As I chair this session devoted to the global challenges to Sri Lanka as a rising nation, the central thought that strikes me is that, besides all that has been said over the past two days on the clear relief within Sri Lanka and the region since May 2009, that the entire world is a safer place today because of the defeat of the LTTE. This is a truism of which the significance is not fully appreciated by some countries.
"It is important to note that the SLTD, who not only during the height of the LTTE campaign but continue to be victims of extortion, are today no monolith. A bulk of the Sri Lankan Tamil population living abroad have used the new found peace in Sri Lanka to eschew extremist ideas and to seek to re-engage with their roots back home"
This is no exaggeration, for not too long ago the FBI regarded the LTTE to be the “world’s most ruthless terrorist organization”, with some 54 offices worldwide, a merchant shipping fleet, a significant sea fighting and a rudimentary air capacity, and was known to be involved in drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering, financing of terrorism, human smuggling and cyber terrorism. It is this fear of the LTTE that led to it being proscribed in over 30 countries including India, USA, UK, Canada, and EU member states. The seriousness of the challenge the LTTE posed to the global community is clear in the ironic situation that since the LTTE leadership was militarily defeated, while there has been limited counter terrorism action in Sri Lanka since that time, that in counter-terror operations in Europe since the end of the conflict some 32 LTTE activists have been arrested, while an additional 21 have been convicted.
Besides the socioeconomic challenges to Sri Lanka that emanate from the global sphere which has already been exhaustively analyzed in the keynote address yesterday, I see three sets of global challenge Sri Lanka would face as a rising nation. First, the actions of some states in the international system, second, those arising from the actions of sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora and third, the challenges emanating more specifically from the hardcore LTTE remnants presently spread across various parts of the world.
Even as most countries have acted with understanding and have respectfully shared concerns and been able to contribute to the processes of reconciliation in a tangible manner, unfortunately particularly a few Western countries fuelled by political motivations and electoral compulsions have continued to relentlessly pursue Sri Lanka.
As Sri Lanka moved consistent with the recommendations of the LLRC, and has continued to remain fully engaged with all UN agencies including the Human Rights Council and the OHCHR, as well as its global partners international and non-international, these countries have constantly shifted the goal posts on human rights related concerns.
initially it was by expressing fears that GOSL will not clear landmines
subsequently that the displaced would indefinitely be confined to the IDP welfare centres
later it was that the ex-LTTE combatants will never be released
that the emergency regulations should be removed
that though released from the welfare centres they would not have sufficient
housing, livelihood and infrastructure facilities
that the LLRC report would be an eye wash and would never be implemented
that the Northern PC elections will not be held.
As each one of these pessimistic forecasts by the prophets of doom were proven false through tangible delivery by the Government of Sri Lanka -- questioning of the events of the ‘last phase’ of the conflict which had largely been at the periphery, has been brought centrestage. There has also been disputing of the troop strength required in the former conflict affected areas, as well as actions intended to test the limits of the delicate balance of rights and duties that prevail in this democratic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious polity through external interventions.
"Even as most countries have acted with understanding and have respectfully shared concerns and been able to contribute to the processes of reconciliation in a tangible manner, unfortunately particularly a few Western countries fuelled by political motivations and electoral compulsions have continued to relentlessly pursue Sri Lanka."
There are many theories as to why some of these countries might be doing so, but none of them sufficiently explains the double standards, the disproportionate focus and in some instances the almost obsessive manner in which some of the key drivers of action against Sri Lanka operate. This has more often been done in tandem with extremist sections of the Sri Lanka Tamil diaspora, as well as certain NGOs and a few media personalities with a vested interest. It has resulted in the highly politicized recent resolutions before the Human Rights Council, as well as the ongoing OHCHR investigation - which has from its inception exceeded its mandate and is being conducted in an arbitrary manner.
Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora
In discussing global challenges to Sri Lanka as a rising nation, a key variable which poses both an opportunity as well as a challenge, no doubt is the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora (SLTD) resident abroad, and I hope the speakers who follow me would address this issue in more detail from their respective vantage points - in Europe, Africa and South East Asia.
It is important to note that the SLTD, who not only during the height of the LTTE campaign but continue to be victims of extortion, are today no monolith. A bulk of the Sri Lankan Tamil population living abroad have used the new found peace in Sri Lanka to eschew extremist ideas and to seek to re-engage with their roots back home. Since 2009, considerable numbers of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora have visited their home towns in the North after many decades, while some have also invested in Sri Lanka and have extended a hand of friendship even towards the Government of Sri Lanka.
However at the same time, as those of you from the security establishment are familiar,
within the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora there also continues to remain a small but vociferous group of activists working through Tamil front organizations, who are intent on seeking to vilify Sri Lanka and prolong the separatist struggle. Among them are also some 2nd generation Tamil youth, who never experienced the real horror of the conflict suffered by all Sri Lankans over the past 30 years, but who see this opportunity as one to be exploited as ‘political entrepreneurs’, as many other diaspora communities have also sought to do over the years. Working with a plethora of international non-governmental organizations, interest based groups and sections of the media, these front organizations bearing a multitude of pseudonyms, seek to provide the interface between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora community. Under the guidance of paid international political and legal advisers, they are carefully adjusting to stay below the counter terrorism radar by distancing themselves from the terrorist past of the LTTE and instead focusing on humanitarian and political causes, thereby are seeking to perpetuate the ideology of the LTTE and to rehabilitate the image of struggle, while providing a via media for propaganda and fund raising to continue unabated, in order to be able to keep the pot boiling in Sri Lanka. An integral part of this activity is also the mushrooming of the extremist Madrassa type “Tamil Cholai” (language schools) that are fermenting radicalization of youth and the glorification of terrorism and martyrdom across key Western countries. An estimated 20,000 Tamil students between the ages of 4 and 21 years study in more than 300 “Tamil Cholai‟ (language) schools functioning in Europe under different names, which receive host government funding in some cases, but in actuality are directly or indirectly administered by the LTTE and generates their own funds. In addition, students of these schools are forced to participate in propaganda events organized by the LTTE and its front organizations.
