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Post subject: Tiger fund raising among Toronto Tamils
Sat Mar 18, 2006 12:51 pm
|Tiger fund raising among Toronto Tamils
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
@ TW / March 18, 2006
” Funding the War: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora” is the title of a 45 page report newly released by the Human Rights Watch organization. The US based HRW report was formally released on March 16th or the Ides of March that spelled out doom to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. The report provides a fascinating insight into the fund - raising activities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the predicament faced by members of the Tamil Diaspora who do not want to contrubute money to tiger coffers.
This report was written by Jo Becker, advocacy director of the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, based on research conducted by the author in London, U.K., and Toronto, Canada, from October 2005 through February 2006. The report was reviewed and edited by staff in Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division, Asia Division, Legal and Policy Department, Program Department, and Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program.
Because of the significant security risks for Tamils interviewed for this report, the names of most individuals are kept confidential. Some locations and other identifying details are also withheld or changed in order to protect the identity of those who spoke with Human Rights Watch. Some cases reported to Human Rights Watch have been omitted entirely, because it was not possible to describe the reported incidents without putting the individuals involved at risk.
A strong feature of the report is the vast array of anecdotal evidence presented. The identities of these LTTE victims are not revealed in the interests of their own safety. Direct attribution would certainly have enhanced the reports impact but it was the safety and security of the people interviewed that was more important.
The unwillingness of the victims to come forward openly is by itself a powerful indictment of the fear psychosis exerted over the Diaspora by the LTTE. This however does not detract from the reports credibility in any way and the diligent methodology adopted in compiling this report is patently visible and adds to its strength.
The HRW report has many accounts of experiences undergone by Tamil people living in the West at the hands of the LTTE and its minions. This column is of the opinion that presenting some of these experiences without added comment or interpretation would help make readers understand the various aspects of the problem. Here are some relevant excerpts from the HRW report relating to Tamils in Toronto-
” In late 2005, the escalation of LTTE attacks on Sri Lankan forces and the increase in rights abuses by both sides coincided with a massive LTTE fundraising drive among the Tamil diaspora. In Canada, the U.K., and other parts of Europe, LTTE representatives went house to house and visited Tamil-owned businesses, requesting substantial sums of money, often using intimidation, coercion, and outright threats to secure pledges.
In Toronto, individual families typically were asked to pay between Cdn$2,500 and Cdn$5,000, although some families were reportedly asked for as much as Cdn$10,000. Business owners were asked for amounts ranging from Cdn$25,000 to Cdn$100,000. One Hindu temple reported being asked for Cdn$1 million. In London, many individual families were asked for Â£2,000 and businesses approached for amounts ranging from Â£10,000 to Â£100,000. Individuals and business owners were sometimes told that the money was a “loan” that would be repaid with interest. Others were asked for an outright contribution.
The individuals requesting the funds sometimes identified themselves directly as representatives of the LTTE. In other instances, they indicated that they were from the World Tamil Movement or the British Tamil Association, organizations that are widely believed to be fronts for the LTTE. Some families told HRW that their visitors simply stated that they had been “sent by Prabhakaran” (the supreme leader of the LTTE) to collect the funds. The fundraisers usually traveled in pairs, although some sources told HRW that they had been approached by a group of three or four representatives.
LTTE representatives provided a variety of explanations for how the money would be used. In many of the cases reported to HRW , the funds were sought for “the final war.” Tamil families and business owners were told that the LTTE had a plan for driving out all Sri Lankan army forces from the North and East within two months, and that within that period the war would be over. Others were told that the LTTE was preparing to declare “Tamil Eelam” (i.e. independence) and needed to build its treasury. Some members of the community were also told that the funds were needed to gain United Nations (U.N.) recognition of Tamil Eelam, and that the U.N. would subsequently provide funds to the new Tamil state.
One Toronto family received three visits during one week. The first visit, they said, came from three men claiming to represent the World Tamil Movement.
They said that they had been sent by Prabhakaran to collect money. They had a lot of documents and material, including information about us, such as our phone number and address. When asked what the money was for, they said, “We need to increase our economy. We only have two months to get the Sri Lankan army out. We have all the plans made, but we are asking the Tamil people for final support.”
The men asked the family for Cdn$5,000. “When they asked for the money, they looked at their file. They asked how long we had lived in this house. After we told them, they said, “$5,000.”
After the family refused to give, the men returned two more times. On subsequent visits, the men again stated that the funds they sought were for “the final war.” The men offered to give the family until February 2006 to pay the $5,000, but the family refused.
