Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Dissecting the Semi-fictionalized HRW Report

by Sachi Sri Kantha

To paraphrase an aphorism of Einstein on ‘quality,’ “It’s no use if the wrapper is of better quality than the meat it covers.”

In responding to the flurry of outbursts from the Eelam Tamil diaspora to the half-baked, mud-slinging report released this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated: “Human Rights Watch investigations are based on qualitative rather than quantitative research” [Reuters report, March 16, 2006]. The two key words here are quality and research. Now, let me quote from an authority on research. To paraphrase an aphorism of Einstein on ‘quality,’ “It’s no use if the wrapper is of better quality than the meat it covers.”

The so-called research on the fund-raising activities of LTTE among the Eelam Tamil diaspora carries the imprimatur wrapper of Human Rights Watch (HRW). But the quality of the ‘meat’ wrapped inside was sub-standard and unhygienic for consumption. Reading this report on LTTE fund-raising among the Eelam Tamil diaspora, gave me an impression that the researcher is nothing but a Head Rotten Warbler (HRW). I provide my low-down on this survey, strictly based on its contents and omissions, under the following heads: (1) Pretentious Disclaimer, (2) Reasonable Facts, (3) Named Sources, (4) Innuendoes and Incomplete Analyses, (4) Forgotten Homework, and (5) Missing Context.

Pretentious Disclaimer

“Because of the significant security risks for Tamils interviewed for this report, the names of most individuals are kept confidential. Some locations and other identifying details are also withheld or changed in order to protect the identity of those who spoke with Human Rights Watch. Some cases reported to Human Rights Watch have been omitted entirely, because it was not possible to describe the reported incidents without putting the individuals involved at risk.”

These three sentences hardly help corroborative checking of facts by curious, independent Tamil analysts who are more culturally attuned to history and events in Sri Lanka than the author of this survey. How many anonymous “individuals” presented in this report are composite characters are also unverifiable. What is laughable is that not only the identities of the “individuals” who were contacted by Human Rights Watch “are kept confidential”, but also the identities of so-called “LTTE intimidators and extortionists” are not publicly divulged. Isn’t this somewhat akin to an unlikely scenario of the Watergate scandal’s elusive source ‘Deep Throat’ releasing the damaging details to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on President Nixon’s underground operators under a cloak of anonymity, while at the same time withholding the specific identities of Nixon’s minions?

Reasonable Facts

One can buy the following reasonable facts, expressed in numbers.

“As of 2001, the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora was estimated at 600,000-800,000, accounting for approximately one-quarter of the global Sri Lankan Tamil population. The majority of Sri Lankan Tamils are found in Western Europe, India, Australia and North America. The largest numbers are found in Canada (approximately 200,000-250,000), India (approximately 150,000), U.K. (approximately 110,000), Germany (approximately 50,000), Switzerland, France and Australia (each approximately 30,000).”

But, why is the USA missing from the list? I presume that, on a conservative estimate, 10,000-20,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in USA now. And the HRW’s headquarters is in New York! Did HRW bother to check with the representatives of Eelam Tamils living in the USA on the allegation of LTTE fund-raising within American boundaries? Human rights abuses against Tamils in Canada and the UK are focused on rather than those against Tamils in Sri Lanka, one assumes for reasons of ease, safety and cost, so why not take this to the extreme and talk to some Tamil Americans?

Named Sources

The identified real names cited as sources or purported victims of LTTE aggression, in HRW ’s report, are as follows: D.B.S.Jeyaraj [Canada], Namu Ponnambalam [Canada], Rajasingham Jayadevan [UK], Arumugam Kandiah Vivekananthan [UK], V.Ramaraj [UK], Seyed Bazeer [UK], Vaithiyanathan Loganathan [Germany], Selliah Nagarajah [Australia], N.Kandasamy [location not identified], Sabaratnam Sabalingam [France] – deceased, Subramaniam Muthulingam [Australia] – deceased, and Kanakapathy Rajadurai [Sri Lanka] – deceased. That quite a few among this cluster, like Jeyaraj, Ponnambalam, Jayadevan, Ramaraj and Nagarajah, are anti-LTTE partisans is known to Tamils in Sri Lanka and the diaspora. Thus, that their expressed views on the deeds of LTTE have an inherent bias is unchallengeable.

Two names of law enforcement personnel also appear in the report; that of Philip Perry [UK; Inspector, Metropolitan Police, London] and Steve Irwin [Canada; Detective Inspector, Intelligence Services, Toronto Police].

Innuendoes and Incomplete Analyses

The report is replete with innuendoes and incomplete analyses. I limit to one specific cited example here. HRW has re-told the 1993 assault of journalist D.B.S.Jeyaraj, as follows:

“In February 1993, an incident that is widely known in the Tamil community, four individuals attacked Jeyaraj in a car parking lot after he attended a movie with his wife. The assailants beat Jeyaraj with baseball bats, and broke both of his legs. Although he reported the incident to the police, and Jeyaraj had information about the identity of his assailants, no one was ever arrested for the crime.”

Make a note that the LTTE is not mentioned specifically in the three sentences, describing the assault. Is it because whether or not the “assailants” belonged to LTTE is in doubt? The last sentence describing the incident also appears to hide some information. Although Jeyaraj had reported the incident to the [Canadian] police then, “no one was ever arrested for the crime.” Does this imply that Jeyaraj’s information on his “assailants” was not convincing enough for the police to make an arrest? Does this also mean, on the other hand, that the Canadian police had been working in cahoots with the LTTE?

