Terrorism: All Sides Must Be Held Accountable!

By Pitasanna Shanmugathas

Pitasanna Shanmugathas

Pitasanna Shanmugathas

This article is an attempt to clarify misunderstandings people have from an earlier article I wrote.

I have been vocal in criticizing both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government for committing egregious human rights violations. Both sides must be held accountable. Violence on both sides is unjustifiable.

The LTTE has committed egregious human rights abuses such as using civilians as human shields, killing political dissidents (such as Neelan Tiruchelvam and Rajini Thiranagama), forcibly conscripting children to fight, killing leaders of rival factions, the forcible expulsion of Muslims, among other egregious atrocities. As a member of the Tamil community, I am extremely critical of the actions committed by the LTTE because the main victims of their actions have been innocent Tamil civilians.

In no way or form have I ever whitewashed the human rights abuses committed by the LTTE. Prabhakaran, and the senior leadership, committed egregious human rights abuses and there must be accountability in this regard.Tamil Diaspora

In addition, I have also published articles on Colombo Telegraph exposing the atrocious human rights violations committed by the LTTE: some of my articles are the following: The LTTE’s Forced Recruitment of Children, Sampanthan Calls for Human Rights Accountability (for both the LTTE and GOSL), I even wrote an article where I interviewed the TGTE leader and criticized him for refusing to apologize for crimes committed by the LTTE. In addition, I have also conducted interviews with several individuals such as Erik Solheim, Bob Rae, Jo Becker (Human Rights Watch), Rohan Gunaratna, Samapanthan, Thulasi Muttulingam (aid worker stationed in the North) among other individuals who speak about crimes committed by both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government.

It must also be recognized that along with the LTTE, the Sri Lankan government has committed egregious human rights abuses. The Sri Lankan government during the final stages of the war, according to the UN among other credible agencies, used cluster bombs, shelled hospitals, and violated Geneva Conventions by killing those who surrendered during the final stages of the war. In addition, the Sri Lankan government has killed journalists such as Lasantha Wickrematunge, killed politicians, and indefinitely detains individuals under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, militarily occupies land in the North, among other egregious human rights violations.

Both sides must be held to account for egregious and inexcusable human rights abuses. This has always been my position. I have never moved away from this position.

However, we must recognize that the use of term “terrorism” is a political tool. I will now expand on why this is so in hopes to clarify doubts and accusations expressed by Laksiri Fernando among other individuals who have clearly misunderstood what I wrote.

If you want to apply the anti-terrorism laws as they are to be intended, then both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are terrorist entities. The LTTE is a terrorist organization for forcibly recruiting children to fight, killing political dissidents, forcibly expelling Muslims, using civilians as human shields among other violations. However, it should be acknowledged that, even as late as the 1990s, the Sri Lankan government was noted by Amnesty International among other agencies as being one of the most notorious nations to conduct the largest number of enforced disappearances. In addition, shouldn’t the former President of Sri Lanka Mr. Premadasa be regarded as a terrorist for providing weapons to the LTTE so that the rebel group could attack the Indian Peacekeeping forces? During the final stages of the war, the Sri Lankan government also shelled hospitals and used cluster bombs as stated within UN reports. In addition, the Sri Lankan government is also accused of killing politicians. If you accept, then, that actions committed by both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE fall under terrorism, that would be a fair statement. But the use of the concept of terrorist is not even handed. Therefore, I do not call the Sri Lankan government a terrorist state and I do not call the LTTE a terrorist entity. But I work to focus on speaking out about crimes committed by both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government.

If we apply international law correctly, once a state or non-state actor violates the laws of war, they are regarded as terrorists. However, quite often, it is non-state actors who are labeled as terrorists despite the fact that state actors have committed egregious acts where the state actors, if international anti-terrorism laws applied, would be categorized as terrorist states.

However, I have never called the Sri Lankan government, despite its egregious human rights violations, a terrorist state and I refuse to do so.

In fact, as it pertains to the usage of the concept of terrorism, I hold the similar position as my political hero; Neelan Tiruchelvam.

Neelan Tiruchevlam, speaking in the Sri Lankan Parliament on March 1, 1999 as it pertains to the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing, said the following: “Firstly, while the Convention is directed towards the methods, practices and acts of violence of non-state actors, it should be noted that similar consequences to civilians have resulted from the action of states and activities of the military forces of states….The rule of law cannot be upheld if impunity is accorded to violations by state actors, while more vigorous measures are effected to deal with violations by non-state actors.”

Thus, Dr.Tiruchelvam is stating that the label of terrorist is unequally used to discipline non-state actors while giving state actors impunity.

In reality, both the LTTE and Sri Lankan government must be held to account for egregious human rights abuses. But to label it as “terrorist” is unjust because the concept is a political tool where it mainly applies to non-state actors whereas it does not apply to state actors despite the fact that state actors have committed violations of international anti-terrorism laws.

In addition, I do not justify the killing of any politician such as Rajiv Gandhi or Lakshman Kadirgamar. These are egregious acts and they are inexcusable. Rajiv Gandhi is a man who put forth a constitutional reform package as a method to solve the ethnic conflict. He was senselessly and unjustifiably killed by the LTTE.

Prabhakaran did not have any understanding of politics; this was stated by Anton Balasingham in Mark Salter’s book, To End a Civil War. If Prabhakaran did have an understanding of politics, he would not have killed Rajiv Gandhi. Prabhakaran, in addition, would not have killed Neelan Tiruchelvam. Both individuals put forth constitutional reforms as a solution to the ethnic conflict. Balasingham even had verbal fights with Prabhakaran where Balasingham expressed frustration towards Prabhakaran for his narrow views—as stated by Erik Solheim.

Prabhakaran was an uneducated man who did not understand the value of federalism. The framework of the Norway-brokered peace talks, which both GOSL and LTTE agreed to, was that the ethnic conflict would be solved through a federal solution. This was a contract signed by both the LTTE and GOSL to adhere to solving the conflict under a federal solution.

However, according to Erik Solheim, throughout the peace talks, no Western diplomat (aside from one or two occasions) or Sinhalese official ever spoke directly with Prabhakaran.

Consequently, Erik Solheim states, this caused Prabhakaran to have a narrow view of the peace process. This was a mistake since Prabhakaran was the sole decision maker of the LTTE’s actions. As a result, there should have been direct negotiations with the LTTE leader as it was the best chance to get the LTTE to agree to a federal solution. The ban on the LTTE further exacerbated tensions because Western diplomats and the Sri Lankan government began to disengage from conducting negotiations with the LTTE delegation. This caused Prabhakaran to feel increasingly isolated and consequently he unleashed an all-out assault on the Sri Lankan population which contributed to the deaths of more than 40,000 people in the final stages of the war. In order to have prevented Prabhakaran from conducting an all-out assault and contributing to the deaths of 40,000 people, in retrospect, direct negotiations with the rebel leader needed to have taken place. This was something that did not happen as stated by Bob Rae and Erik Solheim (two individual who played a key role during the peace talks.) And it is to this extent, as well, that the proscription of the LTTE as a terror organization was a mistake. It was a mistake as it resulted in Prabhakaran feeling increasingly isolated, contributing to his narrow vision for separatism, and the lack of directly engaging with Prabhakaran resulted in his contribution to killing more than 40,000 civilians. This in no way, shape, or form excuses the egregious actions committed by the LTTE. Both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government must be held accountable for egregious human rights abuses.