intellectual playing field is becoming increasingly slippery and
the goalposts are continually being shifted. When one team
commits a deliberate foul the umpire with equal severity warns
both teams to adhere to the rules. When members of one team
commit a brutal or even fatal assault on a member of the
opposing team, the team of the dead or injured player is blamed
for not having been vigilant and provided their comrade with
adequate security; the members of the team that made the attack
are not censured for carrying out mayhem and murder.
Turning from the playing field to the
real world, no doubt security lapses should be investigated and
remedial action taken for the future. But let it not be
suggested that security lapses on the part of the victim or his
guards is an extenuating circumstance. Murder is murder
irrespective of whether the victim was protected or unguarded,
vigilant or careless.
Double standards were also very
evident over the death of SLBC/SLRC journalist Relangi
Selvarajah and her husband who were gunned down on the same day
that Minister Kadirgamar was assassinated.
Although "Reporters Sans Frontieres"
issued a statement condemning the killing, one has not yet (at
time of writing) seen any statement of condemnation from the
"Free Media Movement" in this country. This is in stark contrast
to the countrywide protests that were organized by these
self-styled guardians of the media following the murder of
Tamilnet journalist Sivaram who is also believed to have written
for a section of the English media under a pen-name.
To those who asked, why mourn the
killing of an LTTE journalist, the reply was that the murder of
any journalist is a threat to press freedom. Yet a different
rule seems to apply to Relangi Selvarajah, who worked for a
State media institution, was believed to have had connections
with PLOTE (a group opposed to the LTTE) and is said to have
made documentaries unfavourable to the LTTE.
Her death, as much as that of any
other journalist, is not only a grave crime but also an attack
on freedom of thought, freedom of speech and the freedom to
follow an occupation of one’s choice, as guaranteed by the
History has shown that such freedoms
are very difficult to stamp out if they are firmly rooted in the
hearts and minds of people. But they can be imperceptibly
negated if people are unwilling to think for themselves and
credulously swallow what is handed out to them, whether by
governments, international organizations or the self-styled
guardians of "civil society".
This kind of doublespeak is not of
recent origin. Take the case of the Tamil Rehabilitation
Organization (TRO) which has just had its charity status in
Britain withdrawn by that country’s Charity Commission,
following an investigation into its role in terrorist funding
going back to year 2000.
It is reported that the TRO has also
been refused registration as a charity in Canada, while the
Australian Government was quoted in the Sri Lankan media earlier
this year as saying that it would not channel tsunami relief
funds to the LTTE or TRO.
However the TRO continues to be
registered in Sri Lanka as a NGO and charity, a status it
achieved soon after the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) in 2002. This
was after the organization had already come under investigation
elsewhere in the world for alleged links to terrorist funding.
Following the signing of the CFA, a
decision was taken by the United Nations Children’s Fund
(UNICEF), with the concurrence of the then Government, to
implement an action plan for the care of children in the North
East affected by war. This plan included the establishment of
three "transit centres" at Killinochchi, Trincomalee and
Batticaloa respectively, to house demobilized child soldiers of
the LTTE for a period of three months before they were returned
to their families.
Without any competitive evaluation
process, UNICEF thereupon entrusted the TRO with the
implementation of the project to build and run these homes. Rs.
9 million was allocated to the TRO for the construction of each
transit home. There was a separate financial component for food
and another for the salaries of staff including a considerable
number of expatriate "consultants" who came to Sri Lanka for
this project. According to informed sources, several of these
consultants described themselves as "under-aged recruitment
specialists" although it was difficult to find what academic or
professional institution conferred such qualifications.
All this was done despite strong
protests by the then Chairman of the National Child Protection
Authority (NCPA), Prof. Harendra de Silva, who headed the body
officially charged with the prevention of child abuse and
monitoring the care of the victims.
Under the NCPA Act No. 50 of 1998 the
definition of "child abuse" includes the involvement of a child
in armed conflict that is likely to endanger the child’s life or
harm the child physically or emotionally. Incidentally, this
addition to the definition of child abuse, suggested at the
drafting stage, was one of the less-known contributions of the
late Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar to the fight against
When interviewed by the press at that
time, neither UNICEF representative Ted Chaiban nor the then
Deputy Director-General of the Government’s Peace Secretariat
John Gooneratne were able to guarantee that the children housed
in these TRO institutions would not end up back with the LTTE.
While there is no absolute guarantee
of safety even for children who are returned directly to their
parents, such parents, as the legal and natural guardians of
their children, can at least use whatever means at their
disposal to protect their children. They are not reduced to
helpless spectators while their children are left to the mercies
of a host of expatriates of uncertain credentials on the payroll
of an internationally suspect NGO.
