Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Hue and Cry about Child Soldiers

by Rajendra, NJ, USA

This is a true submission that was investigated by the Police in Jaffna, like many other complaints that go into the build up of the story on child soldiers:  A three page summary of 31 cases of reported child soldier recruitments by the LTTE bearing complaint numbers 1481, 1553 to 1565; 1573 to 1588; and 1592, were submitted by the Security Forces (SF) and later investigated by the Jaffna Police on September 22, 2004. None of the complaints were made by the parents. They were all complaints made by the SF, which has taken over the task of providing the false information on abductions...

If the other statistics that UNICEF uses to bolster its claim of underage recruiting are no better, one can question the whole campaign.

In June 2003, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan government (GoSL) agreed to a formal Action Plan on Children Affected by War.  The Tamil Tigers agreed to end any recruitment of children and to release children from their organization, either directly to the children’s families or to new transit centers that were to be constructed specifically for this purpose. The LTTE has substantianlly implemented its part of the promise. For instance, it was reported on August 24, 2005, that the LTTE released to their parents twenty-one underage youths who joined the movement during the three months prior to that date. Then again on March 1, 2006, the LTTE released 20 combatants who had lied about their ages in order to join the insurgency, hoping to ease UN criticism that they forcibly recruit children under 18 to fight in their war.

The underage youths were handed over through the North East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR).

UNICEF developed the Action Plan for Children Affected by War to monitor, report on and address child rights violations in the NorthEast. Partners implementing the Action Plan include the Ministry of Social Welfare, Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), ILO, Save the Children in Sri Lanka, UNDP, UNHCR, and UNICEF. Note that the Action Plan was to address ALL child rights violations in the NorthEast. Most implementing partners, however, have focused solely on the issue of underage recruitment, to the exclusion of issues of resettlement, education, health, etc.

The Action Plan in 2004, according to UNICEF was to

For the Action Plan to be a success and to address the rights of children affected by war, UNICEF noted the following must happen in 2004:

  •  The LTTE must cease all recruitment of children. 
  •  The LTTE must release all child soldiers.
  •  The GOSL must continue its efforts to ensure that the significant shortages in education, health and social welfare staff are urgently addressed and that the basic infrastructure is rehabilitated. 
  •  The UN agencies and NGOs must accelerate implementation of their programmes to support all components of the Action Plan and reach all children affected by war and increase advocacy on child rights.  
  •  Donors support needs to continue and expand, both in terms of advocacy with the GOSL and LTTE and with financial contributions to the implementing partners.

The GoSL, in particular, did not fulfill the promises it had given to facilitate the settlement of the ethnic problem or rebuild after the war, as it has been long known for its unwillingness to treat the Tamils as equals.  Instead, the GoSL had launched a vicious campaign of spreading false rumors of child soldier recruitment by the LTTE in an attempt to steadfastly maintain the ban on the LTTE overseas, and to trigger UN sanctions on the Tamils. The spillover, it is assumed, will further strengthen the resolve of the US and other countries to target the LTTE, bring disrepute to the latter, negate the sympathies the Tamils have so laboriously earned, and make the LTTE unworthy at the bargaining table in the eyes of the world.  

Over the past fifty years the Tamils have been tormented with continued human rights violations in the most horrific form. Very little was done to put an end to these sufferings, because of strict press censorship, the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations that have been enforced to silence the Tamils. Human Rights activists in Sri Lanka have played their role to suppress mention of the alarming number of atrocities directed at the Tamils.

The GoSL is not in a position to continue its annihilating operations because international observers are closely watching developments. Nevertheless, the chauvinistic state machinery in the south has recruited a group of individuals in the name of human rights activism. They are remunerated from government coffers and offered attractive perquisites solely to camouflage the acts of suppression, injustice, deprivation of basic human rights, and opportunity to life and liberty of the Tamils. It is through these henchmen that the GoSL voices local human rights issues, although the main agenda of these 'activists' is to do false propaganda against the LTTE on the international scene.

This very same group of people served on the Citizens’ Committees not too long ago, which was the ultimate xenophobic authority controlling the destinies of the Tamils at the height of the war. During the dark days of the war and the worst implementation of the draconian PTA law, the Tamil people in the NorthEast were subject to torture and death. The people of the NorthEast were also subject to an embargo on food, medicine, fuel and the basic essentials for day-to-day life by their own government. One wonders how these wolves in sheep’s clothing can now champion the cause of Human Rights or children's rights for the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

It is in this backdrop that we are getting signals that the LTTE is recruiting child soldiers. Tamils do not believe in the good intentions of most of those now so interested in the welfare of the children of the NorthEast.