Several sources indicated that LTTE fundraising efforts intensified in Toronto in December 2005. One Tamil whose job brought him in contact with large numbers of Tamils said he knew of at least seventy or eighty people who had been asked for money and that the majority had given. When asked if the pace of fundraising had increased, he said, “Definitely. Before, there were not that many people who had been visited. Now, everyone is talking about it. I’ve talked to lots of people who have given Cdn$2,000-3,000. They [the LTTE] are getting lots of money, collecting lots of money.”
One Toronto woman said, “In this neighborhood, I talked to everyone and everyone has been visited. Six families.” She believes that the amount that families are asked for varies depending on the assets and income of the family. She said that one family that had paid off their mortgage was asked for Cdn$10,000, while another family with a smaller house was asked for Cdn$2,000.
Another Toronto family told HRW that they were pressed for several thousand dollars. After the family repeatedly stated that they would not pay, the LTTE representatives produced a form and said, “Can you fill this out and write down that you don’t believe in what the LTTE is doing?” The husband refused. He said, “Then they began writing and turned around the form and asked me to sign it.”
In one case reported to HRW , the house of a Toronto family was vandalized after the family refused to pay the LTTE. Although the police were unable to identify the perpetrators, the couple believed that the LTTE was responsible. Fearful of remaining at the same address, the family reportedly moved to a different home.
A Toronto area businessman was visited by the LTTE in October 2005 and asked for Cdn$8,000. He responded that his business was having trouble and he did not have any money to give. Several weeks later, he was visited again at his business by four men from the LTTE. This time they asked for Cdn$20,000. The businessman again indicated that he had no money to contribute. The men responded, “Others have no room to give, but they find a way. This is your duty. You have to help your community from here. This is Mr. Prabhakaran’s request. You need to help start the war.”
The businessman said that when he continued to refuse, the LTTE said, “If you don’t want to contribute, say that you don’t want to.” The businessman again said that he was financially unable to do so. Finally, the LTTE said, “Okay, we understand that you do not want to help us, but you will learn the lesson soon. We understand that you are not considering your wife and your children.” When HRW asked if he was worried about the safety of his wife and children, the man said, “Yes, of course.”
Within the Tamil diaspora, individuals hold a variety of views regarding the Tamil Tigers and their decision whether or not to give financial support is often based on a complex set of factors. As noted above, many are active supporters of the LTTE, and perceive the Tigers as an important and effective representative of the Tamil people and their interests. They believe in the LTTE military struggle for independence in the North and East and willingly provide financial support for “the cause.”
Others within the community do not necessarily support the LTTE’s goals or methods, but give money to protect or enhance their standing in the Tamil community or their business interests.
Some people also provide funds because they have family or property in Sri Lanka and fear negative repercussions against family members or even confiscation of their property if they do not give. They also often want to maintain their ability to visit their families without encountering problems from the LTTE. Some Tamils are told that if they do not pay funds to the LTTE, they will not be allowed to return to Sri Lanka or will have “trouble” when they do.
In other cases, the LTTE suggests that a refusal to give money will put family members in Sri Lanka at risk.
There have been abductions back home of people, businessmen or relatively affluent people who have refused to give them money, and who have all their children abroad, seen to be doing well. And many such people have been abducted. In such circumstances, the action is initiated there. They target a person who has obviously some considerable money and is not in need.
If they have many children or close relatives living abroad, they abduct them, and then the relatives here raise a lot of money and send it back home. And of course such stories then have a huge impact here, and those who feel vulnerable give money without much questioning. This has happened many times over the years, and I personally know of people to whom this has happened.
Pressure is particularly intense for members of the Tamil business and professional community. Many rely on the Tamil community for a significant portion of their business and fear that if they are labeled as anti-LTTE, they will lose customers or clients. One shop owner told HRW , “If I continue to ignore their requests, they might label me as anti-Tiger and tell people “don’t do business with him.”
An attorney told Human Rights Watch, “Most professionals pay, because they are afraid that if they don’t, the World Tamil Movement will give them bad publicity and it will negatively affect their client base.”
At a very practical level, some people agree to give simply because they do not want the hassle of being repeatedly called and visited.
Finally, a portion of the community (according to most accounts, a significant minority) is actively opposed to the LTTE. Some may have initially supported the Tigers’ cause, but have either become convinced that the Tigers can never achieve their goals militarily, or have become deeply disillusioned by the Tigers continuing record of human rights abuses, including the recruitment of children as soldiers and their practice of murdering political opponents. Of this group, some may still give money to the LTTE, because they feel that they have no choice, while others refuse on principle.
A Tamil in London told Human Rights Watch, “I think that most people who are giving money are not giving money for the cause. They give because of fear.” A medical professional in Toronto was visited by the LTTE at his office three times within a ten-day period in late 2005. Each time, he indicated that he had patients and was too busy to talk. He told us, “I heard from other businesspeople that they are asking for money.” He didn’t press for details, however. “Here, you don’t know who you are talking to, whether they are in favor of them or not. “He also said that he had relatives in Jaffna. “We are scared of what happens to them.”
