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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
LTTE admits it holds political prisoners
20 March 1992
The Tigers have now, for the first time acknowledged that they have a prison system and political prisoners. But they have sought legitimization in a carefully planned move, for their surveillance, judicial and penal apparatus. This is a new and crucial phase in their strategy for developing and establishing their authority in the north. How do they hope to secure the legitimization they seek for their nascent and experimental state structures?
Since the second Eelam was began in 1990 the LTTE has come under fire from local and international human rights organizations. Although the Tigers had been accused of killing and blasting hundreds of Sinhala civilians in the north and east, before 1987 Indian sponsorship in international fora was in no small measure instrumental in deflecting or preventing adverse human rights focus on the LTTE or any other group which was backed by Delhi. It was the Sri Lankan government which was isolated and invariably made the ultimate and sole culprit.
In fact the leaders of those groups which massacred innocent civilians and the operations they ordered to be carried out were under RAW's direct supervision. But things changed after the LTTE fell out with the IPKF and after coming under increasing criticism from within and without that the butchering of non-combatants was a trap set up by India to, portray Tamil groups in general and the LTTE n particular as politically unacceptable terrorists, when the need arose for discarding them from its geopolitical scheme.
And so in 1989 the LTTE supported the government at the sessions of the UN commission on Human Rights at Geneva. During its honeymoon with the government they began to systematically gather information and organized a pervasive surveillance network to locate and prevent even what to them, were minuscule possibilities for the reemergence of pro-Indian groups.
Arrest and detention of persons who had connections with the EPRLF, TELO, TULF and PLOTE increased. Reports reached Colombo about a large prison camp in Thunukkai, Kilinochchi. Two detailed accounts of detention and torture in LTTE prisons were put out in Colombo. (One account was published by the EPRLF recently).
The UTHR of Dr. Sridharan and Dr. Rajan Hoole (formerly of the University of Jaffna) published several booklets in Colombo which described (sometimes `impressionistically') the dire human rights violations of the Tigers.
In recent times the arrest of ex-PLOTE members, Norbert, Selvi, Thillai and several others have become an important issue in a campaign against the LTTE's methods of dealing with people whom it suspects of potential dissent. The murderous Tiger attacks on Muslim civilians in the east continues to figure in reports on human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
Massacres of innocent, civilians, detention, torture, and the violent suppression of the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom of association did take place in areas controlled by Tamil groups in the north also before 1987.
The relentless condemnation of these groups came from within the armed Tamil movement itself. Splinter groups like, The Spark and TREPLA exposed the dire and bloody misdeeds of the armed Tamil groups under India's sponsorship. But at that time there was little talk of human rights violations by Tamil groups in the north. But once India became the bitter opponent of the LTTE. determined to crush it and make it a terrorist non-entity things changed in international human rights groups, there are two violators in Sri Lanka. The one, the government; the other the LTTE.
Prior to 1987 the Sri Lankan state was solely held responsible for indiscriminate arrest, unacknowledged detention and torture, including summary executions These are considered human rights violations precisely because the idea of a modern state is postulated on its structural ability to ensure that the fundamental principles of natural justice are followed in administering justice to its people.
Therefore when a state is accused of human rights violations it means that it has deliberately misused, overstepped or suppressed its credible penal and judicial system in dealing with its subjects.
The distinction between crime and human rights violation is that the former is related to non state parties whereas the latter is related to states. The prevention of crime is attempted through reform and punishment by means of the judicial and penal system of a country. The prevention of human rights violation is primarily attempted through improvements to and reform of a state's judicial and penal system.
A state endeavours to make itself acceptable in international fora (particularly in the new world order where human rights issues have acquired a more than merely humanitarian - instrumental value) by pleading its case in terms of structural improvements and new mechanisms aimed at rectifying those aspects of the state which made violations possible, and by accepting the recommendations made by international bodies (in part or whole).
The state also pleads the attenuating circumstances which make full implementation difficult. (In many cases, geopolitics may make it easier for a state to justify tardy reform in view of such special circumstances).
Now this is what the government has done at the 48th session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in responding to the report by the Working Group on Disappearances of the commission on February 27 (statement of Bradman Weerakoon).
But the most significant turn of events is that the LTTE which figures as the other human rights violator in this report and the Sri Lankan amnesty report of January 1991, has presented its case exactly in the manner of a state, by speaking of improving the human rights situation in its areas, in terms of a better judicial and penal system. And like the government delegation it has also pleaded the special conditions in which it has to carry out reforms and introduce new mechanisms.
The LTTE's International Secretariat in London issued a statement on February 18 six days after Ambassador Neville Jeyaweera addressed the chairman of the commission.
It said the International Secretariat of the LTTE has taken note of the observations in the Sri Lanka Amnesty reports of September 1991 and January 1992, and in the recent report by the Working Group on Disappearances of United Nations Commission on Human Rights which is in progress now in Geneva as well as the concerns of some other non-governmental organisations, about violations of human rights, in areas within the control of the Sri Lankan government and to a lesser extent in areas within the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
In so far the alleged violations of human rights in areas within the control of the LTTE are concerned, we would like to point out, at the outset, that whilst it is true that the LTTE is in control of territory in the Northern and Eastern parts of the island, the extent and nature of that control is not the same in all parts of the Northeast.
However, despite these conditions of hardship, in several areas the LTTE has succeeded in establishing a stable civil administration and helped to provide the necessary infrastructure for agriculture, fishing and small scale industrial activities. Education and cultural activities have also been cared for. Adequate law enforcement machinery has been put in place. Prisons have been established. Prison guards have been recruited. Prisoners will be permitted visits by relatives and by human rights and humanitarian organisations. Prisoners are kept in custody under conditions which accord with both local and international law and they will at all times be treated humanely.
In June last year, a Tamil Eelam Police force started functioning. The Tamil Eelam Police headed by its Chief of Police, Mr. Nadesan, is responsible for the maintenance of law and order in the Tamil homeland. The police force includes both men and women. The main office of the Tamil Eelam Police is situated in Jaffna and six other branch police stations at Chunnakam, Chankanai, Kopay, Chavakachcheri, Point Pedro and Valvettithurai had been established. Complaints made by individuals are investigated and action taken according to law. Traffic control is one of the routine functions of the police force. The rule of law will be secured in the Tamil homeland.
The LTTE has taken steps to ensure that the fundamental principles of natural justice are followed in all matters relating to punishment. Permanent courts and tribunals for administering justice are in the process of being set up. Persons arrested for committing a crime will be entitled to a fair trial in accordance with international legal standards.
The Tigers are able to respond in this fashion because the charge of human rights violation essentially posits malfunctioning or distorted state structures rather than the crimes of an individual or group.
The zeal to condemn the LTTE as a gross human rights violator in Sri Lanka, has given rise to a paradox which suits the Tigers but confounds its accusers. The paradox is this: If you say it is a human rights violator it legitimizes its nascent state structures, for reasons given above.
If you want to deny that legitimacy you will have to stop talking about its misdeeds in terms of human rights violations. But when you do that the LTTE's nascent state structures gain legitimacy by virtue of the fact that no human rights group talks about violations they engender.
This paradox makes one thing clear in dealing with the LTTE. That is the war to control it, is not a technical matter confined to the north. The international diplomatic dimension of the LTTE's goals is still an important front despite the efforts of India in international fora.