Information Bulletin No. 30
Date of Release: 3rd December 2002
The Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTEs funding meet with international donors on 25 November ended on a note of optimism. Hopes for the peace process were further buoyed by Tiger leader Prabhakarans Martyrs' Day speech on November 27 that suggested a conditional renunciation of separatism. But, according of UTHR(J), the situation on the ground tells a different story. Handshakes and smiles are no guarantee of goodwill and reconciliation as long as so many people in the North-East feel their rights are being suffocated and their existence threatened, and when almost nothing is being done to challenge the chauvinist ideologies on both sides that are at the root of the conflict.
The Government and LTTE have shown no real commitment to human rights, said UTHR(J). They are only tactical weapons to be used against the adversary when it suits them. At present the two parties are covering up for and propping up one another for their short-term political survival. The peace lobby hopes to transform the LTTE from a military to a political organization, which is fine as far as it goes, but peace will not realized by ignoring the essential institutional nature of the LTTE and how ideology, glorification of suicide, repression and child soldiers hang together, the bulletin said. Unless there is change at the LTTE's political core, its reliance on terror, war and, of necessity, child soldiers, will not change.
The Norwegians view their success as a matter of maintaining the cease-fire and have made regular claims of progress. This has allowed the LTTE to entrench in government-controlled areas. The SLMM's inability to do anything decisive to stem LTTE mistreatment of civilians in those areas has done little to induce the Norwegians to greater caution. Everyone likes to report progress. But mistaken assessments can lead to decisions encouraging irreversibly dangerous trends, said spokesman for UTHR(J). For a country like Norway, which portrays itself as a front-runner in human rights and child rights, legitimising repression in the interests of making peace, could cause enormous problems in the future. There are grave implications for the entire region. One hopes that before it is too late, Norway will see that the road to real peace lies in demanding accountability from all the actors, especially the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE, and not in strategic appeasement.
UTHR(J) examines statements made by the LTTE construed by observers as concessions or gains in the peace process and compares them to the ground reality.
1. Administration of the North-East
- Anton Balasingham said in Bangkok that the LTTE was keen to move into the core issues and did not see the need for an Interim Administration in the North-East.
In fact, the LTTE has already vastly expanded its control. In Jaffna it virtually controls the Sri Lankan Police, administrators, local councils and educational officers. It controls schools and through the education department in Batticaloa has distributed portraits of Prabhakaran to be hung up in schools in lieu of the Head of State. The LTTE already has an army, navy, police, courts, administrative structures and prisons.
Recently, instructions have been given to accommodate the LTTE in administrative meetings of local councils in Jaffna. UTHR(J) believes this is a move to corner elected councillors. Several councils had earlier passed resolutions condemening extortion by the LTTE. The LTTE's covert takeover of the administration of the North-East to the exclusion of basic accountability is being aided and abetted by the Government.
2. Respect for Democracy
- After the second sitting of Thailand talks on 3rd November, Anton Balasingham said that the LTTE would 'accept and assimilate' other political groups that operate in the North-East since it was the LTTE's intention to enter the political 'mainstream'.
But attacks on Tamil opposition members by LTTE operatives have actually increased. The new weapon in vogue among these 'political cadre', complementing organised 'people's protests', is the sword - a handy weapon to maim and intimidate if not to kill.
UTHR(J) notes that the right to organise politically, to speak out, to elect representatives and for schools and offices to function normally are invaluable assets to a healthy peace process. To deny political parties the right to function independently and disseminate opinion strikes at the heart of basic rights, security and dignity of the ordinary individual.
The Norwegians bear a large measure of responsibility for the MoU that conferred on the LTTE an air of legitimacy with no obligation to disavow their past. The MOU gave the LTTE access to government controlled areas for 'political work' with no reciprocity conceded to other political groups, and declared the Tamil opposition parties paramilitaries to be disarmed. In all recent cases of attacks by the LTTE on its political rivals, complaints were duly made to the Police, in which the attackers were named. The Police took no action. And while the SLMM immediately called for a commission of inquiry when two LTTE men were beaten up in Kayts, it has chosen to remain silent on the LTTE's continuing attacks on the EPDP in Delft and elsewhere or the disappearance of four persons from the EPRLF (V). The message coming from Norway is that the opposition is a nuisance to the kind of peace they want.
The LTTE's thuggery has not stopped with political opponents. Victims include the Hartley College principal and Balasubramania Kurukkal, a Hindu priest who had met the President a year ago
3. Child Soldiers
- The LTTE claims that it does not recruit children and has only temporary custody of children who left their homes on their own and sought their care. In November, Anton Balasingham repeated the claim first made by Prabhakaran on 10 April that many of the LTTEs child soldiers have been released to their parents.
The reality is that while token releases of children have been made for publicity, many others have been escaping from the 'Eelam Army', and children have continually been conscripted. The LTTE has tortured recaptured escapees as punishment and has held parents or siblings of escapees. The UTHR(J) Bulletin 30 lists thirty-eight cases of conscription and escape from the month of October alone.
The LTTE has for some time been bringing local and international NGOs effectively under its control. Veiled warnings have been given to those NGOs who persisted in keeping their independence or tried to take up the issue of child soldiers. So far the LTTE has not responded to specific complaints on conscription raised by the SLMM in Batticaloa. Further, as recently as October end, the orders were to go on with conscription. The LTTE representatives on the LMC have resisted the position of others that these complaints fall within the purview of the SLMM. In signing the MoU, the LTTE agreed to respect International Law, and it is unlawful for the LTTE to hold persons against their will, more especially those who are underage.
