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Global action on counterung terror: Lanka’s perspective

Excerpts from the speech by Rohitha Bogollagama, Minister of Foreign Affairs at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Canberra last week

Since 1963, the international community has elaborated 13 universal legal instruments to prevent terrorist acts. Those instruments were developed under the auspices of the United Nations and its specialised agencies and the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and are open to participation by all Member States.

Currently, UN Member States are negotiating a 14th international treaty, a draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism. This convention would complement the existing framework of international anti-terrorism instruments and would build on key guiding principles already present in recent anti-terrorist conventions: the importance of criminalisation of terrorist offences, making them punishable by law and calling for prosecution or extradition of the perpetrators; the need to eliminate legislation which establishes exceptions to such criminalization on political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or similar grounds; a strong call for Member States to take action to prevent terrorist acts; and emphasis on the need for Member States to cooperate, exchange information and provide each other with the greater measurer of assistance in connection with the prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorist acts.

The Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 08 September 2006, highlighted the importance of Member States becoming parties to existing international counter-terrorism instruments and implementing their provisions without delay. This was first time that countries around the world agreed on a common strategic approach to combat terrorism.

Terrorism is, sadly, no stranger to Sri Lanka. We, in Sri Lanka, know terrorism, unfortunately, only too well. It is regrettably an everyday reality confronting us, even as we try to commute to our work places and attend to our daily chores.

We know at first hand the horrific consequences of the brutality of terrorism; the carnage, the shock and horror, the thousands of unsuspecting lives lost or maimed in the flash of a bomb explosion, the thousands of families left bereaved, the countless personal tragedies that terrorism leaves in its wake. The debilitating effects of terrorism on the psyche of the nation have been such that an entire generation has been born and raised in Sri Lanka under the dark clouds of this scourge.

Sri Lanka is a State party to 12 international conventions relating to terrorism. The most recent instrument that we ratified was the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which was negotiated and concluded in April 2005 by the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism, under the Chair of Sri Lanka. Currently, a Bill to give effect to this Convention has been gazetted and will be presented to Parliament shortly for adoption into domestic law.

At the regional level too, Sri Lanka has played a pro-active role in galvanizing support for collective action in combating terrorism. At the recently concluded 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo, leaders of the assembled eight member states gave their blessings to the SAARC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, which was signed by the Foreign Ministers.


An LTTE attack in Sri Lanka

Among the key weapons in the armoury of the international community to fight terrorism is the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, which entered into force on 10 April 2002, following its adoption by the UN General Assembly in December 1999.

The speed with which member states ratified this Convention, illustrated the commitment of the international community to combat terrorism, especially in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001.

In response to those attacks, the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted Resolution 1373 on 28 September 2001, which inter aliacalled upon States to “become parties as soon as possible to the relevant international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, including the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 09 December 1999”.

Increasingly, international terrorist activity has become interlinked with other modern scourges, such as drug trafficking and the proliferation of small arms. This Convention recognizes that financing is at the heart of terrorist activity, and it paves the way for concerted action and close cooperation among law enforcement agencies, financial authorities and States.

It calls for efforts to identify, detect, and freeze or seize any funds used or allocated for the purpose of committing a terrorist act. It urges States to consider establishing mechanisms to use such funds to compensate victims and/or their families.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which has earned international notoriety and opprobrium for its countless cold blooded and savage acts of terrorism, targeting not only high profile politicians and military personnel, but ordinary civilians, designed to cause maximum casualties and property destruction, is a prime candidate for consideration by the Working Group for listing, as an international terrorist group. The LTTE is pre-eminently qualified to meet the criteria for such listing.

After all, the LTTE has been described as “probably the most sophisticated terrorist organization in the world”, by Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, Chief Scientist at the Centre Asymmetric Threat Studies of the Swedish National Defence College. More recently, the FBI of the United States has given the LTTE the appellation as “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world”.

I do hope the UN Working Group will take cognizance of the clear and present danger that the LTTE poses not only to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, but equally to the law and order as well as the stability of Western societies, which have been infected by the pernicious and malignant influence of the LTTE.

The LTTE is notorious for resorting to intimidation, extortion and even violence on the large Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in the West to ensure a steady flow of funds to finance its terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka.

Funding from the diaspora has been the mainstay fuelling the LTTE’s terror campaign in Sri Lanka. The traditional “melting pot” paradigm, where emigrants gradually lost ties to their countries of origin and became assimilated into the social fabric of their adopted nations, is no longer the norm.

The LTTE, running a highly sophisticated and intricate international web, encompassing the whole gamut of activities ranging from seemingly innocuous pursuits, such as the promotion of Tamil culture to raising funds ostensibly to support charities and humanitarian relief in Sri Lanka, has cleverly exploited modern technology to finance its terror campaign.

In fact, although several countries including India, the United States, the United Kingdom, the 27 member European Union and Canada have proscribed the LTTE, the many front organizations of the LTTE which operate rather freely in these countries, continue to raise funds and engage in propaganda in support of the LTTE. These fronts provide a cover for the LTTE to indulge in various nefarious activities, including illicit arms procurement, human smuggling, narcotics trafficking, credit card scams and money laundering.

All too often there is a tendency to lose sight of the meticulous organization behind each act of terrorism, the extensive network of secret cells, responsible for collecting funds, procuring illicit weapons and bomb making material, and foot soldiers responsible for propaganda. The ability of the LTTE to transfer vast sums money through illicit channels, bypassing the scrutiny of Central Banks of Governments, is a major challenge in combating terrorism.

