CAMPACC articles, reports...
Proscription on Trial: The Tamil Experience
Reports and speeches from a public meeting in Parliament on the purpose and continuing effects of the Terrorism Act 2000 in proscribing 'terrorist organisations'.
by Vicki Sentas, CAMPACC
On 28 October 2009, a public meeting held in parliament interrogated the purpose and continuing effects of the Terrorism Act 2000, in proscribing ‘terrorist organisations.’ These laws criminalise a broad range of political, emotional and financial support for non state actors in armed conflicts regardless of whether those conflicts are against violent occupations or incursions in self-defence, in accordance with international law. Over the last decade, the impacts of ‘terrorist’ bans on diaspora communities in the UK seeking self-determination abroad, such as the Tamil, Kurdish, Baloch and Palestinian people, have been devastating for the prospect of just resolution of political conflicts.
Entitled ‘Proscription on Trial: The Tamil Experience’, the meeting was organised by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC) and the British Tamil Law Foundation, and hosted by MPs Siobhain McDonagh and Joan Ryan. The forum highlighted the recent trial of a leading Tamil community representative in the UK, Shanthan (Arunachalam Chrishanthakumar). On the 12 June 2009 Shanthan was sentenced to two years imprisonment for providing humanitarian support to the Tamil Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Under the law which bans the LTTE in the UK, goods for aid and development, which the Judge accepted were not military, were nevertheless still caught by the ‘terrorism’ law as a ‘benefit for the LTTE’ - even though at the time, the LTTE were not banned in Sri Lanka and a ceasefire was in place.
Addressing the meeting, Shanthan’s Lawyer Matt Foot, highlighted the multiple ways in which this prosecution reveals the political operation of the laws. As Foot explained, the prosecution alleged that the electrical items Shanthan had sent to Sri Lanka where for the purpose of making bombs. However, after the prosecutions case collapsed - its own expert witness found the equipment could not be used to make a bomb – the prosecution changed its strategy. No longer able to claim that Shanthan’s action were related to causing harm, the very fact that humanitarian aid was supplied to the LTTE constituted it as ‘terrorism’, as it was for the ‘benefit’ of a terrorist organisation. In this way, aid and support to long standing civil armed conflicts, not only that in Sri Lanka, but to Palestine, Kurdistan and Baluchistan, for example, is legally and politically constructed as terrorist.
The Judge said he was bound under the laws to give Shanthan a prison sentence although he believed Shanthan was “a thoroughly decent man” and that he was central to negotiations for peace and resolution of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The Judge said of Shanthan: “He did not wish the peace process to fail and civil war to reconvene, as tragically happened. Whatever he did for the Tamils and the LTTE, he did not do it in order to assist them in war. He did them to assist in maintaining the peace process.”
Foot highlighted the hypocrisy of the UK government position. Shanthan had been assistant to representative of the LTTE, the late Anton Balasingham, who had been allowed to enter and remain in the UK, as he was a peace negotiator in close contact with government officials and Special Branch. In fact in providing support to the LTTE during the ceasefire period Shanthan was doing nothing different to that of the British government, who were also providing aid to the LTTE. In the words of the Judge: “Shanthan was doing no more, although illegally, than the international community were doing.” However as Foot pointed out, the UK also provided Sri Lanka with the weapons that made the bloody war against the Tamil people possible. This criminal act of the state is unlikely to be determined illegal. The Judge praised Shanthan’s work for the Tamil people in this country and recognised the important need at this time for Shanthan’s role in continuing to support the Tamil community once released from jail: “In view of all that has been said about Mr Shanthan, and all that he has done, I make it the very shortest [sentence] that I can, so I can hope that you can resume the humanitarian work that you undoubtedly do do for Tamils in this country. They will need your help more now than ever before, perhaps.”
