Sri Lanka: Ambassador Allan Rock report urges imposition of targeted sanction against LTTE
New York, 10 February, (Asian Tribune.com):Ambassador Allan Rock, Special Adviser on Sri Lanka to Radhika Coomaraswamy - Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, in his report to the Working Group of the UNSecurity Council has emphasized for target sanctions against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Earlier, the Report of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka Ref. No: S/2006/1006 was released on 20 December 2006, to the UN Security Council.
Though the report was submitted by the UN Secretary General, in fact, according to sources, the report was actually prepared by Radhika Coomaraswamy, and by her Special Advisor on Sri Lanka, Ambasador Alan Rock.
According to the UN Secretary General’s report, it covered the period from 1 November 2005 to 31 October 2006, and provided information on compliance and progress in ending the recruitment and use of children and other grave violations being committed against children in situations affected by armed conflict in Sri Lanka.
Radhika Coomaraswamy earlier clarified to Asian Tribune that "I sent Ambassador Rock to Sri Lanka because of a conflict of interest and because I am a Sri Lankan. She further wrote that other than Sri Lanka, she was personally involved in the investigation and preparation of report of the suspected underage child recruitment investigation in seven other countries.
She further wrote to the Editor Asian Tribune, "You must remember that Ambassador Rock was the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and that he was Chair of the friends group of the Children and Armed Conflict cluster.
"My sending him to Sri Lanka was approved by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, by the Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown, by the Sri Lankan mission here, by the foreign ministry and by the President himself.
"If they had any objections they could have told me- I gave them notice in July and he finally went only in November.
It is unclear whether Radhika Coomaraswamy decision was a well weighted judicious one to send Alan Rock as her special Advisor to Sri Lanka in 03 November until 13 November 2006, but his visit to Sri Lanka and his findings has created strong of objections. There were serious allegations that Ambassador Allan Rock was a supporter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. His alleged links with LTTE in Canada continues to loom.
While the controversy over Ambassador Allan Rocks impartiality continues to remain a serious issue, in the meantime he has issued his report following his mission to Sri Lanka in which he recommended to the Working Group of the Security Council that it should consider targeted measures against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to address its continuing failure or refusal to stop recruiting and deploying children.
According to Ambassador Allan Rock those measures might include travel bans, asset freezes and an arms embargo.
The full text of Ambassador Allan Rocks report is given below:
Report made following the Mission of Allan Rock Special Adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict on Sri Lanka
1. At the request of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, I undertook a field trip to Sri Lanka from November 4 –15, 2006 to assess the situation of children affected by the armed conflict in the northern and eastern districts of that country. The Government of Sri Lanka approved my terms of reference, which I have attached as Annex I and am grateful to the Government of Sri Lanka for having facilitated full and free access to all Government-controlled areas, and for having assisted in the organization of meetings in the field with Government officials, at which I had the benefit of being accompanied by a Government representative. During my field trip, I visited Colombo, Amapara, Batticaloa, and Jaffna. My visit also included extensive travel within LTTE operating areas., including Kilinochchi
2. This report builds upon the Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka (S/2006/1006). I set out here my findings and recommendations based upon extensive briefings and interviews both before and during my travel, and based upon site observations made during the field trip.
3. I wish to record my sincere gratitude to the United Nations country team in Sri Lanka for their time and effort in preparing my itinerary and enabling me to carry it out successfully. I am especially grateful to each of the UNICEF staff who so kindly and efficiently assisted me at every stop.
Terms of Reference of the Mission
4. My terms of reference included the following principal elements:
• to engage with the United Nations country team, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the NGO community, and civil society in Sri Lanka, on programmatic implications of Security Council Resolution 1612 and the 2003 Action Plan for War-Affected Children in Sri Lanka; and
• to engage with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on its responsibilities to protect children, to cease all abduction and deployment of children under the age of 18 years within their ranks, and to release all children associated with their forces.
5. I traveled widely throughout the conflict-affected areas of Sri Lanka, after starting in Colombo with briefings from Government Ministers and senior officials, civil society, NGO representatives, and members of the UN country team. The intensive schedule of field visits to conflict affected areas of the north and east of Sri Lanka allowed me to see for myself the effects of the conflict on children and families, to engage with local officials, military commanders and police, to hear from the many NGO’s and international aid workers in the field, and to meet the political leadership of the non-state parties to the conflict.
