Human Rights Watch: Advocates protection of civilians from both government & Tigers, June 30, 2006, Daya Gamage, US Bureau of Asian Tribune.
America’s most influential and prominent human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, is deeply concerned about child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) of Sri Lanka and political killings, according to Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director for the rights group in a recent interview with the PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, a widely subscribed broadcasting and television network in the United States.
Jo Becker is the author of the HRW report entitled “Funding the ‘Final War’: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora,” which created a diplomatic and political onslaught by western nations on Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers a few months ago which led to the Canadian government and European Union’s decision to proscribe the outfit in their jurisdictions.
The Children’s Rights Division (of the HRW), in which Ms. Becker presides, focuses specifically on abuses against children, including abusive child labor, the use of children as soldiers, conditions in institutions (including detention centers and orphanages), police abuse against street children and more.
Asked what issues are most pressing in Sri Lanka now and what’s changed since the 2002 ceasefire agreement, Jo Becker said, “Violence has escalated dramatically in Sri Lanka since mid-2005. In the last few months, several hundred people, many civilians, have been killed in attacks by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced. At this point, the ceasefire appears to exist only on paper.
“We’re also concerned about continued child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers and political killings. Since the beginning of the ceasefire, more than 200 Sri Lankans, mostly (ethnic minority) Tamil, have been killed, often for being critical of the Tamil Tigers or participating in non-LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) political parties. The Tamil Tigers are believed responsible for the majority of these killings.”
To the question whether the recruitment or use of child soldiers increased or decreased, Ms. Becker noted, “Over the last four years, UNICEF has documented over 4,000 cases of child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers. We know that the true number is even higher, as many families are afraid to make reports when their children are taken. In many of these cases, children are taken by force, and families face violent retribution if they resist. More than a third of the children recruited are under the age of fifteen, which is considered a war crime.”
The United Nations and western governments should continue to pressure both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers to protect civilians from violence and strictly observe international human rights and humanitarian law, she says.
Ms. Becker advocates the establishment of a commission of inquiry (by the Sri Lankan government) “to investigate recent attacks by armed groups against Tamils, including their homes and businesses.”
She reiterated “The UN Security Council should consider targeted sanctions against the Tamil Tigers to address the group’s failure to end its recruitment of child soldiers. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) should be actively engaged in monitoring and reporting on human rights violation by both parties in the conflict.”
In 2004, Jo Becker was part of a Human Rights Watch team that investigated the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Most recently, she has been investigating the Tamil Tigers’ use of intimidation, extortion and even violence against members of the Tamil community in Canada and the UK in order to stifle any public criticism of the Tamil Tigers and to secure funds for their operations.
The LTTE or Tamil Tigers have been fighting the Sri Lankan state since 1983 to establish a separate ethnic minority Tamil independent state in the predominantly Tamil north and east of Sri Lanka charging the successive governments of discriminating against the 12.5% ethnic Tamil minority, an accusation the governments totally denied. The United States was the first country, in 1997, to designate the LTTE as a ‘Foreign Terrorist Organization.’ Most recently, the EU and Canada banned the outfit in their jurisdiction.
India, after the assassination of her Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, to which the Tamil Tiger theoretician Anton Balasingham last week described as a ‘regrettable event’, banned the LTTE there. The Government of Sri Lanka, at present, endeavors to protect the 2002 ceasefire agreement signed with the Tamil Tigers, despite Tiger provocations in recent months. (Read more on today’s Asian Tribune).