Meanwhile the humanitarian crisis alluded to in the judgement, has only intensified. Human rights lawyer, Cumarasamy Sithamparapillai, spoke of how Tamils are suffering from renewed persecution by the Sri Lankan state. Sri Lanka’s conduct of its brutal, inhumane military offensive against the civilian Tamil population, ‘to end the war’ – the so-called ‘war against terror’ - most certainly constitutes manifold war crimes. In the name of suppressing the LTTE, the military killed thousands of civilians, and displaced hundreds of thousands more. The subsequent arbitrary detention of approximately 300 000 civilians today in unacceptable conditions without freedom of movement in what have been aptly called concentration camps, remains a disaster. Thousands of young men have been ‘disappeared’ from the camps, with evidence of murders as well as abduction to secret camps which Amnesty estimates to be in excess of 10 or more throughout the country. Those who continue to survive the camps risk grave illness and death, a result of the continued denial of food, sanitary conditions and medical attention. Sri Lanka continues to exclude international human rights observers, free media access and both local and international Aid agencies, including unhindered access to the International Red Cross. The crisis will bring further tragedy unless decisive action is taken by the international community.
The Judge’s call for the continued need for Shanthan’s activism demands urgent recognition of the Kafkaesque results of the LTTE’s banning. In Foot’s view, this is perhaps the first time that a Judge has lauded the necessity of the defendants actions, encouraging them to continue the very ‘illegal’ activity they sentenced them for. In this significant, yet ultimately limited form of critique, the judiciary points to the illegitimacy of the executive’s ‘legal’ use of law for political gain.
In the current humanitarian crisis, Shanthan’s prosecution increases the burden of oppression on the Tamil people and limits the prospect of seeking an end to the camps. Sithamparapillai emphasised how the inaction and silence of the international community helped to legitimize Sri Lanka’s inhumane treatment of Tamils, and has contributed to putting the Tamils in the same position they were before the armed resistance started. The meeting heard of how the history of the oppression of the Tamil struggle tells of manifold injustice. Sithamparapillai described the present atrocities as ‘the worst time in Tamil history’. The banning of the LTTE by the UK and by most western states has been central in legitimating Sri Lankan state terror in the name of waging war with the LTTE, and against the Tamil people. Today, terror law in the UK undermines the legitimacy of self-determination as a right in international law, concentrating the power of state actors and their western allies geopolitical interests.
The continued banning of the LTTE in the UK fosters state terror both here, and in Sri Lanka, in multiple ways. The ban directly criminalises Tamils in their provision of desperately needed funds and materials for reconstruction and aid, from the diaspora. The laws also function to suppress the political expressions, associations and aspirations of the Tamil people in having a legitimate claim in expressing and acting on self-determination and resisting an oppressive state. By criminalising the identifications of Tamils grounded in the resistance of genocidal and racist policies in Sri Lanka, the UK is complicit in undermining self-determination through ‘anti-terror’ laws. Further, as Sithamparapillai pointed out, the LTTE ban in times of negotiations for peace and reconstruction makes the UK directly responsible for impeding resolution. The effects are evident in the fear and intimidation of Tamils. In Sithamparapillai’s words, ‘people are scared’.
CAMPACC spokesperson, Les Levidow addressed how the suppression of self-determination functions primarily through intimidation rather than through repeated prosecutions (there has been but one prosecution of a Tamil to date). A case in point has been the excessive policing of the remarkable Tamil protests held over 73 days and nights against the humanitarian crisis. Experiences included police and M15 harassment, calling protestors ‘Tamil Tigers’, and arresting and detaining, but not charging, some of those who have carried the Tamil flag. Shanthan’s case however triggers the collective intimidation of affected communities as explicit threat. Levidow pointed out that such prosecutions are necessary to reinforce ‘terrorist’ stigma. In resistance to state practices of intimidation, Levidow spoke of how active defiance of the laws happens when communities continue acts of political expression, protest and speaking out against the ban.
Baloch leader, Hyrbyair Marri, spoke about the violent repression of the Baloch people by Pakistan and Iran and their struggle for independence. Marri outlined the history of Pakistani and Iranian occupation of Balochistan, despite its independent sovereign status, declared in 1947. The escalation of violence since 2000 under General Musharaffs regime, despite the change of government in 2008, continues unabated - extra-judicial killings, disappearances, diaplacement and collective punishment of the Baloch people continues. Marri noted that in this so-called ‘democratization’ period, three Baloch leaders, Ghulam Mohammed Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammed Baloch were abducted from their lawyers’ office by Pakistani Intelligence officers, tortured over several days and then murdered, their bodies found in a deserted area after a week later.
