|Are all Tamils terrorists?|
The need for caution and space to heal by Dilrukshi Handunnetti
Earlier this month, the Sri Lankan Government by special Gazette, listed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and 15 Tamil Diaspora groups –considered LTTE front organizations by the Sri Lankan State– together with individuals.
It was to be viewed as compliance with the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1373, which calls for strategies to combat terrorism and terrorist financing. Here is a State that has rejected to comply with many a UN demand, often showing defiance, but opting to demonstrate strong compliance in the area of combating terrorism.
Sri Lanka, for long, has rebelliously and defiantly stood its ground, refusing the dictates of the UN and powerful nations. Yet on this one, the government declared its shared commitment with the UNSC – to fight terrorism.
There are several aspects that make this decision debate-worthy.
First, Sri Lanka is said to be pursuing a path of reconciliation. Five years after the end of the war, when there are various programmes that are aimed at achieving that end, it may not be the most prudent path to take. Why? Listing of these organizations as a ‘collective’ can prove counterproductive and alienate those who may feel desirous of making some contribution to post-war Sri Lanka.
The second is the timing of the listing. Sri Lanka resorted to demonstrate compliance with the UNSC in knee-jerk fashion, vociferously condemning the Tamil Diaspora, the international community and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) for their alleged support for a UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka that empowered the UN Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (UNOHRC) to conduct an independent international investigation into the island’s rights abuses during the period covered by the Lessons learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
Designating these organizations swiftly, appeared, even to the most pro-government elements, as an emotional reaction as opposed to a well-considered decision to curb terrorism.
Third, is that the banning of these organizations would hardly likely to influence cracking down of global terrorism. By clubbing some of these organizations which have by now, mainstreamed themselves and forming an integral part of the civil societies of Western democracies, would be unfair and this labelling can only cause further divisions.
As some analysts have already observed, outrightly labelling organizations as terrorist groups can prove counterproductive, especially when some of them behave as civil society organizations, contributing to the democratic discourse of their adopted countries. Some of them remain dedicated to the separatist cause no doubt, but there are others, who pursue the Tamil political cause sans advocating violent and illegal conduct.
Recently, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Jean -Bruno Villeneuve, claimed that although organizations in Canada have been banned and individuals named, Colombo has not communicated the vital information to Ottawa. Then, it will prove a Herculean task to get these countries on board and seek international cooperation, in the absence of dialogue and sharing of information. A sincere wish to curb international terrorism would require Sri Lanka to work with countries where the listed organizations are based in.
This would also mean, having solid evidence on these organizations to convince the international community. If not, compliance and reciprocity would prove a pipedream.
Fourth, is the manner in which the listing was done. It was External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris who did the honours and not President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who in his capacity as the Minister of Defence, designates terrorist groups. It is therefore confusing – despite the apparent international implications –to have a matter directly linked to domestic security initiated by the country’s External Affairs Minister.
Targeting Diaspora groups
Five years after the war, there is a renewed fear that the LTTE is regrouping. Memories must be still afresh and the pain of being crushed so difficult to erase, barring the sporadic subversive act, many analysts feel, regrouping is likely to take some more time, if ever.
When it comes to the proscribed groups, there are other implications. The LTTE has been proscribed in Sri Lanka since 1978, a ban that was lifted in 1987 as part of the Indo–Lanka Peace Accord, in a bid to push the Tigers to disarm and enter the mainstream. However, that did not happen and the LTTE was banned again in 1998 by President Chandrika Kumaratunga, following the bombing of the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, one of the most venerated places of Buddhist worship.
In order to initiate a dialogue with the Tigers, Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, had the ban suspended yet again, in 2001 which was re-imposed in 2009 by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which remains enforced.
The LTTE is banned in a number of countries including India, US, UK and Canada; the new listing does not alter the international community’s approach to the LTTE either.
In such a backdrop, its re-designated status as a terror outfit does not alter much, though the listing of Tamil Diaspora groups will have direct consequences on them. There lies the crux.
This is why it is clear that the actual target is not the LTTE – militarily defeated and its morale quite low– but the other 15 Tamil Diaspora organisations.
For a country that is pursuing reconciliation and has given strong commitments to the world and to her own people about genuine pursuit of a path of peace, seeking to penalize those who may not be Eelamist is a matter the State must seriously consider.
Nobody in their right minds would object to organizations raising funds for the separatist cause, fuelling flames of ethnic violence and espousing Eelam being dealt with in this manner. That would be the legitimate function of an elected government.
The problem is, both types of groups, those who are pro-Eeelam and those who pursue a rights-based approach to the Tamil question and promote dialogue are, destructively listed together. There is a need to separate the two.
Some of these organizations have hardcore Eelamists, former cadres and diehard advocates of a separate state and exclude the very possibility of pursuing a dialogue with the Sri Lankan State. Listing them is not the problem, but listing others is.
There are several organizations that are identified with civil society and this listing sadly, defeats the purpose it is originally intended for, by the UNSC Resolution.
While failing to achieve the desired objective, this decision can only prove counterproductive for another reason. Some of these organizations, working with local organizations including democratic political outfits, will now feel ostracised – unwanted.
Post war brings many new challenges. It is one thing to be single-minded about winning a war but the real work begins only thereafter. As the island inches towards reconciliation, there needs to be sufficient space for healing, for integration and reintegration. They are supposed to be our collective lessons learnt from the tragic years of the past.
Decisions by the State should be based on concrete evidence and sound logic, and implemented in a manner that would not cause the alienation of moderate Tamils who yearn for peace and normalcy. It is also the fervent wish of a silent majority in the South.