6. While in Colombo, I was also briefed by the Sri Lankan Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting of Child Rights Violations. The Task Force was established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 1612 and met for the first time in July of 2006.
7. As to the nature of this Report, it is important to stress that I was neither asked nor empowered to conduct a judicial inquiry or a police investigation into the conduct of the parties to the conflict. Rather, I was asked to make personal observations based on a broad, if brief, exposure to what is happening “on the ground”, and to report my assessment of the issues touched upon in my terms of reference. It is in response to that mandate that this Report is provided.
Recruitment and use of Children in the North and East of Sri Lanka
I. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
8. As documented in the Secretary-General’s Report, the LTTE has been actively recruiting and abducting children in the northern and eastern districts of Sri Lanka for years. Despite having been repeatedly named by the Secretary-General in his annual reports to the Security Council on child recruitment, and despite LTTE’s own repeated promises that it would stop child recruitment and release the children in its ranks, UNICEF has verified, and the Secretary-General has reported, LTTE’s continued pattern of abduction, recruitment and use of children.
9. Since 2001 up to January 31, 2007, a total of 6,006 children have been registered on UNICEF’s underage recruitment database , as having been recruited by LTTE. Of that total, UNICEF’s database shows that 1,710 remain in LTTE custody, of whom 707 are still below the age of 18. UNICEF believes that its figures reflect approximately one-third of total cases of LTTE recruitment. Also according to UNICEF records, in the period from November 2005 to October 2006, 541 children were recruited by the LTTE. Although the LTTE shared with UNICEF the names of 362 children it claimed to have “released”, only 138 children were verified by UNICEF to have been separated from its ranks.
LTTE Commitments under the Action Plan for Children Affected
by War in the North and East of Sri Lanka (Action Plan)
10. The Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE committed to the Action Plan in June of 2003 at a time when hopes for a peaceful settlement were high. The Action Plan was formulated in collaboration with key technical partners, including UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR, ILO, Save the Children and other international and national organizations, to improve living conditions for all children affected by war in all eight districts of the north and east of Sri Lanka. In the Action Plan, the LTTE committed to cease all recruitment of children and to release children within its ranks. The Government committed to increase support for delivery of services for children in the north and east.
11. The Action Plan did produce some progress. There was significant improvement in the reintegration of children affected by war. The average age of children recruited by the LTTE rose during the implementation period from 14 to 16 years. But at no time did LTTE recruitment cease altogether. Importantly, the number of children released by the LTTE has always been significantly lower than new recruitment. And with the deteriorating security situation, even the modest advances that were achieved under the Action Plan are now imperiled.
Meeting with LTTE
12. I met with LTTE Political Wing Leader Mr. S.P. Tamilselvan and members of the LTTE leadership, including the newly-appointed LTTE Child Protection Authority (CPA) on 10 November, 2006 in Kilinochchi. We had a frank discussion about the LTTE’s failure to meet its commitments under the Action Plan to cease the recruitment of children under the age of 18 years, and to release all children found among the LTTE. I expressed disappointment and concern and asked when we could expect compliance.
13. When I broached the issue of the continued recruitment of children by the LTTE despite repeated commitments to the former SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu and as provided in the Action Plan, Mr. Tamilselvan assured me that the LTTE did not recruit children and that those who recruited children in the LTTE would be “brought to book”. He further assured me that he would provide me with details of their procedures for this report. However, these were never provided. I also discussed with Mr. Tamilselvan the need for transparent procedures to verify ages of recruits to minimize errors in recruitment, to which Mr. Tamilselvan assured me of the LTTE’s commitment to work closely with UNICEF.
14. On the subject of release, Mr. Tamilselvan agreed during our meeting to make every effort to release all children from the ranks of the LTTE on or before 1 January 2007. This date was selected based upon Mr. Tamilselvan’s assertion that the LTTE planned by that time to achieve full implementation of its so-called “Child Protection Act,” which itself prohibits the recruitment and use of children. I stressed to Mr. Tamilselvan and CPA officials that the LTTE’s “Child Protection Act” does not respect international law and norms applicable to the protection of children in armed conflict, because it establishes 17 as the minimum age for recruitment. It is therefore in contravention of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which Sri Lanka has signed and ratified, and which establishes 18 as the minimum age for recruitment.