On 11 February 2009, Marri, together with Faiz Baluch, were acquitted of terrorism charges brought about as a result of the UK’s listing of the Balochistan Liberation Army as a proscribed organization. This prosecution revealed the extent to which the banning of the Balochistan movement functioned as a means to further the UK’s strategic alliance with Pakistan. Marri spoke of the central role which the international Community’s silence has played in legitimizing the repression of the Balochi people and the violent occupation of their lands:
“The Western democracies instead of siding with the oppressed are backing the oppressors. They are collaborating with Turkey against secular Kurdish movement; they have helped Sri Lanka against the Tamils and they are siding with Pakistan against the Baloch people. This biased approach has to stop and International Community must urge these occupying states to stop the slaughter of the oppressed Nations and abide by International laws.”
This complicity between western states in human rights violations was a repeated theme in the forum - Proscription laws operate as an instrument of foreign policy through domestic repression. Western state aid in abetting Turkey’s continued repression of the Kurds remains a case in point. Kazim Aqpak of the Kurdish Federation UK, spoke of how the Kurds in Europe where one of the first diaspora communities to be criminalised, with the PKK being banned in Germany in 1988. Aqpak raised the critical point: How can the Kurdish question be resolved when the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is banned in the UK, and in Europe? At a time in Turkey when the PKK have called yet another ceasefire in order to facilitate fragile moves towards a resolution of the conflict, the UK’s listing of the PKK empowers Turkey to not recognise the Kurdish liberation movement as a party to dialogue. Indeed, the PKK where listed in the UK at a time at which they called a ceasefire. Rather, the listing authorises Turkish reliance on military incursions. Proscription of organisations prolongs conflict and escalates the human misery which accompanies conflict by limiting efforts towards dialogue.
Aqpak spoke of recent atrocities in Turkey, including the killing of several Kurdish children by military shells or fire, and the imprisonment of Kurdish children for lengthy sentences, sometimes decades, for participating in pro-Kurdish demonstrations. It is clear the banning of the PKK reinforces the impunity of state crimes. In understanding this relation, Aqpak made the critical distinction between the provision of justice and the law. Drawing on the philosopher Jacque Derrida’s concept of justice as something ‘yet to come’, or ‘incalculable’, Aqpak highlighted the excessive violence at law’s foundation, as demonstrated in proscription.
The meeting ended with a broad ranging discussion on the urgent need for the repeal of laws designating and banning ‘terrorist organisations’ and extending forms of solidarity across affected communities. It remains to be seen however, how long international formations of state power can persist as hegemonic, through their own practices of terror.
For more information contact CAMPACC
Text of speech at the public meeting “Proscription on trial: the Tamil experience” on 28 October in Parliament
When we talk about ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ and ‘terror laws’ and its impact and impinge on communities, we must first look at why these laws are important to the states. Therefore, I would like to begin with drawing an attention to the relationship between law making and law maintaining character of violence. Since states do own the monopoly of the use of violence, it is also the states that breach their own laws in many ways. It is perhaps the knowledge of law making character of violence enforces the state to be more violent and brutal than any other institution in the name of justifying maintaining the law. Therefore, it is not coincidence that many states, the states that are breaching their own laws, criminalizing their own citizens, terrorizing opposition groups, using excessive violence against ordinary people as well as closing their eyes to each others crimes and wrongdoings. But going back to justice and the law, one cannot hesitate to ask what is justified and what is not in the eyes of the states, since justice itself is immeasurable. It is therefore one need to highlight in the words of Derrida; Law (droit) is not justice. Law is the element of calculation, and it is just that there be law, but justice is incalculable, it requires us to calculate with the incalculable; aporetic experiences are the experiences, as improbable as they are necessary, of justice, that is to say of moments in which the decision between just and unjust is never insured by a rule”. (1)