Figures released in August 2005 by UNICEF purport to show that "The LTTE's violations included 1624 child abductions and 493 abductions of adults. Extortion, intimidation and occupation of private property constituted the rest.”

Similarly, in a report filed at the end of 2005, the SLMM said it had received 6,751 complaints against the LTTE and 1,313 against the government. The SLMM had ruled that the LTTE had not violated the ceasefire deal in 1,609 cases and the government side was cleared in 748 cases. Some 946 cases were pending before the SLMM by the end of 2005.

The majority of the complaints of violations of the ceasefire against the LTTE related to abductions and child recruitment. Last year alone, the SLMM received 222 complaints about abductions and 219 about child recruitment.

What the UNICEF does not bother to do is sufficient verification of the voluminous complaints for their credibility or accuracy before acting on them. A good part of the reason why sufficient verification is not undertaken is because of the accepted wisdom, which UNICEF is now feeding into, that the LTTE is a 'terrorist' entity capable of widespread abuses. As long as the UNCEF adopts this policy, the human rights problems will be only those raised by the Government against the LTTE. A classic example would be the allegation about child soldiers. The voluminous Report of UNICEF, and those by the GoSL, are ‘fabricated’ from thousands of complaints like the one cited below:

This is a true submission that was investigated by the Police in Jaffna, like many other complaints that go into the build up of the story on child soldiers:  A three page summary of 31 cases of reported child soldier recruitments by the LTTE bearing complaint numbers 1481, 1553 to 1565; 1573 to 1588; and 1592, were submitted by the Security Forces (SF) and later investigated by the Jaffna Police on September 22, 2004. None of the complaints were made by the parents. They were all complaints made by the SF, which has taken over the task of providing the false information on abductions.

These complaints were in fact from early police records of totally unrelated “closed files” that were resolved very much earlier, and which were confirmed as not Cease Fire Agreement (CFA)-related. This is, in my opinion, just the tip of the iceberg, and such reporting makes up the unrealistic figure of several thousand allegations of child abductions blamed on the Tamil leadership.

The SF had deliberately made use of these prior complaints as if they were LTTE abductions, although they had nothing to do with the LTTE. Of the 31 reported complaints used in this analysis, 14 were alleged as child abductions.

The results of the police investigation revealed that:

One child (Complaint 1562), who was alleged as abducted was in fact a 19 year old adult studying in Vanni and was never abducted;
child (1561), who was alleged as abducted was actually living with his mother;
child (1559) who was alleged as abducted is said to have eloped and is living in Chavakacheri  (This looks very funny and wild for a child to elope and be included in an abduction complaint);
One child
(1553) who was alleged as abducted got married and moved to Vavuniya ( this too is funny and deserves to belong to the category of child marriages);
One child
(1565) who was alleged as abducted went missing but managed to return to the parents;
One child
(1556) who was alleged as abducted went abroad with the consent of her husband (looks weird); 
Parents of seven children  (1554, 1557, 1558, 1560, 1561, 1563, and 1564) who were alleged as abducted, confirmed  that their children were living with them in their homes;
child (1555) who was alleged as abducted is not with the LTTE, but is still missing.

Out of the balance 17 complaints about adults, alleged to have been abducted by the LTTE, the Police confirm that four adults (1576, 1578, 1581, and 1588) are still missing but are not with the LTTE. One Adult (1581) was murdered and his body found in a well. Ten adults (1573, 1577, 1579, 1580, 1582, 1583, 1585, 1586, 1587, and 1592) were falsely alleged as abducted but are living with their parents or elsewhere with the parents’ knowledge. The Police say that two adults (1574, and 1575) who were said to have been abducted by the LTTE were in fact not abducted, but happily married.

In summary, 

Number alleged to have been abducted 31
Number reported as children 14
Number reported as adults abducted 17
Number actually abducted            0
LTTE involvement in these cases            0

If the other statistics that UNICEF uses to bolster its claim of underage recruiting are no better, one can question the whole campaign. It is up to the UNICEF to verify the truth behind the remaining cases that allege that the LTTE is recruiting child soldiers, and the SLMM to verify the adult abductions and the other claims of violations that total more than 6000. The Tamils have the right to know the sources and the truth behind these allegations. Since the UNICEF has received the complaints about child soldiers and has acted on them, it is the duty of the UNICEF to make an unbiased enquiry, instead of making derogatory remarks on the face of such complaints.