15. LTTE also agreed during our meeting to instruct its CPA staff to engage with UNICEF to develop mechanisms to manage and accelerate the release of children in order to meet the January 1, 2007 deadline. In addition, Mr. Tamilselvan agreed to work with UNICEF and the CPA to develop training procedures for LTTE forces, including the development of a disciplinary process for military personnel who disregard prohibitions against child recruitment.
16. I also raised with Mr. Tamilselvan the unsatisfactory nature of LTTE’s release of children to the Education Skills Development Center (ESDC), run by the NGO Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, which is reported to have close links to the LTTE. This is of concern to UNICEF and protection partners, as UNICEF does not have unencumbered access to ESDC facilities to ensure that all ties to the LTTE military forces are severed. In addition, parents are rarely consulted about such placements, and a number of the parents have not been allowed to remove their children from the center. This is in contravention of the right of the child to his or her family environment. Efforts by UNICEF to gain access to the ESDC for verification and reunification of families have not been fruitful to date. Mr. Tamilselvan assured me that children released from the LTTE would thereafter be released directly to their families, with timely provision of information to UNICEF for verification purposes.
17. LTTE refused my suggestion that UNICEF representatives be allowed unannounced access to LTTE military camps to verify that no children remain, insisting that LTTE’s own CPA would do so. I expressed to Mr. Tamilselvan my view that the CPA lacks the neutrality and independence required to verify LTTE’s commitments.
Has LTTE Complied with their Commitments?
18. I addressed a letter to Mr. Tamilselvan following my mission to confirm undertakings given by the LTTE during my visit to Kilinocchi, and received a response from the LTTE.
19. UNICEF has established a regular dialogue with the CPA in Kilinochchi to hold LTTE accountable for the commitments it has made in relation to addressing child recruitment. The CPA insists that the LTTE will continue to recruit and not release children who are 17 years of age, claiming it does not consider itself a non-state actor and therefore will not comply with the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
20. There has been progress in relation to LTTE’s position on the ESDC. Since January 2007, no child has been released to the ESDC and the CPA has informed UNICEF that a policy decision has been made that children will not be released to the ESDC. In exceptional cases, where children cannot be returned to their families, the CPA will consult with UNICEF.
21. In the period since the LTTE made the above commitments to me in mid-November, up to January 31, 2007, the UNICEF database discloses that 31 children have been released. Since my visit, the LTTE has provided the names of 131 children to UNICEF that it claims to have released since January 2006. UNICEF has verified the release of 70 of the children from the list and has updated its database accordingly. Eleven of the children were found by UNICEF to still be within the ranks of the LTTE, including the re-recruitment of three children. The location of the remaining 50 children has yet to be verified by UNICEF, due to the provision of insufficient address details of the children’s homes.
22. Despite some progress on the release of children, UNICEF’s database has registered the recruitment of 93 children since November 2006 to and including January 31, 2007. It is therefore clear that despite its commitments to release all children within its ranks and to stop the recruitment of all children below 18 years; the LTTE continues to recruit children, including through abduction. In the month of January 2007 alone, UNICEF reports that there were 19 cases of children recruited by the LTTE.
II. TMVP/Karuna Faction
23. The Karuna faction is a militant breakaway group of the LTTE. It was formed in March of 2004 by Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan (alias Colonel Karuna) ), who called for a separate administrative structure in the eastern Batticaloa-Ampara districts to allegedly uphold the rights of Sri Lanka’s eastern Tamil population against the LTTE.. In 2006, the Karuna faction instituted a political wing (the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullighal or TMVP) with the goal of establishing a political party for the Tamil community in the East. The TMVP has yet to be formally registered as a political party.
Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers
24. The Karuna faction abducts and recruits children into its forces. It does so exclusively in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka. The Secretary-General’s Report disclosed that from November 2005 to October 2006, there were 164 reports of children having been abducted by the Karuna faction, 142 of whom still remain in its ranks. Since May 2006, the number of abductions has increased sharply. In the space of one week in mid-June 2006 alone, UNICEF received 30 reports alleging that children had been abducted by the Karuna faction in the areas of Santhiveli, Kiran, Mankerni, Valachchenai and Iruthayapuram (Manmunai North) of Batticaloa district.
