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Enact stringent laws to tackle int’l terrorism


Former Foreign Affairs Minister the late Lakshman Kadirgamar

“Terrorism is by no means a new phenomenon. It has been with us from the dawn of recorded history. Every single country in the world, every civilisation has at one time or another in history suffered the cruelty, the agony of terrorism” said former Foreign Affairs Minister the late Lakshman Kadirgamar, at London’s Royal Institute of International Affairs on April 15, 1998.

Excerpts from the speech:

But what is new today or at least what has been new over the last 30 years is that terrorism has acquired an international dimension. The international dimension has brought with it new concepts of terror, and more sophisticated methods of dealing with terror.

The three decades have seen the marriage of high technology, sophisticated banking and terror, that is new, that is sinister, that is immensely frightening, particularly to those who are presently the victims of terror. But the implications of this new dimension, are something that all of us have to take very seriously even if we are living today in secure countries.

International terrorism means quite simply terrorism, which is supported in one form or another from outside the country where the terrorist act occurs. There is a narrow definition of terrorism that means state-sponsored terrorism.


Central Bank, a civilian target of the LTTE

Why is terrorist crime so abhorrent? For one thing it is clear that in the last few years in particular, a number of societies both in the East and the West, North and South, have suffered from terrorism and have been very frightened by what has happened. They have been shocked and revolted. The World Trade Centre bombing in New York and the Oklahoma bombing a few years ago, caused only 174 deaths, but the ripples, the shock waves of those two events, were felt very far and wide in the United States of America. Twenty deaths in one incident is certainly more sensational, more news worthy than 20 separate incidents with one death in each incident. But in the United States of America 15 deaths a year are caused by shooting and that is not a matter of particular alarm. Another aspect of the impact of terrorism is that it is something which happens indiscriminately. It is something that happens in a mindless kind of way. But on the other hand even burglary does not have a relationship between perpetrator and victim, it is also in a sense mindless.

There is something else about terrorism that causes so much shock convulsions. I think the terrorist act is seen as an attack on society as a whole, on democratic institutions. A terrorist attack is an act of war against society.

Terrorist violence is typically directed towards members of the public or a section of the public indiscriminately or at random. Secondly, terrorism frequently involves the use of lethal force and is capable therefore of causing extensive damage, casualties to the civilian population. Thirdly, terrorism creates fear among the public which is precisely what it is intended and designed to do. Fourthly, its purpose is to secure political or ideological objectives by violence or threat and therefore aims to subvert the democratic process. Fifthly, the terrorist act is often committed by well-trained, well-equipped, highly motivated, more than adequately funded and financed individuals acting on behalf of organisations often overseas.

Definition of terrorism

In the United Kingdom there is a definition of terrorism. It is to be found in Section 20 of the United Kingdom Prevention of Terrorism Act. This is, a useful working definition that it has been found now to be too narrow. The definition is as follows: “The use of violence for political ends including any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear.” In recent years, in the United Kingdom there have been many inquiries conducted into the scope and purpose and object of legislation covering terrorism. The most recent one was chaired by Lord Berwick, and his report was submitted to the House of Commons in September 1996 and in the course of a very comprehensive study of the subject, he proposed a wider definition based on the working definition of terrorism which is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI of the United States of America. This definition is acceptable, but there is room for a little further qualification refinement, - filtering perhaps to catch some of the nuances or the expressions of terrorism that we are now becoming more familiar with. Lord Berwick’s definition, with the few additional words that I propose reads as follows:

“The use of or the threat to use serious violence, Lord Berwick suggested serious violence against persons or property or the use of or the threat to use any means to disrupt vital computer installations or communications”.

We have already come to the stage when interference with computer installations and electronic communications of various kinds is the focus of terrorist activity. The definition would go on “to intimidate or coerce a government, the public or any section of the public in order to promote political, social, ideological, religious or philosophical objectives”. I would expand the definition that way bringing in objectives of terrorism, which are wider than merely political.

There are two basic approaches to terrorism adopted by States. The first is the ‘Nelsonian’ approach, turning a blind eye! Many States which are not directly affected by acts of terrorism on their own soil, but who are aware that terrorist acts are committed on the territory of other States but where there are links between the terrorists concerned in the other State and in your own State, adopt a policy of well, what’s happening is happening somewhere else, those people are their terrorists, they are not our terrorists, thank heavens for that, we will wait and see.

Sri Lanka has been the victim of that approach for a long time. It is one of 4 or 5 countries, which by any reckoning is one of the most terrorist afflicted countries in the world. The others who might fall into that category are perhaps Peru, Algeria, Egypt, but certainly, unarguably Sri Lanka. I have had it said to me in the course of discussions which I have had on behalf of my Government with other governments, all friendly governments, I have had it said, “well, we are very sorry that Sri Lanka is undergoing terrorism of this kind we wish we could do something to help you, unfortunately there is nothing we can do because we do not have laws in place that enable us to do anything about terrorism in your country.”

And when I say that the terrorism in my country is financed to a very large extent by activities which take place by a certain organisation in the country where I am discussing this question, I met with the answer “well, we don’t have much evidence, if you can find the evidence we might be able to do something about it,” to which my reply has been, well how can I possibly find evidence of preparations to commit terrorist activities in my country which are taking place in your country which is thousands and thousands of miles away from my country. This has gone on for many years. Then there have been so many occasions when after a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, in a city, in a temple, in a mosque, in a railway train, in a business centre, in a school, numerous messages of condolence, sympathy and succour arrive and I have often said to myself, well it is good to know at least that our friends remember us on these sad occasions, but as the messages have gone on and on and then one finds that the senders all friendly countries begin to run out of ‘adjectives’ these condolence messages become repetitive.

