Sri Lankan security forces have nothing to hide: Prof. Gunaratne

Hard Talk Article by by Shakuntla Perera

International terrorism expert and Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University Prof. Rohan Gunaratne speaks to Hard Talk about the recent allegations against the government and security forces.

Stressing that terrorists are the worst human rights violators he emphasizes that the LTTE assigned a significant portion of their budget to lobby human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and International Crisis Group. Citing such action as being behind the Channel 4 fiasco, he maintains that the LTTE even had a dedicated budget for “Geneva Travel” to lobby NGO advocacy groups. ‘Terrorists are the worst human rights violators and the conduct of the LTTE was the best example of it. The LTTE will continue to trick human rights groups and media organizations and some will fall into the LTTE trap,’ he warns.

The militaries, law enforcement agencies and intelligence services worldwide have hailed Sri Lankas defeat of the LTTE. As the recent Army seminar in Colombo, pre-eminent experts on counter terrorism, including from the West, praised Sri Lankas strategy. The only failure they highlighted was the inability of the Sri Lankan government especially its political leaders to understand and develop an effective information strategy to counter these allegations.

These allegations are directed and inspired by the LTTE that has now transformed from a ruthless terrorist group to a sophisticated propaganda organization. Unfortunately, a handful of Western politicians are trying to play cheap politics at Sri Lankas expense. Driven by the marginal diaspora Tamil vote manipulated by the LTTE, these unethical politicians, primarily from the UK, are parroting LTTE slogans under the guise of advocating human rights. Shamelessly, the same politicians advocated the US/UK invasion destroying the lives of nearly a million Iraqi civilians based on disinformation!

A few of these European and North American political leaders have accepted not only LTTE votes but LTTE funds. They are not genuinely interested in improving the quality of life of Sri Lankans but in their own political survival. Like a Wikileak exposed David Miliband’s primary motivation to focus on Sri Lanka was Tamil votes, Western governments should investigate LTTE links to these politicians.

 According to a British government officer, the LTTE exercises electoral pressure on the British politicians greedy for votes, the politicians put pressure on government bureaucrats, and that affects British policy on Sri Lanka.

Q:Yet the victory has been seen to be devalued in the face of charges of war crimes on the forces by certain individuals, how do you see this situation?

Wars are no longer won only in the battlefield
Sri Lanka won the war on the ground but lost it in the information space. The Sri Lankan political leadership did not understand the importance of countering the LTTE directed and LTTE inspired propaganda. The Ministry of External Affairs and its missions overseas and the Ministry of Information miserably failed to rise to this challenge. Until the Sri Lankan government builds a robust information operations capability, the disinformation and misinformation campaign of the LTTE will damage Sri Lankas image and reputation. 

The LTTE developed the war crimes canard because the remnant leaders of the defeated LTTE want to remain relevant. Today, the LTTE is a militarily spent force but it has emerged as a propaganda organization. With the LTTE dismantled, the Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese are living happily.  Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of the Tamils living overseas travel to Sri Lanka. They are the biggest investors in Sri Lanka and government needs to engage them by creating a dedicated diaspora affairs department.

The Sri Lankan government must be undeterred by such baseless criticism. However, it must not fall into the trap of non-response. Sri Lanka must respond to every single allegation and share the unprecedented steps taken by the government to rehabilitate former LTTE cadres, rapidly resettle IDPS, rebuild the north and the east and reconcile the communities. Additionally, government must create an international centre for human rights to investigate human rights violations committed by the terrorists and highlight the stories of the victims of terrorism.

Q: How concerned are you with the criticism over the quoted misconceptions on the security forces’ role during the humanitarian debacle over the last stages of the war?

Throughout the Sri Lankan war, even when the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was deployed in Sri Lanka, LTTE produced its version of events.

 The LTTE often accused its opponents of the crimes the LTTE committed on the civilians. For instance, the LTTE spoke of genocide when it engaged in ethnocide by expelling Muslims and Sinhalese from the north and east. Through propaganda, the LTTE was able to convince a segment of the Sri Lankan Tamils and a narrow segment of the international community of its lies.

Having failed to engineer a humanitarian catastrophe to draw western intervention, the strategy of the LTTE remnants is lobby Western media; NGOs, especially rights advocacy NGOs; and western politicians susceptible to Tamil electoral pressure and campaign funds who can pressurize international organizations such as the UN. Sri Lankan government must publicize how it freed nearly 300,000 Tamil civilians held hostage and eventually shot at by the LTTE. To counter LTTE directed and inspired misinformation and disinformation campaign, the government must engage in an image and a perception management exercise. But I do not see the Sri Lankan government taking this challenge seriously.   