25. As part of my mission, I met with family members from the eastern districts whose children had been abducted to be used as child soldiers. Parents, grandparents and siblings related their personal recollections and eyewitness accounts during our encounters. In all, members of 25 families described the circumstances in which their children, grandchildren, brothers or sisters were taken, and the efforts they have made to get them back. Although the vast majority of the family members I spoke to reported recent abductions by the Karuna faction, three of the families reported abductions by the LTTE.
26. There were many common elements in the family members’ narratives describing abductions by the Karuna faction.
• The Karuna faction abductions took place exclusively in Government-controlled areas.
• The Karuna faction abductors often identified themselves as such to families during abductions, or were known by the families for their association with the group prior to the abductions.
• The Karuna faction most often targeted children for abduction whose identities they knew in advance: few of the victims were chosen at random.
• The ages of abducted children ranged from 13-17 years. To date, the Karuna faction has predominantly abducted boys, although two girls have reportedly been abducted by the Karuna faction in Ampara district.
• Most abductions took place in children’s homes. Many abductions took place at night.
• The children abducted by the Karuna faction were typically taken away in unmarked white vans identified by the local population as the type of vehicle habitually used by the Karuna faction; vans of this description were often seen passing through Government checkpoints without being challenged, stopped or searched.
• All of the children abducted by the Karuna faction spent time in one of several Karuna faction camps near government-controlled Wellikanda town in Polonnaruwa district.
• Many parents had direct contact with their children after their abduction by the Karuna faction and visited them at either TMVP offices while in transit or at a Karuna faction camp in Wellikanda.
Meeting with TMVP
27. I met with Ms. S. Padmini, the Secretary of the TMVP, the political wing of the Karuna faction, in Colombo on Sunday, November 12, 2006. Ms. Padmini maintained that the Karuna faction had never recruited or abducted children, and denied that there was anyone under the age of 18 in its ranks. She also denied any collaboration or co-operation between the Karuna faction or the TMVP with Government security forces in connection with child recruitment or in any other respect.
28. On December 4, 2006, the SRSG spoke by telephone with Colonel Karuna. During the conversation, Colonel Karuna denied engaging in the recruitment or abduction of children. However, he said he would collaborate with UNICEF to ensure that children are protected. He confirmed that he would take the following actions which will be formalized in an action plan negotiated between TMVP and UNICEF:
(a) issuing a policy statement to inform all the commanders of the Karuna faction in the field that recruiting and using children are not acceptable practices;
(b) training all commanders in the field on children’s rights, with all necessary assistance from the international community;
(c) releasing to their families all children who may be found in Karuna ranks, in collaboration with relevant NGO’s and/or UNICEF; and
(d) giving UNICEF monitors free access to the Karuna camps to ensure that no children remain there.
Have TMVP/Karuna Complied With Their Commitments?
29. UNICEF has established a regular dialogue with the TMVP political offices in both Colombo and Batticaloa to hold the group accountable for the commitments it made to me and to the SRSG in relation to child recruitment.
30. On 17 January, 2007, I received a letter from the TMVP, repeating the commitments made by Colonel Karuna to the SRSG on 4 December 2006 and enclosing “regulations” for its own military which, among other things, prohibit the recruitment of children. UNICEF has been informed that the “regulations” have been disseminated to all military commanders in the Karuna faction, who have been told there will be disciplinary procedures taken against those who do not obey.
31. To date there has been no access to the Karuna faction camps for UNICEF or other concerned agencies. Training on children’s rights for Karuna faction commanders has also not yet been conducted as UNICEF seeks evidence of a real commitment from the TMVP to stop recruiting children and to release those in its ranks before engaging in further steps such as child rights training for Karuna cadres. UNICEF has registered on its database a total of 235 children that have been abducted by the Karuna Faction up to the end of January 2007. Of this number, 169 children remain with the group. To date there have only been eight official releases of children to UNICEF or any other agency advocating on behalf of the children and families concerned, notwithstanding TMVP’s commitment to this effect in its letter to me of January 17, 2007. By contrast, there continue to be reports of children being abducted by the Karuna Faction. From the time of my visit in November until the 31st of January 2007, 55 new cases of child abductions by the Karuna faction in Government-controlled areas were reported to UNICEF.
