EU court removes Tamil Tigers from ‘terrorist’ list

August 5, 2017
A protest in Jaffna in February against the continuing military occupation of Sri Lanka’s north long after the Tamil Tigers were defeated.

The Court of Justice of the European Union issued a ruling on July 26 that confirmed an earlier General Court decision removing the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from the EU's list of "terrorist organisations".

The LTTE was an armed organisation fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka. It was formed in response to decades of discrimination and repression against the Tamil minority by the Sri Lankan government.

The LTTE began small scale armed actions in the 1970s, and waged a full scale war between 1983 and 2009, with some periods of truce and peace negotiations. The LTTE was militarily defeated in 2009 and the government's victory was accompanied by a genocidal massacre of Tamil civilians.

During the war, the Sri Lankan government received military aid and other support from the US, the EU, China, India, Russia and Australia. The listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation was one of these forms of support, as it intimidated Tamils living outside Sri Lanka into not supporting the struggle in their homeland. Even those sending humanitarian aid to people living in LTTE-controlled areas of Sri Lanka were accused of supporting terrorism.

Although the LTTE no longer exists, its listing as a terrorist organisation has continued to have an intimidatory effect, because supporters of Tamil self-determination could be accused of trying to revive the LTTE.

The US listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in 1997 and the EU added the LTTE to its list of terrorist organisations in 2006. This was done despite the fact that the LTTE was engaged in a peace process at the time. comments that: "The EU decision to ban the LTTE encouraged the [Sri Lankan] State to wage a genocidal war and finally the mass slaughter against the nation of Eezham Tamils in 2009."

In Australia the situation is complicated, because there are two government lists of "terrorist" organisations.

The list maintained by the Attorney-General's department, which is the list used when people are accused of belonging to a terrorist organisation, does not include the LTTE. But there is a separate list, maintained by the Foreign Affairs department, which is used when people are accused of giving financial support to a terrorist organisation overseas. This list does include the LTTE.

In 2007, three Australian Tamils, who had been involved in collecting money for aid work in LTTE-controlled areas, were charged with offences including membership of a "terrorist organisation" (the LTTE).

Since the LTTE did not appear on the Attorney-General's department list of terrorist organisations and the LTTE had never carried out any violent actions in Australia, the prosecution intended to call Sri Lankan government officials as witnesses to prove the LTTE was a terrorist organisation.

But when they realised that the defence would be able to challenge the credibility of such witnesses, they backed down and withdrew the most serious charges.

However, the three men were still convicted on the lesser charge of providing funds to an organisation on the Foreign Affairs department's list of terrorist organisations. Robert Stary, a lawyer who defended the three men, spoke about the case at United Tamil Youth event in Melbourne on July 26.

Stary said that Australia was selected as the location for a case that would intimidate the Tamil diaspora from sending money to help the independence struggle, because Australia has no bill of rights or any equivalent of the EU's human rights law.

This case highlights the way "anti-terrorist" laws can be used against national liberation movements. Other groups classified as terrorist in many countries, including Australia, are the Palestinian group Hamas and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Supporters of the Kurdish struggle have been campaigning to end the classification of the PKK as a terrorist organisation. It is important to realise that in Australia there are two terrorism lists, and the PKK should be removed from both.

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