Annoyed by selective leaks of an internal document by the Sri Lankan Government (SLG), donor nations outed the report blaming the SLG-supported Karuna faction as a major destabilizing factor and the Human Rights Watch (HRW) also blamed the government for “willful blindness.”
The Sri Lankan Bilateral Donor Group (BDG) said that the Karuna group enjoying full protection of the SLG and that there was a “steady increase this year of extra-judicial killings, abductions and disappearances” especially in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Batticaloa where the Army and the Karuna faction were actively collaborating. The SLG denies any collaboration with the breakaway faction but independent aid workers and intentional monitors attest to this collaboration. A Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM) spokesperson said that “that there is a level of co-operation between certain elements of the security forces and the Karuna faction.”
The BDG report prepared on the basis of monitoring missions to Amparai, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Mannar, Vavuniya, and Jaffna districts by representatives of the British, Canadian, Australian, Swedish, Swiss, USAID, and European Commission mission the later portions of 2006 clearly implicated the SLG and Karuna group on the one hand and the LTTE on the other. SLG Defense Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella selectively cited this report to say that the BDG had “issued a warning to the LTTE to stop immediately the recruitment of persons of any age, intimidating INGOs and using civilians as a human shield, and to allow traders to deal in goods supplied by the government.” The BDG took umbrage to this “selective briefing” of materials not intended for public consumption and said that they decided to release the whole document so the entire contents is made available. The interesting aspect of this report is that it finds other than the three major actors, even erstwhile power centers such as PLOTE and EPDP factions also indulge in such practice.
The report also implicates all parties of using civilians and civilian installations as human shields. It cites examples of LTTE using civilians in Vaharai, and the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF) and Karuna camps “tend to be located in the middle of urban or otherwise populous areas.” The SLAF and Karuna groups have been accused of operating close to IDP camps and civilian areas thereby restricting LTTE artillery action. The LTTE had used similar measures against the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the 80s.
The BDG also complained that while the Government controlled areas were accessible, it imposed many bureaucratic constraints, political pressure, and ethnic tensions to allow free movement of aid materials. Similarly, the LTTE-controlled areas are accessible to UN agencies and International Red Cross but the SLG imposes lengthy government approval process. Further, while it is understandable that the government does not want “fuels, cement, and iron bars” supplied to the LTTE controlled areas (that is beyond agreed quantities) for fear that the LTTE may use these materials for military campaigns, it also restricts “tents and plastic sheets” which are obviously “for humanitarian operations.” Because of a “complex set of factors,” the report says that “food consumption” in LTTE controlled areas “is currently below the required level.” It is currently at 60% in Batticaloa.
The HRW cites several anecdotal and interviews that it has conducted and cites various independent sources to prove that the SLG “complicity or wilful (sic) blindness” has encouraged the Karuna group which has “abducted or forcibly recruited hundreds of children in Sri Lanka.” The HRW 100-page “Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group” also shows a pattern of criminal activity in connivance with the SLG. It has provided photos, maps, and case studies to make its point. Young men are actively abducted by the Karuna Group from their homes, workplaces, temples, playgrounds, public roads, and even a wedding and several mothers had filed a jointly filed a case in the Supreme Court pleading protection.
The Government of India needs to take serious cognizance of the continued and serious violation of human rights by the SLG. It cannot view the matter with a bias towards the LTTE. While it should be careful in dealing with the LTTE, it needs to hold the SLG accountable for serious crimes it commits on its ethnic minority. Continued neglect of the Tamil plight will soon bring to bear a sympathy wave in Tamil Nadu which will catch the government by surprise and force it to take radical action at short notice—usually this will be the wrong action at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.