According to informed sources all
three centres were constructed but only the one at Killinochchi
was ever operational. According to estimates, just over a
hundred child soldiers passed through its doors — a miniscule
fraction of the 5,081 underage recruitments known to UNICEF to
have taken place since the CFA came into being, or even the over
4,000 child soldiers who have (again according to UNICEF) been
released, returned or run away during the same period.
By the end of 2004 the future of this
expensive project was said to be under review by UNICEF.
Observers still complain of a lack of independent financial
scrutiny regarding the funds disbursed.
The "Island" of August 18, 2005
reported that the Trincomalee District Director of TRO had been
apprehended while attempting to cross into an "uncleared" (i.e.
LTTE controlled) area carrying a sum of Rs. 2 million. The
report stated that this person had been questioned by Police and
later released — not surprisingly, since TRO fund-raising
operations remain legal in this country.
One does not know where this
particular sum of money came from, but the incident is evidence
of the nexus between the LTTE and TRO funds.
It was recently reported that the
Government has called on the international community to take
tangible action against the LTTE and its numerous front
organizations. The irony in the case of TRO is that other
countries have taken action against this organization but Sri
Lankan authorities continue to give it recognition as a
At the beginning of the transit homes
project, UNICEF representative Ted Chaiban was quoted in the
media as justifying the homes on the grounds that the transit
period would give an opportunity to assess the needs of each
child and provide the child with a break from a military
environment prior to going home.
This was surprising, to say the least,
because UNICEF representatives should know that such a process
is at variance with several provisions of the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Under Article 9(1) of the Convention,
"State Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated
from his or her parents against their will, except when
competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in
accordance with applicable law and procedure, that such
separation is necessary in the best interests of the child."
Furthermore, Article 12 of the CRC
declares that a child who is capable of forming his or her own
views has a right to express such views, and such views should
be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of
the child. A "child" for the purpose of the CRC is any person
under 18 years.
As the LTTE’s child conscripts would
generally fall into the upper age section of "children" they
would obviously be capable of expressing their views. Nowhere in
the publicity that initially attended the launching of the
transit homes project was there any reference to any proposed
consultation with the children as to whether they would prefer
to enter the TRO controlled transit home or go straight back to
All this, or course, is now in the
past. The question to be asked from UNICEF and other
international funding agencies today is whether they are going
to continue according legitimate charity status (and even
favoured charity status as with the transit homes project) to
the TRO when that organization has been blacklisted in a
significant number of countries where it has sought to operate.
Likewise the question to be asked from
the Government is how it justifies keeping the TRO as a
legitimate charity in this country when that organization has
been denied that status in so many other countries, and how this
squares up with the Government’s recent request to the
international community to take tangible action against the LTTE
and its front organizations.
To conclude, let us go back in time to
the Buddha’s sermon to the Kalama people, often quoted in this
country in support of freedom of thought, but which is also an
exhortation to think for oneself and not be misled by others. In
its original version it read thus:
"So then, Kalamas ...... Be not misled
by report or tradition or hearsay. Be not misled by proficiency
in the collections, nor by mere logic or inference, nor after
considering reasons, nor after reflection on and approval of
some theory, nor because it fits becoming, nor out of respect
for a recluse (who holds it). But, Kalamas, when you know for
yourselves: These things are unprofitable, these things are
blameworthy, these things are censured by the intelligent, these
things when performed and undertaken conduce to loss and sorrow,
— then indeed do ye reject them ..... But if at any time ye know
for yourselves: These things are profitable, they are blameless,
they are praised by the intelligent; these things, when
performed or undertaken, conduce to profit and happiness, —
then, Kalamas, do ye, having undertaken, abide therein ...." (Anguttara
Nikaya — Vol. 1 : Woodward’s translation)
However, a modern version might read
something like this: "So then, citizens: Be not be misled by
reports in the State media or the Free media. Be not be misled
by proficiency in the Constitutions of South Africa or Canada;
nor by workshops and seminars; nor after reading the
recommendation of some consultant; nor because it is
fashionable; nor out of respect for some foreign expert. But
citizens, when you know for yourselves, these things are against
the public interest, these things are wrong, these things have
been censored by the competent authority or doctored by
interested parties, these things when performed and undertaken
lead to loss and danger to the people, — then indeed should you
reject them. But if at any time you know for yourselves: These
things are in the public interest; they are right; they have not
been censored or doctored; then and only then, citizens, should
you accept and undertake them."