LTTE Child Soldiers

The manner in which the Darusman Panel dealt with the issue of child recruitment is symptomatic of its efforts to minimize the atrocities of the LTTE, as well as the failure of the international community to do anything to limit these.

Having introduced the LTTE as a disciplined group, it describes some of the things it did, and declares that ‘Its tactics led to the organization’s proscription in numerous countries, including Canada, the European Union, India, the United Kingdom and the United States; its proscription intensified after 11 September 2001’.  This is perhaps an oblique way of saying that the West was not concerned about terrorism till it struck at them, but that too is misleading. It was much more recently that the West proscribed the LTTE, after it had been permitted for years to raise funds at will and continue with its wicked tactics.

The Panel does grant that ‘The LTTE was also known for its forced recruitment and use of child soldiers, including boys and girls’, the additional verbiage being typical of how its Report has been padded out. I presume it is not a suggestion that there were also some androgynous child soldiers. What the Panel omits is that amongst those knowing this were the UN in Sri Lanka, which was well aware that the LTTE continued to recruit children right through what was supposed to be a peace process. This has been emphatically put on record by the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, and one reason I have a high regard for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry (as opposed to Mr Solheim) is that Ambassador Brattskar made clear to the LTTE that it could not insist that the topic of child soldiers should be removed from the agenda at Peace Talks.

 It was Mr Brattskar who told us formally that the LTTE by the middle of 2007 was forcibly recruiting one person per family. The UN knew about this, as its Head admitted to me, but did nothing about it, a factor that is not mentioned in the Darusman Report.  The regiment of monstrous women who ran round Manik Farm claiming that women were found with slit throats had no concern at all for the children who had been recruited in the Vanni when they were supposed to be ensuring their protection.

Though in New York there were some reports about LTTE abuse of children (usually balanced in the prescribed fashion by some unsubstantiated allegation against the government), the activities of the LTTE were not unequivocally publicly condemned by the UN in Sri Lanka, though in 2009 it seems to have finally discovered that ‘There are indications that children as young as 14 are being recruited into the ranks of the LTTE’. No evidence is given of the UN in Sri Lanka having tried to stop the practice, and indeed I have pointed out how an earlier Head of UNICEF seemed to connive in it, talking of LTTE legislation, as if that excused the practice of recruiting people over 17.

Sadly the Panel too seems to play this game, even more forcefully than the former UNICEF chief did. She at least had the decency to apologize and tell me that the UN stood by the principle that recruiting people under 18 was wrong, after I had complained about her to the UNDP Resident Coordinator.

Recruitment of child soldiers by LTTE

The Panel however provides a let out to the LTTE in declaring that ‘International humanitarian law prohibits the forced recruitment of children. Although there is disagreement as to the exact age limit, States agree that it is at least 15 (Rule 136, ICRC Study). Credible allegations point to a violation of this provision insofar as they indicate that the LTTE forcibly recruited boy and girl children as young as 14, particularly in the late stages of the war. This forced recruitment, as well as the separation of young people from their families, when recruits had a high likelihood of dying in the final battles, could also amount to cruel treatment as a violation of Common Article 3.

The different ways in which the Panel expresses uncertainty is instructive. With regard to government forces, the uncertainty is as to whether particular incidents actually happened – hence stress on alleged,  may, strong inference, possibility, etc with regard to what might be the case.  With regard to the LTTE, where there is clear evidence of brutality on a number of counts, the uncertainty is as to whether these can be considered violations.  In this instance, it is positively grotesque that the Panel suggests that recruiting children over the age of 15 might not be a violation of international law. The question is in any case academic since the LTTE is not present to face charges, and it is unlikely that anyone will have the guts or the capacity to pursue those who funded it and are seeking to revive it. But this mealy-mouthedness even with regard to charges that will never be made is symptomatic of the excessive bias of the Panel.

LTTE child soldiers

What is also patent is the failure of the Panel to consider the consequences of their findings with regard to the LTTE.  If the LTTE did recruit one person and then more per family, if it forced people into laboring for military objectives, it is clear that the number of those who were legitimate targets was massive. It is also apparent that the LTTE pursued a strategy of ensuring that as many people as possible were placed in the firing line.  This was for two reasons. One was to dissuade the forces from firing at actual fighting cadres, and we know from UTHR Reports alone that the forces held back on occasion for the sake of the civilians. The second was to provoke international intervention.  Both these objectives are clear from the following extract from the December 2009 report of the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights –

As the Army was receiving the civilians, the snipers opened fire killing four soldiers. But the other soldiers betrayed no signs of reacting against the civilians. They calmly carried their dead, loaded the civilians into tractor trailers and sent them on. The LTTE seemed to pin their hopes on ensuring maximum civilian casualties, in the hope that Uncle Obama would intervene.  

Unfortunately the Darusman Panel seems to have a similar objective.

 Daily News 11 May 2011