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Terrorism: United States Law & Practise
Appeal to US President Clinton
The Development, Justice & Aid Programme of
Dear President Clinton,
Christian World Service, an ecumenical development assistance agency with a 50 year history of providing New Zealand donor support programmes throughout the third world, has had a long association with communities in Sri Lanka. Through our partnerships we have learned at some depth of the causes, the process and the outcomes of the long-running conflict in that country.
Both Tamil and Sinhalese groups in Sri Lanka have from time to time sought our advocacy in the cause of a negotiated settlement and a lasting peace. Supported by people who are concerned about the suffering of people in armed conflicts, we seek the US government to initiate moves to end the suffering of the innocent civilians in Sri Lanka, and to bring about a lasting solution through negotiations under international mediation. Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the main armed Tamil militant group (LTTE) have been engaged in a war for more than a decade which has resulted in the death of at least 50,000 people, according to Sri Lankan government estimates [Attachment_1].
Even at the dawn of the 21st century, many people in the world are being denied their right of self-determination and are being ruled by military force. Examples include but are not limited to, Tibet, East Timor and Sri Lanka. The United States is well aware of human rights abuses taking place throughout the world. In a case such as Tibet, where the government is not democratically elected, the world may tolerate the oppression of the Tibetan people for fear of alienating the powerful nation of China. In other situations, such as in Sri Lanka, although the governments are elected by majority vote, and therefore are nominally "democratic", they do not respect the rights of the minorities, and have not hesitated to use their military power indiscriminately, to kill, maim and displace civilians, in the name of tackling separatism. We seek to draw your attention, as a matter of urgency, to the Sri Lankan conflict at this time, because we understand that the US government has recently declared the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist organisation [REF1].
While we do not condone any act of violence, particularly against non-combatants, we see this move as unfair, and not a step towards a peaceful solution. Encouraging the Sri Lankan state's execution of the current war, which has caused the death of tens of thousands of innocent people, immense destruction and suffering, and has resulted in a large scale displacement of the population at an unprecedented level in that island, does not address the underlying causes of the conflict.
Most of the Tamils living in the war zones of Sri Lanka are reportedly terrified by the actions of the security forces, which include indiscriminate aerial bombing, shelling, arbitrary arrests which have led to many cases of torture, rape, disappearances and extra judicial killings.
According to the Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (E/CN.4/1997/34,13 December 1996) submitted to the 53rd Sessions of the UN Commission on Human Rights in March this year, Sri Lanka with almost 11,500 disappearance cases outstanding, for the period 1980 to 1996, is second only to Iraq in the number of unsolved disappearances in the world. Since the Sri Lankan forces took over the Jaffna peninsula in early 1996, over 700 people had ‘disappeared’ by April 1997 (Statement by Head of US delegation to UN Human Rights Commission in 10 April, 1997). Although the actual situation in the war zone is not well known, due to a ban on media and independent human rights observers, the picture emerging from the few independent reports [Attachments 1-3] indicates that the civilians are living in a state of constant fear of the security forces and are suffering from lack of basic necessities due to a government embargo. Under this situation, banning the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam without condemning the state aggression which has reportedly caused more death and destruction than the actions attributed to the LTTE is likely to encourage the Sri Lankan government to carry on with its conduct of war.
Nature of the Conflict
While the Sri Lankan government may regard the operations in Sri Lanka as a war against separatist terrorists, the Tamils view it as a liberation struggle or fight for self-determination. It should be mentioned here that in 1976, all major Tamil political parties in Sri Lanka formed an alliance "Tamil United Liberation Front" (TULF) and declared that they would seek a separate state for the Tamils in the north and east [Attachment_4]. The TULF won the 1977 general elections with an overwhelming majority. In the absence of a referendum on the issue, this may be regarded as a signal that the Tamils did want a separate state. It should also be mentioned here that Tamils in Sri Lanka had their own states before the entire island was brought under one administration during the British rule [REF2]. These facts have to be taken into consideration, in deciding whether or not the current situation is a separatist war, or a liberation struggle.