Sri Lankan security forces have nothing to hide except current operations to maintain current and future security. It is paramount for the Sri Lankan government to investigate every single allegations levelled against its security forces. The Sri Lankan rmy Commander General Jagath Jayasuriya publicly stated that the army will investigate any specific incident that has been brought to its attention.

Throughout the war, the LTTE assigned a significant portion of their budget to lobby human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and International Crisis Group. Recovery of LTTE documents show that the LTTE even had a dedicated budget for “Geneva Travel” to lobby NGO advocacy groups. Terrorists are the worst human rights violators and the conduct of the LTTE was the best example of it. The LTTE will continue to trick human rights groups and media organizations and some will fall into the LTTE trap.

Q: The allegations made by Channel 4 are doing serious damage to the country and the forces. As an international expert on terrorism how would you decipher the allegations and weigh the consequences?  Channel 4 is the latest victim of LTTE disinformation and misinformation.

For example, Channel 4 portrays Thamilvany Kumar as a civilian.  On the contrary, Thamilvany Kumar is a LTTE weapons trained activist from the UK that worked for Castro, who was in charge of LTTE international network including propaganda. Furthermore, Channel 4 portrays Issipriya as a journalist but she is a weapons trained LTTE cadre who received the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the LTTE. While Issipriya contributed to the radicalization and militarization of an entire generation, her husband Sri Ram killed security forces personnel both in land and maritime attacks.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Information must produce a film a month to portray the unprecedented development in the north and the east of Sri Lanka. The government should give access to film makers to make films on nation building. Rather than funding anti-government journalists to write stories attacking the government, foreign missions in Colombo should be encouraged to provide assistance to independent film producers to produce films on terrorist rehabilitation, IDP resettlement, reconstruction in the north and the east and reconciliation between the communities.

Q: The government recently announced plans to strengthen the legal framework in seizing LTTE assests by amending the Financial Transactions Act, Prevention of Terrorism Financing Act etc. What key areas would you suggest the government concentrate on to better meet the related demands?

Terrorism as a threat will persist in Sri Lanka in the immediate, mid and in the long term.

 As such PTA and Emergency regulations must not be repealed. The LTTE remnants are funding some TNA MPS who are still engaged in Tiger activity. While developing a mainstream Tamil political leadership in the north and the east, the Government must target the terrorist financial infrastructure and prosecute anyone financially connected with the LTTE factions overseas even if they are TNA MPs. In addition to dispensing severe punishment, the government must enact laws to seize their assets.Sri Lankan courts do not have extra-territorial jurisdiction, to try persons such as LTTE operatives who have committed offences overseas, and not engaged in any illegal activities on Sri Lankan soil. It would be important for Sri Lankan authorities to pay due regard to this weakness of the Sri Lankan criminal justice system and adopt legislative reform so as to vest extra-territorial jurisdiction in Sri Lankan criminal courts and to amend the substantive criminal law of Sri Lanka to recognize as punishable offences LTTE activism overseas. As two years have passed, Sri Lanka must now move forward to criminalize advocacy, support and participation in separatist activities an offense.

Q: The Indian interest in resolving the Sri Lankan ‘issue’ is seen by a majority as an interference that must not be tolerated. Do you see room  for such concerns in view of the undeniable political realities that are shared between?

Sri Lanka must not follow the Indian model of devolution.

 Every country is unique. Sri Lanka must develop its own methods to manage its challenges. A wise Indian familiar with recent Indo-Lankan history will not dictate terms to or impose its will on Sri Lanka!India is partially responsible for creating the LTTE. Today, it is no secret that the Indian government armed, trained, financed and directed over 20,000 LTTE and other cadres from Indian soil from 1983-1987. Having assisted the LTTE first, by non interference in the final phase of the operation against the LTTE in 2008-2009, India is also partially responsible for destroying the LTTE. Sri Lanka must remain grateful to India for its non role in the final phase.

India supported the LTTE and other groups because New Delhi perceived that Sri Lanka had stepped out of the non aligned orbit and was flirting with the US, Israel, China, and Pakistan. Now the Americans and the Israelis have become the best friends of Indians. Although India’s relations with China and Pakistan are improving there is deep mistrust between these nations.  As such, Sri Lanka must maintain cordial relations with New Delhi and with Chennai. Otherwise, India will punish Sri Lanka once again. To prevent the LTTE from regrouping in Tamil Nadu and re-emerging as a threat both Indian and Sri Lankan law enforcement and intelligence services must build a special relationship.

 Although most Tamil Nadu politicians are crooks and corrupt, Sri Lanka must build a formidable relationship with Tamil Nadu politicians and officials. They must invite the Chief Minister and all her top officials to visit Sri Lanka’s north east and show case the unprecedented development and invite their participation.

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