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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 111

LTTE's first ever Grandma Brigade

By Shenali Waduge

When the LTTE launched its baby brigade it caught international headlines. Years later, the UN the custodian of world peace is yet to take stern action against the LTTE for forceful recruitment & use of children as child soldiers. It is perhaps why the LTTE has decided to go a step further by introducing another brigade known as the Grandma Brigade. If action against the LTTE's use of child soldiers has yet to see results we can imagine the state of the Grandma Brigade as well. It is inactions of the international community & the UN that have eventually killed many children abducted from their homes & forcefully trained to become killers & the same fate is likely to happen to these elderly women. If the minimum age for combatants is accepted to be 18 years (Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict 2002), if there is no maximum age in the light of the Grandma Brigade, it is time for the UN to take action. Elders should not be subject to such ill-treatment?

The use of human shields is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, however the use of human shields in conflicts is nothing new & should not surprise us when a battle hardened ruthless terrorist outfit such as the LTTE should also use human shields. It is noteworthy that terrorists resort to the use of human shields when they are being cornered or their outfit is in a weak state. It becomes an all powerful tool to use children, women or even grandmothers so as to attract international attention & have them pressurize the Government to stop any offensive in a bid to give the terrorists some breathing space. It is this type of asymmetric warfare used by terrorists that has worked artfully in the past & it is unlikely to fail either so long as the international community remains gullible to the crafty tactics used by terrorists in conflict zones especially those countries that the international community has hidden agendas in. Perhaps anti-war demonstrators should first demand that terrorists stop using human shields before they denounce Governments. The involvement of media comes in when the images of dead or dying civilians make excellent news & footage to be relayed across all tv networks.

Human shields have been used in Congo, Sudan, Palestine, Afghanistan, Serbia (civilians used to protect bridges against NATO bombings in 1999), Iraq & it should come as no surprise when it is used in Sri Lanka by the LTTE. The Hamas parliamentarian Fathi Hammad has recently admitted to developing a "death-seeking" culture using women, children & elderly as human shields against Israeli military attacks. "For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahideen and the children,".......... in order to challenge the Zionist [Israel] bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: 'We desire death like you desire life,'" Hammad said. Days after the speech over 100 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli bombing. You can imagine who the dead were.

The news of the LTTE's formation of its first ever Grandma Brigade to be positioned in the forward defense lines near the Madhu shrine depicts the importance of the capture of the area & why the LTTE has decided to use grandmas as cover against military onslaughts. The article appearing on the Tamilnet does not require any reader to go beyond the first passage to realize & come to terms whether these grandmas can be "fit" to form any brigade (volunteers or not) when they had collapsed from fatigue before making the 5 mile walk to Adampan - it would be good to know how far they were really able to walk?

The two photos depicted in the article also question the integrity of the LTTE at a time when the world is being encouraged to show more affection & empathy towards the worlds elders. The first picture reveals a couple of grandmas apprehensively holding their guns & obviously trying to hit their "target" - however the caption reads "LTTE Grandma Brigade Volunteers are Ruthless Combatants' - they look anything but ruthless. While the second photo reveals a grounded grandma also aiming at her target assisted by a little boy - the caption reads " Capt. Malukaran trains a new recruit" - Capt Malukaran happens to be this little boy perhaps not even 10 years of age & the grandmas a weak & feeble looking woman lying flat on the floor with a makeshift gun. The LTTE is guilty on two counts - using child soldiers & now the first ever grandma brigade, the newest combatants to conventional warfare.

The artful use of "voluntary" as in the case of the grandma brigade helps the LTTE to camouflage itself by implying to the world that the grandmas have joined of their own choice & it gives a sense of authorization. By definition they do not belong to the Third Geneva Convention Article 4 (a). It then poses a problem on how to accept voluntary human shields (VHS) as civilians & most importantly to the question of whether "voluntary" human shields have any consideration under international law. Firstly because these combatants do not wear uniforms or any insignia for the military to distinguish their status & also that they do not carry arms openly.

And any civilian if he/she does takes up arms openly automatically becomes a combatant (Article 43 of Protocol I of 1977). While these grandmothers may not be considered as lawful or unlawful combatants they are certainly not civilians in the traditional sense. Unfortunately, the Geneva Convention IV Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War does not explicitly define the term 'civilian'. Yet the most sensible definition of a civilian should be a person taking "no active part in any type of hostilities'. Protocol I has made this definition more explicit. Article 50(1) states that "/A civilian is any person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to in Article 4 A (1), (2), (3) and (6) of the Third Convention and in Article 43 of this Protocol. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian".

Thus these grandmas who are said to be part of the Volunteer Corps - First ever Grandma Brigade are really to be regarded as combatants masquerading as civilians & if such is the case, then such behavior becomes prohibited under Article 37 (1) (d) AP-1 & constitutes a war crime under Article 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court & punishable under domestic court as well. Protection granted to such volunteers should be less than that which is granted to civilians. In the case of the grandma brigade since their presence is authorized by the LTTE their entitled status should be that of a prisoner of war.

With the emergence of a grandma brigade into the almost 2 decade long strife in Sri Lanka, we can assume that we are moving away from conventional warfare. The military are having to deal with a terrorist movement that chooses to wear uniforms when it feels fit, while at other times indulge in guerilla tactics & of late openly using child soldiers & now grandmas....Just imagine how commanders & their troops have to analyze who is a friend, foe or innocent bystander before taking action. It's a split second decision & the military are not guinea pigs to allow the enemy to make the first move.

The NGOs of Sri Lanka flanked by UN officials decry the status of civilians & incessantly accuse the People of Sri Lanka of purposely targeting civilians completely ignoring the LTTE's diabolical role in using civilians (voluntarily or otherwise)- children, women & now grandmothers. There is enough evidence to prove that the LTTE has indulged in kidnappings of children to forcefully train into child soldiers & yet no action has been taken beyond countless reports on statistics made by the UN Rappateur for Child Rights & now with the emergence of a grandma brigade we can but ask how long the international community will remain mum & silent to the gross violations that the LTTE are presently committing.

- Asian Tribune -

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