In relation to what I have said so far, now, I would like to continue by giving some extraordinary examples that has taken place just recently and many of them taking place in the Kurdish region of Turkey. A seven year old Kurdish girl is killed by a bomb that is thrown from a military base near where she lived. An eighteen month old boy got killed in his mother’s arm by a gas bomb thrown from the police. Almost three thousands children mostly Kurdish under eighteen is in jail for throwing stone and breaching the law of Turkey. There is a tragicomic court case where two Kurdish children are being taken to court and judged for twenty eight years just for making a peace gesture. Imagine a state where it is frightened of its own youth. One can object here and say cynically that those children are not considered as own youth by the state and that is precisely why in the eyes of the state, they can and should be killed. This mentality is nothing new; it is rather continuation of the discourses of the state that has been a core of the state policy against not only the Kurds, ethnic and religious minorities but also its own citizens, the Turks. This could be illustrated by a quote from Benjamin; ‘…the law’s interest in a monopoly of violence vis-à-vis individuals is explained not by the intention of preserving legal ends but, rather, by the intention of preserving the law itself; the violence, when not in the hands of the law, threatens it not by the ends that it may pursue but by its mere existence outside the law”. (2)
It is this understanding that can name anyone to be called terrorists, criminals and judged as it wishes. Despite all of these state crimes against the Kurds, Kurdish Freedom Movement still stands for their decision of a ceasefire. Furthermore, Kurdish Freedom Movement have also sent a peace group both from Qandil and Maxmur to Turkey in order to ease the raised tension and to give way to a peaceful conclusion to the Kurdish question. Second group is also ready to go to Turkey to contribute a possible peace process. These peaceful efforts demonstrates us that it is not the PKK that is necessarily aiming at war, it is rather the Turkish states’ intention to carry on its dirty war against the Kurds. The reaction from some parts of the Turkish community were outrageous as on Turkish academic and journalist, Murat Belge, observed and named this reflection to peace groups as ‘Turkish Problem’. He wrote, I quote; ‘The notion of Turkish problem is when you remain silent when war is shouted, when you send your child to fight an unjust war without any questions asked, but yet when peace process is called you throw yourself to the streets in protest, that is called Turkish Problem.
It also has to be mentioned here that the attitudes of European states are no different from other states. The only significance can be seen as that Turkey kills its own children, and that is probably why the detention days are slightly lesser than the European states. It is not because Turkey is more democratic or aiming to achieve the best of human rights, it does not see the point for having those ‘criminals’ forty two days in detention. It rather kills before they reach their two’s, eighteen’s. It is also interesting to see some significant European states’ change of the attitude when it comes to a peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. It is almost Kurdish people are being criminalized asking for peace. When there is an initiative for peace, one see some European states are making operations against Kurdish people and arrests them for ‘maintaining the law’. There have been ongoing house raids, people have been watched and followed as well as arrested in European states particularly in France and Germany. I am not making a statement that suggests there are some states are more democratic than the others or vice versa. On the contrary, it is the concept of state whatever its name may be and its laws that we should understand and analyze carefully. It is therefore no coincidence that the European states particularly Germany, proscribed the PKK as a ‘terrorist organization’, in the aftermath of first ceasefire called by the PKK. The Kurds were almost being punished for aiming peace and to live freely with their own identity.
I would like to conclude with a quotation from Edward Said which in my opinion sums up the whole debate surrounding ‘terror’ ‘terrorism’ etc. “The fear and terror induced by the overscale images of ‘terrorism’ and ‘fundamentalism’ –call them the figures of an international or transnational imagery made up of foreign devils- hastens the individual’s subordination to the dominant norms of the moment. This is as true in the new post-colonial societies as it is in the West generally and the United States particularly. Thus to oppose the abnormality and extremism embedded in terrorism and fundamentalism [ ] is also to uphold the moderation, rationality, executive centrality of a vaguely designated ‘Western’ [ ] ethos. The irony is that far from endowing the Western ethos with the confidence and secure ‘normality’ we associate with privilege and rectitude, this dynamic imbues ‘us’ with a righteous anger and defensiveness in which ‘others’ are finally seen as enemies, bent on destroying our civilisation and way of life. (Culture and Imperialism). (3)
The world cannot be free and civilized when Tamil’s, Palestinians, the Kurds, Baluchis and many other communities are constantly being oppressed and criminalized. Finally, in a Kafkaesque term, if we imagine the law as a gate and that we would like to cross it. Kafka still tells us to examine and question the existence of the gate in the minds of our own rather than putting all our energy to cross it. After all, it is the gate we participated to create ourselves; let’s begin to break those gates first in our minds, as a first step to be free and civilized citizens of this world.
