Full text of the Speech by Hon. Rohitha Bogollagama, M.P.,
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka
at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Canberra on 13 October 2008
The Director and Members of the Council of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen
At the very outset itself, I wish to convey my sincere thanks and profound appreciation to the ASPI for the invitation that has been extended to me to address this prestigious forum, which had been set up by the Australian Government seven years ago, as an independent, non-partisan institute to provide fresh ideas on Australia’s Defence and Strategic Policy initiatives.
The topic on which I wish to speak today concerns the most serious challenge that the international community is facing today, threatening to tear asunder the very fabric of human civilization, namely the threat of terrorism. Hence, I feel it is opportune and relevant to present Sri Lanka’s perspective on “Global Action on Countering Terrorism”.
Terrorism has been on the international agenda since 1934, when the League of Nations took a major initiative towards outlawing the scourge by discussing a draft convention for the prevention and punishment of terrorism. Although the Convention was eventually adopted in 1937, it never came into force.
Since 1963, the international community has elaborated 13 universal legal instruments to prevent terrorist acts. Those instruments were developed under the auspices of the United Nations and its specialized agencies and the international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and are open to participation by all Member States. In 2005, the international community also introduced substantive changes to three of these universal instruments to specifically account for the threat of terrorism; on 8 July of that year States adopted the Amendments to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, and on 14 October they agreed to both the Protocol of 2005 to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation and the Protocol of 2005 to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platform Located on the Continent Shelf.
Currently, UN Member States are negotiating a 14th international treaty, a draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism. This convention would complement the existing framework of international anti-terrorism instruments and would build on key guiding principles already present in recent anti-terrorist conventions: the importance of criminalization of terrorist offences, making them punishable by law and calling for prosecution or extradition of the perpetrators; the need to eliminate legislation which establishes exceptions to such criminalization on political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or similar grounds; a strong call for Member States to take action to prevent terrorist acts; and emphasis on the need for Member States to cooperate, exchange information and provide each other with the greater measurer of assistance in connection with the prevention, investigation and prosecution of terrorist acts.
The Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 08 September 2006, highlighted the importance of Member States becoming parties to existing international counter-terrorism instruments and implementing their provisions without delay. This was first time that countries around the world agreed on a common strategic approach to combat terrorism. The strategy forms the basis for a concrete Plan of Action to formulate:
I. measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism
II. measures to prevent and combat terrorism
III. measures to build States’ capacity to prevent and combat terrorism and to strengthen the role of the UN System in this regard
IV. measures to ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as a fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism
This strategic plan was built on the unique consensus achieved by world leaders at their September 2005 Summit in New York, to condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.
Terrorism is, sadly, no stranger to Sri Lanka. We, in Sri Lanka, know terrorism, unfortunately, only too well. It is regrettably an everyday reality confronting us, even as we try to commute to our work places and attend to our daily chores. We know at first hand the horrific consequences of the brutality of terrorism; the carnage, the shock and horror, the thousands of unsuspecting lives lost or maimed in the flash of a bomb explosion, the thousands of families left bereaved, the countless personal tragedies that terrorism leaves in its wake. The debilitating effects of terrorism on the psyche of the nation have been such that an entire generation has been born and raised in Sri Lanka under the dark clouds of this scourge.
Sri Lanka is a State party to 12 international conventions relating to terrorism. The most recent instrument that we ratified was the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, which was negotiated and concluded in April 2005 by the UN Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism, under the Chair of Sri Lanka. Currently, a Bill to give effect to this Convention has been gazetted and will be presented to Parliament shortly for adoption into domestic law. Enabling legislation has also been enacted to give effect to the other Conventions, that Sri Lanka has ratified, which would facilitate and provide a legal basis for international cooperation in the investigation, prosecution or extradition of those who commit or directly or indirectly participate in the commission of terrorist offences.