On the question of whether or not it is a war against terrorism, one has to take into account the following facts: Post-independent governments have continued to suppress non-violent protests against discrimination and have applied violent force on peaceful political establishments that sought a measure of autonomy for the minority Tamils [Attachment_5]. Subsequently, in the early seventies, isolated violent incidents in the Northeast were met with brutal police force, which was applied somewhat randomly against youth and some Tamil politicians [Attachment_6].
Two events that may have led the Tamils to lose faith in the state of Sri Lanka are the police shooting at the fourth World Tamil Research Conference celebrations in Jaffna (1974) and the burning of the Jaffna public library by the security forces, allegedly on the orders of or with the approval of a cabinet minister. In the latter incident more than 90,000 articles including irreplaceable manuscripts were lost. The Tamils regard it as a cultural genocide, eradicating from the earth, the cultural treasures passed on to them by their ancestors.
The above factors may have contributed to the birth of Tamil armed militant groups including the LTTE, at a time when the frustrated Tamils saw that their political leadership were not only unable to secure equal rights for the Tamils, but were even unable to protect their rights to keep and use their cultural treasures (books) and celebrate cultural events without fear. The continued growth of Tamil militancy can also be attributed, at least partly, to the state's mishandling of the conflict. For example, the 1983 riots in Sri Lanka, which led to the death of hundreds of innocent Tamils, are alleged to have been organised by members of a major political party that was then in power. Whether or not the allegation is true, the government of President Jeyawardane, by its initial silence and inaction [Attachment_7], failed to protect the lives of the innocent people. This, many Tamils think, has also alienated them. The violence grew as the militants gathered support among the Tamil population, and the state security forces started large-scale military operations resulting in significant civilian casualties and property damage. Many of the affected people say that they were terrorised by the military operations. We believe that the Sri Lankan government's military operations cannot be described simply as a war against terrorism.
Use of food as a weapon of war:
The current situation in areas that are not controlled by the government forces is not clearly known, due to media ban, but according to Sri Lankan press [Attachment 9 ] some non governmental organisations have reported that the government does not send food to these areas. The banning of some Non Governmental organisations from working in eastern Sri Lanka is another development that causes deep concern [Attachment 10 ]. We would like to believe the Sri Lankan government's claim that there is no shortage of food and medicine in the northeast, but unless independent observers are allowed into these areas, we cannot accept this claim. We fear that the Sri Lankan government may be using food as a weapon of war.
Indiscriminate Attacks and Civilian Casualties: State Terrorism:
Another disturbing dimension of this war is the nature of military attacks. On a number of occasions, the Sri Lankan air force has been blamed for the death of civilians in private and public dwellings. Notable incidents include the bombing of St Peter's Church in Navaly [Attachment_11] resulting in the death of scores of civilians, and the subsequent bombing of a school in Nagar Kovil in which many children were killed. These incidents are not isolated. In the northeast, many villages were carpet bombed, and even hospitals have taken direct hits. Even recently the Sri Lankan Air Force has been blamed for the death of nine civilians [Attachment 1]. These reports make us believe that the Sri Lankan Air Force has been used to attack Tamil areas indiscriminately. In addition to aerial bombing, shelling has caused death and injury to thousands of people. If these deaths were the result of inaccuracy in the artillery, then the Sri Lankan government should have realised it a long ago, and should not have continued to use them. Once again, this leaves us with the impression that shelling may also have been used indiscriminately against targets that included residential areas. Many Tamils regard the actions of the Security Forces as deliberately designed to terrorise the people.
The Tamil militants, including the LTTE, have also been implicated in acts of terror in the northeast, particularly in their internal fights. Supporters of the opposing groups and those suspected of passing information to the security forces were killed or imprisoned. However, on the whole, we believe the actions of the Sri Lankan Security Forces have resulted in significantly more death, civilian casualties and destruction of properties, simply because of the nature of the attacks (aerial bombing and shelling). See Attachments 12 & 13.
Most of these serious human rights violations have taken place in areas outside the presence of media and independent observers, and it may be difficult to bring those responsible to justice as people are unlikely to come forward to give evidence against the security forces. Even in the capital Colombo, arbitrary arrests based mainly on ethnicity have taken place. In many cases people believe that the arrests were made by the police in order to extort money from the arrested person. One incident that provoked a government inquiry was the discovery of the bodies of some Tamils in the Bogoda lake [Attachment 15].
