The verdict delivered by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to lift restrictions imposed on one of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organizations, the LTTE last Thursday raised many an eyebrow in Asian countries and sent shockwaves across the globe. The news of the verdict reached Colombo in the afternoon and security circles were busy checking the veracity of the news. The judgment came as a surprise with a ban continuing on the LTTE even in the Western region. Towards the evening on Thursday, the Colombo Government obtained full details of the verdict and security establishments and the Ministry of External Affairs studied the verdict as a priority matter. A serious danger is posed by the verdict to Sri Lanka and neighbouring countries in the region.
Sri Lanka wiped out LTTE terrorism in May 2009 after battling for three decades with the ruthless terrorist group. The protracted war cost over 100,000 lives in a three decade span in addition to destruction of private and State property. Neighbouring country India too has imposed a ban on the LTTE and she continues to extend the ban. However, recent developments after the fall of the Manmohan Singh Government need to be analyzed closely. Despite the ban on the LTTE imposed in the West, the pro-Tiger Diaspora continues to be active, openly canvassing for the revival of the LTTE. In the recent weeks leading members of the Tiger Diaspora began to make visits to several Western and South Asian countries to hold discussions and address the Tamil community, living in those countries. It was in the wake of such visits, the verdict of the ECJ surfaced. The Tamil Diaspora appeared to be aware of the judgment and within minutes the verdict was delivered, the TamilNet website flashed the news around the world.
The TamilNet report stated; “In a landmark victory for the legal initiatives of Eelam Tamils, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ordered the Council of European Union on Thursday to annul the restrictive measures taken against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The case has been won by the LTTE on procedural grounds, said the lawyers representing the LTTE. Commenting on the judgment, Lathan Suntharalingam, one of the initiators of the legal move against EU ban on LTTE said: “More than 40 countries in the world directly and indirectly abetted the Sri Lankan State in its genocidal onslaught on Eelam Tamils. The US paradigm of ‘War against Terror’ was used to crush the LTTE-defended State of Eelam Tamils. The ECJ verdict on Thursday is a milestone achievement for Eelam Tamils in demanding global justice against the Tamil genocide.”
The Court annulled specific restrictive measures directed against certain persons and entities by the EU, with its view of combating terrorism.In addition, the Court has ordered the Council of the European Union, which lost the case, to pay its own costs and the costs of the LTTE. The Netherlands, the UK and the European Commission were ordered to bear their own respective costs. The Court decision will come into effect after three months.Finding the current restrictions implemented by the EU inappropriate, the Court has given a minimum period of two months, extended on account of distance by 10 days, for the EU to come out with a new restrictive measure with respect to the LTTE, if appropriate.
The case initiated by Tamil activists on behalf of the LTTE, originally filed in April 2011 with additions later, was represented by the lawyers V. Koppe, A. M. van Eik and T. Buruma. The Council of the European Union was the defendant, supported by the Netherlands, the UK and the European Commission. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the highest Court in the European Union in matters of European Union law.The Court ordered the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the European Commission to bear their own respective costs”.
The government directed the External Affairs Ministry in Colombo to study the verdict within hours to express its concerns on it. Top officials at the ministry sat together to plan out a statement and issued it the same evening before 6 p.m. It noted; “That the Government of Sri Lanka noted with concern the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on 16th October, to annul the EU regulations proscribing the LTTE. The defendants of this case have been the Council and Commission of the European Union, together with two member States, The Netherlands and the UK.
Expectedly, the ECJ judgment requires in-depth study by all the defendant parties. It is noteworthy that the Court has stressed the annulments to be ‘on fundamentally procedural grounds’ and ‘do not imply any substantive assessment of the question of the classification of the LTTE as a terrorist group.’ Further, it is observed from the decision of the ECJ that ‘the effects of the annulled measures are maintained temporarily in order to ensure the effectiveness of any possible future freezing of funds’.
Conscious of the fact that the listing of the LTTE is a matter internal to the EU, Sri Lanka is confident that the European Commission and the EU Member States will take the best possible decision on the future course of action to be taken in this regard, in accordance with their own legal architecture in preserving sovereignty.
The EU proscribed the LTTE as a terrorist organization in May 2006, and has remained on its list of terrorist entities ever since. Apart from the EU, the LTTE is proscribed as a terrorist organization in the USA, India, Canada, UK and Sri Lanka.