1. Derrida., J, ‘Force of Law: The “Mythical Foundation of Authority” in ‘Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice (ed) by Cornell, Rosenfeld, Carlson, 1992, p16
2. Benjamin., W, ‘Critique of Violence’ in ‘Selected Writings Vol.1’ (ed) by Bullock, Jennings, 2004, p.239
3. Said., E, ‘Culture and Imperialism’,1994. (28.10.2009)
Text of speech at the public meeting “Proscription on trial: the Tamil experience” on 28 October in Parliament
I thank CAMPACC & Estella for giving us the opportunity to speak here today. I would like to start my discussion with a brief look at the history of Baluchistan and then to discuss the current situation in Baluchistan.
The Baloch have a long history of struggle against repressions and oppression by the Pakistani and Iranian states. Our history, however, pre-dates the formation of both Pakistan and Iran. The Baloch have a history which goes back thousands of years.
During the British Raj, Britain annexed a strip of land adjoining Afghanistan and named it (“British Balochistan”). The Baloch tirelessly campaigned for independence during the final decades of the British Raj. When the British left the Indian subcontinent the Baloch declared their Independence on 11 August 1947. Balochistan remained a sovereign state until it was forcefully occupied by Pakistan army on 27 March 1948. Iran had already occupied western part of Balochistan in 1928. Iran’s occupation of western Balochistan was a part of a ploy by the British to bring Iran on their side against the Russian expansion.
Since the occupation Iran and Pakistan have used brute force to subjugate the Baloch. The international Community by keeping silence have legitimized the forceful occupation of Baloch land and the inhumane treatment committed against them.
The current spate of violence in Balochistan started in early 2000 when the Pakistani dictator Musharraf came into power through an illegal military action. Pakistan’s army have used modern and lethal weapons like, Phosphorus and cluster bombs ‘which are supplied by the West’ against unarmed Baloch.
Hundreds of thousands of Baloch people have been displaced, many hundreds killed and thousands have been extra judicially abducted by the Pakistani Intelligence agencies ever since. Relatives have tried all peaceful means to find out the whereabouts of their loved ones, who have disappeared without a trace, to no avail. There are currently more than 6000 people missing in Eastern Balochistan (occupied by Pakistan).
During Musharraf’s dictatorship hundreds of Baloch including two top Baloch leaders Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti and Nawabzada Balach Marri (one of my brothers) have been murdered. Apparently Musharraf has got away with these crimes. In fact it was Musharruf “the Pakistani general Penuche” and his Jihadist army who created world’s two most deadliest organisations; Al-Qaeeda and the Taliban. These are the two most destructive fundamentalist organizations that are hell bent to destroy secular nations both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Ironically, he is presently treated as a celebrity and is giving lectures to the International community on terrorism! No one so far within the International Community has challenged him for the crimes that he and his cronies have committed in Balochistan.
Besides, all other criminal army generals come and stay in Western countries after their retirement. Instead of holding them accountable for their crimes, they are given sanctuaries to carry on with their lavish lifestyle.
Even though a new government came into power after 2008 election in Pakistan but their policy towards Balochistan is much the same, the faces have changed but the biased, brutal and corrupt system is still in place. Unfortunately during this so called democratically elected government three top Baloch political leader, namely Ghulam Mohammed Baloch, Lala Munir Baloch and Sher Mohammed Baloch were abducted by Pakistani Intelligence Agencies from their lawyers’ office in broad day light, severely tortured for few days and finally murdered in cold blood. Their bodies were found in a deserted area after a week.
