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V. Paying for “The Final War”: LTTE Fundraising and Extortion within the Tamil Diaspora in late 2005 and early 2006

I have a brother there [Sri Lanka]. I don’t want him to get hurt. I’m going to do whatever they ask.
—Toronto woman asked for funds by the LTTE65

Although many Tamils willingly contribute money to the LTTE, many others do so because they feel they have little choice. The same fear that silences critics of the LTTE prompts many members of the diaspora to provide financial support for the LTTE, regardless of whether they support the LTTE’s cause.

In late 2005, the escalation of LTTE attacks on Sri Lankan forces and the increase in rights abuses by both sides coincided with a massive LTTE fundraising drive among the Tamil diaspora. In Canada, the U.K., and other parts of Europe, LTTE representatives went house to house and visited Tamil-owned businesses, requesting substantial sums of money, often using intimidation, coercion, and outright threats to secure pledges.

In Toronto, individual families typically were asked to pay between Cdn$2,500 and Cdn$5,000, although some families were reportedly asked for as much as Cdn$10,000. Business owners were asked for amounts ranging from Cdn$25,000 to Cdn$100,000.66 One Hindu temple reported being asked for Cdn$1 million.67 In London, many individual families were asked for £2,000 and businesses approached for amounts ranging from £10,000 to £100,000.68 Members of the Tamil communities in France and Norway reported requests for similar sums.69 Individuals and business owners were sometimes told that the money was a “loan” that would be repaid with interest. Others were asked for an outright contribution.

The individuals requesting the funds sometimes identified themselves directly as representatives of the LTTE. In other instances, they indicated that they were from the World Tamil Movement or the British Tamil Association, organizations that are widely believed to be fronts for the LTTE. Some families told Human Rights Watch that their visitors simply stated that they had been “sent by Prabhakaran” (the supreme leader of the LTTE) to collect the funds. The fundraisers usually traveled in pairs, although some sources told Human Rights Watch that they had been approached by a group of three or four representatives.70

LTTE representatives provided a variety of explanations for how the money would be used. In many of the cases reported to Human Rights Watch, the funds were sought for “the final war.” Tamil families and business owners were told that the LTTE had a plan for driving out all Sri Lankan army forces from the North and East within two months, and that within that period the war would be over. Others were told that the LTTE was preparing to declare “Tamil Eelam” (i.e. independence) and needed to build its treasury. Some members of the community were also told that the funds were needed to gain United Nations (U.N.) recognition of Tamil Eelam, and that the U.N. would subsequently provide funds to the new Tamil state.71

One Toronto family received three visits during one week. The first visit, they said, came from three men claiming to represent the World Tamil Movement.

They said that they had been sent by Prabhakaran to collect money. They had a lot of documents and material, including information about us, such as our phone number and address. When I asked them what the money was for, they said, “We need to increase our economy. We only have two months to get the Sri Lankan army out. We have all the plans made, but we are asking the Tamil people for final support.”72

The men asked the family for Cdn$5,000. “When they asked for the money, they looked at their file. They asked how long we had lived in this house. After we told them, they said, ‘$5,000.’”73

After the family refused to give, the men returned two more times. On subsequent visits, the men again stated that the funds they sought were for “the final war.”74 The men offered to give the family until February 2006 to pay the $5,000, but the family refused.

A Tamil who has lived in London for more than twenty years described a visit he received from two LTTE representatives at his home in August 2005:

They said, “We are in this area today. Our leader in the Vanni75 asked us to collect money from each individual.” Then they asked for £2,000. They said, “If you contribute money 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.”76

The man said that he was worried by the threat. “I have a parent and siblings in Sri Lanka and I want them to see my children.”

Despite his concerns, the man tried to refuse, explaining that he was unemployed and did not have the funds. He said that the LTTE continued to pressure him, saying “You are from Sri Lanka, it is your responsibility, you must give. If you have family to look after, that is your problem. We are asking you to contribute to the freedom struggle.”77 The LTTE representatives stayed for an hour and a half, until finally the man consented to sign an agreement, promising to pay the £2,000. He filled out a form, which requested information including his income and his family’s address in Sri Lanka. He said, “I heard from others that they will stay for hours and hours talking. They won’t leave without a pledge or a post-dated check.”78

A London businessman told Human Rights Watch that in November 2005, vans came to his district of business to transport local Tamil shop owners to an undisclosed location for a meeting. That day, LTTE representatives had come to his shop and told him that they wanted to talk to all the businessmen and would return to collect him in thirty to sixty minutes. He refused to go, claiming that he had no time. However, he heard about the meeting later from one of about twenty-five business owners from his district who participated. He was told that representatives of the LTTE and British Tamil Association addressed the business owners, asking for funds for the “last fight.”