UTHR(J) asks: Is the LTTE serious in its commitment not to recruit children or at least not to take them in forcibly? Is it serious about its pledge to discharge child soldiers and restore them to their families; or, do child soldiers remain an important component of its 'army' to maintain a show of 'strength' against the Government?
- The Government and the LTTE have agreed to set up three sub-committees including one to canvas funds from foreign donors and undertake the rehabilitation of the North-East. Clearly, while there may be commercial opportunities for some government ministers and their agents in Colombo, the actual control on the ground will be exercised by the LTTE. After the second session of Thailand talks on 3rd November, Anton Balasingham commended their NGO, the Tamil Refugees Organization (TRO), for which the LTTE hoped to get funds from donors.
The TRO, an LTTE front organization, collected money from Tamils abroad supposedly to assist displaced people in Sri Lanka. UTHR(J) questions whether this assistance was actually delivered, given the fact that the LTTE deprived even internal refugees of government rations. Corruption has long been alleged. Even today, the LTTE controls the distribution of rations and Village Headmen (Grama Sevakas or GSs) carry out the wishes of the LTTE and prepare inflated lists. Many GSs too have enriched themselves at the expense of the people. Most essential goods continue to be subjected to LTTE taxation. The customs check when entering LTTE areas continues to be more rigorous than at Katunayake International Airport. Items taken for personal use too are carefully taxed. Items such as plastic buckets sent for refugees by the Rehabilitation Ministry are simply confiscated by the LTTE.
Any process that advances development and rehabilitation in any sense where the people would be beneficiaries must also promote democracy and the rule of law. UTHR(J) has repeatedly pointed out that a force that relies on violent repression must necessarily be a bitter opponent of these values. Placing such a force in charge of rehabilitation would invite misappropriation and tyranny.
Justice North and South
Justice for Tamils remains elusive in both the North-East and the South. Several magistrates in the South do struggle to preserve their independence and lawyers do brave intimidation to represent the interests of clients out of favour with the powers that be. In the North-East, however, there is no semblance of judicial independence when it comes to the LTTE. There is absolutely no prospect of finding a lawyer to represent a victim of the LTTE or to argue against a line laid down by the LTTE.
The Tamil papers recently serialized the long delayed court hearings into the Army's Mahilantanai massacre - a gruesome affair largely involving elders and children. The other papers had little to say about it. The High Court verdict on the Mahilanthanai Massacre of 1992 was a travesty and can only reinforce the view among the Tamils that the judicial system is hopelessly biased against them. The case had been plagued by cover-ups and delays lasting ten years before being heard in the Colombo High Court. In spite of solid and numerous eyewitness accounts by persons who weathered ten years of poverty, loss and intimidation to see the case through, an all Sinhalese-speaking jury, deliberated for five hours before returning a unanimous verdict of not guilty, on all counts. For the families of the 35 dead and the witnesses who were themselves victims it has been an unconscionable ordeal of ten years at the end of which justice was denied.
As yet, official semi-official reports exonerating the security forces for their actions at Kanjirankudah and Trincomalee where the victims were Tamil civilians have not been challenged for their glaring deficiencies. The outcome of these episodes has left even very moderate Tamils in these areas feeling very disturbed and helpless. If this is the kind of justice the Tamils receive during a peace process, what hope is there for them if war resumes?
The PTA, which guided police behaviour from 1979, made it insensitive to the rule of law and the rights of the citizen. Its even older ethnic bias created humiliation and insecurity for the ordinary Tamil people. Like every arm of state apparatus, which has shown no qualitative change in character over the years, the Police too could readily be manipulated and used by the LTTE when it has the blessing of the ruling party.
It is notable that while the LTTE is urging various groups, and rightly, to have the Government repeal the PTA and release all LTTE detainees, it is holding an estimated 700 people incommunicado in complete travesty of International Law. The need for these repressive structures gives us an idea of the kind of social order that is being installed under the guise of peace.
Dangerous developments in the South
The middle ground in the South has disappeared. There is a definite turn towards supposing that only the rights of the Sinhalese and Muslims have been placed in jeopardy by this peace process. Statements from the PA opposition and the President too have tended in this direction and are aimed at cornering the Government rather than helping to solve the problem. In this climate the Tamils are being closely identified with the LTTE and are spoken of as though they not only have a surfeit of rights, but are 'getting their Eelam' at the expense of everyone else. The other camp in the South is that of peace activists. They do not discuss the rights and wrongs of the Tamil problem, but largely identify peace with appeasing the LTTE.
There is little acknowledgement that the Tamils were victims state-instigated or state-approved violence over many years. Newspaper articles are frequently recounting instances of violence against Sinhalese and Muslims by the Tigers, while pretending that its counterpart - the many times more severe and far more culpable attacks on Tamil civilians by the State - did not exist.
Civil society in the South has singularly failed to exercise a corrective influence on the peace process by lobbying on issues that have long concerned Tamil civilians. Among these are institutional changes to ensure that the security forces act impartially and become sensitive to the fact that they are also meant to serve and protect Tamils. Nothing tangible has been done to enhance the dignity and security of Tamils and in the event of war it will be back to square one. The peace process has been left hostage to the whims of the Tigers and the elusive restraints the International Community might apply on them. [Top]
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