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Home > Human Rights & Humanitarian Law > Armed Conflict & the Law > What is Terrorism? - Law & PractiseTerrorism: United States Law & Practise > U.S. State Department Undertakes  Review of  Designation of LTTE as a Terrorist Organisation

U.S. State Department Undertakes Review
of  Designation of LTTE as a Terrorist Organisation

4 November 2008

[see also Comment by tamilnation.org]

from Federal Register, Volume 73, No.214,
Tuesday, November 4 2008, Notices, page 65713

Comment by tamilnation.org  

Alice in Wonderland - What is Terrorism?"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less'. 'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things'. 'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all'." Alice in Wonderland,  Lewis Carrol - Through the Looking Glass, c.vi  in What is Terrorism

The politics of the ban continues to unfold. Michael Schubert's remarks 'On Liberation Movements And The Rights Of Peoples' in 1992 bear repetition here -

"In order for... states to quickly and effectively wipe out "revolt", which could get out of hand despite technical superiority (read: better weapons) due to the political and moral convictions of the mass movement, it is necessary to make comprehensive analyses early on and to take effective action in the psychological arena....The central aim of this defence approach is to destroy the morale of the insurgent movement at the early stages, to discredit it and destroy it using repressive means ... thereby preventing a mass movement from starting which could be hard to control with conventional means. Defaming the insurgents as "terrorists" and punishing them accordingly - thereby ignoring international law concerning the rights of people in war - is a particularly useful means."

It is no accident, for instance, that Sri Lanka and states who are concerned to secure the status quo of territorial boundaries imposed by the old colonial rulers, have chosen to designate the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a "terrorist" organisation and to deny to the Tamil resistance movement the legitimacy that international law may accord.

"....An armed resistance movement takes shape in the womb of oppression. Its seeds are to be found in the eternal quest for equality and freedom. But, though born of natural parents it is at birth illegitimate - because it breaches the existing legal frame, and seeks to supplant it. And that simple fact has much to do with its subsequent development and growth. An armed resistance movement acquires legitimacy and becomes 'lawful' through its growth and success - not simply because the ends it seeks to achieve are just... The metamorphosis from 'unlawful' to 'lawful' is gradual (and many layered) and is related not only to the justice of the ends it seeks to achieve and the justice of the means it employs but also to the extent to which a guerrilla movement is able to secure and maintain permanent control of territory. It is not a case of one or the other, but a case of all three..." - Nadesan Satyendra in  Tamil Armed Resistance and the Law

"The most problematic issue relating to terrorism and armed conflict is distinguishing terrorists from lawful combatants, both in terms of combatants in legitimate struggles for self-determination and those involved in civil wars or non-international armed conflicts. In the former category, States that do not recognize a claim to self-determination will claim that those using force against the State�s military forces are necessarily terrorists. In the latter, States will also claim that those fighting against the State are terrorists, and that rather than a civil war, there is a situation of �terrorism and counter-terrorism activity"....The controversy over the exact meaning, content, extent and beneficiaries of, as well as the means and methods utilized to enforce the right to self-determination has been the major obstacle to the development of both a comprehensive definition of terrorism and a comprehensive treaty on terrorism. The ideological splits and differing approaches preventing any broad consensus during the period of decolonization still persist in today�s international relations..." Terrorism and Human Rights  Final Report of United Nations  Special Rapporteur, Kalliopi K. Koufa,  25 June 2004

If truth be told, the designation of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation has little to do with the means adopted by the LTTE and everything to do with its end goal of  freedom for the people of Tamil Eelam - freedom from alien Sinhala rule within the confines a single state.

Given the uneasy balance of power in the Indian Ocean region, it is this end goal of an independent Tamil Eelam which, at the present time, albeit for different reasons, both India and US find inimical to their strategic interests. But as the resolution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, USA in 18 June 1981, suggests this was not always the case - and therefore may not always be the case in the future.

 "Resolved, that the Massachusetts House of Representatives hereby urges the President and the Congress of the United States to support the Struggle for Freedom by the Tamil Nation for the Restoration and Reconstitution of the separate sovereign state of Tamil Eelam and to recognise publicly the right of self determination by the Tamil people of Tamil Eelam" House of Representatives Resolution, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, USA, 18 June 1981  

States, after all,  have permanent interests but they do not have permanent friends.

Be that as it may, the politics of the ban usually takes a predictable course. First you  threaten to ban unless the organisation falls in line with your perceived strategic interests. Then you ban, to show that you are serious about that which you said. But you do not implement the ban so that you may continue to engage with the banned organisation and its supporters. Then you start implementing the ban but in a calibrated fashion and negotiate to secure 'appropriate' responses from the banned organisation on a piece meal basis. You may then go on to suggest that the ban may be removed if the banned organisation plays 'ball' and drops its political goal.

"...Western governments� policies on Sri Lanka should consciously include attempts to open up political space within their Tamil communities for non-Tiger political voices. Those governments with significant Tamil populations should engage representative civil society groups directly, expressing sympathy for the legitimate grievances of minorities in Sri Lanka... Peace supporters should consider setting a deadline for renunciation of a separate state, after which they would actively pursue prosecutions of current LTTE leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.... Countries should develop step-by-step benchmarks for progress towards revoking the terrorist designation � in part to encourage Prabhakaran�s removal..." Report of 20 February 2008 by The International Crisis Group co-chaired by  Lord Patten of Barnes, Former UK Cabinet Minister and by Ambassador Thomas R Pickering, Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN; and with  Gareth Evans,  Former Foreign Minister of Australia as President.

To advance your own strategic interests, you may even encourage a banned organisation to appeal for a review of the ban so that sufficient political space is created within which you may continue to engage with the banned organisation and/or its supporters. And, ofcourse, ambiguity is not without its constructive uses. This is all the more so if  your own strategic interests are not the same as those of either of the  parties to the conflict in which you seek to intervene - and if you want to exert pressure on both parties to fall in line and accept your hegemony.  'Come into my parlour  said the spider to the fly'.  However, one would imagine that after several decades of painful experience, the fly may have also worked out ways of negotiating spider webs.

The Spider and the Fly
Mary Howitt

Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there."
Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."

"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?" said the Spider to the Fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I'll snugly tuck you in!"
Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!"

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, " Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I 've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome -- will you please to take a slice?"
"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "kind Sir, that cannot be,
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!"

"Sweet creature!" said the Spider, "you're witty and you're wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I've a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you'll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said, "for what you 're pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now, I'll call another day."

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
"Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple -- there's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!"

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue --
Thinking only of her crested head -- poor foolish thing! At last,
Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour -- but she ne'er came out again!

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words, I pray you ne'er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,
And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.


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