Lots of shop owners signed agreements at the meeting about the amounts they would pay. Lots of people are giving money. Some are giving £100,000. If they refuse, they are told, “In that case, you won’t go back to Sri Lanka.”79

Not long after that meeting, three men came to his shop and asked for £50,000. “They said that every shop owner was being asked for £50,000. I told them that if I gave them that amount of money, I would have to close my shop. They then asked me what was the maximum amount I could give. I told them I had no money, but they said they would come back in a month’s time.” He told Human Rights Watch that he was reluctant to give for economic reasons and because he had heard from a relative in the LTTE about LTTE human rights abuses, including child recruitment.

The shop owner reported that the same three men returned several weeks after the first visit. “They told me, ‘We are from the LTTE; we have come to collect the money.’” The shop owner again told them that he did not have any money. They left only after he threatened to call the police.80

Several sources indicated that LTTE fundraising efforts intensified in Toronto in December 2005. One Tamil whose job brought him in contact with large numbers of Tamils said he knew of at least seventy or eighty people who had been asked for money and that the majority had given.81 When asked if the pace of fundraising had increased, he said, “Definitely. Before, there were not that many people who had been visited. Now, everyone is talking about it. I’ve talked to lots of people who have given Cdn$2,000-3,000. They [the LTTE] are getting lots of money, collecting lots of money.”82

One Toronto woman said, “In this neighborhood, I talked to everyone and everyone has been visited. Six families.” She believes that the amount that families are asked for varies depending on the assets and income of the family. She said that one family that had paid off their mortgage was asked for Cdn$10,000, while another family with a smaller house was asked for Cdn$2,000.83

Another Toronto family told Human Rights Watch that they were pressed for several thousand dollars. After the family repeatedly stated that they would not pay, the LTTE representatives produced a form and said, “Can you fill this out and write down that you don’t believe in what the LTTE is doing?” The husband refused. He said, “Then they began writing and turned around the form and asked me to sign it.”84

In one case reported to Human Rights Watch, the house of a Toronto family was vandalized after the family refused to pay the LTTE. Although the police were unable to identify the perpetrators, the couple believed that the LTTE was responsible. Fearful of remaining at the same address, the family reportedly moved to a different home.85

A Toronto area businessman was visited by the LTTE in October 2005 and asked for Cdn$8,000. He responded that his business was having trouble and he did not have any money to give. Several weeks later, he was visited again at his business by four men from the LTTE. This time they asked for Cdn$20,000. The businessman again indicated that he had no money to contribute. The men responded, “Others have no room to give, but they find a way. This is your duty. You have to help your community from here. This is Mr. Prabhakaran’s request. You need to help start the war.”

The businessman said that when he continued to refuse, the LTTE said, “If you don’t want to contribute, say that you don’t want to.” The businessman again said that he was financially unable to do so. Finally, the LTTE said, “Okay, we understand that you do not want to help us, but you will learn the lesson soon. We understand that you are not considering your wife and your children.”86 When Human Rights Watch asked if he was worried about the safety of his wife and children, the man said, “Yes, of course.”

Pressures to Give Money

Within the Tamil diaspora, individuals hold a variety of views regarding the Tamil Tigers and their decision whether or not to give financial support is often based on a complex set of factors. As noted above, many are active supporters of the LTTE, and perceive the Tigers as an important and effective representative of the Tamil people and their interests. They believe in the LTTE military struggle for independence in the North and East and willingly provide financial support for “the cause.”

Others within the community do not necessarily support the LTTE’s goals or methods, but give money to protect or enhance their standing in the Tamil community or their business interests.

As discussed in this report, some people also provide funds because they have family or property in Sri Lanka and fear negative repercussions against family members or even confiscation of their property if they do not give. They also often want to maintain their ability to visit their families without encountering problems from the LTTE. Some Tamils are told that if they do not pay funds to the LTTE, they will not be allowed to return to Sri Lanka or will have “trouble” when they do. In other cases, the LTTE suggests that a refusal to give money will put family members in Sri Lanka at risk. A London Tamil told Human Rights Watch, “If you feel intimidated, if they feel that they can bully you, they make a blanket statement saying ‘We know how to deal with you. We know that you have family back home, your father or mother. We will sort you out.’”87

This person reported that the LTTE has abducted Tamils in Sri Lanka and held them ransom until family members in the West paid money to the LTTE. She told Human Rights Watch,