Until the sources and the methods of information collection are made more public, we will continue to question the validity of UNICEF's database.

UNICEF must also pay especially close attention to claims of abduction. The relatives of even willing volunteers will claim that they were abducted if they live in government-controlled areas to protect themselves from the security forces.

In yet another deadly agenda, the GoSL has shamelessly used the pretext of rehabilitating child soldiers merely to get foreign funds. A classic example is the Bindunuwewa detention center, where the GoSL obtained large sums of money from the Canadian Government to run a detention center for rehabilitation of child soldiers. Twenty-seven children met with brutal death in October of 2000, when they were murdered in cold blood. The police and the army stood by as spectators without taking appropriate action. The Presidential enquiry, which has not seen the light of day, points to the fact that these children were not child soldiers as classified by the GoSL. They were innocent Tamil children rounded up by the security forces during illegal house searches or passersby on the streets in the NorthEast. They were branded child soldiers for political gain so as to show the outside world that the GoSL is taking control of the situation in arresting child soldiers and rehabilitating them. To crown it all, the suspects in this heinous crime were all set free, because of the corrupt, GoSL-influenced verdict.

What we see here is criminal wrong-doings on the part of the State, malicious distortion of facts, blatant fabrication, misrepresentation, and false allegations aimed at misleading the world with. The Sri Lankan politicians, government officials and military officers who have been responsible for the carnage and annihilation of the Tamils deserve to face the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, so that these perpetrators are brought to justice.  In addition, one should take with a large grain of salt all that is done in the name of human rights from information supplied by the Sri Lankan Human Rights activists, who are themselves a party to the wrong-doings.

The world should know that the Tamils were compelled under dire circumstances to defend themselves as a consequence of the torture and sufferings inflicted on them by the majority rule over the past fifty years. They were driven to fight back, only after law-makers failed to obtain redress in parliament, followed by decades of peaceful agitation that met with oppressive and brutal intimidation and death. This part of reality is deliberately misreported by the foreign media with the standard phrase “the LTTE is fighting for a separate state and over the past three decades at least 65,000 were killed and the LTTE uses suicide bombers,” so as to give an impression in the minds of the reader that the LTTE is the root cause of the misery, and killed 65,000 Tamils belonging to their very community. In reality, it was the Sri Lankan armed forces who killed 90% of these 65,000 innocent Tamil civilians.  

To give credibility to her evil design, Pres. Kumaratunga appointed Kathirgamar, a Tamil, to the high office of Foreign Minister to let the world know that she was fair by the Tamils. When 25 school-going children were among 71 Tamil civilians killed in the Nagerkoil School bombing in 1995, the loyal Foreign Minister defended the Kumaratunga Government in the UN Assembly and called the 5 and 7-year olds in school uniform who were killed insurgents, and branded them as terrorists! (Sri Lanka Bombs Civilians, 23 Sep 95 13:46 The Associated Press) No wonder the people of the NorthEast do not believe government stories concerning children!

During Kumaratunga’s  ‘War for Peace’ the Tamil homeland was turned into a bombing playfield for the merriment of the Sri Lankan Air Force, where houses, churches, temples, schools, villages, shops and hospitals were mercilessly carpet bombed without mercy. There were instances when  people were ordered to take refuge in designated  churches, temples, hospitals  and schools during the bombing raids and illegal searches, and those very buildings were bombed in violation of Civilized International Norms, killing hundreds of innocent children and adults who had taken refuge there.

The world stood by as a silent spectator when atrocities of this nature were taking place in Sri Lanka. When these innocent people were chased out of their homes, how could they submit to further tyranny without fighting back?   Not only children, but all Tamils without distinction of age or sex, were compelled to defend their lives, from the tyranny and the wanton killings carried out by the oppressive government. The youth had to take up arms purely to defend the helpless community. Sixty-five thousand lives and thirty years later, a ray of hope for the Tamils to live in dignity was brought about by the untiring sacrifice of the Tamil youth under the acknowledged leadership of Prabaharan. In fact, Prabaharan is a phenomenon sent to save the hapless Tamils at a time when the entire world was not willing to come to their rescue.