Few individuals dare to refuse directly the LTTE’s requests for money. In this respect, most of the individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report are not typical in the Tamil community. Individuals who are willing to speak to a human rights organization about their experiences are also much more likely to stand up to the LTTE. In many other cases made known to HRW, individuals gave funds under pressure but declined to speak to us for fear of exposure or possible reprisals from the LTTE.
Many of the individuals interviewed for this report stated clearly that they did not support the LTTE’s methods and refused to give money, and were subsequently not pressed further for funds. One Toronto man who refused to give said, “If you are scared, they will come and sit, but if they know they won’t get anywhere, they will leave.” Another individual said similarly, “If you are scared, they will push; if you are firm, they will back down.”
A firm refusal does not always guarantee that a family will be left alone, however. One Toronto Tamil was visited at his home in January 2006 by two men who identified themselves as representatives of the World Tamil Movement. When the man raised questions about the LTTE and made it clear that he did not support the LTTE, the World Tamil Movement representatives threatened him, saying “We will deal with you. Nee kavanamai iru. Unnai Kavanippom. Nee poorathai parpom.” The man said, “When you repeat this phrase to an English-speaking person, people don’t take it seriously. But for a Tamil person, the implication is that you will be killed.”
Short of outright refusal, many members of the diaspora use a variety of methods to avoid giving money. When LTTE fundraisers come to an apartment building or neighborhood, families that receive a visit will often call their neighbors to warn them that fundraisers are in the area. Many then simply pretend that they are not at home and do not respond when the fundraisers knock.
When fundraisers make contact, the individuals approached will often claim that they are not able to give because of financial problems. They may say that they have invested all of their money into their business, that they are unemployed or make very low wages, or have to support other members of their family. If they are not able to avoid giving entirely, they may use these reasons to negotiate a lower payment.
Such arguments may elicit little sympathy from the LTTE, however. Individuals who have tried these arguments have been told by LTTE fundraisers that they should borrow the funds, make a contribution on their credit card, or even re-mortgage their home.
A lawyer with a Toronto practice reported that from March through November 2005, he had at least a dozen clients who had been pressured to pay money while visiting Sri Lanka. He said, “All of my clients who have been to Jaffna have had the experience. If they go by land, it is a sure case.”
He reported that clients who fly to Jaffna may not immediately be identified, but that word often spreads quickly in local neighborhoods when someone visits from abroad. “Then by the second or third day, someone will come and say, “You should go to the Kondavil office [LTTE treasury].” If you try to avoid him, the man will come again. Then your family says, “You need to go. If you don’t, you will create a problem for us.”
According to the attorney’s clients, they were required to give detailed personal information at the LTTE office in Kondavil, a village near Jaffna town. He said that individuals were often unsure of how much personal information the LTTE already possessed, so were afraid to give any false information.
Some of his clients reported that they were told they could not leave Jaffna until they paid the amount of money requested, and that if they didn’t have the money with them, they should get it from family members in Canada. “If they are told not to leave, people don’t want to take the risk, so they get their family to wire the money.” He was unaware of anyone who was forcibly detained, but said, “The mere verbal order is more than enough to upset them.”
Even people who have given contributions while in the West may be pressured to give when visiting Sri Lanka. The attorney said, “If you say that you have given, they say they don’t have a record. They ask, “Do you have a PIN number?” Or they will enter your name and date of birth in a computer and say, “No, we checked, you didn’t give money. You have to give.”
In some cases, the LTTE confiscates the passports of visiting Tamils until they pay the requested amount of money.
Not every expatriate who travels to the North is pressed to give funds. One Toronto university student who traveled to Jaffna by road in mid-2005 was told at the checkpoint to visit the Kondavil LTTE office in Jaffna within three days. “They said, ˜You must go.” I was kind of scared, so I went there. Some people said if I don’t go there will be big trouble. They said I might not be able to leave.” At the Kondavil office she was asked for personal information. Her impression of the meeting: “The main idea is that they want the money from us.” She told the LTTE representatives that she was still in school, had loans, and was not working. In her case, the LTTE did not press her for immediate funds or a pledge, but informed her that once she got a job, she should start to give. She expressed concern that they would continue to monitor her. “They have my current address, so they can come to my house.”
As word of such stories spreads, many Tamil families reportedly have begun to change their travel plans and even cancel planned trips to visit Sri Lanka for fear of being forced to pay amounts that they cannot afford or are not willing to give. The attorney in Toronto told Human Rights Watch, “Many people have cancelled plans to go, even if they are strong LTTE supporters. I know three or four families who have cancelled plans to go visit.”