At the regional level too, Sri Lanka has played a pro-active role in galvanizing support for collective action in combating terrorism. At the recently concluded 15th SAARC Summit in Colombo, leaders of the assembled 8 member states gave their blessings to the SAARC Convention on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters, which was signed by the Foreign Ministers. Article 13 of the Convention operates to extend mutual cooperation to seize or confiscate funds for the purposes of financing terrorism and to prosecute persons or groups involved in such activities. We regard terrorism striking any member of the SAARC family as an immediate and direct threat to all of us. Hence, early ratification of this landmark Convention would enable its implementation and thereby strengthen the collective resolve of SAARC to eradicate the menace of terrorism from our region.
Among the key weapons in the armoury of the international community to fight terrorism is the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, which entered into force on 10 April 2002, following its adoption by the UN General Assembly in December 1999. The speed with which member states ratified this Convention, illustrated the commitment of the international community to combat terrorism, especially in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the US in September 2001. In response to those attacks, the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, adopted Resolution 1373 on 28 September 2001, which inter alia called upon States to “become parties as soon as possible to the relevant international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, including the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism of 09 December 1999”. This was the first time that the Security Council, acting under Chapter VII, had directed such a request to all States.
The Convention adds substantial strength and enforcement opportunities to the network of interlocking conventions on various acts of terrorism created by the international community over the last 30 years. Increasingly, international terrorist activity has become interlinked with other modern scourges, such as drug trafficking and the proliferation of small arms. This Convention recognizes that financing is at the heart of terrorist activity, and it paves the way for concerted action and close cooperation among law enforcement agencies, financial authorities and States.
It calls for efforts to identify, detect, and freeze or seize any funds used or allocated for the purpose of committing a terrorist act. It urges States to consider establishing mechanisms to use such funds to compensate victims and/or their families. It also calls upon financial institutions to pay special attention to unusual or suspicious transactions and to report to the government any such transactions that they suspect may be connected to criminal activity.
Since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1373, which is binding upon all UN Member States, there is greater awareness, and I hope, more willingness on the part of the international community to support the endeavours of countries, which are confronted by terrorism. By this Resolution, Member States were encouraged to share their intelligence on terrorist groups in order to assist in the fight against terrorism.
It also established the Security Council’s Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC), to monitor State compliance with its provisions. However, the Resolution failed to define “terrorism”, and the Working Group had placed only the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban on the sanctions list. The UN Security Council Resolution 1566 adopted on 08 October 2004 picked up the loose ends from 1373, by actually spelling out what the Security Council deems as terrorism, i.e.
“criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act”.
In adopting Resolution 1566, the Council set up a Working Group to consider recommendations on measures to be imposed against “individuals, groups or entities involved in or associated with terrorist activities” not already identified by its Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee. I strongly believe that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which has earned international notoriety and opprobrium for its countless cold blooded and savage acts of terrorism, targeting not only high profile politicians and military personnel, but ordinary civilians, designed to cause maximum casualties and property destruction, is a prime candidate for consideration by the Working Group for listing, as an international terrorist group. The LTTE is pre-eminently qualified to meet the criteria for such listing. After all, the LTTE has been described as “probably the most sophisticated terrorist organization in the world”, by Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, Chief Scientist at the Centre Asymmetric Threat Studies of the Swedish National Defence College. More recently, the FBI of the United States has given the LTTE the appellation as “among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world”. Therefore, I do hope the UN Working Group will take cognizance of the clear and present danger that the LTTE poses not only to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, but equally to the law and order as well as the stability of Western societies, which have been infected by the pernicious and malignant influence of the LTTE.
Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan in a report that he submitted to the General Assembly in 1998, warned of the threat to civil society emanating from terrorism. He stated: “Government authority and civil society are increasingly threatened by transnational networks of crime, narcotics, money laundering and terrorism. Access by underworld groups to sophisticated information technologies and weaponry as well as various instrumentalities through which the global market economy functions are vastly increasing the potential power of an influence of these groups, posing a threat to law and order and to legitimate economic and political institutions”.
