TamilWeek Feb 5, 2006
Paramilitaries: The need for a re-think

By Mirak Raheem

The issue of paramilitaries has been one that has dogged the peace
process and is expected to take centre stage at the talks between the
Government and the LTTE on reviewing the Ceasefire Agreement
(CFA) to be held in Geneva this month. In addressing the crisis of
violence that threatens to unravel the CFA, the paramilitary issue is
fundamental. Given the wide coverage on the paramilitary issue, both in
the media and by the parties, this article will focus on looking at a
solution to the problems through providing an integrated strategy with a
number of components. Each component seeks to respond to specific
problems relating to the issue, but given the nature of the problem,
implementing just one or two of them as options will not resolve the
issue as it requires an integrated approach. The larger question this
article raises is how issues such as that on paramilitaries can be dealt
with without addressing the fundamental problem of the CFA, ie the lack
of an underlying human rights and human security framework.

Components of an integrated solution

The term paramilitary is itself contested, as is the term alternate armed
groups. This article does not seek to define which group or which part
of a group would fall into this category. Rather, it calls for the parties to
look at the issue broadly, thereby covering all the main actors linked to
the problem, including the Government, the LTTE, alternate Tamil
political parties, paramilitary units, the Karuna Group and the Makkal
Padai or People’s Force popularly referred to as the LTTE’s auxiliary
forces.

In examining the problem it becomes obvious that it is difficult to adopt a
simplistic militaristic solution to the ‘paramilitary’ question, given the
political and human nature of the issue. The general approach adopted
by the parties to the talks and in designing the CFA itself is to protect
their basic military and political needs, subordinating concerns of the
populations they apparently represent. This article argues that the
paramilitary issue has to be addressed through an integrated approach
with a number of components that are mutually reinforcing and that
offer a more sustainable means of maintaining the CFA.

1) Disarmament of such groups

2) The parties committing to not assist such groups and not permit such
groups to function in areas they control or influence

3) Guaranteeing the lives of individuals who are members, supporters
or associated with the various political forces by the parties

4) Allowing all political groups to function and operate freely in
Government-controlled areas

5) All political groups and paramilitaries committing to desist from
human rights violations, crime and other breaches of ‘peace.’
Disarmament

That a disarmament process of paramilitaries will have to be conducted
for the CFA talks to be successful is clear. What is unclear is under
what terms. Given the problems of transparency and the lack of
monitoring in the original process of disarmament, doing so, this time
around, would seemingly strengthen confidence between the two
parties. One option is for all armed actors that are not integrated into
the armed forces or the LTTE to be disarmed immediately and the
provisions as per 1.8 to be followed through. Rather than trying to
interpret the CFA in strictly legal terms the parties should look at the
issue in terms of the spirit of the agreement. Hence the Government
may need to look beyond its position that it is well past 30 days since
the signing of the CFA, so the terms do not strictly apply to the Karuna
Group.

Commitment to not actively or passively support

This technical process of disarmament has, however to be
accompanied by a commitment by the two parties to ensure that they do
not actively or passively support these groups. The government, the
security forces, police and the LTTE should ensure that they do not
actively assist these groups or individuals associated, for instance,
through training or arming individuals who are not part of their
institutions, nor passively permit these armed actors to flourish in areas
they control or influence.

Both the Government and the Karuna Group claim that because the
group is independent of the state it cannot be a paramilitary.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that the Karuna Group does have the
support and protection of the armed forces in Batticaloa and Ampara.
Given the support and protection provided by these institutions of the
state, there is the critical issue of responsibility which places the onus
on the state to ensure it conforms to the terms and the spirit of the
CFA. While it is well past 30 days since the signing of the CFA the
Government has a responsibility in terms of the CFA, to maintain law
and order and to protect human rights, especially given the
responsibility attributed to and in some cases claimed by the Karuna
Group in carrying out attacks and killings.

In the recent violence a new actor has emerged in the form of the
Makkal Padai or People’s Force which claims to be a self-defence unit
to protect the Tamil people against the occupying security forces. While
the composition of the group is yet unclear, it has claimed responsibility
for attacks against the armed forces, including the claymore mines, and
the LTTE has also attributed the attacks on the armed forces to the
Makkal Padai. On account of the role played by the LTTE in training, in
reportedly arming these auxiliary forces and in having knowledge of this
group, the LTTE has a responsibility over the resulting violence and in
taking steps to contain the violence. Adopting these two measures
would seemingly contain and thwart violence and also act as an
important confidence building measure for the peace process.

Guaranteeing the rights of individuals

Dealing with the issue solely through this dual approach is problematic
as it ignores the ground reality of the current situation. The targeting
and killing of para-militants can be seen as part of a wider campaign to
eliminate opposition and to stifle dissent. The killings and counter-
killings over 2005 and 2006 between the various armed actors in the
North-East have claimed victims from across the political spectrum and
created an oppressive climate of fear. In order to better contain the
violence and ensure a more solid foundation for sustainable peace it
requires that the issue of disarmament be dealt with through the larger
framework of human rights and security.

Through connecting disarmament with human rights and political rights
clauses the CFA could be better strengthened. Groups such as the
EPDP, for instance, which had their paramilitary wings disarmed argue
that this has resulted in a fundamental security crisis as their cadres
and supporters were gunned down from the inception of the CFA.
Individuals whose family members were associated with or through their
work who had to interact with such groups have also found themselves
victims of this violence. Individuals associated with the LTTE or
perceived to be close to the LTTE have increasingly been targeted and
intimidated, particularly since 2004. Thus, there is a clear need to
address this issue by safeguarding the individual rights of these
individuals, to ensure they are safe from assassinations, abductions,
extortion, harassment etc. This, in turn, raises a larger question as to
whether this basic right can be secured without a broader human rights
agreement or guarantees.