Hardcore LTTE remnants
As it moves on the path of reconciliation, Sri Lanka has for long maintained that although the LTTE has been militarily defeated in Sri Lanka in May 2009, its overseas network which includes a number of trained cadre, funded by some sections of the expatriate Tamil community, continues to remain in place, posing the greatest medium and long-term security challenge to Sri Lanka and the region. This assessment has been shared by India, as well as by many other countries, which have continued to keep the LTTE on the proscribed terrorist list. The recently released EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2014 (TE-SAT 2014) of the EUROPOL observes that “LTTE networks remain in numerous countries, and continue to attempt to rebuild their structures and operating capabilities, especially via fundraising and money laundering”. It notes that “in Switzerland, for instance, police continued to investigate the activities of a number of former LTTE members. The investigation focused primarily on operations aimed at channelling funds collected on Swiss territory to Sri Lanka”.
This is not the Government of Sri Lanka that is making this comment, but Europol which is the European Union’s law enforcement agency that says so.
Though nipped in the bud as a result of Sri Lanka’s good intelligence coordination within and outside the country, the vulnerability such actions could pose was made clear when in March 2014, investigations confirmed that a series of activities aimed at enabling a resurgence of terrorism in Sri Lanka were coordinated by a broader network of LTTE operatives functioning from overseas. Three LTTE operatives who were overseas and had returned to Sri Lanka were found to have been actively involved in the reorganization of the terrorist organization in the North. They were involved in the recovery of arms caches, planning to assassinate high profile targets in Colombo, re-establishing the intelligence network, recruiting unemployed youth and rehabilitated ex-combatants and collecting information on potential targets including in other provinces, with the intention and attempts to carry out terrorist acts in the country. Investigations revealed that funding for such activities came from Europe and were being transferred using an illegal system of money transfer widely used in the subcontinent. It was also revealed that many safe houses, vehicles and other resources required for resurgence of the terrorist group had been procured by them using this money. That this plot was unearthed and dealt with effectively is to the credit of the defence establishment of Sri Lanka, but we must all remain vigilant of the next such attempt.
In order to arrest this trend in a comprehensive manner, also in March 2014, the Government of Sri Lanka took measures to list entities and persons under UN Security Council Resolution 1373 who were, believed on reasonable grounds, to be committing, attempting to commit, facilitating or participating in the commission of acts of terrorism. This order designating entities and persons was undertaken following several years of consideration of information and monitoring of their activities.
There have been several actions by the law enforcement authorities both in Sri Lanka and abroad before, as well as after the recent military action, under UNSC Resolution 1373. In May 2014, the Malaysian authorities immediately took action, at the request of the Government of Sri Lanka, to extradite 3 key LTTE operatives arrested by them who are wanted in relation to terrorism related offences in Sri Lanka, and more deportations have followed. Given that these operatives had been designated as refugees by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, it is imperative to ensure that the UN system does not fall prey to manipulations by terrorist groups.
While we have defeated the LTTE in Sri Lanka, the organization, its ideology and its operations are very much alive in a number of Western countries. Immediately, this remains a challenge to speeding up the pace of reconciliation in Sri Lanka, and eventually, a potent danger to Sri Lanka as a rising nation.
Sri Lanka’s long standing plea is that all countries not provide any political or symbolic support to the abuse of their liberal systems using various pretences by those pursuing separatism in Sri Lanka, that they proscribe all LTTE front organizations and maintain strict vigil over the activities of their operatives, and continue to bring to justice those violating the law.
It is noteworthy that even while the political establishments in key Western countries where the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora provide an important vote base in marginal constituencies have in recent years turned some what of a blind eye to activities of diaspora organizations drawing superficial lines between known LTTE terrorists and Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora LTTE front organizations and activists engaging in similar activity, it is clear that the law and order and criminal justice systems in these countries however have not been fooled.
Whether countries at the political level choose to do so and abide by the conventions they signed up to defeat terrorism particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, or else will continue to allow such persons to exploit liberal systems is a question those countries must answer to.
But I’d dare to say, that even if one does not necessarily want to help Sri Lanka, it would be in their own enlightened self interest to make a concerted effort to isolate from the rest of the respected Sri Lankan Tamil expatriate community, the LTTE hardcore and pro- LTTE elements who have the propensity to cause harm.
Acting on such groups is imperative, because today a threat to another country, would tomorrow be a threat to oneself. And particularly with organizations like the LTTE, which have in the past shown the prowess for catastrophic actions, it is very important that we learn the lessons from history and do not let history repeat itself.
It is ladies and gentlemen like you from across the globe being conscious in your own work of the dangers this presents not only to Sri Lanka, but to the region and to the international community at large, that could help avert it and bring true peace and prosperity to Sri Lanka as well.