The LTTE is notorious for resorting to intimidation, extortion and even violence on the large Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora in the West to ensure a steady flow of funds to finance its terrorist campaign in Sri Lanka. A 45 page report, titled “Funding the Final War: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora” issued by Human Rights Watch in March 2006, details how representatives of the LTTE and pro-LTTE groups used unlawful pressure on Tamil communities in the West to secure financial pledges. Jo Becker, the author of the report states thus: “The Tamil Tigers are exporting the terrors of war to Tamils living in the West. Sri Lankan Tamils living in the West fear that if they speak out about Tamil Tiger abuses, they may put themselves and their families at risk. Despite the diaspora’s size and potential influence on LTTE practices, the Tamil Tigers’ threats, intimidation, and even violence have effectively stifled dissent”.
Many Tamils of Sri Lankan origin living in Canada, Europe and Australia fear for the safety of family members living in Sri Lanka in areas still under LTTE control. The Tigers identify Tamils from the West coming to Sri Lanka to visit family members, and systematically extort funds from them.
Funding from the diaspora has been the mainstay fuelling the LTTE’s terror campaign in Sri Lanka. The traditional “melting pot” paradigm, where emigrants gradually lost ties to their countries of origin and became assimilated into the social fabric of their adopted nations, is no longer the norm. Diasporas, which continue to maintain connections and loyalty to their homelands, rather than exclusively to their new countries of residence, are now growing fast in numbers.
This trend is most pronounced in Asian Diasporas, including the Sri Lankan expatriate communities spread across the globe. The prime driver of this new phenomenon is globalization. Since the mid 1980s, the advent of new communications technologies, coupled with growing affordability of international travel, have overcome the vast geographical distances that once isolated states and continents. New modes of communication such as the mobile phone and the internet have become not only cheaper, but also more accessible and reliable. By 2004, there were more than 1.8 billion mobile phone users in the world. By the end of last year, this figure almost doubled to stand at 3.3 billion, equivalent to a penetration rate of 50% of the world population which was estimated at around 6.6 billion in July last year.
Moreover, the growth of satellite television since the 1990s through the present decade has enabled overseas communities affordable access to programmes in local languages from virtually any country in the world. Instant news media now enable diasporas to see and hear events in their home country, almost in real time. And with “streaming” (live on-line) radio and TV stations, as well as video clips on the You Tube, now easily accessible on the internet, anyone with a computer can maintain an uninterrupted link with the day to day events taking place in his homeland.
The LTTE, running a highly sophisticated and intricate international web, encompassing the whole gamut of activities ranging from seemingly innocuous pursuits, such as the promotion of Tamil culture to raising funds ostensibly to support charities and humanitarian relief in Sri Lanka, has cleverly exploited modern technology to finance its terror campaign. In fact, although several countries including India, the United States, the United Kingdom, the 27 member European Union and Canada have proscribed the LTTE, the many front organizations of the LTTE which operate rather freely in these countries, continue to raise funds and engage in propaganda in support of the LTTE. These fronts provide a cover for the LTTE to indulge in various nefarious activities, including illicit arms procurement, human smuggling, narcotics trafficking, credit card scams and money laundering.
It was only last week that an LTTE suicide bomber blew himself up, claiming the lives of Major General Janaka Perera, his wife and several others in a cowardly and barbaric attack in Anuradhapura. Gen. Perera was a courageous man who was the architect of many decisive victories on the battle front. He also served Sri Lanka with distinction and patriotic zeal, as High Commissioner to Australia, and later as Ambassador to Indonesia. We deeply appreciate the message of condolence issued by Hon. Stephen Smith, my Australian counterpart. He is absolutely correct in recognizing the right of the Sri Lankan Government to undertake action, consistent with international law, to secure control over its national territory.
In this context, I believe it would be appropriate for me quote from the statement that I made in Parliament on 07 October 2008, in the immediate aftermath of the suicide bomb attack. Speaking on the floor of the House, I said:
“Yesterday’s attack makes it crystal clear that the LTTE is firmly and irreversibly entrenched in the path of violence and terrorism. This is not the time for recrimination or finger pointing. No attempt should be made to whitewash the LTTE and throw it a life line, as it faces imminent and certain defeat at the hands of our valiant security forces. All political parties who subscribe to democracy should unite and join hands with the government to once and for all rid Sri Lanka of the scourge of terrorism. This barbaric act of terrorism also demonstrates the need for the people to remain eternally vigilant, since the LTTE is hell bent on wreaking death and destruction on the people of this country”.