The HRW concludes with the following observations -
“The LTTE’s use of intimidation, harassment, extortion, and even physical violence against members of the Tamil diaspora is effectively stifling Tamil dissent regarding on-going LTTE human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. LTTE extortion is also forcing Tamils, including those who do not support the LTTE, to provide financial support for LTTE operations, including its continuing pattern of child recruitment and political killings. Both intimidation and extortion have significantly limited the ability of Tamils in the West who do not support the LTTE’s pattern of human rights abuses to effectively speak out and influence LTTE behavior.
Western governments, although obliged to protect their residents and citizens from such abuses, have done too little in response to the patterns of intimidation and coercion that victimize members of the Tamil community. Governments with a significant Tamil diaspora should take stronger action to protect members of the community, ensuring their right to express themselves on issues of vital concern to their community and to live without fear”.
The HRW report is a result of painstaking effort. The Human Rights Watch in general and the author Jo Becker in particular are to be commended for a worthwhile effort.
Funding the “Final War” - LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora
Lankan Families and Businesses in Canada, U.K. Threatened
US taking note of report on LTTE fund-raising
Ban Tamil Tigers and halt extortion - Editorial
Close Connection - Toronto's Tamil community and Sri Lanka
French Connection: LTTE collect 100 million euros
Post subject: Tamil Canadians and the HRW report
Tue Mar 28, 2006 7:29 pm
Tamil Canadians and the HRW report
By D. B. S. Jeyaraj
@Sunday Leader / 26MAR2006
The largest concentration of Sri Lankan Tamils outside Sri Lanka is in Canada. More than 250,000 Tamils live in Canada now.
Of these more than 200,000 Tamils are in the Greater Toronto area. Torontoÿ is the largest 'Sri Lankan Tamil' city in the global Tamil diaspora. The Tamil population here is larger than those in north- eastern cities and towns like Jaffna, Batticaloa, Vavuniya, Trincomalee etc.
It was predictable therefore that the Human Rights Watch Report released on March 15 caused great waves within the Tamil community of Greater Toronto. The 45-page report authored by HRW Advocacy Director, Chldren's Rights, Jo Beckerÿ dealt with fund raising for the LTTE and was titled, Funding The Final War.
The report focused on London in Britain and Toronto in Canada. The Tamil diaspora in these two countries amount to nearly half of the total number of Tamils living in the West.
The reaction among Canadian Tamils was manifold. Though the LTTE and its minions try to project an impression that the community is 100% behind the LTTE, the truth is different. About 15to 20% are hard core Tiger supporters while another 10 to 15% are firmly opposed to the LTTE. The rest are of mindsets. Most feel strongly as Tamils but differ in their degrees of support or opposition to the LTTE. Many do not support the Tigers on every issue butÿ generally support the Tamil cause andÿ feel that they are necessary to combat the Sinhala state. Others disapprove Tiger actions but are equally or more opposed to Sinhala racist ideology. Some have 'Canadianised' strongly and are just not bothered about anything.
So when the HRW report was released the various strands in the community reacted differently. This response was of two kinds. One was openly articulated and publicÿwhile the other larger response was among the people themselves and kept private. This column has repeatedly referred toÿ a vociferous pro-Tiger minority hogging the megaphone and posing off as the sole voice of the Tamils within the Canadian Tamil diaspora. This phenomenon was once again present.
Canadian Tamil Congress
An organisation calling itself theÿ Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), issued a stinging press release. Earlier there was an outfit claiming to represent Canadian Tamils that called itself FACT - Federation of Associations of Canadian Tamils. This outfit was clearly identified by the USA and Canadian authorities as a Tiger front. Thereafter FACT went out of circulation and in its place there arose the CTC. In keeping with typical LTTE style CTC accused the HRW and Jo Becker of bias and pooh poohed the report.
The CRC also held a press conference that was attended largely by Tamil 'community representatives.' In fact the 70 to 80 Tamil 'community leaders' vastly outnumbered the genuine media representatives present. Significantly enough the much maligned HRW sent a representative as an 'observer' to the press conference but was refused admission. The press conference was used by many speakers to attack the HRW and Ms. Becker personally evoking cheers and applause from the 'packed' audience.
What was astounding about the Tiger and pro-Tiger response to the HRW report was the brazen attempt to deny the whole thing. Everyÿ member of the Tamil diaspora knows that fund raising goes on. Many Tamils do give money willingly to the LTTE. Some are 'pressured' to give more. Others are coerced into giving. While some Tamils have never been asked for money - almost everyone knows of at least a few instances of money being collected and theÿ intimidation involved.
