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IX. The LTTE’s Failure to Meet Its Commitments

The LTTE has failed to meet its commitments to end its recruitment and use of children. Recruitment of children has continued during the cease-fire, and actually increased in government controlled areas. And children participated in the active hostilities between the Vanni LTTE forces and the breakaway Karuna faction. At the same time, the number of releases of children—both to the transit centers and directly to families—has fallen far short of the numbers anticipated under the Action Plan.

Between January 2002 and November 1, 2004, UNICEF documented a total of 4,600 cases of under-age recruitment.151 During the same period, the LTTE released only 1,208 children from its forces.152 Even after the Action Plan went into effect, from June 2003 through September 2004, the number of new cases of recruitment or re-recruitment was more than double the number of children released.153 As of November 1, 2004, of the cases of child recruitment documented by UNICEF, 1,395 cases were still outstanding.154 Many of these individuals are presumably still with the LTTE.

UNICEF has noted that the number of cases it registered represents only a portion of the total number of children recruited. Of the children who were released or returned from the LTTE, only about 25 percent were previously listed in the UNICEF database.

The LTTE’s unwillingness to abide by the Action Plan was evident almost immediately. On October 3, 2003, the day that the first transit center was opened to receive released children, the LTTE handed over forty-nine children whom they said had joined voluntarily but were being returned because of their age. Hours later, according to well-confirmed reports, the LTTE abducted twenty-three children in one town in the East.155  The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) said they received more than eighty complaints of child recruitment by the LTTE during the month the transit center opened, and that the vast majority of the complaints were from the East.156 The SLMM told the National Human Rights Commission that according to their investigations, only about 10 percent of all abductions were reported to them.157 

After the LTTE’s initial release of forty-nine children in October 2003, the number of children released to the transit center dropped significantly. In its first year of operation, the center received a total of only 172 children. Transit center staff told Human Rights Watch that although the center has the capacity for one hundred children, it had never held more than forty-nine, and for the six weeks between June 14 and July 29, 2004, the center was completely empty.158

The profile of children the LTTE has released to the transit centers also suggests that they are not fully integrated members of the LTTE, or may even be recruited solely for the purpose of being released to the transit center. According to UNICEF, nearly 70 percent of the children released to the transit center has been with the LTTE for less than four months. Some were recruited only weeks or even days before their release. Of the five children Human Rights Watch was able to interview at the transit center during its visit in August 2004, only one had been with the LTTE for longer than two months. Both UNICEF and Save the Children believe that at least some of the children released were those that the LTTE no longer wanted, perhaps because of difficulties during training, or medical or disciplinary problems. We also observed that of the fifteen girls present at the center during our visit, all but one or two had long hair. Typically, female LTTE cadres are given very short haircuts almost immediately after arriving at the camp. Unless they were veteran cadres, the girls’ long hair may indicate that they were never recruited for the purpose of military service.

The secretary-general of the LTTE’s peace secretariat, S. Puleedevan, told Human Rights Watch that the LTTE is “working very hard on this issue,” and denied that the LTTE practices forced recruitment. “We don’t ask people to join; they voluntarily come and join. There is no threat of forced recruitment. The LTTE is voluntarily giving their service to the people.” He conceded, “There may be some lapses. Some forces may force one or two children, but that doesn’t mean that the leadership is giving a green light to do those kind of forcible recruitment cases.... Abduction is marginal.”159 Puleedevan did not address the issue that even “voluntary” recruitment of children violates the LTTE’s international law obligations.

In a meeting with Human Rights Watch, the secretary-general of the LTTE’s political wing, S.P. Tamilselvan, referred to child soldiers and claimed that “We do not have such a phenomenon.”160 He said that the LTTE did not practice forced recruitment of children: “We reject the term of forced recruitment. Nobody forces them.... No, definitely not, we do not do that.”161 He acknowledged some that children sought to join the LTTE because of poverty, lack of educational and vocational opportunities, or because they had lost their parents and had no one to care for them, but claimed that when the LTTE discovers that a child is underage, the child is released to the transit center.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the LTTE has been recruiting children for many years, Tamilselvan blamed Col. Karuna, claiming that Karuna’s recruitment of children was a primary reason that Prabkaharan took “disciplinary” action against him.  He described Karuna’s recruitment of children as “cruel and merciless.”  Tamilselvan also claimed that the children released from Karuna’s forces were “handed back to their parents” by the Vanni LTTE, even though accounts gathered by Human Rights Watch indicated that the vast majority either returned home on their own, or were encouraged to return by Karuna’s commanders.

