(New York) - The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or Tamil Tigers) subject Sri Lankan Tamils living in Canada, the United Kingdom and other Western countries to intimidation, extortion and even violence to ensure a steady flow of funds for operations in Sri Lanka and to suppress criticism of human rights abuses, said Human Rights Watch in a new report released today.
The 45-page report, Funding the ‘Final War’: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora, details how representatives of the LTTE and pro-LTTE groups use unlawful pressure among Tamil communities in the West to secure financial pledges. People were told that if they did not pay the requested sum, they would not be able to return to Sri Lanka to visit family members. Others were warned that they would be “dealt with” or “taught a lesson.” One Toronto business owner said that after he refused to pay more than C$20,000, Tamil Tiger representatives made threats against his wife and children.
“The Tamil Tigers are exporting the terrors of war to Tamils living in the West,” said Jo Becker, author of the report. “Many members of the diaspora actively support the Tamil Tigers. But the culture of fear is so strong that even Tamils who don’t feel they have no choice but to give money.”
Almost one-quarter of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population fled the country during the 19 years of active warfare between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, creating a Tamil diaspora of between 600,000 and 800,000 worldwide. Nearly half of these people reside in Canada and the United Kingdom; other Western countries with a significant Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora include Germany, Switzerland, France and Australia. Many of these people or their relatives suffered human rights violations at the hands of the Sinhala-dominated Sri Lankan government and openly support the LTTE.
In late 2005, the Tamil Tigers launched an aggressive and systematic fundraising drive in Canada and parts of Europe to pressure individuals and business owners in the Tamil diaspora to give money for what they called the “final war” between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government. The fundraising campaign coincided with an escalation of LTTE attacks against Sri Lankan forces that threatened Sri Lanka’s four-year-old ceasefire.
In Toronto, home to the majority of Canadian Tamils, LTTE representatives typically press families for C$2,500 to C$5,000, while some businesses have been asked for up to C$100,000. In London, many families are asked for £2,000 and businesses are approached for amounts ranging from £10,000 to £100,000. Tamils in Norway and France report being approached for similar amounts.
Tamils unable to pay say they have been told by LTTE fundraisers to borrow the money, make a contribution on their credit card, or even re-mortgage their home. One individual who was unemployed when approached by the Tigers was told that he should cut out one meal a day to enable him to give to the LTTE.
The Tamil Tigers have long sought control over Sri Lankan Tamil institutions in Western countries, including the Tamil media, civic organizations, and Hindu temples. In 2005, the LTTE detained two U.K. Tamils for several weeks in Sri Lanka until they agreed to hand over control of a London temple to a group aligned with the LTTE.
Journalists and activists in the Tamil diaspora who openly criticize the Tamil Tigers or are perceived to be anti-LTTE have been subject to severe beatings, death threats, smear campaigns, and fabricated criminal charges by the Tamil Tigers or groups aligned with them.
“Sri Lankan Tamils living in the West fear that if they speak out about Tamil Tiger abuses, they may put themselves and their families at risk,” said Becker. “Despite the diaspora’s size and potential influence on LTTE practices, the Tamil Tigers’ threats, intimidation, and even violence have effectively stifled dissent.”
The Tamil Tigers also identify Tamils from the West who return to Sri Lanka to visit family members, and systematically pressure them for funds when they arrive in LTTE-controlled territory in the north of Sri Lanka. The assessed “rate” is often $1, £1, or €1 per day for the length of time they have lived in the West. Individuals who have lived abroad for years may be asked for thousands of dollars and told they may not leave until they produce the requested amount. In some cases, the LTTE confiscates their passports until the money is paid.
Many Tamils living in Canada or Europe fear for the safety of family members still living in Sri Lanka in areas under LTTE-control. Since the beginning of the ceasefire in 2002, more than 200 people, mostly Tamils, have been killed in Sri Lanka, apparently for political reasons. Most of the killings were attributed to the Tigers. [See “Political Killings Escalate”]
Human Rights Watch urged government authorities in Canada and the U.K. to take stronger steps to protect members of the Tamil diaspora from violence, intimidation and extortion. The report recommends the creation of an interagency task force to investigate intimidation and extortion linked to the Tamil Tigers, public education campaigns in the Tamil community to publicize relevant laws and available avenues of complaint, establishment of special hotlines for victims of intimidation or extortion, and meetings with the Tamil community to discuss concerns related to LTTE activities.
“This is not just a matter of responding to isolated criminal acts, but protecting an entire community’s right to live without fear,” said Becker. “In a multicultural society, governments cannot treat this simply as a Tamil problem. This is a Canadian problem and a British problem.”
The Tamil Tigers did not respond to written queries from Human Rights Watch regarding its fundraising activity in Western countries.
To respond to this report you may send a private email to HRW.
Selected testimonies from “Funding the ‘Final War’: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora:”
“Over the last decade and a half, there have been many incidents like this, mainly against people who attempt to put any ideas against the LTTE or criticism against the LTTE . . . so periodically, there are these attacks to keep the community quiet.”
- V. Loganathan, a German Tamil who was physically assaulted in November 2005 after organizing a memorial service for an LTTE critic killed in northern Sri Lanka
“I used to openly say how I feel, but now am very careful. People who are open get targeted, so their work is very short. You start something, you want to work for human rights, you want to make changes, but the space is very limited.”
- Tamil activist in Toronto, Canada
“My brother’s children are in the Vanni [LTTE-controlled territory in the north of Sri Lanka]. The LTTE is collecting money here and using the money to train children to fight and die with the [Tiger] army. The people who collect the money here are living a very good life and drive a nice car. They don’t seem to care that it is the children there who are forced to fight and die.”
- Toronto woman pressured to pay a monthly pledge to the LTTE
“They asked for £2,000. They said, ‘If you contribute here, you can go to Sri Lanka and visit your family. We will give you a PIN number. That number will allow you to move freely in Jaffna. Otherwise, you will have problems. If you don’t pay here, you will pay double or triple when you go to Sri Lanka.’”
- London Tamil, approached by LTTE representatives in August 2005