A rational response by the Tiger and pro-Tiger elements could have been to 'admit' to a little bit of fund raising going on but deny that it was widespread. They could also have said that the money was raised for humanitarian purposes and not to fund the LTTE war chest. On the question of intimidation they could have denied it and said action would be taken against anyone found guilty if evidence was presented.
Given the fact that fund raising along with some force and intimidation does exist within the community attempting to deny the obvious was like the Tamil saying about trying to conceal a whole pumpkin in a plantain leaf of rice. Yet this exactlyÿ was what the pro-Tiger sections tried to do. Instead of being on the defensive and engaging in intelligent damage control theTiger minions went on the offensive and took on the HRW and Ms. Jo Becker crudely and rudely.
This flagrant attempt to deny the obvious , discredit the HRW and distort reality did not go down well with many members of the Tamil 'silent majority.' What was mostly resented was the pro-Tiger elements trying to interpret the HRW report as affecting the entire community. It was not. The HRW report affected only those supporters and workers of the LTTE engaged in fund raising.
It did not affect the community at large in any way. In fact the report brought to light the pathetic predicament faced by Tamil Canadians at the hands of some of their 'imagined' kinsfolk. Many Tamils found their non-Tamil colleagues being sympathetic and considerate towards their plight after details of the HRW report became known.
State of disconnect
It was apparent that the LTTE and its minions were in a state of 'disconnect' with the bulk of Tamil Canadians. Most Tamils were a little upset but not unduly troubled by the HRW report . The uppermost thought in their mind was that this publicity could make the Tiger cohorts go 'slow' or go 'soft' in their fund raising. While most Tamils do feel strongly about the Tamil plight and recognise the need for fund raising they resent the heavy handed, rough methods of the fund raisers. Many are sympathetic towards the 'boys and girls' bearing arms for the Tamils but hate these parasitical fund raisers.
Adding fuel to this resentment is the fact that manyÿ Canadian Tamils are suspicious about the bona fides of some of these LTTE fund raisers. They are also uncertain as to how much exactly is actually going to the LTTE in Sri Lanka. It is an open secret that many Tamil businesses are funded by the local LTTE. Tiger acolytes also engage in direct wholesale business usingÿ money collected from the people. In order to corner the market and drive out competition a large amount of money is used to undercut others. This 'subsidy' is from the people's donations.
Several Tiger fund raisers have been given houses, cars and even paid salaries out of money collected here. There is also much corruption and several operatives without any overt source of income are living it off grandly. Some top Tiger operatives have often been 'fired' on charges of graft by the movement. Also some seniorÿ fund raisers are given 10 to 20% commission of money collected as an incentive. There is no accountability.
So the ordinary people remained unruffled even as the Tiger operatives careered around like headless chickens. Though the LTTE was trying to make out that a great calamity had befallen Canadian Tamils most members of the community were privately happy that those professing to represent the LTTE in Toronto had been given a jolt. There was also hope that the Tigers would be careful at least in the future not to harass or intimidate Tamils. Many people were prepared to donate to the cause but resented the intimidation and corruption.
One of the most comical responses came from LTTE Political Commissar Suppiah Paramu Tamilselvan who denied fund raising abroad. Funny if the LTTE does not get money from the diaspora, from where then does it get its money? Furthermore Tamilselvan charged the HRW of not approaching them to get their side of the story. LTTE political affairs committee member and self-styled Toronto Tamil Spokesperson Nehru Gunaratnam also lamented to the media that community leaders had not been interviewed and only alleged victims had been interviewed. Does the LTTE expect the HRW to interview themÿ about the victims and not the victims themselves?
In any case Tamilselvan was not correct in saying the HRW had not contacted the LTTE. According to HRW circles the researcher /writer Jo Becker had sent more than one e - mail to Puleedevan, the head of the LTTE Peace Secretariat requesting a LTTE reponse to some questions . These were ignored. She had also contacted Santhan, the head of the British Tamil association in London.The BTA is the British Pro-Tiger organisation. He had declined to be interviewed. He also refused to arrange for a meeting with LTTE ideologue, Anton Balasingham.
In Canada president of the World Tamil Movement, Sittampalam was interviewed. The WTM like the FACT is an accredited front organisation of the LTTE. Sittampalam denied that the LTTE was active in Canada or that money was being raised on its behalf. Sittampalam's response was duly recorded in the HRW report with a comment that testimonies from the Tamil community dispute this assertion.
Thus it could be seen that HRW did make an effort to get the LTTE version of events too. Tamilselvan is not telling the truth when he says the Tigers were not contacted by the HRW. The LTTE by ignoring the HRW has by default lost a good opportunity to present their side of the picture. Likewise Nehru Gunaratnam is also wrong in saying that the so called community leaders were not interviewed because the WTM president was interviewed. Perhaps Gunaratnam does not regard Sittampalam as a Tamil community leader.
