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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)

LTTE takes battle to the US courts

9th November 1997

The LTTE has filed a case in the US federal courts of appeal challenging its designation as a terrorist organisation by the American Secretary of State. One can clearly see that it is going to be a very, very expensive legal battle if one considers the team of lawyers that the Tigers have assembled to fight for them. Ramsey Clark who will lead the LTTE’s legal team was the US Attorney General under President Carter. Then there is Prof. Richard Falk who is the Professor of Law at Princeton university and Prof. David Cole, Professor of Law at Georgetown university. LTTE’s representative for North America, Rudrakumaran Viswanathan who is a lawyer based in New York (chambers at 875, Avenue of the Americas, NY) and Wakely Paul, a Tamil lawyer from UK are also on the team.

A long letter addressed to the US court of appeal signed by Velummayilum Manogaran, the LTTE’s representative of its International Secretariat at 211 Katherine’s Road London officially authorising the Ramsey Clark and others to appear as the legal counsels of the Liberation Tigers, states, among other things, an important point which sustains the organisation’s legitimacy to some degree among the Tamils. It says “The LTTE is a national liberation movement seeking to realise the right of the Tamil people to self determination pursuant to the mandate given by the Tamil people in the 1977 election, the last authentic election held in the Tamil areas of Sri Lanka”

I understand that money for fighting the case will be provided by Tiger sympathisers and supporters in the United States.

The LTTE has not been deterred in this matter by the adverse verdict it got from the Canadian courts on the Suresh Manickavasagam case. And also regarding LTTE’s legal challenge against the terrorist listing, a US government official in Washington suggested that the Tigers’ legal team may have a tough time particularly in view of the fact that some Green Berets were injured in the Galadari blast on Oct. 15.

Tiger activists in North America seem to consider such legal battles as providing the organisation an international forum to advocate their cause. And this also enables the LTTE to cultivate lobby groups and buy influence whether they win the case or not at the end of the day.

“The legal issues, documentation and expert evidences which are occasioned by these cases help us very much in basing the arguments for our struggle within rigorous and acceptable international legal norms” said Rudrakumaran Viswanathan when I asked him recently in Toronto about the wisdom of carrying on with legal battles which by any measure look hopeless to the layman. The LTTE, for example, has fought the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case for four years in the special TADA court in Madras.

The first point here is that the Liberation Tigers could not have embarked on this bold venture without the assurance of solid financial and infrastructure support from the powerful Tamil groups in the States.

This is contrary to recent predictions that the listing would see the beginning of the LTTE’s end in the United States. The LTTE supporters in the US say that their fundamental rights as US citizens to peacefully support the cause they espouse is guaranteed by American constitution and particularly the first amendment to it which ensures and defends the freedom of expression.

In late August this year I had a meeting with Karen Hideko Sasahara at the State Department’s office for Counter Terrorism in Washington. Two things were clear from the discussion. One was that the US listing was already determined and the Secretary of State was awaiting the operation of some purely bureaucratic mechanism to formally announce the designation. And the other was that the listing does not in anyway automatically entail a hammer and tongs hounding of the Tigers and their supporters in America.

It was a political windfall for Mr. Lakshman Kadirgamar that he happened to be in the right place when Madeline Albright announced the list.

Nevertheless it is obvious that the unqualified admiration which Mr.Kadirgamar rightly commands among hard line Sinhala nationalists and the Buddhist clergy for the honest manner in which he strives to crush the Eelam cause has been further enhanced by the listing.

(Under these circumstances, I think he might be correct in choosing to ignore, in his wisdom, predictions in various Tamil circles that his name will eventually replace those of Kaakai Vanniyan and Ettappan in the Tamil lexicon).

The problem here is that the gung ho approach of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy establishment helps it little in seeing and navigating the nuances of the vast grey areas of international power and politics. The American listing has been presented in black and white - as a hey presto case.

In the final analysis, I see such international legal situations in which the LTTE has been compelled to test its cause might eventually create a pragmatic and durable basis for peace in our time. For example in a very significant departure from usual practice, the Liberation Tigers in their letter to the US court of appeal chose to describe the mandate of the 1977 election as one for self-determination and not Thamil Eelam (although it is for the latter that the TULF sought a mandate then). Now this might be a step in the direction of the middle ground between the maximum the government is prepared to offer and the minimum the Tigers are prepared to give up in their demand for a separate state.(this may be verified if there is a LTTE representative at the proposed discussion on a solution at Harvard later this month)

Being fully cognisant of the pitfalls of reading too much between the lines in these matters, I would hazard the suggestion that it might be useful for third parties, if the government at some point genuinely wants to talk to the Liberation Tigers, to consider Manogaran’s letter of authorisation to the US court of appeal along with a document sent by the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America which is the most powerful expatriate lobby group that the LTTE may lay claim to in the world today. This is so because it is led by very powerful South Indians domiciled in America with key political links in Tamil Nadu.

The letter of the Federation to the President states “ Your government’s proposals of August 1995 have been watered down in the draft constitution published in 1996 and even more in March/ April draft. It does not address several issues of importance to the Tamils. Statements by various members of the government leave us confused as to what the actual proposals of the government are.

-Tamils will give up their demand for a separate state only if the basic principles put forth by all the Tamil parties at Thimpu are accepted.

-Before negotiations commence Tamils should be able to lead a normal life without fear, loss of life, limb or property and carry out their avocation without restriction. They should be able to purchase food and medicine and other health facilities should be restored. Tamil militancy is a response to continuing oppression, discrimination and repeated pogroms. From their experience during this period Tamils should know that the government is serious about treating them as equals.

-According to the proposals there is a concentration of power at the centre which would be in the hands of the majority. There should be inter-ethnic power sharing at the centre.

-The proposals give foremost place to Buddhism and perpetuate inequities with regard to the national flag and the anthem.

The state should be secular and the flag and the anthem changed to reflect a multi-ethnic country.

-The Chief Minister (or the governor, if elected by the people) should be the Chief Executive of the region and the President should not have the power to remove him.

-Regional land should be taken over by the centre only with the permission from the regional government.

-Tamils should have security of life, limb and property and therefore law and order should be under the regional government.

-The borders of the Traditional Homelands of the Tamils should not be altered.”

The position of the American Federation of Tamil Sangams is basically what the Tamil groups and the powerful Batticaloa group of the TULF are pushing for ultimately.

It is for the PA at this juncture to look for openings to begin a peace process.

It will be clear to the government as time goes by that isolating the LTTE internationally and weakening it militarily might never be an open and shut case.

But if one is to go by the general behaviour of the PA leadership and its foreign policy establishment, it is most probable that they might somewhat gleefully await an unfavourable verdict by the US courts on the LTTE and then realise to their dismay that it may not entail US assistance to crush Prabhaharan from the face of this earth.

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