III. Government of Sri Lanka
32. The fact that the Karuna faction has abducted so many children in Government-controlled areas in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka raises the question why the Government has not more effectively protected those children, investigated the complaints made by the children’s families, and secured the release and return of the children from the Karuna faction camps that are located in areas under Government control.
33. Based on the facts and circumstances set out in this report, I have concluded that certain elements of the Sri Lankan security forces are complicit in the abduction of children by the Karuna faction, and that at least some elements of the security forces have facilitated and sometimes participated in those abductions.
34. The complicity of certain elements of the security forces in Karuna faction abductions is common knowledge in the eastern areas where I traveled. The civilian population is in no doubt about why Karuna faction members (as described more fully below) work openly with Government security forces at checkpoints, carry weapons on the streets with impunity, and escape investigation despite many complaints to police and security forces about their involvement in child abductions.
35. I set forth below a summary of the facts and circumstances upon which I have relied.
(i) The Karuna Faction’s Impunity and Freedom of Armed Movement in Government-controlled areas
36. Karuna faction abductions are taking place in Government-controlled territory. According to witnesses, children abducted by the Karuna faction are driven away in vans, which then pass, without being challenged or searched, through checkpoints operated by the police and the Special Task Force (STF).
37. There are Karuna faction training camps located in Sevanapitiya, at Karupalai (which is to the west of Wellikanda), Theevuchenai and Muthukkal Village (which is also close to Wellikanda). Two more Karuna faction outposts have been opened in Batticaloa District, in Mankerni (in close proximity to a Sri Lankan Army (SLA) camp) and in Nasivantheevu. All of these Karuna faction camps are in Government-controlled territory.
38. The existence and location of these and other Karuna faction training camps is well known to many civilians and members of the security forces. Indeed, parents of abducted children often travel to these and other Karuna faction camps in order to visit their abducted children and try to secure their release. When the parents pass through STF checkpoints en route, they explain where they are going and why. Yet neither the STF nor other members of the security forces have made any effort to monitor traffic or to intercept Karuna faction vans that may be traveling to those camps with abducted children. Nor have they made any effort to demand, negotiate or secure the release of children whose presence at those Karuna faction camps has been verified by their visiting parents.
39. TMVP, the political wing of the Karuna faction, has been opening up offices in the eastern districts. Many of these offices have been located in close proximity to SLA and STF bases. For example, the TMVP office in Akkaraipattu abuts the STF camp. The entrance gate is about 30 metres south of the STF entrance. An STF checkpoint is also 150 metres north of the TMVP office entrance.
Another TMVP office has been opened in Morakkodanchenai, Kiran Division, and it is just five metres away from an SLA camp. There are other examples of these TMVP-SLA or STF co-locations.
40. There is no doubt about the close connection between TMVP and its military wing, the Karuna faction. That connection was confirmed by TMVP Secretary Ms S. Padhmini during her meeting with me in Colombo on Sunday, November 12, 2006. As developed further below, TMVP is also implicated in the Karuna faction abductions.
41. TMVP vehicles have been seen inside the STF camps, including the STF camp in Kanchirankuda.
(ii) The Failure of Security Forces and Police to Investigate
Karuna Faction Abductions of Children
42. There are many instances of police inaction with respect to families’ complaints of Karuna faction abductions:
(a) On 21 June 2006, a father went to register the case of the abduction of his son with the police and he was informed that the report could not be registered since the Officer in Charge (OIC) of the station was not there;
(b) On 28 June 2006, a father went to register the case of the abduction of his son at a police station but was informed that the case would not be registered and that instead he should go and report to UNICEF;
(c) In August 2006, the parents of a child who had gone missing but later was found to have been abducted by the Karuna faction reported that they went to register the case at a police station but were told to return the following day because “the entry book was full”;
(d) On October 23, 2006, children who appeared to be 14 or 15 years old were observed with weapons at the TMVP office in Akkaraipattu. This was immediately reported to the Acting OIC at the Akkaraipattu police station, who immediately contacted the OIC at the STF camp at Akkaraipattu. The Ampara police Deputy Inspector General and the STF Director of Operations during my meeting with them on November 7, 2006, asserted that they were not aware of this report;
(e) In June 2006, some families of abducted children reported to SLMM that they had just visited the TMVP office in Batticaloa, and that although they had been told by TMVP that their children were not with the Karuna faction, they had seen their children in the TMVP premises. SLMM informed Batticaloa police asking for a search of the premises on these grounds. It was two hours before the premises were searched and, by that time, the premises were empty.