One of the biggest challenges posed by HRW to the LTTE was the availability of its report in Tamil. In 2004 December when the Report on Child Soldiers in the LTTE was released the HRW made it available in Tamil. This was the case now also. The full report was available on the net and also in hard copy. Though the LTTE media took great pains to criticise and condemn the report without publicising its contents to the Tamil people many went direct to the web and downloaded it. Copies were made and distributed.Other community activists also distributed copies to those who needed it.
Thus most people in the Tamil Canadian community who wanted to read the report had obtained a copy by the end of the week. With the LTTE media thundering against the report many people were eager to read it themselves. The HRW report was perhaps the most widely read 'document' among Canadian Tamils in recent times that was critical of the LTTE. Many recognisedÿ in the report's anecdotal evidence the similiar experiencesÿthey personally underwent at the hands of fund collectors themselves. Soon people were talking excitedly about the hated Tiger fund raisers being exposed. Some said "if they (HRW) had contacted me I would have told them more."
Once again the 'disconnect' between the LTTE activists and ordinary Tamil people became blatantly visible. While the people were appreciating and endorsing contents of the report among themselves the Tiger minions were ranting and railing against the HRW and denying that fund raising was going on. The fact that the 'silent majority' confirming the HRW report could not come forward openly speaks volumes about the 'terror' inflicted upon the community. The HRW report itself explains this clearly. Yet the LTTE too was unable to get any prominentÿ 'non-Tiger' Tamils to speak out against HRW. Manyÿ engaging in the orchestrated anti-HRW campaign are recognised as Tiger sympathisers and supporters.
Credentials of Jo Becker
With some critics raising questions about the HRW methodology and credentials of Jo Becker the HRW came out with a press release clarifying those matters. It also highlighted some provisions already mentioned in the report but conveniently ignored by the Tiger elements. This statement was depicted as a HRW admission of guilt. The HRW was 'backtracking' the LTTE gloated. This was simply not true and served to illustrate the depths to which the Tiger acolytes can sink in maligning their perceived opponents. The HRW continues to stand by its report and has not backtracked at all.
The HRW also opened up space on its website for comments and suggestions about the report. Instead of utilising an opportunity to express legitimate, constructiveÿcriticism about the report an orchestrated campaign was once again underfoot to malign and slander the HRW and Becker. But very soon the non-Tigers and anti-Tigers jumped in.
It was thereafter a verbal free for all. The report and its contents were forgotten. Totally irrelevant issues were raised. Foul language was used. Charges and counter charges prevailed. It was another missed opportunity for Tiger supporters to convey their views effectively. However one thing was clear. The Tigers and their supporters have lost the monopoly they once had over cyberspace.
Impact on report
While the LTTE smirked in myopic satisfaction about the HRW backtracking it would be pertinent to see what impact the report had on the mainstream media. Given the prestige enjoyed by HRW in North America the report was given much publicity. Apart from the wire services reports the CBC radio and main newspapers also gave much coverage. The CBC devoted time to the report in its Morning Metro, Current and Ontario Today programmes. Jo Becker and CTC Spokesperson, David Poopalapillai were interviewed. So too were some Tamil residents including this columnist.
Newspapers like the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star and National Post also gave coverage. Editorials were written urging the authorities to ban the LTTE in Canada. The 'rightist' National Post urging a ban was nothing new as it has done so in the past. But the real lesson for the LTTE was the role of Toronto Star, Canada's largest circulated newspaper. The Star is a liberal pro-immigrant, pro-minority journal. Yet that paper urged a ban. It also focused on this fund raising even before the HRW report and had a centre spread article. While giving space to the pro-LTTE version the Star also gave prominence to a little known non-Tiger group that welcomed the report.
In its editorial of March 16 the Star had a sly dig at those in the community saying that there was no Tiger activity in Canada. If that was the case then banning the Tigers need not make anyone object the Star suggested tongue in cheek. If the LTTE acolytes in Canada had any sense they should take serious note of the Star leader. The fact that such a reputed liberal newspaper could urge a ban demonstrates how low LTTE stock is with the Canadian mainstream. The writing may be on the wall for the LTTE in Canada if the Star response is an indicator.
The security certificate issued against Suresh Manickkavasagam in 1995 cited him as a LTTE fund raiser. That order issued under Section 40 of the Immigration Act was signed by the then Immigration Minister, Sergio Marchi and Solicitor-General, Herb Gray. It was subsequently upheld by Federal Court Judge, Max Teitelbaum. This was a clear instance where the Canadian executive and judiciary regarded the LTTE as 'terrorist' and fund raising as an offence.