Forgotten Homework

I would like to focus on two roof-top barkers who are recognized for their anti-LTTE angle; namely, D.B.S.Jeyaraj [Canada] and V.Ramaraj [UK], since their perceived biases and activities are in the public record. According to HRW ’s report,

“Staff and volunteers at the London-based Tamil Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) have been particular targets. The TBC is an independent radio station that regularly broadcast programs that are critical of LTTE abuses. TBC’s program director V.Ramaraj, has received death threats, and volunteers at the station regularly receive abusive and threatening telephone calls….The volunteer with TBC mentioned above said that at a social function in late 2005, he learned that rumors were spreading in the Tamil community that he was receiving money from the Indian secret service…”

Now for relevance, let me present an excerpt relating to this issue, from one of HRW ’s named sources. D.B.S.Jeyaraj himself has identified V.Ramaraj – the TBC’s program director – as having links with the Indian secret service. Here is his report:

“…One reason for the  relaxation of some rules could have been the arrival in India of ENDLF Leader, Veeraiya Ramaraj alias Mustapha from Britain. Ramaraj, who runs the Tamil Broadcasting Corporation Radio in London, was at one time the ENDLF general secretary. He is now a central committee member and virtually directs overseas operations of the ENDLF. Ramaraj is said to enjoy a close rapport with RAW and influential Indian politicians. He has been staying for weeks in India trying to contact leaders at central and state level to get the ENDLF men out.” [Sunday Leader, Colombo, Dec.26, 2004]

Why did HRW fail to do its homework on the past scribblings of D.B.S.Jeyaraj? The same V.Ramaraj alias Mustapha - portrayed as a victim of LTTE’s “abuses” - was in the news last month in Geneva, when he was arrested by the Swiss police on Feb.23, 2006.

Some segments of HRW ’s report are nothing more than ‘cut and paste’ jobs from the partisan commentaries generated in the anti-Tamil websites. Here are two clichéd sentences in this category.

“The Tigers used suicide bombers to assassinate former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. A failed assassination attempt by a suicide bomber in 1999 wounded Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga and killed twenty-one others.”

What has escaped HRW ’s notice are the facts that before Rajiv Gandhi and Premadasa succumbed to their untimely deaths in 1991 and 1993 respectively, they were also targeted by Sinhalese assassins, identified sympathizers of the JVP, in 1987. Within a span of three weeks, Rajiv Gandhi [on July 30, 1987] and Premadasa [as well as many members of the then Cabinet of President J.R.Jayewardene, on Aug.18, 1987] would have been killed in Colombo, if not for fortuitous good luck. As for the failed assassination attempt by a suicide bomber on Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1999, even immediately after assumption of office in 1994, the then President had publicly accused some rogue elements in the Sri Lankan army and her opponents in the United National Party of trying to assassinate her.

Missing Context

What I found most devious in HRW ’s report is the missing context on the LTTE’s need for raising funds. WHY has the LTTE been engaged in fundraising among the Eelam Tamil diaspora? For proper perspective, I provide a short Associated Press newsreport, which appeared in May 2000.

“Sri Lanka’s government said it was increasing its defense spending for the year 2000 by 180 million dollars to help fight Tamil Tiger separatists. ‘We are buying new weapons and other military hardware from seven different countries and we need the extra money to make the purchases’, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told reporters. Sri Lanka’s current defense budget is 700 million dollars and with the increase, Kadirgamar said, it will reach 880 million dollars.” [Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo, May 19, 2000]

Let me sort the numbers here. The quoted currency is American dollars. Annually, the Sri Lankan armed forces [consisting of ~97 percent Sinhalese] are fed with 880 million dollars. This amounts to a spending 2.4 million dollars a day. What for? To prepare for and wage war against Eelam Tamils and destroy their lives, limbs and ecological wealth of Tamil homelands. This is not idle talk or paranoia. The track record of the Sri Lankan armed forces from 1983 to 2002 proves what happened in the past. The LTTE remains as the only force which can keep the agression of Sri Lankan armed forces in check.

To counter and be on par with the military spending of the Sri Lankan Government, theoretically speaking, the LTTE has to receive $1,000 from each living Tamil man, woman and child among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. According to HRW, “Various sources estimated the amount of money flowing from the Canadian diaspora to the LTTE in the late 1990s at anywhere between Cdn$1 million and more than Cdn$ 12 million a year.” If this has to be believed, the majority of the Eelam Tamils feel pretty satisfied with the job performance of the LTTE, despite the petulance of named and unnamed tale tellers of HRW ’s semi-fictionalized survey.

Buchwald’s words and wisdom

A year ago humorist Art Buchwald wrote a satirical piece on the prevailing political culture in Washington DC. It was entitled, ‘It’s a Mud Mud Mud Mud World’ [Washington Post, March 17, 2005]. Considering the fact that (1) HRW also has an office in Washington, (2) HRW also actively solicit donations from the public for their high profile activities, and (3) this semi-fictionalized report on behalf of HRW about the LTTE’s fund raising is nothing but political schlock to a high degree, it is of worth to reproduce the initial segment of Buchwald’s biting thoughts.

“The truth is that there is more mudslinging going on in the country than ever before. But where do people get the mud?

One of the most succcessful mud-making factories in America is in Washington. I visited it the other day. The head of marketing, Ike Seller, showed me around.

Next to the factory was a railroad siding, where a freight car was pouring unrefined mud into the basement.

‘Where do you get the mud?’

‘From all over,’ Seller bragged. ‘We make the best mud of any factory in the land. When our customers sling it, it sticks.’

‘How’s business?’ I asked.

‘Better than ever. We’re now working three shifts.’

‘Is there a shortage of mud in America?’

‘There is always a shortage of mud, particularly in a democracy…’

Isn’t it a pity that Human Rights Watch has also turned into a mud-making factory?

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