Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Roar of Tamil Rights

by Ithayan, TamilCanadian, March 31, 2006

The community is aware of many individuals and incidents reported in the HRW report. Most of the stories and incidents are twisted and decorated to fit some people’s own agenda.

The recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report about Tamils in Canada and in Europe has in effect mesmerized many of us. It has prompted a lot of attention worldwide as well. The report tends to portray the Tamil community as “stalked by fear.” Even the so called responsible media, carried away more so by “media sensationalism,” have failed to grasp the truth. Many would hesitate to question a human rights organization like HRW funded by rich individuals and corporations.

The problems with the HRW report are many fold. First of all, the report, against core Canadian and European values, aims to racially profile a community in its recommendations to the Canadian Government. Racial profiling violates the fundamental rights of a group of people based on race. In Canada profiling a group of people racially is a violation of the “Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Therefore, the HRW report itself is a violation of Canadian values and human rights.

Most of the individuals interviewed in the HRW report are not credible. Some of the named individuals mentioned from Canada and Europe are involved in human and drug trafficking. One individual from UK was arrested for drunken and disorderly behavior while protesting against the peace talks held last month in Geneva between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. And upon arrest it was found he was the same person the Swiss police had sought for some time for various serious criminal offences. Another individual living in Toronto known for human trafficking was arrested for physically assaulting a political opponent at a meeting at Scarborough Civic Center, last year. This same individual appeared on TV giving interviews claiming he was forced to contribute money under extortion and threats. Ironically, the HRW report shows he preferred to go to the media and to HRW, rather than to the police.

It’s been widely spoken in the community and also well known according to information appearing in certain websites that some individuals mentioned in the HRW report and their families have allegedly assisted in killings back in Sri Lanka.

The community is aware of many individuals and incidents reported in the HRW report. Most of the stories and incidents are twisted and decorated to fit some people’s own agenda. One individual is calling himself a prominent journalist in Toronto, but we have heard he has left threatening telephone messages in a few community members’ telephones.

Then there is an alleged burning of a library in Toronto. It’s well known that the library was burnt down by the owners to claim insurance. It’s an insurance fraud committed by some criminally intended individuals. But, the involved groups, including a self-proclaimed group searching for the truth, have always publicly maintained that the library was burnt by the members and supporters of the LTTE. These stories about these individuals are true, but it is regrettable that responsible media outlets failed to listen to the Tamil community leaders who wanted to bring out the truth about the people behind the HRW report.

The individuals mentioned in the report preferred to go to the media claiming that they were threatened by force to give money. Some even went on TV to show their faces to give validity to their stories. But, these individuals didn’t even bother to go to the police station to file a report. They claimed they feared for their lives and were scared to go to the police, but nevertheless had no real fear of giving TV interviews. It should be noted that the Toronto police has not received any complaints of extortion or threats.

There have been a few newspapers that have taken the HRW report as gospel and have written editorials asking for the banning of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Canada. The editorials argued that the LTTE should be listed as a terrorist organization and banned in Canada because it uses child soldiers and suicide bombers.

In the west, the use of child soldiers and suicide bombers are interpreted as acts of terrorism and also as a violation of human rights. In our minds, there is no place for a second opinion as far as the child soldiers and suicide bombings are concerned. By explicitly categorizing both issues as acts of terrorism, we fail to raise and highlight the underlining concerns and controversies in child soldier issues and suicide attacks.

The use of child soldiers

First, take a look at the issue of Child soldiers. For example, many Canadians are not even aware that a 16 year old Canadian child can be recruited to the Canadian armed forces. Hhuman rights groups are crying foul when a Tamil child of 16 or 17 years is recruited to the ranks of the LTTE.

The main body of international law governing child soldiers includes the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Rights of the Child. (There are also the 1989 International Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1999 Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention adopted by the International Labor Organization.)

As per the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, the minimum age for recruitment as well as use in combat is 15 years. The Protocol did not make a distinction between state and non-state actors. But, voluntary or forced recruitment or use of children in combat under 15 years is a violation under this provision and, in fact, a war crime.

According to the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Rights of the Child, which came into force only in 2002, the minimum age for voluntary recruitment was not set for state parties though they have to make a declaration establishing a minimum age after ratifying the law and then be bound by that declaration. This minimum age cannot be set below sixteen.

Article 3 paragraph 1 of the Optional Protocol provides that state parties shall raise the minimum age (from 15) for voluntary recruitment of persons into their National Armed forces from that set out in Article 38 paragraph 3 of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child. But a distinction was made between state and non-state actors. Non-state armed groups shall not recruit whether forced or voluntary and they shall not under any circumstances use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.

The UK ratified the Optional Protocol, but would not exclude use of persons under the age of 18 years in hostilities in certain circumstances. Thr US did not ratify the Optional Protocol at all. Canada ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict on July 17, 2000.

The minimum age of enrollment into most of the Canadian Forces programs is 17. However, individuals may be enrolled in the Regular Officer Training Plan (Junior Program) and the Reserves at age 16.

‘Joshua Ramirez, 11, left center, and Daniel Kessinger, 8, right center, stand at attention before the Castle Air Young Marines graduation ceremony...’