Ban in the offing
After the September 11, 2001 Twin Tower bombings, the UN Suppression Of Terrorism Act was passed in Canada too. Under this act financing of terrorism was expressedly forbidden. The LTTE was listed under this law and funding the Tigers was made illegal. Canada also passed a rigid anti-terrorist law called the Anti-Terrorism Act or C-36. More than 30 foreign organisations were banned under that law but not the LTTE. Though security agencies had recommended a ban it was put on hold. It was reported then that the former Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham had persuaded his cabinet colleagues not to ban the LTTE as the organisation was engaged in a peace process and that a ban may affect it.
This was under a Liberal Party Government. Now the Conservatives are in power. Two present cabinet ministers have while in the oppositionÿ calledÿ for a ban on the LTTE . They are the Foreign Affairs Minister, Peter MacKay andÿPublic Safety Minister Stockwell Day.
Interestingly enough these are the two ministers who would have a key role to play in determining which organisations are to be banned under the terrorism act. Day was foreign affairs critic when in the opposition and consistently called for a LTTE ban. MacKay called for a ban during the parliamentary polls campaign but 'muted' his views because of pressure from Toronto region candidates.
Since there is a substantial Tamil voting bloc in about 10 to 12 ridings or electorates, Conservative candidates including one of Sri Lankan origin did not want to upset them. This was under the mistaken impression that the LTTE controls Tamil voters in Canada. Once again the vociferous minority hogging the Tamil megaphone had created that illusion. In actual terms this was not true. Except for some hardcore Tiger supporters most Tamil voters decided independently. These decisions were based on a number of issues affecting them as 'Canadians' and not on a single 'Tamil' based issue.
The LTTE elements who had been backing the Liberals in the past few elections switched sides this time and expressed support for the Conservatives. This was due to two reasons. One was the realisation that the Liberals were on the decline and that the Conservatives were the favourites. The second was to influence the Conservatives and prevent harsh action against the LTTE. The electoral verdict however showed that the Greater Toronto region remained Liberal or New Democratic. The Conservatives did not fare well here because of the new immigrant, visible minority vote.
It remains to be seen therefore what the Conservative Government will do. Some weeks ago Day was asked about this at a press conference and he replied that the matter was being looked into. This was before the HRW report. What the report has done is to inform mainstream Canada about the activities of the LTTE and about how a segment of Canada's population is being victimised by a group claiming to represent them. The issue is about a section of Canada's population being under 'attack' in Canada. This is an assault on the freedom,ÿ rights and core values of Canada.
In a sense the issue has moved beyond the realm of foreign policy. What is at stake here is the violation of the law and basic tenets of human rights. This is now a Canadian issue. The hardhitting editorial by a liberal newspaper like The Toronto Star is an index of how progressive mainstream opinion views the problem. If the LTTE wants to stave off a future ban it needs to undertake a massive damage control exercise.
Unfortunately those who claim to support the LTTE have shown themselves incapable of gauging or meeting the challenge. They have only been able to engage inÿ predictableÿ antics. Accusing the HRW of ulterior motives and colluding with Colombo, denigrating the integrity and efficiency of Jo Becker, denying that fund raising takes place, attacking people suspected of providing information as anti-Tiger or mercenaries, derisively mocking their perceived critics etc. These cheap, puerile tactics may win them applause among Tiger supporters but will not help their cause in any way.
The LTTE has also commenced its usual practice. Many people suspected of helping the HRW are being attacked in their media. Threatening telephone calls are also being made. This columnist too is at the receiving end. Though I was not involved with the HRW report and references to me in the report were taken by the HRW from an open letter I wrote in 1996 the Tiger media has started vilifying me. The usual anonymous calls are also on. If this 'intimidation' was intended to make me back off, it has been counter-productive.
What these elements failed to comprehend was that I had no connection to the report and I had planned on remaining aloof from commenting about it. I revised my decision and started writing extensively for three reasons. One was the challenge issued by the LTTE website Nitharsanam that it would slander and defame me if I wrote anything. Secondlyÿ was my disgust at the conduct of some Canadian Tamils denying the fund raising itself and defending the indefensible.. Thirdly I was angered by the attacks launched on Jo Becker and HRW for having written a truthful report and felt they should be supported publicly. As long as the LTTE launches vituperative attacks I would continue espousing this HRW report.
The LTTE is yet to learn that 'bullying' does not always pay. In December 2004 the HRW released a report on child soldiers. A meeting was held at the Scarborough Civic Centre. A gang of pro-Tiger hooligans invaded the place and constantly heckled Jo Becker. Even former Ontario Premier Bob Rae was prevented from addressing the meeting for a long time. An enraged Rae exclaimed that in his 25ÿ years of public life he had never undergoneÿ such an experience.