There have been abductions back home of people—businessmen or relatively affluent people who have refused to give them money, and who have all their children abroad, seen to be doing well. And many such people have been abducted. In such circumstances, the action is initiated there. They target a person who has obviously some considerable money and is not in need. If they have many children or close relatives living abroad, they abduct them, and then the relatives here raise a lot of money and send it back home. And of course such stories then have a huge impact here, and those who feel vulnerable give money without much questioning. This has happened many times over the years, and I personally know of people to whom this has happened.88

Pressure is particularly intense for members of the Tamil business and professional community. Many rely on the Tamil community for a significant portion of their business and fear that if they are labeled as anti-LTTE, they will lose customers or clients. One shop owner told Human Rights Watch, “If I continue to ignore their requests, they might label me as anti-Tiger and tell people ‘don’t do business with him.’”89 An attorney told Human Rights Watch, “Most professionals pay, because they are afraid that if they don’t, the World Tamil Movement will give them bad publicity and it will negatively affect their client base.”90

At a very practical level, some people agree to give simply because they do not want the hassle of being repeatedly called and visited.

Finally, a portion of the community (according to most accounts, a significant minority) is actively opposed to the LTTE. Some may have initially supported the Tigers’ cause, but have either become convinced that the Tigers can never achieve their goals militarily, or have become deeply disillusioned by the Tigers’ continuing record of human rights abuses, including the recruitment of children as soldiers and their practice of murdering political opponents. Of this group, some may still give money to the LTTE, because they feel that they have no choice, while others refuse on principle.

A Tamil in London told Human Rights Watch, “I think that most people who are giving money are not giving money for the cause. They give because of fear.”91 A medical professional in Toronto was visited by the LTTE at his office three times within a ten-day period in late 2005. Each time, he indicated that he had patients and was too busy to talk. He told us, “I heard from other businesspeople that they are asking for money.” He didn’t press for details, however. “Here, you don’t know who you are talking to, whether they are in favor of them or not.” He also said that he had relatives in Jaffna. “We are scared of what happens to them.”92

Attempts to Refuse and Resist

Few individuals dare to refuse directly the LTTE’s requests for money. In this respect, most of the individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report are not typical in the Tamil community. Individuals who are willing to speak to a human rights organization about their experiences are also much more likely to stand up to the LTTE. In many other cases made known to Human Rights Watch, individuals gave funds under pressure but declined to speak to us for fear of exposure or possible reprisals from the LTTE.

Many of the individuals interviewed for this report stated clearly that they did not support the LTTE’s methods and refused to give money, and were subsequently not pressed further for funds. One Toronto man who refused to give said, “If you are scared, they will come and sit, but if they know they won’t get anywhere, they will leave.”93 Another individual said similarly, “If you are scared, they will push; if you are firm, they will back down.”94

A firm refusal does not always guarantee that a family will be left alone, however. One Toronto Tamil was visited at his home in January 2006 by two men who identified themselves as representatives of the World Tamil Movement. When the man raised questions about the LTTE and made it clear that he did not support the LTTE, the World Tamil Movement representatives threatened him, saying “We will deal with you.” [“Nee kavanamai iru. Unnai Kavanippom. Nee poorathai parpom.”] The man said, “When you repeat this phrase to an English-speaking person, people don’t take it seriously. But for a Tamil person, the implication is that you will be killed.”95

Short of outright refusal, many members of the diaspora use a variety of methods to avoid giving money. When LTTE fundraisers come to an apartment building or neighborhood, families that receive a visit will often call their neighbors to warn them that fundraisers are in the area. Many then simply pretend that they are not at home and do not respond when the fundraisers knock.

As shown in some of the illustrations above and below, when fundraisers make contact, the individuals approached will often claim that they are not able to give because of financial problems. They may say that they have invested all of their money into their business, that they are unemployed or make very low wages, or have to support other members of their family. If they are not able to avoid giving entirely, they may use these reasons to negotiate a lower payment. Such arguments may elicit little sympathy from the LTTE, however. Individuals who have tried these arguments have been told by LTTE fundraisers that they should borrow the funds, make a contribution on their credit card, or even re-mortgage their home. One individual in London who was unemployed when approached by the LTTE was told that he should cut out one meal a day to enable him to give to the LTTE.96

Fundraising versus Extortion

Some argue that the LTTE and its front organizations are simply engaging in aggressive fundraising strategies, and that each individual is free to decide whether or not he or she wants to give. However, the evidence collected by Human Rights Watch indicates that in many cases the pressure to provide funds for the LTTE constitutes extortion.97 Some individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch were directly threatened when they refused to give; others were either told that they would not be able to visit their family members in Sri Lanka, or would encounter unspecified “trouble” if they went to visit without having contributed. Representatives of the LTTE or World Tamil Movement have also engaged in intimidating behavior, as for example, in the case of the family that was pressed to sign a written statement declaring that their refusal to give money was because they did not support the LTTE cause.