The Government of Sri Lanka has fully supported the EU in its listing of the LTTE and has periodically provided information supportive of the regulation and also with a view to facilitate the Commission’s defence in the ECJ. The government remains committed to provide to the European Commission and EU Member States, any further assistance and information available, to maintain the LTTE as a brutal terrorist organization.
It is noteworthy that a number of EU member countries have carried out investigations against LTTE activists in their territories, some of which are ongoing, while some have resulted in the accused being sentenced by Court.
Sri Lanka is further mindful that the ECJ decision may have an impact including from a security perspective, on the large majority of Sri Lankans living in EU territory, as well as EU citizens of Sri Lankan origin, who are likely to come under pressure once again by pro LTTE activists.
Sri Lankan organizations
Following the ECJ verdict, all Sri Lankan organizations in the Western countries are now readying themselves to counter the activities of the pro-Tiger Diaspora, reports from several Western capitals said. The Sri Lankan London organization comprising SLFP and UNP supporters have joined hands to battle against the rising pro-LTTE activities in Britain. These organizations have planned to stage several protests in Western countries stating that their lives were open to danger if the pro-LTTE outfits in those countries were allowed to collect funds to revive the LTTE. Already Tamil organizations, which are known to be pro-Tiger alliances have started to campaign in Canada, reports from Ontario and other cities stated. A number of entities registered as Sri Lankan Tamil organizations to help refugees have gone into action to collect funds in Canada, reports added. Several cultural events to collect funds have been designed to be held in November starting from 22 October Depavali Festival. Tamil cultural days of significance are to be used as an instrument to conduct events to collect funds for the LTTE, they noted.
LTTE sympathizers in Australia too have celebrated the verdict given by the ECJ last week and reports from Melbourne where a large number of Sri Lankan Tamils are domiciled stated that pro-LTTE groups used the electronic media to send the details of the ECJ judgment to many people living across Australia.
The Global Tamil Forum (GTF), known to be the active arm of the LTTE Diaspora, has been working round the clock to muster the support of several countries towards the re-activation of the LTTE. In the wake of the ECT judgment, GTF Spokesman Suren Surenthiran visited Tamil Nadu to meet pro-LTTE politicians there and addressed several meetings. India has banned the LTTE. During the Congress administration of Manmohan Singh, pro-LTTE leaders were prohibited from entering the country. Those who arrived were sent back from the airport. Hence, the arrival of Surenthiran is viewed as a change of stance towards the LTTEE by the incumbent New Delhi Government. Surenthiran met with a few BJP politicians in Tamil Nadu. The BJP has lost the political clout in Tamil Nadu while jailed (now released on conditional bail) former Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa Jayaram dominates the political entity there. Political analysts view these developments as a measure of New Delhi trying to capture politics in Tamil Nadu using the Sri Lankan Tamil issue.
It is learnt that Colombo’s closeness to Beijing is being viewed with suspicion by New Delhi as a few submarines landed on the shores of Colombo during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jingping. A fortnight ago, Indian Defence Secretary, R.K. Mathur, made a hurried visit to Colombo and held discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was in Kandy. It was learnt that maritime security issues were discussed at that meeting.
In the aftermath of that important meeting, Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, will visit New Delhi this week for high-level talks with India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval. However, the set agenda for the meeting is being kept confidential and Rajapaksa is expected to raise many issues with Doval. New Delhi confirmed the visit of Rajapaksa but declined to divulge the agenda. This would be Rajapaksa’s first meeting with India’s National Security Advisor after Narendra Modi formed the government. It is learnt that a meet between Doval and Indian External Affairs Ministry Secretary is also on cards tomorrow before Rajapaksa lands in New Delhi. Rajapaksa’s planned visit to New Delhi to meet Doval is being kept secret even in Colombo as senior military officials claimed they were unaware of such meet. The Defence Secretary in March this year attended the NSA-level Trilateral Meeting on Maritime Security Cooperation among India, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
The week before, India and Sri Lanka decided to explore fresh avenues in defence co-operation that included exchange programmes for academics from defence academies between the two countries. The announcement came after the second Annual Defence Dialogue between the Defence Secretaries of India and Sri Lanka held in Colombo.