Bombings in Colombo and the Killing of Politicians:
We have listed the above acts of violence, not to pass a judgement on who the guilty party is, but merely to point out that both warring parties should be treated equally. We believe that the world must act to prevent further bloodshed, and to bring a lasting peace to the people in the island of Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, it is the failure of the Sri Lankan politicians to find a political settlement to the ethnic problem that led to the present state of war. By continuing to ignore the plight of the civilians who are suffering as a result of military operations, they are aiding the build-up of the LTTE. The people, when forced into a corner by their own government, are likely to join the LTTE. There is only one sure way to win this war. That is to abandon its execution, and start negotiating.
We hope that your government will help to protect the rights of all peoples in this world to live in peace with dignity, and to enable all peoples in this world to uphold the principles of the fundamental rights that are enshrined in the American constitution.
Our appeal, and the observations contained in it are based on the information that is available to us. If the US State Department has any other reliable information that is contrary to our understanding, please let us know. We, the participants of this appeal do not all belong to any one organisation. This letter was posted on the internet, and the signatures were obtained through e-mail.
The readers were asked to send their endorsements to volunteers, and the first volunteer has collected all signatures from other volunteers by e-mail. The volunteers have undertaken to distribute your reply to the participants by e-mail or by posting it on the internet. We ask you to keep the names and any particulars of signatories confidential.
Sri Lanka airforce kills nine civilians: Tiger said - by Agence France-Presse
COLOMBO, Aug 16 1997(AFP) - Sri Lankan airforce planes bombed a Catholic Church in northern Sri Lanka, killing at least nine civilians and wounding another 15, Tamil Tiger rebels said Saturday. The separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in a statement from their London office said two Kfir jets bombed the church at the rebel-held area of Vavunikulam on Friday morning. "Six of the dead have so far been identified but the remaining three bodies -- reduced to bones and flesh -- were too badly disfigured to recognise," the Tiger statement said. It said the victims were refugees who had taken shelter at the church. Government forces are currently leading a major offensive against the LTTE in the north of the country in a bid to open a key highway through guerrilla-dominated jungles. Tiger rebels are leading a campaign for independence in the island's northern and eastern regions where the two million Tamil minority is concentrated. More than 50,000 people have been killed in fighting in the past 25 years. [Back]
Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) General Election Manifesto - July 1977
"What is the alternative now left to the nation that has lost its rights to its language, rights to its citizenship, rights to its religions and continues day by day to lose its traditional homeland to Sinhalese colonization? What is the alternative now left to a nation that has lost its opportunities to higher education through "standardization" and its equality in opportunities in the sphere of employment?"
"What is the alternative to a nation that lies helpless as it is being assaulted, looted and killed by hooligans instigated by the ruling race and by the security forces of the state? Where else is an alternative to the Tamil nation that gropes in the dark for its identity and finds itself driven to the brink of devastation?
"There is only one alternative and that is to proclaim with the stamp of finality and fortitude that we alone shall rule over our land our forefathers ruled. Sinhalese imperialism shall quit our Homeland. The Tamil United Liberation Front regards the general election of 1977 as a means of proclaiming to the Sinhalese Government this resolve of the Tamil nation..."
"Hence the TULF seeks in the General Election the mandate of the Tamil nation to establish an independent, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam that includes all the geographically contiguous areas that have been the traditional homeland of the Tamil-speaking people in the country."
"The Tamil nation must take the decision to establish its sovereignty in its homeland on the basis of its right to self- determination. The only way to announce this decision to the Sinhalese Government and to the world is to vote for the TULF."