As described earlier, violent attacks and smear campaigns against journalists and activists in the West and ongoing political killings in Sri Lanka have created a culture of fear that prompts many Tamils to acquiesce to LTTE demands without protest. Even if the actual possibility of violence is remote, the community’s knowledge of such incidents and patterns creates a climate where overt warnings or threats are often not necessary.

A Toronto activist told Human Rights Watch that even though actual acts of violence in Western countries are rare,

These few incidents work to ensure that the LTTE does not have to frequently resort to violence—they create a constant backdrop of violence and impunity that gives every warning or comment by the LTTE, however superficially benign, much greater significance. The point is often made by LTTE supporters that no explicit intimidation or threat is made, but the LTTE does not have to make such explicit statements since everyone knows what they actually mean and are capable of.98

Response from the World Tamil Movement

Sitha Sittampalam, the president of the World Tamil Movement in Canada, told Human Rights Watch that the World Tamil Movement “works for the welfare of Canadian Tamils and is also concerned with the problems we face back home in terms of suppression of rights and the freedom struggle.”99

When asked about the World Tamil Movement’s relationship to the LTTE, Sittampalam told Human Rights Watch, “We are sympathetic to our cause there and because the LTTE is fighting for our rights and in the vanguard we have always campaigned to help them.” The organization’s website prominently features quotes from LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran.100 However, Sittampalam denies that the World Tamil Movement collects funds directly for the LTTE, or for any other organization. He told Human Rights Watch:

We don’t raise funds, but we canvas and advise people to help our people there [in Sri Lanka] for rehabilitation from the war and the tsunami. . . We ask them to give it to the TRO [Tamil Rehabilitation Organization] or SEDAT [Social and Economic Development Association of Tamils]. Some give to the TRO branch here, or some give bank to bank transactions. People do it individually in their own way.

When asked about reports that representatives from the World Tamil Movement ask directly for money, Sittampalam responded, “I think that is not correct. We are asking them to help these people and send it [the money] themselves.” He also denied that the World Tamil Movement collects money for the LTTE. “We do not say, ‘Give it to the LTTE.’ There are no LTTE here who are asking for money.”101 This statement is contradicted by numerous testimonies collected by Human Rights Watch.

[65] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[66] Human Rights Watch interviews, Toronto, Canada, November 2005 and January 2006.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[68] Human Rights Watch interviews, London, U.K., November and December 2005.

[69] An e-mail communication to Human Rights Watch on February 22, 2006 reported that the LTTE was approaching Tamils in Paris requesting €2,000; Norwegian media have reported that in Oslo, LTTE representatives have asked Tamils for sums of 20,000 Norwegian kroner (approximately US$3,000 or £1,700) or more. See Ny Tid, February 17, 2006,

[70] Human Rights Watch interviews, Toronto, Canada and London, U.K., November 2005 – January 2006.

[71] Human Rights Watch interviews, Toronto, Canada and London, U.K., November 2005 – January 2006.

[72] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ibid.

[75] The Vanni is an area in the North of Sri Lanka that is under LTTE control and contains the LTTE headquarters.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., November 2005.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., November 2005.

[80] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, London, U.K., January 2006.

[81] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[82] Ibid.

[83] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[85] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, January 12, 2006.

[86] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[87] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, November 8, 2005.

[88] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, November 8, 2005.

[89] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

[90] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

[91] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., December 2005.

[92] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Toronto, Canada, November 2005.

[93] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[94] Human Rights Watch interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[95] Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Toronto, Canada, January 2006.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview, London, U.K., November 2005.

[97] The Criminal Code of Canada, for example, defines extortion as follows: “Every one commits extortion who, without reasonable justification or excuse and with intent to obtain anything, by threats, accusations, menaces or violence induces or attempts to induce any person. . . to do anything or cause anything to be done. Criminal Code of Canada, Section 346. Under U.K. law, extortionist activity described in this report is considered blackmail, and defined in part as follows: “A person is guilty of blackmail if, with a view to gain for himself or another or with intent to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted demand with menaces.” U.K. Theft Act 1968, Section 21 (1).

[98] E-mail communication to Human Rights Watch, February 2006.

[99] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Sitha Sittampalam, president, World Tamil Movement, Toronto, February 3, 2006.

[100] See

[101] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Sitha Sittampalam, president, World Tamil Movement, Toronto, February 3, 2006.

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