The cancer of political killings has to be removed

by Kethesh Loganathan

Courtesy: on 27th December 2005

When I read the press release of December 7 issued by Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions following his recent visit to Sri Lanka, I was particularly struck by two observations that he made.

The first is, to quote: "These killings should not be thought of only in the cold and detached language and statistics of 'ceasefire violations', although they clearly are that. Nor should they be thought of only in abstract terms as violations of the international obligations of the parties, although they are that too.

Most importantly, they are violating the right to life of a large number of Sri Lankan from all ethnic groups, and by undermining the peace process, putting at risk the lives of many more".
The second observation made by Philip Alston that is relevant to my intervention is, to quote: "The failure to effectively investigate the killings has resulted in many areas of the North and East - whether controlled by the Government or by the LTTE - becoming zones of impunity for killers with different motivations and affiliations. This in turn generates inflammatory and often contradictory rumours that risk giving way to cycles of retaliation".

So, what I wish to do in my presentation are:

(i) To locate 'political killings' in the context of the peace process and, in particular, the Ceasefire Agreement:
(ii) To attempt at identifying the different motivations and affiliations of the perpetrators: and
(iii) Some remedial measures.

1. 'Political killings' in the context of the CFA and the Peace Process

As we are all aware, while the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) led to the big guns fallings silent, the small pistols nevertheless continued to work over-time. During the first two years of the CFA the 'political killings' were primarily a one-way street leading from Kilinochchi.

The targets of the LTTE were a mixture of members of Tamil political parties like the EPDP, EPRLF (Pathmanabha), PLOTE who challenged the sole representative status of the LTTE, members of the Sri Lankan intelligence and their Tamil 'informants', and members of para-militaries like the Mohan Group, Razeek Group etc.

Despite these killings falling within the ambit of Clause 2.1 of the CFA which stipulated that the "Parties shall in accordance with international law abstain from hostile acts against the civilian population, including such acts as torture, intimidation, extortion and harassment", Norway as the Chair of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) gave a very narrow interpretation to its mandate that these killings constituted a law and order problem and not a ceasefire violation.
The rationale was that the SLMM is mandated to only rule on violations of the CFA by the parties that amounted to violence or violations against each other. As Philip Alston observed in his press release in relation to the SLMM, "But its mandate has been interpreted excessively narrowly and in a way that it also appear to be mainly a recording agency".

To further compound the problem, following the split in the LTTE and the emergence of the Karuna factor, the killings are no longer a one-way street, but a two-way street.

It is in his context, that while the Government and the Human Rights community have been focusing on Clause 2.1 of the CFA and the need to review it in relation to strengthening it as well as expanding the monitoring mechanism as a deterrence to political killings, child conscription etc, extortion, abductions etc, the LTTE started focusing on Clause 1.8 of the CFA which referred to the responsibility on the part of the Government to disarm the 'paramilitaries' or to absorb them into the military apparatus and relocate them outside the North-East.

On the question of the 'para-militaries', it may be noted that few days prior to the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, there was an interesting exchange through the media between Jayantha Dhanapala, Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) and LTTE's London-based theoretician, Anton Balasingham.

In an interview given to Reuters, Jayantha Dhanapala said that the emergence of the Karuna faction in the East was an internal problem of the LTTE. He also said that "they do not qualify as a paramilitary group because they were not there prior to the ceasefire agreement".

Further, he added that "to go after them would involve going into the deep jungles, where there is a risk of the troops confronting LTTE groups quite apart from Karuna group. And those confrontations can lead to major incidents that could rupture the entire Ceasefire agreement".
In response, Anton Balasingham alleged that there were 5 para-militaries operating in the east and accused Dhanapala of not being aware of the ground situation. He further warned that if the para-militaries were no disarmed, it could lead to the outbreak of war.

It is therefore clear that the term "para-military" is not as straight forward as it is projected and needs to be clearly defined so as to ensure that the term does not begin to replace terms such as "traitors", "quislings", "puppets" etc which is used by the LTTE to extend moral justification for political killings.
It is also necessary to ensure that the State is not tempted to resort to shadowy groups to engage in extra-judicial killings. It may be noted that the term "traitor" is not confined only to the North-East, but is also increasingly being used in the South

2. A landscaping of the political killings:

Identifying motivations and affiliations The killings and attacks have often been characterized as being 'tit for tat' or retaliatory in nature. Yet it is often difficult to decisively conclude that certain attacks are in response to a particular incident by one of the parties.

The killings seemingly have multiple aims: in that they are not restricted to eliminating the rank and file of particular groups but also to instill fear among civilians in order to establish control. At least for the GoSL and the LTTE the killings and the counter measures seem to have become a struggle to regain the strategic high ground in the conflict/peace process context.