Otherwise, how could the welfare of children be saved, when genocide of such magnitude was taking place unheeded under the watchful eyes of the Sri Lankan 'defenders of human rights?' How could the children stay without joining their people to fight the last battle, a battle that would have ended in the certainty of death if they failed to defend themselves? The Human Rights organizations were not there for them at that hour of need. Tens of housands of children would have been saved from becoming orphans, and tens of thousands more would have been spared their lives, had UNICEF, which is now shedding crocodile tears and pretending to be the archangel of children, acted diligently to prevent this holocaust.    

During the thirty years of genocide, it became blatantly clear that the Sri Lankan state relinquished its sovereignty over the Tamil homeland by the mere fact that the government had waged an unreasonable, uncalled-for war against its own people, failed to protect its citizens - the Tamils, deliberately starved its people by sanctions it imposed on food and consumer goods, including even the box of safety matches to light the kitchen fire. As a consequence, the GoSL thrust upon its people living in the NorthEast, complete darkness during nighttime as there was no electricity, or even kerosene or a box of matches to light up at least a lamp in the house. The life style of the Tamils was moved back in time by at least a thousand years to live in the dark by nightfall. The GoSL, with intent, caused havoc and destruction to the land, the agricultural pursuits, property and the vegetation at large. The evidence of a scorched earth policy of the GoSL could be seen in Chavakachcheri, which is virtually wiped off the Sri Lankan map.

But today, the Tamil leadership by its sincerity of purpose and dedication has overcome the threat of state terrorism by defeating the Sri Lankan forces at many fronts and has even collected arms and ammunitions from the defeated Sri Lankan Army. It took over the Elephant Pass and a sizable chunk of the NorthernEastern Province, and has established over the past ten years or more an administrative infrastructure in the lands occupied by the Tamils, far more efficient than the corrupt Sri Lankan Government in South Sri Lanka.   

In the process it has also reorganized and shifted its priorities and laid the foundation for vocational training and apprenticeship for young adults. It has also instituted welfare programmes for the benefit of the orphaned children in its care, and for the rehabilitation of its people. But all these are treated as child soldier abductions in the eyes of the GoSL. Even at the height of the war, the LTTE took charge of thousands of orphaned children and set up orphanages named Chencholai, Kantha Ruban, and Aruvicholai, all under the watchful eyes of its leader, who directed and personally supervised those orphanages.

Anyone visiting the NorthEast will note that, unlike in the other parts of Sri Lanka, there are no children begging on the streets of Tamil Eelam. In order to keep the minds of the orphans away from the devastating thoughts or experiences of having lost their parents, the LTTE has provided the orphans a large array of amusements, games, and comfort-inducing pastimes. Above all, they have instituted opportunities for education designed to make them good citizens and to get over their sad thoughts and past worries about losing their dear ones. By these actions, the orphans are living in a society where they do not feel sad misfortune that they are left without kith or kin.

At the height of the Eelam war, when the exodus of refugees had nowhere to go except under trees in the jungles of Vanni in  inclement  weather, Prabaharan saw  to it that the children and expectant mothers were sheltered in makeshift huts to brave the weather, and  provided them with meals. There were times when the LTTE cadre themselves had to forego meals to feed these hungry children and women. Where in the world can one find a dictionary to give meaning to men with such lofty overwhelming qualities and ideals, and still be branded terrorists?

The NGOs were also encouraged to set up several orphanages in the Vanni which are now functioning well.

As an organization that strives to preserve children's rights, UNICEF must vigorously persuade countries like the USA, Pakistan, Israel, India, and China to desist giving military aid to the GoSL so that precious children’ lives can be saved. UNICEF has a role to play in solving the grievances of thousands of families that are languishing in refugee camps for over the last two decades, to get their houses that are currently occupied by the army in occupation. This is a basic human right well within the definition of Human Rights and jurisdiction of UNICEF. Failure to address this concern is a failure of the UNICEF to justify its very existence.

UNICEF does not bother make much noise about the GoSL's failures to abide by its commitments to improve the life of the children of the NorthEast. Instead of coming forward to renovate schools destroyed by the GoSL's own armed forces, provide sufficient teachers to educate the down trodden children, develop welfare programs for the orphans, alleviate the living conditions of the destitute refugees languishing in refugee camps for well over two decade, and facilitate the return to their homes now occupied by the army, these saviors of children's Rights only listen to the deliberate lies, false propaganda and the hue and cry about child soldiers made by those interested in degrading a genuine liberation organization. It is time the International Organizations made some constructive contributions to the world we live in.

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