(iii) Karuna Faction-Security Forces Collusion and Cooperation
43. Some families reported that their abducted children were held overnight at an SLA camp before being transported to a Karuna faction camp.
44. Karuna faction cadres have been observed standing alongside and working with army personnel at checkpoints, scrutinizing citizens passing through.
45. The Karuna faction has conducted paramilitary operations while the STF was within view, watching the events. This occurred in Thirukkovil DS (Vinayagapuram, Thirukkovil and Thambiluvil) and Alayadewembu DS (Alayadewembu) and Akkaraipattu town areas. Many civilians have reported seeing STF escorting Karuna faction cadres in these town areas.
46. The assertions in the five paragraphs that follow were made to me by family members of children abducted by the Karuna faction. In each case, the family members told me that they spoke from personal knowledge and/or eyewitness observations.
47. On June 13, 2006, security forces entered a village and rounded up all the boys, bringing them to the main road. The security forces then formed a circle, holding hands, with the boys detained inside the circle. Karuna faction cadres then entered the circle and chose those boys that they wanted to abduct.
48. On another occasion, security forces arrived in a town at 10 a.m. and asked all the children to come to the main road. There, the security forces took photographs of all the children. Later in the day, Karuna faction cadres arrived in uniform and took eight of the children away.
49. After the eight children were abducted, they spent overnight in an SLA camp located one mile from the town. The next day, they were taken to a Karuna faction camp.
50. A mother recounted that her 15 year old son was one of three boys abducted by Karuna faction cadres at 9 p.m. on June 14, 2006 from a wedding party being held next door to her home. The child is at the Karuna faction camp at Theevuchenai, where she has since visited him. Her son told her that one of the 3 boys abducted that night was killed in military action while fighting with the Karuna faction against LTTE forces near Vachurai.
51. The mother referred to in the preceding paragraph spoke to an Army officer while passing through a checkpoint en route to the Karuna faction camp to visit her abducted son. The woman recalled that the officer told her: “I have two children. LTTE want to kill me and my children. As long as the Karuna faction is there, we're safer.”
Meeting with His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka
52. I met on Monday, November 13, 2006 with His Excellency Mahinda Rajapakse, President of Sri Lanka, and briefed him following my field trip. He expressed surprise at my conclusions involving complicity by some elements of the Government security forces in Karuna faction abductions. He asked that I send him evidence upon which I relied in reaching my conclusions, and told me that when he received it, he would direct an investigation into whether such things were happening. He also told me that if the investigation established such complicity, he would hold those involved to account.
53. Accordingly, I addressed a letter dated November 26, 2006 to President Rajapakse enclosing a memorandum that summarized the facts and circumstances on which I based my conclusions. My meeting with His Excellency President Rajapakse was not the first occasion on which the Government of Sri Lanka was informed of allegations of complicity between its security forces and the Karuna faction in relation to child abductions in the eastern districts. Information about these allegations was also previously communicated in a letter dated 22 June 2006, to Dr.Palitha Kohone, the Director General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process.
54. The Government has expressed its intention to conduct an investigation into the matters that I raised in my letter to His Excellency, President Rajapakse. In his letter to the SRSG dated January 18, 2007, Ambassador Kariyawasam, stated: “The Government remains committed to establishing the truth behind these allegations, and to bring to justice, anyone found guilty.”
55. In subsequent correspondence to the SRSG of 29 January 2007, Ambassador Kariyawasam stated that the process of inquiry will be “….independent, comprehensive and credible”.
56. Those individuals who met with me in the eastern districts of Sri Lanka and provided information about the complicity of security forces with the Karuna faction were clearly concerned that I keep their identifying characteristics confidential. Many of them told me that they feared violent reprisals if the authorities were to learn of their disclosures.