At a curious level the scaling up of the proxy war may also be a tool by one party to force the other to end the killings campaign. Whatever the intention, the net effect is that it increases insecurity in the North East and demonstrates a willingness of the parties to violate the CFA. The intensification of the killings and of the Proxy War has put increasing pressure on the parties to deal with it, either through the intensification of violence or through negotiations and diplomacy.

The political identity of the victims is sometimes unclear increasing uncertainty with regards to the motives, identity of the killers and insecurity. The victims include not just members of the armed forces, LTTE, Karuna Group, anti-LTTE Tamil political parties or paramilitaries but individuals who were previously associated, in some form, with these groups, even if it was a decade ago or individuals who may have had interactions with these groups as a part of day-to-day life.

Even in cases where the identity of the target is clear, it is not easy to positively identify the assailant or his organisational loyalties as police investigations often fail to reveal these key facts and the SLMM consistently states that it lacks both the capacity or mandate to conduct police investigations, much less the motive for individual attack.

The killings reveal a critical crisis in law and order, demonstrating severe short comings in the law enforcement authorities. This was noted by Philip Alston in his Press release December 7 when he noted that, "the Sri Lankan police have lost much of their appetite for serious investigations.
While the difficulties presented by the environment in which they work must be acknowledged, they have in too many cases become a recording agency. This deters witnesses from coming forward and leaves the groups involved free to accuse one another regardless of the facts which might emerge from serious investigation".

This issue of responsibility for the killings and the identity of the killers is a crucial issue that has dominated the media and public discussions.

While the parties have tried to blame the other and provided evidence to that regard, with the LTTE pointing to incidents where witnesses have reported that those responsible for attacks on LTTE targets have walked into army or STF camps, and the Government providing evidence of LTTE members involvement in carrying out a number of killings.

In addition there is increased speculation that other actors, in addition to the LTTE, Karuna and the State, have become involved in the killings.

While PLOTE members are alleged to be responsible for the Sivaram killing, EPDP cadres are also alleged to have carried out other reprisal killings. In effect, the violence has become murkier and the culture of insecurity and impunity has further solidified. The accusations have usually resulted in denials at best with no real impact in a reduction of killings, further solidifying a culture of impunity.

3. So what is the remedy?

The most obvious, but the most difficult and protracted is of course the transformation of the actors cum perpetrators - be it the LTTE, the State or other actors. But, obviously one cannot sit back and watch these killings take place till that transformation is effected.

In other words what one has to look into is deterrence that comes about through monitoring, verification and investigation. In this regard, Philip Alston has recommended that the SLMM's role should be strengthened and be given a better equipped role to enable it to carry out more in-depth monitoring of killings and to publicly report its findings of the facts.

While this is welcome, I am somewhat skeptical and perhaps cynical of the SLMM playing an effective role particularly given the dual role played by Norway as the facilitator as well as the monitor and the conflict of interests that arises as a result.

As a very first step, these two roles need to be de-linked, with Norway being given its pride of place as the facilitator while being unburdened with its role as a monitor. Further, it is important that the composition of the SLMM be more broad based and requires personnel with a strong record on HR monitoring.

However, given the reluctance of the parties (i.e. GoSL, LTTE and Norway) to overload the peace process with a human rights agenda in the past, (although the Mahinda Rajapakse Government is showing a greater receptivity to incorporating a Human Rights agenda into the peace process), it may be necessary to start conceptualizing and operationalizing an Independent Human Rights Monitoring Mechanism.

While ideally, it would require the two parties to sign a Human Rights Agreement as Ian Martin, the Human Rights resource person to the peace process had recently recommended, I am of the opinion that while the concurrence of the parties is ideal and preferable, one would have to think of engaging in such monitoring even if a consent is not forthcoming from the parties.

Perhaps the Donor Co-Chairs may want to consider having their own human rights monitoring mechanism which can be factored into their interventions and involvement in the peace process. Or, perhaps, the time has come for a UN involvement. Be that as it may, this is an area that cannot be entrusted to the SLMM alone or for that matter to the Norwegian facilitator, given their extreme aversion to incorporating a human rights agenda into the peace process for fear that it would rock the peace boat.

The cancer of political killings will have to be removed, if the right to life is to be protected and the peace process is to be sustained in a manner that is just and humane.

(Presentation by Kethesh Loganathan, Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives, at the Seminar on 'The right to life, measures to combat extra-judicial killings and disappearances' organised by the Human Rights Commission coinciding with the Human Rights Day on December 10, 2005).



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