Political guarantees

The political identity of some of these alleged paramilitary groups also
cannot be ignored. While some would argue that a ceasefire period is
not an appropriate time for pluralism and political dissent, others would
contest this, stating the importance of maintaining space for dialogue
which would strengthen the political transition from armed struggle to
democracy and better guarantee political responsibility. If a sustainable
peace with democracy is the expected end result, then critical steps
need to be taken in the transition period to strengthen it. Providing
political guarantees for the political groups with which paramilitaries are
associated with may prove a critical step in strengthening the CFA and
easing the transition. Thus, the rights of groups such as the EPDP,
EPRLF (V) to maintain political offices, do political work and provide
alternative viewpoints, by means such as through their newspapers,
should be recognized and protected.

This issue of political space in the North-East is a key question. The
CFA recognizes the right of the LTTE to carry out political work in areas
in the North-East controlled by the Government with unarmed LTTE
cadres guaranteed right of movement (Article 1.13). The right of other
political parties is an implicit understanding, and one guaranteed under
national and international law and principles. There is a clearly
apparent need to ensure that all political actors should be allowed to
operate within the North East, particularly in Government-controlled
areas. Recognizing this right, it is assumed, will allow alternate Tamil
groups and the LTTE to function within the limits of the law. Over the
CFA, the LTTE has had to face a series of constraints and challenges
to both the movement of its political cadres and in the operation of its
political offices from the state and its security forces. Thus, there is a
clear need to take steps to ensure this right is secured and a corollary
right for other political actors to carry out their political work needs to be
provided for.

Commitment to desist from breaches of the peace

A key complaint made against the paramilitaries during peace times is
their association with crime and illegal activities such as drug sales,
prostitution etc. To deal with this the normal law and order institutions of
the police and judiciary should be properly activated and they should
ensure that complaints are taken up and followed through. These
groups should agree to desist from violating human rights. Criticisms
have also been made that LTTE political cadres working in uncontrolled
areas are involved in a series of human rights abuses including
extortion, abductions and harassment, and the political offices have
been used for such purposes. There are also charges of the offices
being used for military purposes such as storing of arms. The LTTE has
to commit to not violating human rights and to avoid using political rights
granted under the CFA to commit such violations.

Peculiarities of resolving the Karuna problem

The Karuna Group, in particular, poses a crucial problem with regard to
this as the LTTE is unwilling to grant recognition to a breakaway group,
let alone allowing such a group to function. If the state was to disarm
Karuna cadres and ‘turn off the tap’ as it were to the Group and also
take measures to prevent the group functioning in government-
controlled areas it could have a significant impact in thwarting the group’
s capacity for violence.

There is a question as to what will happen to the Karuna cadres. In
reintegrating them into the Sri Lankan Armed Forces there is a key
issue of consent. The Karuna Group may not consent to the
programme and the government will find itself involved in a policing
operation, raising issues with regard to principles of conflict
transformation and, more importantly, democratic politics. There is also
the possibility of the re-emergence of the Karuna Group in another form
as the killing spree of Karuna supporters and ex-members continue.

Also, given the spate of killings of Tamil intelligence operatives in the
South over the CFA period and the intimidation and gunning down of
Karuna Group members, supporters and suspected supporters, it does
not seem a safe option for the individuals concerned. With no state
programme to ensure their safety and provide alternative livelihoods or
the option of asylum as other countries are extremely wary of offering
such programmes to ex-combatants, their future is grim. It is somewhat
ironic that on the one hand the international community is espousing
principles of conflict transformation demanding that the LTTE enter the
democratic process and renounce violence and adopt a more human
rights friendly approach, while on the other it demands that the
Government disarm the Karuna Group and turn a blind eye to the
campaign to eliminate a primarily military formation that is seeking to
enter the political mainstream.

It would seem that adopting the wider framework would provide a
scenario, which would seemingly better ensure the successful
resolution of the Karuna question. The state has to take similar steps
as with other paramilitaries detailed above (including disarming and
agreeing neither to assist nor to permit them to function). To ensure the
personal security of these cadres the LTTE needs to provide
guarantees for their safety. This issue of personal safety is inherently
linked to the political question of pluralism in the North-East: if no other
group can function freely in the North-East, then no individual who is
sympathetic to that group or is undertaking political work can survive.
Thus, political guarantees that will provide for an alternative Tamil
opinion may be necessary. A tool that can be used for such an initiative
is the Government’s signing an ancillary agreement with the Karuna
Group and the LTTE recognizing the agreement in principle.

Conclusion

The main lesson in devising solutions to the problem of paramilitaries is
that it cannot be dealt with in isolation from the wider human rights
context of the CFA.

It is highly problematic to devise realistic or sustainable solutions
without taking into account the wider environment in which the CFA
functions, especially those of killings, abductions and other gross
violations. There is a fundamental necessity for it to be grounded in a
human rights and human security framework that pays heed to the
needs that arise from this framework.

Essentially, the question is, can you stop one type of killings without
stopping all killings? If this CFA is to hold, the culture of impunity needs
to be dealt with. In order to do that, a human rights and human security
framework needs to be adopted and solutions that fulfill the basic
requirements of such a framework that guarantees these rights and
needs has to be devised.
[Courtesy: DailyMirror]

(The writer has a Masters in Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA and
is a Researcher, Centre for Policy Alternatives)
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