57. For that reason, I suggested in my letter to President Rajapakse that his investigators start by interviewing those family members of abducted children who had signed a petition that was sent to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in July of 2006. Those individuals had already made the decision to “go public”. I understand that after receiving my letter, the Sri Lankan military conducted interviews with some of the petitioners.
58. Apart from the reported interviews of some petitioners by the military, I have no other information about steps the Government of Sri Lanka has taken to investigate the matters raised in my letter to President Rajapakse.
59. An additional child protection issue that came to my attention during my mission was concern for the care and protection of children who had surrendered from the LTTE to Government forces. I met with the newly appointed Rehabilitation Commissioner and five of these children who were being kept in an open prison in Kandy. I understand that there are now 27 children in this centre, out of a total of 105 persons.
60. Although the Rehabilitation Commissioner has committed to work with UNICEF and the Government ministry for children in developing an appropriate rehabilitation program for these children, I understand there has been very limited progress to date on building a program for children’s rehabilitation. It is crucial that there is progress on this issue between the Government and concerned child protection agencies as the number of such children may increase in the current context.
(ii) Humanitarian Access
61. The escalation in hostilities has had a serious impact on humanitarian access to the most vulnerable sections of the population, especially children. Fierce fighting from 11 August, 2006, on the Forward Defence Lines of Nagarkovil, Muhamalai and Kilali areas of the Jaffna District, compounded with the closure of the A9 highway since August 2006, has prevented the flow of essential and basic supplies, causing food and medicine shortages in Jaffna. Government cargo ships were able to deliver supplies since 24 August, 2006, despite the threat posed by the LTTE on sea and road transport. The LTTE continues to refuse security assurances for supply and passenger ships to Jaffna, also impeding the International Committee of the Red Cross (“ICRC”), UN agencies and NGO’s from providing assistance to the affected population.
62. I am also aware of other areas affected by the conflict where humanitarian access has been restricted or denied, sometimes for significant periods. For example, during my visit to the Batticaloa district, I visited a camp for internally displaced persons in Vaharai, which was, at the time, an area controlled by the LTTE. Since I entered from Government- controlled territory, it was necessary for me first to pass through a Government security checkpoint and then an LTTE checkpoint. I arrived at the camp to learn that there had been no humanitarian access for almost a week, and the supply of water and other essentials was running dangerously low. When I left the camp and passed back through the checkpoints, I saw two water trucks owned by the ICRC waiting at the Government checkpoint for permission to bring water to the camp. I was later told that access had been denied to the ICRC, and that many additional days passed before humanitarian workers were allowed in.
63. No doubt there were grounds for concern at that time about the security situation in that vicinity. Indeed, the area of the camp I visited had been shelled by Government forces for an extended period just 24 hours earlier (with significant loss of civilian life, including infants and children) and the parties to the conflict were positioning themselves in the area for a major battle that has since occurred, resulting in the Government gaining control of Vaharai. Nonetheless, the episode demonstrates how humanitarian access to the most vulnerable can be cut off for extended periods if the parties do not, as they must, take steps to plan and provide for it.
64. The Vaharai episode also provides a tragic example of both failure to protect civilians and denial of their freedom of movement. In the first place, the Vaharai incident raises troubling questions about why the Government conducted intensive bombardment of a camp for the internally displaced, resulting in civilian deaths, including infants and children.
65. Second, after the Government shelling began, many of the displaced persons ran from the area in fear, and tried to cross the LTTE checkpoint at the southern edge of the camp. The LTTE refused to let them leave, trapping them in an area that remained under shelling for some hours. Especially when taken with repeated allegations that the LTTE uses civilians as human shields, this incident raises deeply troubling questions about the LTTE’s conduct.
Impact of the Conflict on the Muslim Community in the East of Sri Lanka
66. The Muslim community in Sri Lanka has experienced intimidation and threats of violence by the LTTE over the years of conflict. The forced expulsion by the LTTE of the entire Muslim population from the five districts in the north in 1990 is but one example. Their situation did not improve after the signing of the February 2002 ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE. In fact, the free movement given to the LTTE in Government-controlled areas in the north and east under the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) only served to further adversely impact the Muslim communities there. According to members of the Muslim community, for example, the LTTE looted and burned shops and properties of Muslim owners in Valachchenai, Eravur, Mutur, Akkaraipattu and Oddamawadi in the east following the signing of the CFA. The CFA contained no provisions to address Muslim grievances, and there has been no independent Muslim representation in any of the formal peace talks thus far.
