The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka.
The group was formed in response to discrimination against the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government, after peaceful protests had been repeatedly met with violent repression. It waged an armed struggle for nearly three decades.
The LTTE was militarily defeated in 2009, and no longer exists. Yet people are still being penalised for alleged links with the group. This is happening in Sri Lanka, in Australia, and in other countries.
In Australia, Tamils who have been officially recognised as refugees by the Australian government are nevertheless being kept in detention with no prospect of release, because the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation claims they are a security threat. No clear explanation has been given for this claim, but it seems the assessment is based on alleged links to the LTTE.
While the government refuses to release figures, it is believed that 40 Tamil refugees, along with four refugees from other countries, are still being detained on the basis of negative ASIO assessments. Nine Tamils and one other person previously detained on this basis have been released after several years in detention, with no clear explanation of why they are no longer considered a threat.
The LTTE was never put on Australia’s official list of “terrorist organisations” but it was put on a separate list of “proscribed entities”. The latter list was created in response to a United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in September 2001, which called for economic sanctions against groups involved in terrorism.
However, the UN never compiled a comprehensive list of organisations on which sanctions should be imposed, probably because there was no unanimity among the members of the Security Council about which groups should be included. It is left up to individual governments to compile their own lists.
In Australia, groups can be added to, or removed from, the list by the foreign affairs minister. The LTTE was added to the list at the request of the Sri Lankan government. The Australian government could remove the LTTE from the list at any time if it chose to do so.
A penalty of up to five years jail can be imposed for providing money or other assets to a “proscribed entity”. This is less than the penalty for belonging to a “terrorist organisation”, but still very severe.
In 2007, three Australian citizens of Tamil origin were charged with belonging to a “terrorist organisation”. Because the LTTE was not on Australia’s list of designated terrorist organisations, the prosecution planned to prove that the LTTE was a terrorist organisation by calling Sri Lankan government officials as witnesses.
However, this plan was dropped when it became clear that the defence would challenge the credibility of such witnesses, who were part of a government that was itself carrying out a policy of state terrorism against the Tamil people.
Instead the three men were charged with “making assets available to a proscribed entity”. The three men had been involved in collecting aid for people living in LTTE-controlled areas of Sri Lanka. In distributing this aid, they necessarily had to work closely with the LTTE, which was the de facto government of these areas.
Tamil areas on the east coast of the island were badly affected by the December 2004 tsunami. The LTTE took the lead in rebuilding the affected areas. Tamils around the world, including Australia, assisted in this effort.
Regardless of the purpose of the aid, the fact that the three men had provided “assets” to the LTTE left them with little choice but to plead guilty to this charge.
The charges against the three men were aimed at intimidating members of the Tamil community in Australia, and deterring them from assisting Tamils in Sri Lanka in rebuilding the LTTE-controlled areas, and in their struggle for human rights and national self-determination.
In April this year the Sri Lankan government listed 15 other organisations, in addition to the LTTE, as proscribed organisations, which it wants governments around the world to ban. The list includes the Australian Tamil Congress, a representative body of Tamils living in Australia, and the World Tamil Congress. In addition, 424 individuals, mainly Tamils living in exile, were also proscribed.
The Australian government has not added the Australian Tamil Congress to its own list of proscribed organisations. However, the LTTE remains on the list. This means that Australian Tamils still have the threat of prosecution for aiding the LTTE hanging over their heads. It also provides a spurious justification for detaining refugees as “security threats”.
The LTTE is banned in a number of countries around the world. Bans were imposed in India in 1992, the United States in 1997, the United Kingdom in 2000, Canada in 2006, and the European Union in 2006.
These bans were imposed because the governments of these countries were opposed to the Tamil national liberation struggle. Most Tamils living in exile were sympathetic to the LTTE, seeing them as freedom fighters, not terrorists. The banning of the LTTE in various countries was aimed at intimidating Tamils from supporting the struggle for self-determination in their homeland.
Today the LTTE no longer exists, but the Sri Lankan government accuses Tamils of trying to revive it. There is no evidence for this claim, which is used as a pretext for the continuing repression of the Tamil people, including arrests, torture, disappearances and murder.
The ban on contact between Tamils living in Sri Lanka and Tamil organisations in the diaspora, such as the World Tamil Congress and the Australian Tamil Congress, creates obstacles in spreading information about the oppression of Tamils on the island to an international audience.
The continued proscription of the LTTE in Australia and elsewhere means that Tamils living in exile still fear they could be prosecuted for allegedly trying to revive the LTTE.
Hence it is important for human rights activists to campaign for an end to these bans.