Meanwhile, the vexed Sethusamudram project – which proposes to provide a navigable shipping channel across the Palk Straits between India and Sri Lanka, may see the light of day with New Delhi set to clear an alternative route that avoids dredging through the Ram Setu. The Indian Centre views the implementation of the project as a measure to strengthen maritime security between the two countries.
The Indian Cabinet is expected to give its nod to the proposed new alignment, which will not damage the Ram Setu structure, as pointed out in a latest report on the project. The Indian media said the project, which would considerably reduce the time and distance travelled by ships between India’s west and east coast had led to acrimonious exchanges between the Congress and the BJP during the UPA-I regime over the proposal to dredge through the Ram Setu – a bridge believed to have been built by Lord Ram –considered a cultural and religious heritage.
Indian environmentalists had opposed the project pointing out that the destruction of the bridge would lead to loss of a rich thorium reserves in that area. The Indian Supreme Court in 2010 stayed further work on the project. New Delhi plans to provide the Cabinet nod for the project and apprise the Supreme Court of that decision. The Sethusamundran Ship Canal Project will create a navigable channel connecting the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay by dredging the stretch of shallow sea between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lankan maritime and environmental authorities have expressed concerns over the project, which, India is determined to proceed with.
Macrae and Emmy Awards
In the bygone week where events looked confused and confounded to Sri Lanka, Callum Macrae’s Channel 4 production against Sri Lanka titled ‘No Fire Zone’ was nominated for International Emmy Awards 2014 in the United States. Macrae has been producing documentaries against Sri Lanka over the year’s whenever the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) sessions were drawing close. Macrae’s documentary nomination for Emmy Awards received wide publicity in the international media last week. The military condemned the nomination and the documentary as a sensational piece of falsehood and dismissed it as ‘rubbish’.
Macrae, according to Channel 4 sources had been canvassing in US circles for his sensational documentary on Sri Lanka over a period of time to submit it for an award. However, this documentary is viewed as a partisan video clip as nothing substantive had been recorded from the Sri Lankan point of view on the military operations in the final phase of the war. Sri Lanka claims to have original footages which counter Macrae’s documentary but Macrae had refused to accommodate them to complete a fair and just documentary on the subject.
President in Jaffna
Local developments looked much political despite the annual budget round the corner this week. Come what may, President Rajapaksa made an announcement that he would go for a presidential poll in early January to seek a third term. He was in Jaffna last week to participate at several events in Kilinochchi and Jaffna. In Kilinochchi he distributed lands and handed over gold and jewellery belonging to the people in Jaffna which was forcibly taken away by the LTTE during the war period. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) boycotted the visit of the President to the North. Addressing a large gathering in Kilinochchi, Rajapaksa blamed the TNA of obstructing his government’s development drive in the war-ravaged northern region. “The TNA does not allow us to work or carry out their (NPC) responsibilities,” he alleged making a direct reference to the TNA controlled Northern Provincial Council. The President pointed out that he had provided the NPC required funds having held polls to elect the council. Rajapaksa told the gathering that despite the fact that he knew the TNA would gain a two-third majority in the Council, he conducted the polls in a democratic manner to let the people elect representatives of their choice. Rajapaksa demanded that the TNA and the Tamil Diaspora should announce they give up the call for Eelam if he were to scrap the Executive Presidency. He warned that as long as he occupied the presidency, he would not permit the creation of a separate state in the country.
Meanwhile, the TNA charged that the Rajapaksa administration had not consulted the NPC administration when recipients had been selected to grant lands. NPC Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran in a letter addressed to Rajapaksa alleged that the Centre had failed to recognize the NPC as a partner when addressing concerns in the once war ravaged North.
UPFA polls campaign
Certain changes in the ‘top’ in the State owned media machinery is very likely to be effected in the event a snap presidential poll is announced. Well informed sources disclosed that State media heads who successfully ran the State media institutions during the 2010 presidential election are likely to return to their former offices during the Presidential Election campaign period. These personalities are being viewed as ‘efficient’ officials by the hierarchy in the government considering the ‘tough’ election Mahinda fought with Sarath Fonseka in 2010.