All too often there is a tendency to lose sight of the meticulous organization behind each act of terrorism, the extensive network of secret cells, responsible for collecting funds, procuring illicit weapons and bomb making material, and foot soldiers responsible for propaganda. The ability of the LTTE to transfer vast sums money through illicit channels, bypassing the scrutiny of Central Banks of Governments, is a major challenge in combating terrorism.
We greatly appreciate the pro-active stance of the Australian authorities in arresting and prosecuting frontline activists and sympathizers of the LTTE, notwithstanding the fact that Australia is yet to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organization. Hence, the arrest of three activists of the Melbourne based LTTE front, the Tamil Coordinating Committee in April 2007 by the Australian Federal Police and their subsequent prosecution on charges relating to raising funds for terrorism, is all the more welcome. We also note that the Australian Federal Police have arrested the Director of a Melbourne business college in July this year, at the request of the FBI of the US, for his links to the LTTE, and wanted to face prosecution for alleged terrorism offences in the US.
However, much more needs to be done to pursue front organizations of the LTTE, posing off as charities and humanitarian relief groups, which continue to raise funds to fill the LTTE war chest. In this respect, the United States has taken a bold lead in targeting the support network of the LTTE by designating the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), which had long claimed itself to be a charitable organization, as a front to facilitate fund raising and procurement of weapons for the LTTE. The US Treasury Department by Executive Order 13224 dated 15 November 2007, froze all assets of the TRO under US jurisdiction and prohibited US nationals from having any transactions with the organization.
Notwithstanding the overwhelming body of evidence that is available with several governments on the inextricable and organic link between the TRO and the LTTE, it is a matter of regret that apart from the US and the UK governments which have listed the TRO, this organization as well as numerous other fronts, representing the multi-headed hydra like character of the LTTE, are operating with impunity, thumbing a nose at the authorities in many Western countries which have a significant presence of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.
Thus, the onus is now clearly upon the international community to support Sri Lanka, by taking tangible and meaningful steps to eradicate terrorism from our land, and help the government to restore democracy and rebuild the damaged infrastructure in the North and the East of the country. We believe that the true friends of Sri Lanka in the international community, who have the well being of our people at heart must put their money where their mouth is, by taking decisive action to stop funds being raised under various ruses, which are being channeled to finance the LTTE’s operations.
We strongly believe that terrorism cannot be countered by using terrorism; we reject the notion that terror must be fought by terror. While this approach has found favour in certain quarters, giving rise to robust rules of engagement for the military to engage terrorists, in turn, resulting in collateral damage in the form of massive civilian casualties, Sri Lanka firmly believes in the protection of human rights, even as its military forces are currently engaged in freeing our people from the fascist and dictatorial control of the LTTE terrorists, who are now holed up in parts of the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts in the North.
The Government of Sri Lanka is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation of civilians in the uncleared areas, as the military operations enter a decisive phase to free these areas from the terrorists. As a responsible government, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration is acutely conscious and aware of its responsibilities towards all citizens of Sri Lanka. This is why, even as there is intensification of the military strikes against the LTTE, there is remarkably minimal collateral civilian casualties. This has not occurred by chance or a fortuitous turn of circumstances, but rather in pursuance of the government directive to the military to adhere strictly to a policy of “zero civilian casualty”, in combating terrorism.
The absence of civilian deaths in the Eastern Province clearing operations last year, except in one isolated incident where the LTTE used civilians as cover to fire at the military, is a manifestation of the success of this strategy, which we are confident, will be replicated in the ongoing operations in the North.
While it should come as no surprise that critics of Sri Lanka and sympathizers of the LTTE are attempting to portray a misleading and totally false notion that the government is opting for a military solution to address the problems of the minorities, it is unfortunate that some of our friends too have been influenced by this malicious propaganda.