Tamilselvan, like Puleedevan, acknowledged to Human Rights Watch that there were some “lapses” of child recruitment and that the “leadership was not always very diligent in applying standards.”  He said that in mid-September, the LTTE took disciplinary action against some individuals responsible for child recruitment, but did not provide details.

Both Tamilselvam and Puleedevan complained that both UNICEF and the international community place too much importance on the child soldier issue.  Puleedevan told Human Rights Watch:

The child has a lot of rights; child soldiers are tenth or eleventh place. People tend to forget important rights and focus only on the child soldiers issue. Children can’t find anything tangible in their homes—no school, areas are under occupation. People don’t focus on this, only on child soldiers. We need to focus on why children are joining.162

The head of a newly-established Northeast Commission on Human Rights (NECOHR)  linked with the LTTE expressed concern regarding reports of under-age recruitment, saying, “The LTTE has to rectify these things.... We will work on this, no doubt about it.”163 However, he also complained that the LTTE’s recruitment of children gets too much attention: “I agree with the international community that children should be protected from war, but in these reports, I only see accusations. The LTTE has done lots of good things, but always people talk about under-age recruitment.”164

This database reflects under-age recruitment known to UNICEF.  The overlap between the database and children who have been returned/released is about 25%

NOTE: UNICEF has registered 1,702 cases who have returned home; these children will be considered released when they receive formal release letters from the LTTE.

Source: UNICEF Sri Lanka

[151] Some of these cases were children recruited prior to January 2002.

[152] One hundred seventy-three children were released to the transit centers, and another 918 were released directly to families. This figure includes 280 children whom the Vanni LTTE forces captured during the April confrontation with the Karuna faction and released two days later.

[153] From June 2003 through October 2004, UNICEF registered 1,424 cases of recruitment, 323 cases of re-recruitment, and 831 releases.

[154] Information provided to Human Rights Watch by UNICEF, e-mail communication, November 2, 2004. UNICEF reported that in addition to the children formally released by the LTTE, 507 children ran away from the LTTE, 1,702 were released by Karuna’s forces, and five were deceased.  Of the cases in its database, approximately 43 percent were girls, and 57percent were boys.

[155] Frances Harrison “Tigers ‘still enlisting’ children,” BBC News [online], December 10, 2003, (retrieved October 13, 2004).

[156]  Ibid.

[157] Sri Lanka National Human Rights Commission report, May 2004.

[158] Human Rights Watch interview with transit center staff, Kilinochchi, August 13, 2004.

[159] Human Rights Watch interview with S. Puleedevan, Secretary General, LTTE Peace Secretariat, Kilinochchi, August 13, 2004.

[160] Human Rights Watch interview with S.P. Tamilselvan, General-Secretary of the LTTE political wing, Geneva, October 5, 2004.

[161] Ibid.

[162] Human Rights Watch interview with S. Puleedevan, Secretary General, LTTE Peace Secretariat, Kilinochchi, August 13, 2004.

[163] Human Rights Watch interview with Fr. Karunaratnam, chairman of the Northeast Commission on Human Rights (NECOHR), Kilinochchi, August 13, 2004. The Commission claims to be an independent body but operates with the support of the LTTE. In a subsequent meeting in Geneva on October 5, 2004, Fr. Karunaratnam informed Human Rights Watch that the secretariat had secured the release of four children from the LTTE, and was investigating several other cases.

[164] Human Rights Watch interview with Fr. Karunaratnam, chairman of the Northeast Commission on Human Rights (NECOHR), Kilinochchi, August 13, 2004.

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