"The Tamil-speaking representatives who get elected through these votes while being members of the National State Assembly of Ceylon, will also form themselves into the National Assembly of Tamil Eelam which will draft a constitution for the state of Tamil Eelam and establish the independence of Tamil Eelam by bringing that constitution into operation either by peaceful means or by direct action or struggle." [Back]
"On 5th June 1956, the date the 'Sinhala Only' Bill was introduced by (Prime Minister) Bandaranaike in the House (of Parliament), as an act of protest, Chelvanayakam, the leader of the Federal Party, led a party of 300 Tamil volunteers and staged a sit down Satyagraha (peaceful protest) of the kind popularised by Mahatma Gandhi in the days of the Indian freedom struggle.
It was a peaceful sit down protest outside the House, on the Galle Face Green... On that day, the police were all around but allowed the Satyagrahis to be beaten up... Some Tamil Satyagrahis were thrown into Beira Lake near the Parliament House. From that moment every Tamil seen on roads of Colombo was attacked. Tamil office employees going home from work in public transport were caught and man-handled. Tamils had to stay indoors for personal safety for days on end. Sinhalese hooligans took charge of the situation and went on a rampage of arson and looting of Tamil shops and homes. The rioting and violence were instigated by the government and actively supported by the Sinhalese organisations and Bhikkus (Buddhist priests) to frighten Tamils into accepting the 'Sinhala Only' Act... The violence and rioting spread to Gal Oya and Amparai where, under an irrigation and re-settlement scheme, thousands of Sinhalese had been resettled in clusters around thinly distributed Tamil villages in the Eastern province. In the race riots in 1956, 150 people died. They included many Tamil women and children..." - Satchi Ponnambalam: Sri Lanka - The National Question and the Tamil Liberation Struggle, Zed Books Ltd, 1983
"What happened on 6 June 1956 when the Sinhala Only Bill was being debated in Parliament? The members of the Federal Party, exercising their undoubted constitutional right, wanted to protest against the imposition of (the Sinhala Only) Bill. The Members of the Federal Party said that they would sit in silence on the Galle Face Green... It was a silent protest which they were entitled to make. They were seated there on the Galle Face Green, and Parliament was sitting solemnly listening to the Prime Minister. Troops and police were drawn round the place. What happened? Hooligans, in the very presence of Parliament House, under the very nose of the Prime Minister of this country, set upon those innocent men seated there, bit their ears and beat them up mercilessly. Not one shot was fired while all this lawlessness to persons were let loose... Why?
Orders had been given: 'Do not shoot, just look on.'
Thereafter on that day, 6 June, every Tamil man was set upon and robbed. He was
beaten up. His fountain pen and wristlet were snatched away. He was thrashed
mercilessly, humiliated and sent home. The police were looking on while all this
was happening before their very eyes. Shops were looted... but the police did
nothing... Why did that happen? All that happened because specific instructions
had been given to the police that they should not shoot, should not arrest,
should not deal with the lawlessness and disorder that was let loose... rowdies
and hooligans were given a free hand to assault, humiliate and rob any innocent
Tamil walking the roads on that day. That was the attitude taken up by a Cabinet
composed of Sinhalese Ministers... These (hooligans) were instigated by some
members of Parliament... they were heading the gang of hooligans. The Prime
Minister made a remarkably wonderful speech on that occasion. He came, he smiled
and he told the crowd, "Don't do that. Rain is coming down. They will be cooled
in no time." That was the type of appeal he made. If Sinhalese men were being
thrashed by Tamils and their ears bitten, I wonder whether the Prime Minister
would have adopted the same attitude."
''In the period immediately after the emergency declaration
(in July 1979) a pattern of arbitrary arrest and detention existed and torture
was used systematically... Six young men, reported arrested in the days after
the emergency declaration, died in the custody of the police after having been
tortured and the bodies of three of them have still not been found. When the
Emergency was declared, the President had instructed the Commander of the
Security Forces in the Jaffna District to carry out his mandate before 31
December 1979... In a subsequent letter to the President, Amnesty
International... said it had recently received testimonies which indicated that
serious violations of the right of freedom from torture and from arbitrary
arrest, detention and punishment - rights also guaranteed in the Sri Lankan
Constitution - had occurred in the months after the emergency declaration...