Nothing can be further from the truth. In fact, President Mahinda Rajapaksa addressing the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York last month, made it amply clear to the international community that the Government of Sri Lanka is firmly committed to a political solution. President Rajapaksa said, and I quote “Exploiting perceived ethnic grievances, that must and can be addressed through political means, the vested interests of a well organized terror group, the LTTE indulges in blatant and brutal acts of terrorism, including suicide bombings to seek negotiating leverage, political recognition and legitimacy”. – unquote
The President went on to say, and I quote “Our Government has always been ready to address the causes of these issues and effectively implement political and constitutional solutions to meet the aspirations and rights of all communities. What the Government would not, and could not do is to let an illegal and armed terrorist group, the LTTE, to hold a fraction of our population, a part of the Tamil community, hostage to such terror in the northern part of Sri Lanka and deny those people their democratic rights of dissent and free elections. Through our past actions, we have proved it”. – unquote
The Government attaches the highest importance to the humanitarian needs of displaced persons and civilians in the areas affected by the conflict. This is an obligation and responsibility which the Government has assumed since the inception of the conflict. In order to ensure effective adequate and safe delivery of humanitarian supplies, the Government has been working closely with UN agencies, ICRC as well as a number of local and international NGOs. The Government coordinates this effort at several national as well as ground level mechanisms, overseeing the progress of deliveries and distribution of supplies and assessing needs in affected areas on a round the clock basis.
The civilians who are trapped in the LTTE controlled areas are being encouraged to move out of these areas through “humanitarian corridors” created in order that the security forces can put an end to terrorism in Sri Lanka and prevent them being used by the LTTE as “human shields”. It is highly deplorable that the LTTE is cynically exploiting the plight of innocent civilians kept prisoner against their will, for propaganda purposes. The Government welcomes the statement of 23rd September 2008 by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference on the humanitarian situation in the North. In particular, the CBC stated, and I quote “It was noted that the LTTE is not permitting the civilians to come out of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi. This is a very unfortunate situation. We ask the LTTE not to hinder the innocent civilians from proceeding to safe areas as the war is escalating and the lives of these innocent people are greatly endangered. The innocent civilians must not be used as human shields.” - unquote
With regard to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in LTTE dominated areas in the Killinochchi and Mullativu districts, the current estimate is around 250,000, of which there are 110,000 pre-2006 IDPs forced to flee to the Wanni by the LTTE from the Jaffna peninsula, another 90,000 who were displaced between 2006 and June 2008 and the rest displaced due to the on-going operations. In considering the situation of the IDPs, it is important that we bear in mind that the situation of those displaced due to the on-going military operations in the Wanni, as previously in the case of the East, is merely a temporary dislocation.
On the other hand, I wonder why the shrill voices of those who are screaming of a non-existent humanitarian catastrophe in the Wanni, are deafeningly silent on the plight of the over 100,000 Muslims who are now languishing in refugee camps, mainly in the impoverished Puttalam district and others in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa districts after being forcibly evicted by the LTTE from the North. 24th October marks the 18th anniversary of the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the North by the LTTE. 75,000 Muslims were compelled to vacate their homes at gun point on this day in 1990 by the LTTE and after they were driven out of their lands, which they had inhabited from time immemorial, the LTTE went about systematically looting and pillaging the properties and valuables of these hapless people. If any proof were needed of the racist nature of the LTTE, the ethnic cleansing of Muslims from the North, speaks for itself – res ipsa loquitur
It is very important that all those who are concerned about Sri Lanka including the welfare of the Tamil community should perceive the marginalisation of the LTTE in the correct light. LTTE does not represent the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. Therefore, military action against the LTTE should never be perceived as action against our brethren, the Tamil community. We are concerned about them and will work with them to ensure their welfare, security and aspirations since they are our fellow citizens.
Sri Lanka, a party to all major UN Conventions relating to terrorism, and playing an active role as Chair of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Elimination of International Terrorism, will continue to urge all member nations to ratify them so as to give real meaning to the intent of the drafters, who have toiled through sleepless nights in lengthy and exhaustive negotiations to produce these important legally binding instruments, and thus implement their provisions in letter and spirit. Nothing short of this commitment would suffice in the global struggle to eliminate the modern day scourge of terrorism, which has blighted the lives of millions of people around the world.