Similar atrocities are also being committed against Baloch people by the Islamic Regime of Iran in Western occupied Balochistan. There too hardly a single day goes by without arrests, torture and execution of innocent Baloch people.
Problem of smaller nations and the responsibility of the International Community: If we take a look at the struggles experienced by occupied nations there is a realisation that such struggles have always been ignored by the International Community. The Western democracies instead of siding with the oppressed are backing the oppressors. They are collaborating with Turkey against secular Kurdish movement; they have helped Sri Lanka against the Tamils and they are siding with Pakistan against the Baloch people. This biased approach has to stop and International Community must urge these occupying states to stop the slaughter of the oppressed Nations and abide by International laws.
Such discriminatory actions of the International community have compelled the occupied Nations to stand up to these states and sometimes they are forced to take extreme steps in their own defence. Nations like the Kurd, the Tamils and the Baluch are pushed against the wall and left with no option but to resist the state brutalities and to defend themselves.
These oppressive states especially Pakistan have benefited from International laws on terrorism & the war on terror. Pakistan is protecting terrorists and using the war on terror as a weapon to blackmail the west. Unfortunately instead of holding Pakistan responsible the West is ignoring their crimes and complying with their unjustified demands.
A recent example is the proscription of Baloch liberation Struggle in the UK and the arrest of my colleague and myself on flimsy terrorism charges. One can understand why Pakistan would proscribe the secular Baloch movement – because Pakistan wants to justify the human rights violation in Balochistan in the name of fight against terrorism. The UK had no excuse for proscribing the secular Baloch liberation movement but to please the Pakistani dictator Musharraf. The UK however should know that if it was not for the secular Baloch people in the region, today Balochistan would have been full of Taliban extremists. Imagine how hard it would be to tackle extremism in an area twice as big as the UK full of Taliban and their supporters.
These days we hear the news that the Taliban are moving to Quetta, the capital city of Balcohistan. Baloch have always warned the western powers time and again about the spread of Taliban in their region. And in many instances Baloch have openly said that Taliban are being systematically settled in Quetta in order to counter the secular Baloch national struggle.
Similarly we see other oppressive states are using the so called “war on terror” to undermine the national struggles of oppressed Nations. When the Sri Lankan cricket team was attacked in Pakistan, the Pakistan state media and officials, including the Prime Minister of Pakistan, stated that the attack was carried out by Lashkar-e-Toiba , an Islamic fundamentalist organisation.
However after a meeting with the Sri Lanakan president in Libya the Prime Minister of Pakistan changed his statement and blamed the Tamils for the attack, without a shred of proof. This is another example of collusion between two states. Those states that have illegally annexed other nations tend to collaborate closely with each other against the Nations under their occupation.
The United Nations especially the UN Human Rights Council has become a forum where states support and ignore the wrong doings and violations committed by other member states. Stateless Nations have no or very little say in the UN, for this very reason The United Nation has, by and large, ignored the illegal occupation of weaker Nations.
In order to keep Balochistan under their occupation the Pakistani Army and the Punjabi controlled state administration have dominated Pakistan’s institutions and the seats at the United Nations and other international forums. It is only they that interact with the outside world on behalf of the state. The Baloch are deliberately excluded from these key institutions. Their presence in such matters is absolutely none. In their eyes my participation in this meeting is an act of treason because we are not meant to speak on an International forum. The exclusion of voiceless nations from International Organisations would encourage the oppressors to continue their atrocities against our people.
Oppressive states are globally unified and have combined forces to justify their criminal acts; they are trying nationally and internationally to criminalise the normal and just activities of suppressed Nations in order to continue their hegemony over them. It is the responsibility of stateless Nation like the Kurd, the Tamils and the Baloch to unite and challenge their unjust acts on every forum. We must inform the International community about their inhuman acts and remind the West of its responsibilities to our defenceless nations.
Therefore I appeal to all human Rights Organisations and Humanitarian workers to unite and raise voice against the illegal occupations and human rights abuses of nations like Balochistan.
I thank you!