Various methods of torture have been used by both the police and the army in the
period immediately after the emergency declaration, including suspending people
upside down by the toes whilst placing their head in a bag with suffocating
fumes of burning chillies, prolonged and severe beatings, insertion of pins in
the finger tips and the application of broken-chillies and biting-ants to
sensitive parts of the body and threats of execution. After these and other
methods of torture had been applied, statements were extracted and recorded'' -
Amnesty International Report, 1980
'What the troops and the rioters did not get was a clear public order to stop the mayhem. After two days of violence and the murder of 35 Tamils in a maximum security jail, the only editorial in the government run newspaper was on 'Saving our Forest Cover'. It was five days after the precipitating ambush and a day after a second prison massacre that the police of Sri Lanka heard from their 77 year old President.'' (Economist, 6 August 1983)
''Surprisingly, President Jayawardene in his first public comment made three days after the riots had begun, did not condemn the violence against the Tamils. In trying to placate the majority Sinhalese, he seemed by implication to justify the atrocities against the Tamils.'' (The Review, International Commission of Jurists edited by Niall Macdermot, December 1983) [Back]
Navaly Church Bombing 1995 July - ICRC-COMMUNICATION TO THE PRESS
Communication to the press No.95/30
SRI LANKA: DISPLACED CIVILIANS KILLED IN AIR STRIKE
Geneva (ICRC). On 9 July the Sri Lankan armed forces launched
a large-scale military offensive against the positions of the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) north of the city of Jaffna. The operation, involving
intensive artillery shelling and air strikes, immediately forced tens of
thousands of civilians to leave the area. Many of the displaced sought shelter
in churches and temples, including several hundred people who took refuge in the
Church of St. Peter and Paul in Navaly.
-INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS [Back]
"Barrel bombs - 210 litre cast iron barrels packed with explosives, rubber and saw dust - rain down on residential areas with the most devastating effect; each bomb can destroy 20 houses. By its haphazard bombing of civilian targets in the Northern peninsula of Jaffna, the airforce is imposing an unofficial blockade which is bringing some parts to starvation. Helicopters, equipped with rockets and machine guns hover day and night over Jaffna city and the surrounding towns and villages, ready to strafe any moving civilians or vehicles..." - The London Daily Telegraph, 13 September 1990
The hospital has also been bombed and three weeks ago, a helicopter fired into the operating theatre, killing a doctor... It is hard to sleep as the night sky is lit up with explosions, and the vibrations from bombs can be felt four miles away. The city centre has been flattened, with Jaffna railway and bus stations, shops, hotels and homes desolated... After one nights bombing I visited areas which had been hit. Six people had been killed, a row of houses was reduced to rubble and the smell of burning flesh hung in the air. Clothes, family photographs and furniture were scattered among the ruins. 'We ran into the bunkers when we heard the bombers coming' said a resident '...The Sri Lankans are just killing civilians at random... In an effort to dent civilian morale, they have also been showering the area with human and animal excrement." - The London Daily Telegraph, 13 September 1990 [Back]
"In the capital city of Colombo, a video store clerk named Naresh Rajadurai, 27, is last sighted in the company of an army officer. A week later, Rajadurai's decomposed body is found 100 km north of Colombo with those of four other Tamil youths... corpses of young men, many with faces mutilated to prevent identification, have started showing up in lakes and field outside Colombo." (Time Magazine, 31 July 1995)
"Fear has been revived in the mind of the public again that the terror era of 1989 has come round again. The reason for such a scare was the horrific sighting of dead bodies of youth in rivers, lakes and waterways in Piliyandala and Panadura (near Colombo), in the recent past. Eleven emaciated bodies, evidently tortured were recovered in a decomposed state in Bolgoda Lake. The bodies discovered on May 13, June 1 and June 10, washed ashore at Indigihatotupoa in Panadura... All eleven dead men seemed to be around 30-35 years of age and several of them had been gagged, starved and tortured before death." (Sinhala owned, Sri Lanka Sunday Leader, 2 July 1995)
"IGP Frank de Silva said four of the bodies found at Bolgoda and Alawwa have been identified as those of Tamils. 'It looks as if all the bodies are those Tamils' he said at a press briefing at the Tourist Board. (Sinhala owned Newslanka published in London, 15 July 1995) [Back]