It is a question of horror, shock, outrage and then the whole cycle all over again the next time when a bomb goes off.

The Times of London in its issue of October 23, 1997 in an article headed “British Tamils fund war in Sri Lanka” - reported the raising of Pound Sterling 250,000 a month by the LTTE from Tamil nationals living in Britain. According to this report, the LTTE’s worldwide income is believed to be about Pound Sterling 1.25 million per month, some of which goes to humanitarian causes but most of which funds the sophisticated war machine.

The Times of London is not a hysterical newspaper. Recently one has become aware of the use by the LTTE of electronic or wire communication systems or networks to carry out criminal acts. The LTTE has actively engaged itself in using international information networks such as the Internet for their fund raising activities to perpetrate acts of terrorism in Sri Lanka. Appeals have been made through Internet bulletins, which are designed to appeal to the humanitarian sentiments of the donor communities but in reality it is aimed at raising funds for LTTE activities. In these bulletins the LTTE has been specifically listed as one of the organisations to which funds could be channelled for, I quote “humanitarian purposes.” These bulletins appeal for donations to be made to LTTE related organisations based in Western capitals rather than to recognised international humanitarian organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and reputed NGOs based in Sri Lanka. Thus the humanitarian facade is only a convenient cover for the perpetration of terrible crimes by the terrorists.

Appeal for money

An appeal for money for the LTTE made through Freenet Carlton of Carlton University of Canada openly acknowledges that this particular fund raising is for the purchase of missiles for the LTTE.

Furthermore, the LTTE has also made attempts at interfering and disrupting E-mail communication systems of the Sri Lanka Government agencies through technical sabotage. Another development which requires the immediate attention of the international community is the resort by the LTTE through its overseas offices to issuing direct threats to international maritime navigation as evidenced; particularly the threat issued from its London based International Secretariat at 211 Catherine Road.

The LTTE does not confine their activities to the mere issue of such threats it has also demonstrated its policy of unlawfully interfering with international maritime navigation by attacking vessels in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka. Such attacks cause violence to persons on board, caused damage to vessels and cargo and have endangered the safety of navigation.

In carrying out these acts the LTTE is deliberately targeting the movement of civilians and foodstuff being transported for distribution among the people in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Their offices in these capitals continue to be the nerve-centre for the perpetration of these activities in Sri Lanka.

International co-operation as envisaged in the United Nations Resolution and Declaration has therefore become vital to set in motion regulatory controls on the abuse of electronic mail or wire communication systems and networks recognising that terrorist groups are now openly abusing Internet facilities for criminal activities with impunity. Another important issue on which the UN Convention has focused is the abuse of refugee status. There is a clear linkage between fund raising activities of terrorist groups in foreign countries and the trafficking of asylum seekers into those countries. The presence of a substantial population of asylum seekers on foreign soil greatly facilitates the generation of funds through extortion.

Apart from supporting the perpetration of terrorist activities in Sri Lanka, the abuse of asylum and trafficking of persons also facilitates the displacement of people both internally and externally.

The so-called refugees are known to have exploited and abused the welfare system generously provided for them by the host country. It represents a gross distortion of a system of protection that was provided with purely humanitarian considerations as its objective.

The UN Declaration makes it clear that the convention relating to the status of refugees does not provide a basis for the protection of perpetrators of terrorism. In other words, under the new UN Convention it would not be open to persons who claim the status of refugees to seek protection if they are found to be guilty of assisting or conspiring in the commission of acts of terrorism.

I wish to make some proposals with regard to legal measures that could be taken.


The LTTE amassed large stocks of weapons with funds collected abroad

First, measures should be taken to introduce necessary domestic legislation to give effect to international legal obligations undertaken in the field of the suppression of terrorism, in particular legislation should be introduced to give effect to the obligations under the convention on the suppression of terrorist bombings which was passed by the General Assembly last December. Legislative and other measures should also be introduced to deal with the abuse of Internet communication facilities.

Secondly, measures should be taken to reform the law relating to conspiracy in the United Kingdom. It is well known that there is a lacuna in the criminal law of the United Kingdom dealing with the crime of conspiracy. At the moment it is not a criminal offence to conspire within the United Kingdom to commit or abet the commission of a terrorist act outside the country. The most recent survey of anti-terrorism legislation conducted in the UK, that is the Committee headed by Lord Berwick, came clearly to the conclusion that the most significant additional measure which the government can take is to amend the law of conspiracy so as to facilitate the prosecution of those who conspire here to commit terrorist acts abroad.

Fund raising

Thirdly, the very important question of terrorist fund raising! The existing legislation in the United Kingdom has provision in the Prevention of Terrorism Act for curbing fund raising activities of foreign terrorist organizations. This provision is ascribed by certain limitations.

It applies only to a certain number of designated countries, 24 in number, which means it does not apply to countries which are not designated under the Act and Sri Lanka is one such country, which is not designated under the Act. Lord Berwick therefore proposes that there should be a significant extension of the powers conferred on the authorities in the UK to curb fund raising activities indulged in by terrorist organizations.

The LTTE is unarguably the most effective, ruthless terrorist organization that we have seen this century, its role in the United Kingdom in relation to Sri Lanka is one that gives our people great pain of mind.

I accept the fact that there are deficiencies in the laws of the United Kingdom for the simple reason that those laws were not enacted at the time when all aspects of terrorist activities could be foreseen.

If the laws are deficient they can be suitably adjusted because one is dealing here with immense human suffering on the one side far away in a friendly country and the terrorist organisations firmly and comfortably established in the United Kingdom acting as though they can do what they like with impunity.

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