The Optional Protocol clearly discriminates against children as “our” children and as “their” children.” If the children are “ours” in Canada or the UK, then they can be recruited as soldiers when they are 16. And if the children are “theirs” - if they’re Tamils for example - they must only be recruited when they are 18. In both cases, they are children regardless who recruits them. In any case, if we want to protect the children, and if that is our prime motive, then “our” children and “their” children need to be protected universally until a child reaches 18. It’s repugnant to apply double standards in the law and equally repugnant for HRW and other organizations to be part of the hypocrisy in not divulging the disparity when finding violations.

In the case of the LTTE and Sri Lanka, the latter ratified the Optional Protocol and raised the minimum age to 18. The LTTE also adopted 18 years as the minimum age for recruitment. At least the LTTE wants to protect their children under 18, whereas Canada, the UK and the USA don’t want to explicitly protect children under the age of 18.

The Tamil children of Sri Lanka are deprived by the state. Their homes, their playgrounds, schools, places of worship are occupied by the Sri Lankan army and these areas are declared “no go zones” for the children. Thousands of children are orphaned in the war. Neither the international community nor the Sri Lankan state is taking care of the children. It is the LTTE that is taking care of them. There are cases of children joining the LTTE with false age even after LTTE agreed to abide by the Optional Protocol. More than 1000 children have been released by the LTTE due to the confusion caused by age.

Many messengers have conveniently chosen not to mention other forms of violence against children in Sri Lanka. The plight of children seldom gets reported in the media. The fact of the matter is that Tamil children in the NorthEast are being deprived of a reasonable standard of education, suffer from malnutrition, most are displaced from their homes and have to live under the constant threat and intimidation of the Sri Lankan occupied forces. This hardly elicits a mention by the media or by so-called human rights groups and children rights groups. There are reported cases of children being forcefully recruited by the Sri Lankan Army into the armed forces as well as into paramilitary ranks. Many children in the South of Sri Lanka are used as domestic “servants” beggars and prostitutes by unscrupulous persons and a vast number are sexually abused by foreign pedophiles. The messengers are indifferent to reporting these stories.

It shows how international laws and our personal prejudices are determining who are sanctioned to use a child under 18 as a soldier. We in the west first need to rise up to protect our children to the international standards, i.e. must protect children until they reach 18 years!

Suicide Bombers

“It is the oppressor, not the oppressed, who determines the form of struggle” said President Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Price winner, in his book “Long Walk to Freedom.”

Though the world has been changed by the suicide attacks of 9/11, I am going to show you examples of how ordinary civilians and U.S military pilots, by instantaneously becoming suicide attackers, responded to protect innocent civilians from more destruction.

Let us look at two examples related to 9/11 in detail where suicide attacks are considered an act of heroism instead of terrorism. Then you can infer the case of LTTE.

Even though, there are many stories about the fate of United Airlines flight 93 on Sept 11, 2001, I am going to take the official version here. What made Flight 93 different was a decision reached somewhere over the skies of Western Pennsylvania, after passengers learned on cell phones that they were likely to be flown into a building as the fourth in a quartet of suicide attacks. And they decided to fight in the sky.

Flight 93 passengers courageously took control of their destiny and stopped the hijackers from using their plane as another weapon. Most of them said final good byes to their loved ones on their phones before storming to the cockpit, knowing they would die for sure. Calling their loved ones and saying good byes show that they knew that they were going to die. The passengers wanted to make their deaths worthwhile to others by saving more lives.

By knowing in advance that one would die in a certain action is called suicide. Further, knowing in advance that they were going to die, the passengers of Flight 93 tried to save other lives on the ground; they attacked the hijackers and crashed the plane killing all, avoiding bigger loss to others.

The act of the passengers on Flight 93 one way or other constitutes a suicide attack because they knew in advance that by their act they were going to die. Similarly, some members of the LTTE are involved in suicide attacks to protect Tamil civilians from an oppressive government.

The other incident that happened on September 11, 2001 was that US Air Force commanders considered crashing their fighter jets into hijacked planes because of a lack of armed planes in the New York area. US pilots were forced to take to the skies without any weapons and might have had to deliberately crash into a hijacked plane to prevent casualties on the ground. (Read more details at BBC )

The above mentioned story was an official suicide mission of the U.S government, but no one considered or described it as a terrorist mission. Similarly, LTTE uses suicide missions to safe-guard its people from the Sri Lankan state’s atrocities. We fail to examine the circumstances in which young people are signing up to become suicide bombers. When people are forced and cornered in to survival, many want to save their loved ones by taking their own lives. In cases like above, suicide is a basic human survival instinct. We cannot deny the basic survival instinct to a group of people like the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Having a narrow look at the issue of children’s rights and suicide attacks, we are failing an oppressed people to find a just solution. As proposed, if for example Canada bans the LTTE as a terrorist organization, then we are effectively severing the communication with one party who is involved in the conflict. By shutting the doors to one party in the conflict, Canada will fail to assist in finding a resolution to that conflict.

Would the western media be ready to rise up to the truth and stand up in support of the children under 18 and for oppressed peoples?

The choice is yours!

“It is the oppressor, not the oppressed, who determines the form of struggle.

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