67. The recent escalation of hostilities between the Government and LTTE in Trincomalee, which extended to Mutur town on 3 August, 2006, resulted in the displacement of over 40,000 Muslims, and an unknown number of Muslim casualties. The Muslim community reported further difficulties while attempting to leave Mutur, imposed both by Government security forces and the LTTE. While allegedly assuring their safe passage out of Mutur, the LTTE diverted the fleeing Muslim civilians through LTTE-controlled areas, thereafter taking some young men as hostages. Government forces then attacked the area, killing at least seven people. In some instances, Government security forces also prevented the movement of the displaced Muslims. There were reported cases of people being forced back by the security forces who blocked access points with barbed wire, and of private boat owners whose licences were confiscated to prevent them from transporting fleeing civilians from the affected areas.
68. The Muslims in the north and east of Sri Lanka face a complicated political and security dilemma. On one hand, they have been subject to killing and intimidation by the LTTE, while on the other hand, they encounter limited Government engagement in their welfare and protection. All this has increasingly resulted in the marginalisation of Muslim children and youth. Although the Muslim population in the east has displayed great courage and restraint, there are signs that Muslim children and youth in affected areas may be tempted to join self-defense groups, adding yet another volatile factor to the already unstable security situation. The Government of Sri Lanka and the international community should undertake an assessment of the state of Muslim community children and youth, and take steps to address underlying grievances that might otherwise lead to further violence.
69. I respectfully make the following recommendations.
The LTTE must
(i) immediately stop all recruitment of children, defined as all persons below the age of 18.
(ii) fulfill its commitment to me to release all children in its ranks and work with UNICEF towards the return of those children to their families;
(iii) train and discipline its commanders so that they are well aware that the recruitment and deployment of children will not be tolerated; and
(iv) allow access to all LTTE camps by UNICEF and other international protection agencies to determine whether child recruits are present.
(i) immediately stop all recruitment of children, defined as all persons below the age of 18;
(ii) fulfill its commitment to me to release all children in its ranks and work with UNICEF towards the return of those children to their families;
(iii) train and discipline its commanders so that they are well aware that the recruitment and deployment of children will not be tolerated; and
(iv) allow access to all Karuna camps by UNICEF and other international protection agencies to determine whether child recruits are present.
(c) Government of Sri Lanka
I would respectfully recommend that the Government of Sri Lanka should
(i) immediately commence a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of complicity by Government security forces in the abduction of children by the Karuna faction in such a way that
(a) complainants and witnesses will be protected from reprisal by any party;
(b) the results of the investigation will be made public; and
(c) the population of Sri Lanka and the international community will have confidence in the fairness and integrity of the investigation;
(ii) hold accountable any and all persons that might be found to have been complicit in such abductions;
(iii) secure the release and return to their families of all children abducted by the Karuna faction;
(iv) require that the police and Government security forces thoroughly investigate all complaints of child abductions, no matter by whom they were allegedly committed, and seek to find and return the abducted children;
(v) enforce the criminal prohibition against child recruitment under existing domestic law, and enact and enforce such additional measures as may be necessary to deter and punish the abduction of children in Sri Lanka;
(vi) make every effort to enable and facilitate humanitarian access to its population; and
(vii) assess and address the welfare and security of the Sri Lankan Muslim community, and especially its children and youth.
(d) The Working Group of the Security Council
I respectfully recommend that the Working Group propose to the Security Council that it should
(i) consider targeted measures against LTTE to address its continuing failure or refusal to stop recruiting and deploying children; those measures might include travel bans, asset freezes and an arms embargo;
(ii) call upon Member States to assist in the application of those measures; and
(iii) consider the adoption of similar measurers in relation to TMVP/Karuna should those parties not, by the time this matter is next considered by the Working Group, implement the recommendations made in respect of them and set forth above
1. UNICEF’s underage recruitment database was established in 2002, however includes reports pertaining to the recruitment of children since 2001.
2. 69 children either ran away, were released to their families or are deceased. An additional three children were re-recruited.
- Asian Tribune -