We greatly appreciate the pro-active stance of the Australian authorities in arresting and prosecuting frontline activists and sympathizers of the LTTE, notwithstanding the fact that Australia is yet to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Hence, the arrest of three activists of the Melbourne based LTTE front, the Tamil Coordinating Committee in April 2007 by the Australian Federal Police and their subsequent prosecution on charges relating to raising funds for terrorism, is all the more welcome.

We also note that the Australian Federal Police have arrested the Director of a Melbourne business college in July this year, at the request of the FBI of the US, for his links to the LTTE, and wanted to face prosecution for alleged terrorism offences in the US.

However, much more needs to be done to pursue front organizations of the LTTE, posing off as charities and humanitarian relief groups, which continue to raise funds to fill the LTTE war chest.

In this respect, the United States has taken a bold lead in targeting the support network of the LTTE by designating the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), which had long claimed itself to be a charitable organization, as a front to facilitate fund raising and procurement of weapons for the LTTE.”

Notwithstanding the overwhelming body of evidence that is available with several governments on the inextricable and organic link between the TRO and the LTTE, it is a matter of regret that apart from the US and the UK governments which have listed the TRO, this organization as well as numerous other fronts, representing the multi-headed hydra like character of the LTTE, are operating with impunity, thumbing a nose at the authorities in many Western countries which have a significant presence of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.

Thus, the onus is now clearly upon the international community to support Sri Lanka, by taking tangible and meaningful steps to eradicate terrorism from our land, and help the government to restore democracy and rebuild the damaged infrastructure in the North and the East of the country. We believe that the true friends of Sri Lanka in the international community, who have the well being of our people at heart must put their money where their mouth is, by taking decisive action to stop funds being raised under various ruses, which are being channeled to finance the LTTE’s operations.

We strongly believe that terrorism cannot be countered by using terrorism; we reject the notion that terror must be fought by terror.

While this approach has found favour in certain quarters, giving rise to robust rules of engagement for the military to engage terrorists, in turn, resulting in


9/11 attack in NewYork

 collateral damage in the form of massive civilian casualties, Sri Lanka firmly believes in the protection of human rights, even as its military forces are currently engaged in freeing our people from the fascist and dictatorial control of the LTTE terrorists, who are now holed up in parts of the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the North.

The Government of Sri Lanka is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation of civilians in the uncleared areas, as the military operations enter a decisive phase to free these areas from the terrorists. As a responsible government, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration is acutely conscious and aware of its responsibilities towards all citizens of Sri Lanka.

This is why, even as there is intensification of the military strikes against the LTTE, there is remarkably minimal collateral civilian casualties. This has not occurred by chance or a fortuitous turn of circumstances, but rather in pursuance of the government directive to the military to adhere strictly to a policy of “zero civilian casualty”, in combating terrorism.

The absence of civilian deaths in the Eastern Province clearing operations last year, except in one isolated incident where the LTTE used civilians as cover to fire at the military, is a manifestation of the success of this strategy, which we are confident, will be replicated in the ongoing operations in the North.

While it should come as no surprise that critics of Sri Lanka and sympathizers of the LTTE are attempting to portray a misleading and totally false notion that the government is opting for a military solution to address the problems of the minorities, it is unfortunate that some of our friends too have been influenced by this malicious propaganda.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York last month, made it amply clear to the international community that the Government of Sri Lanka is firmly committed to a political solution.

The Government attaches the highest importance to the humanitarian needs of displaced persons and civilians in the areas affected by the conflict. This is an obligation and responsibility which the Government has assumed since the inception of the conflict.

The civilians who are trapped in the LTTE controlled areas are being encouraged to move out of these areas through “humanitarian corridors” created in order that the security forces can put an end to terrorism in Sri Lanka and prevent them being used by the LTTE as “human shields”.

It is highly deplorable that the LTTE is cynically exploiting the plight of innocent civilians kept prisoner against their will, for propaganda purposes. With regard to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in LTTE dominated areas in the Killinochchi and Mullativu districts, the current estimate is around 250,000, of which there are 110,000 pre-2006 IDPs forced to flee to the Wanni by the LTTE from the Jaffna peninsula, another 90,000 who were displaced between 2006 and June 2008 and the rest displaced due to the on-going operations. In considering the situation of the IDPs, it is important that we bear in mind that the situation of those displaced due to the on-going military operations in the Wanni, as previously in the case of the East, is merely a temporary dislocation.

On the other hand, I wonder why the shrill voices of those who are screaming of a non-existent humanitarian catastrophe in the Wanni, are deafeningly silent on the plight of the over 100,000 Muslims who are now languishing in refugee camps, mainly in the impoverished Puttalam district and others in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts after being forcibly evicted by the LTTE from the North. 24th October marks the 18thanniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the North by the LTTE.

More than 75,000 Muslims were compelled to vacate their homes at gun point on this day in 1990 by the LTTE and after they were driven out of their lands, which they had inhabited from time immemorial, the LTTE went about systematically looting and pillaging the properties and valuables of these hapless people. If any proof were needed of the racist nature of the LTTE, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the North, speaks for itself - res ipsa loquitur.

It is very important that all those who are concerned about Sri Lanka including the welfare of the Tamil community should perceive the marginalisation of the LTTE in the correct light. LTTE does not represent the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Therefore, military action against the LTTE should never be perceived as action against our brethren, the Tamil community. We are concerned about them and will work with them to ensure their welfare, security and aspirations since they are our fellow citizens.

Sri Lanka, a party to all major UN Conventions relating to terrorism, and playing an active role as Chair of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Elimination of International Terrorism, will continue to urge all member nations to ratify them so as to give real meaning to the intent of the drafters, who have toiled through sleepless nights in lengthy and exhaustive negotiations to produce these important legally binding instruments, and thus implement their provisions in letter and spirit.

Nothing short of this commitment would suffice in the global struggle to eliminate the modern day scourge of terrorism.

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