|Nisha Desai Biswal|
The United States became the second country to ignore the UPFA Government’s prohibition order on 16 Tamil diaspora groups and 424 of their members on grounds that they are allegedly involved in terrorist activities. Some of those listed were among those who were at the Department of State in Washington DC last Thursday. They were part of a delegation that met Nisha Desai Biswal, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia. It was organised by the United States Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC).
The Chatham House Rules were imposed on the meeting to encourage openness and information sharing. Under these rules, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speakers, nor that of any other participant, may be revealed. Later that day, Biswal attended a farewell reception for outgoing Sri Lanka Ambassador Jaliya Wickremasuriya. Though named High Commissioner for Canada, his agreemont has still not been cleared by the Government in Ottawa.
A US Embassy spokesperson in Colombo said yesterday: “Yes, we can confirm that Assistant Secretary Biswal met with several Sri Lankan civil society representatives at the State Department to discuss the human rights situation in Sri Lankan and what can be done to support the Sri Lankan people. In addition to our government and private sector meetings, we regularly engage with a wide range of actors across Sri Lankan civil society and the diaspora, and this was the most recent engagement.”
The USTPAC itself is not a prohibited body. However, it is a constituent of the London-based Global Tamil Forum (GTF) which has been prohibited. They were actively campaigning in the past three years with the GTF over consecutive US resolutions on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. They have travelled together with GTF and Tamil National Alliance members to canvass support from member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council. USTPAC’s immediate past President Elias Jeyarajah, who is one of the 424 listed persons, was present at the meeting. This is what the prohibition order on him said: Name: IN/CA/20123/333 Elias Joseph Jeyarajah Title: NA (Not Available) Designation: NA PP (Passport No) NA, DOB (Date of Birth) NA, Place of Birth NA, Living in USA Address (Sri Lanka): NA, Address (Foreign): Raleigh, North Carolina. Listed on: 25th February 2014. Other information: NA
The hour long meeting focused on a number of issues including matters arising from the last US resolution moved at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva in March. US officials including those who were in Geneva were present. Some of the participants cited Canada’s decision to suspend a voluntary contribution of US$ 20 million to the Commonwealth Secretariat while the chair is Sri Lanka and wanted to know what the US proposed to do. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said in Ottawa that the money would instead go to other programmes that promote Commonwealth values.
Members of the Tamil Diaspora groups wanted what they called “targeted sanctions” imposed on Sri Lankan leaders and officials. They were alluding to similar sanctions imposed by the US on selected Russian officials. This came after Moscow ‘annexed’ Crimea, a part of Ukraine, as Russian territory after a ‘referendum.’ They had wanted to know what impact the outcome of the on-going Indian parliamentary elections would have on Sri Lanka. They were told to wait and see. Biswal had given a briefing to some 15 members of the delegation from six different groups on matters relating to her last visit to Sri Lanka and had expressed her disappointment over lack of progress on the part of the Government to US initiatives. All of the opposites of what the US and the World had wanted were happening, she is learnt to have said.
That the US moves to ignore the Government’s prohibition order was notwithstanding the latest State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism report noting that “despite its military defeat at the hands of the Sri Lanka Government in 2009, the LTTE’s international network of sympathizers and financial support persists.” The report said that the “Sri Lanka Government continued to maintain a strong military presence in post-conflict areas and continued to voice concern about the possible re-emergence of pro-LTTE sympathisers.”
Those remarks seem to have coincided with the Government’s own position. It was on March 21 that the Government promulgated regulations through a Gazette notification designating “groups” and “persons” who are attempting to commit or facilitate “terrorist acts.” Sixteen groups were listed together with the names of 424 persons. The order is enforced by the Chief of National Intelligence, retired Major General Kapila Hendawitharana and has frozen “funds, financial assets and economic resources” of the groups and individuals. However, it is not clear how much of such assets are available in Sri Lanka. After instances of financial remittances to individuals in Sri Lanka coming to light, a probe is now under way. Banks have been asked to provide inward remittance details of not only the prohibited organisations and persons but also others too. Most of them are to addresses in the North. The regulations in question are based on a 1968 law that has given effect to certain provisions of the Charter of the United Nations. Called the United Nations Act No 45 of 1968, it deals with the UN Charter signed in San Francisco on June 25, 1945. Article 49 relates to measures (not involving the use of armed forces) the Minister of Foreign Affairs may take through regulations to give effect to decisions of the Security Council. In this instance, it relates to “counter terrorism” measures.
After the new regulations were promulgated, the Ministry of Defence warned in a statement that “an attempt for resurgence of terrorism in Sri Lanka surfaced in general area Pallai in the Jaffna peninsula calling for launching another phase of the LTTE struggle for a separate state.”
On April 24, this issue formed the subject of a briefing to Colombo based diplomats by External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris. His news release on the event said “….there is compelling evidence regarding the remittance of substantial sums of money from overseas for planned terrorist activity. As a result of extensive investigations in recent weeks, the government is aware of the sources of this funding in several instances and the bank accounts into which the money had been paid. 65 arrests have been made, and 19 persons have been released after questioning…..” At least two diplomats, whose countries are mentioned in the prohibition order, sought to obtain details and declared their own agencies would then be able to probe the matter further. However, Peiris replied that it could not be done immediately. Once the investigations were over, he said, the details would be made available them.
The first to reject the move last week was Canada. Foreign Minister Baird and his deputy, Minister of State Lynne Yelich issued a joint statement in which they expressed “concern” over “the listing of 16 entities and 424 individuals for purported links to terrorist activities, including some with ties to Canada.” They said, “Sri Lanka’s action has no legal effect in Canada; it does not constrain the freedom of listed groups and individuals to lawfully express their views in Canada.” The statement noted that “diaspora communities play an important role in Sri Lanka’s post-conflict reconciliation process and the action by the Sri Lanka Government could further hinder progress on reconciliation.” It pointed out that under Canada’s Criminal Code, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is on the list of terrorist entities since 2006 and said the World Tamil Movement was added to the list in 2008. Thursday’s meeting by Assistant Secretary Biswal with the Tamil Diaspora groups confirmed that the US has ignored the prohibition order too.
It is perhaps due to the Government not being able to make available to Washington proof to confirm there indeed is a resurgence of terrorism. In Britain, a Foreign Office spokesperson said that it was up to the Colombo Government to make available evidence to confirm its assertions. The spokesperson held that the prohibition order “should not be used to prevent or stifle free speech and legitimate criticism.” However, India has acted on the information contained in the order. One of the 424 persons named, who was returning to India from Britain for medical treatment for his mother, was turned away. A similar course of action has also been taken by immigration officials in Teheran, Iran when one of those named visited that country.
- from the Political column of The Sunda Times