|Justice at last for Tigers' ruthless mastermind?|
|Wednesday, 03 December 2008|
South China Morning Post
It is heartening to read that the Sri Lankan army has recaptured much of the territory in northern Sri Lanka held for many years by Velupillai Prabhakaran's Tamil Tigers. A decisive victory by Sri Lankan government forces would at last bring peace and a return of prosperity to the war-torn country, and might also offer the prospect of justice for one of the world's most ruthless terrorist masterminds.
Few people remember that, from the 1930s to the 1980s, Sri Lanka was recognised as a leading Asian country, both in terms of economic growth and educational levels. It was identified in the 1980s as an "Asian tiger" which seemed to have the potential for the same sort of growth that has transformed Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
What went wrong is much disputed, but there is little doubt that the government of president Junius Jayawardene in the 1980s bears a heavy responsibility for deliberately increasing majority Sinhalese discrimination against Tamils as a political tool. Equally, irresponsible social attitudes on the part of the Sri Lankan ruling class led successive governments to neglect the plight of the poorest, leading to increasing desperation, in turn feeding the rise of extremism.
I studied Sri Lankan politics as an international observer for its 1994 general election. A few political facts overlooked in the propaganda crossfire merit mention. First, Sri Lanka, despite many shortcomings, is a strong democracy. Elections there are better organised and more punctiliously scrutinised than in Hong Kong. Second, a majority of Sri Lankan Tamils have always supported parties that favour continuation of a united Sri Lanka. Despite massive intimidation and terrorism by the Tigers, parties supporting division of the country have never had more than minority support among Tamils. The Tigers' demand for a separate north-eastern homeland of "Eelam" is an undemocratic attempt by a minority to force its will on the majority.
Whatever justification there might have been for the demand for "Eelam" has been completely removed by the depraved conduct of the Tiger leadership. Operating a rigid totalitarian system of which Stalin would have been proud, the Tigers have systematically hunted down and assassinated prominent Tamils who supported a united, multi-ethnic Sri Lanka. Well before al-Qaeda popularised the suicide bomb, this form of terrorism was pioneered by the Tigers, who have also made extensive use of child soldiers and of child suicide bombers. Prabhakaran is said to personally choose boys aged 14 to 16 for recruitment to the "Black Tigers" suicide bomb squads.
Earlier this year I wrote that the great dream of the International Criminal Court was to end the centuries-old situation where the law has been, in the words of Jonathan Swift, "a spider's web which catches small flies but from which wasps and hornets break free". With movement at last in northern Sri Lanka, there is finally a chance that a large and malevolent hornet will be brought to justice.
Paul Harris is a barrister and was the founding chairman of Human Rights Monitor.
|Last Updated ( Thursday, 23 July 2009 )|
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