the Sri Lankan government. A recent example is an interview with Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Australia, Admiral
Thisara Samarasinghe, broadcast by Radio Australia3, in which he dismisses the new Human Rights Watch report on continuing torture and sexual violence as baseless, citing “Lonely Planet research” – and explains that if sexual violence were really occurring in Sri Lanka Lonely Planet, a publisher with a good reputation, would not have declared it the number one travel destination. We only wish we could share the Admiral’s faith in your good judgment. As it will take a while until your new edition is published we would appreciate it if you would update your online content on Sri Lanka now. There are some simple and straightforward steps you could take to redress the balance. A very good example is your Q&A on Burma4, which deals with the question of whether to visit the country or not. You could do something similar on Sri Lanka, addressing the current situation and answering questions such as how to minimise the amount of holiday money that ends up supporting the army or the Rajapaksa clan. Of course we understand that Lonely Planet is not a political organization but, as you yourself say, it is your role to provide information that allows people to make informed decisions. It is clear that Lonely Planet therefore has a certain responsibility: while informed travellers can bring positive change to a country, misinformed tourists can have quite the opposite effect. Leaving out crucial background information (perhaps because it doesn’t fit the image of the perfect holiday destination) can have significant negative consequences - especially for a nation in the grips of a human rights catastrophe. We would really like to discuss the issues with you in person and so repeat our offer to meet you, or members of your staff, in London, Bern, or any mutually convenient location. We look forward to your answer. Yours sincerely
Christoph Wiedmer Director Society for Threatened Peoples Switzerland
Edward Mortimer CMG Chair, the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice
http://www.dailymirror.lk/news/26025-diplomat-rejects-hrw-report.html http://www.lonelyplanet.com/myanmar-burma and http://www.lonelyplanet.com/myanmar-burma/travel-tips-and-articles/76954