In the wake of a snap Presidential Election, the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has met its members of Provincial Councils and the local authorities for a discussion and assured funds for all organizers to start the campaign to ensure the victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Leading the President’s campaign, Minister Basil Rajapaksa held a few meetings with stakeholders in charge of election propaganda and related work. The UPFA plans to strengthen Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign, setting up electoral organizing committees monitored by respective MPS and Cabinet Ministers in the districts. A separate campaign using the electronic media is planned to counter allegations from the opposition political parties. In addition, websites, social media networks, facebook and twitter are to be used to intensify the electronic media campaign for Mahinda.
Cracks in the offing?
Despite the UPFA Government being bent to attract and keep all coalition partners intact, to face the Presidential Election in January, the Jathika HelaUrumaya (JHU) rebels. Ven.Athureliye Rathana Thera of the JHU has demanded that an amendment which he recognizes as the 19th Amendment is included in the Constitution before elections are called. The Amendment seeks to reduce the powers of the President and the pave the way for Independent Commissions. This Amendment presented to the government was also handed over to the Opposition and UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, last week. The Thera announced if the President failed to incorporate the Amendment before calling a Presidential Election, he would work and campaign to ensure the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa at a future Presidential Election. He pointed out that the popularity of the government was on the decline and it had failed to honour pledges given to the people.
With Ven. Rathana Thera issuing an ultimatum to the government, a number of UPFA ministers perturbed over the JHU stand approached the monk to convince him to change the stand. The President also intervened in the crisis and expressed his desire to meet the JHU Political Command. However, the President was informed that such a meet could not be held as the JHU Leader, Ven. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera had gone to Germany for a medical examination and the meet could be held after the Ven. Omalpe Thera returned to the country. More decisions are likely to be taken at today’s JHU National Convention regarding the stand of the party towards the need to scrap or reduce powers in the executive presidency and the presidential poll due in January next year.
Ranil and the G20
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who plans to contest Rajapaksa at the next Presidential Poll met with his parliamentarians and party men last week. He appointed a group of 20 to run the presidential campaign. At that meet deputy leader Sajith Premadasa inquired as to who would be the party candidate. Ravi Karunanayake interjected to say it was too early to announce the name of the candidate. This position of Ravi met with resistance and Mangala Samaraweera too opposed Ravi. As the discussion took a heated turn, Ranil chipped into say, “I will contest the next presidential election as the UNP candidate and I am holding talks with relevant stakeholders”. Ranil then announced that all media activities of the party which were placed under the purview of Mangala would be brought under Ranil’s purview during the polls campaign. This decision has put Mangala at crossroads in the UNP gradually losing control of the positions he holds in the party. Mangala represents the UNP Leadership Council and the Working Committee as the Head of the UNP Media Committee. Hence, he would lose his membership in the Working Committee and the Leadership Council once Ranil takes over the Media Committee. The term of the Leadership Council is due to expire on 4 November.
Hakeem and DEW
Communist Party stalwart, Minister D.E.W. Gunasekere and Justice Minister, Rauff Hakeem, who leads the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) last week pledged their support to Mahinda Rajapaksa at a future presidential poll. The duo met Rajapaksa last week. Rajapaksa informed them that he decided to seek a third term after conducting a survey and his decision was not based on astrology. Referring to the Uva provincial polls results, Rajapaksa said the UNP gained more votes as Harin Fernando came as Chief Minister candidate and the UPFA votes declined due to the rivalry between Dilan Perera and Nimal Siripala De Silva. Hakeem told Rajapaksa that a certain print media report had stated that he (Hakeem) was working to topple the government and denied such move. “Hakeem, I know about you and that newspaper. That newspaper was started to topple my government. Let’s forget all that and work for the election”, the President said. At that point another minister raised the issue of the rising cost of living. Basil Rajapaksa interjected to state he had formulated certain proposals. “Wait, wait…I am giving more concessions to the people in the next budget and the people will be surprised”, the President quipped.
The UPFA government group met last Thursday night after the weekly Cabinet Meeting. First to address the group was SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena. The President looked annoyed as district organizers had not been invited to the meet. Maithripala informed the group that it has been decided to field Mahinda Rajapaksa as the UPFA candidate and pointed out that there was no candidate from the Opposition to challenge the President.
The President said he was entering the election fray as a candidate from the ruling coalition and sought the cooperation of all parties supporting.”Don’t fear, I will win”, he proudly announced.