Another HRW report
But did the LTTE supporters gain anything by this show of force? Instead of being cowed into silence the very same Jo Becker has come out with another HRW report. Still the LTTE supporters continue with their intimidatory tactics. This has resulted in many people coming forward with their experiences and the truth. For the first time perhaps four Tamil persons in Toronto were bold enough to sign an open letter with their real names criticising the LTTE and endorse the report. More than one person was emboldened to speak out feely to the media.
Realistically however one cannot see the fund raising end unless and until a satisfactory political settlement is reached in Sri Lanka. Those committed Tiger supporters as well as Tamils yearning for an end to the oppression of the Sinhala state would keep on giving money for the Tamil cause. The problem however is in adopting coercive tactics to make people give more or to make those unwilling to give. If Tiger agents desist from intimidating the unwilling and incapable and relyÿ only on their diehard supporters for money then there would not be any major problem. The Tamils who took up refuge in Canada should not be victimised by an organisation claiming to represent them.
Post subject: Funding Terror
Sat Feb 16, 2008 8:19 am
Poor or financially strapped Tamil families living in London are asked to pay a monthly contribution of 40 British pounds apiece, while the Tamils who operate a Hindu temple in Canada are expected to come up with the equivalent of 700,000 euros - as a “contribution to the final war.”
@ and source: "Tamil Tigers exploit exiles abroad to fund insurgency"By Rüdiger Falksohn and Padma Rao / Daily Times
Posted on Saturday, February 16, 2008
The Tigers are said to have the second-highest budget of all separatists, outdone only by Colombia’s FARC guerillas, with their sizable cocaine revenues. The British military publication Jane’s Intelligence Review and the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch recently published details of the group’s sources of funding.
According to the report, the Tigers raise up to $300 million a year, or between 80 and 90 percent of their total budget, abroad. Overseas Tamils are expected to donate funds, making private households and businesspeople the group’s principal source of funding. Human Rights Watch describes the Tamils’ fundraising method as “extortion.”
Indeed, poor or financially strapped Tamil families living in London, for instance, are asked to pay a monthly contribution of 40 British pounds apiece, while the Tamils who operate a Hindu temple in Canada are expected to come up with the equivalent of 700,000 euros - as a “contribution to the final war.”
With one in four Tamils living abroad, the number of potential donors runs upwards of 800,000. The largest diaspora is concentrated in Canada (about 250,000 people), followed by India (150,000), Great Britain (110,000), Germany (50,000), Switzerland, France and Australia (30,000 each). LTTE allegedly demands that Tamil expatriates contribute 20 percent of their earnings to the Tigers’ cause, and Tamil cultural organizations are believed to employ money collectors who then funnel the revenues through circuitous routes to “Eelam,” as the Tigers’ realm is known.
Converting dollars into weapons: The collected dollars are often converted into weapons before reaching Sri Lanka. The weapons are shipped to Jaffna, the Tamil stronghold, primarily from southern India. Speedboats take only 45 minutes to cross the 35-kilometer Palk Strait between India and Sri Lanka. They often arrive loaded with overstock from a global weapons bazaar: Ukrainian explosives, Bulgarian SA-14 short-range missiles, bazookas from Cyprus, grenade launchers from Croatia and guns from Cambodia, Thailand and Burma.
To pay for all of this, the Tigers have apparently even turned to the illicit use of credit cards. In Norway, 16 LTTE supporters were put behind bars for credit card fraud last May. Authorities in Singapore and Thailand have raided criminal gangs outfitted with blank credit cards and reading devices designed to crack secret codes at ATMs.
The Tigers are organized centrally and hierarchically. According to Jane’s, the organization’s finances are handled by the Aiyanna Group, which is run by LTTE intelligence chief Potta Amman, and the Office of Overseas Purchases, headed by senior LTTE official Kumaran Pathmanathan (hence the nickname KP Department). Pathmanathan is believed to be in charge of securing financial contributions and allegedly works hand-in-hand with groups like the World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC) in the borough of Queens in New York.
The WTCC, for its part, denies any involvement with LTTE, which is listed as a terrorist organization in North America and in the European Union. Many Tamils who fled Sri Lanka in the early 1980s in the wake of pogroms committed by the Singhalese majority, or who have traumatic memories of the violent acts the government has committed in fighting the Tigers, support the LTTE voluntarily. They see the organization as the defender of a just cause.
Those who don’t see it this way receive house visits from money collectors whose repertoire ranges from subtle encouragement to blatant extortion. Anyone who consistently refuses to pay up runs the risk of anything from harassing phone calls to a ransacked apartment, can run into problems when travelling home to Sri Lanka and endangers family members. According to a Tamil who has been at the receiving end of Tiger harassment, “they simply say: we’ll show you. We all know that this can be a matter of life and death.” courtesy spiegel online
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