An official gazette announced on Saturday, 21st November, that eight foreign-based Tamil advocacy groups were de-listed according to a government order, reducing the number of banned organizations to eight from 16 and the number of individuals to 155, from formerly 424. But the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) whose leadership and military wing were crushed decisively in 2009 remains to be banned as a terrorist group. Sri Lanka’s government expects all Tamil rights organizations to shun violence unambiguously.
The Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera addressed the remaining banned groups and individuals encouraging them to make similar public commitments condemning violence and renouncing separatism. In speeches, the minister had already admitted, that some of the formerly banned groups had never condoned terrorism or an armed struggle for separation, and criticized that the previous government had taken the measure of banning Tamil civil rights activists to “build up the hysteria about the LTTE regrouping” in the run up to the presidential elections, even without sufficient evidence linking them to the LTTE. Some of previously listed groups had made public statements expressing their support for a united and undivided Sri Lanka.
The lifting of the bans of exactly the half of the proscribed Tamil diaspora groups is part of reconciliation efforts with the island nation’s Tamil minority. The list of proscribed organizations and banned people was created by the the previous government under President Mahinda Rajapaksa in March 2014. A terrorism designation applied to several Tamil organizations in Britain, Australia, Canada and the United States, which portrayed themselves as human rights activists, but were allagedly linked to or in support of the terrorist organization LTTE previously. The former administration had claimed that the ban on those groups and individuals was intended to prevent them from funding Tamil rebels to regroup inside Sri Lanka, after no LTTE terror attack had occured any more after their defeat in 2009. After the election of President Maitripala Sirisena in January, the newly established Sri Lankan government promised in March 2015 to carry out a review of this list as part of reconciliation efforts.
In a Tweet, the British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, James Dauris, said the delisting of eight Tamil organizations and 267 individuals by the government on Friday is a “commendable step to facilitate dialogue and engagement,". Sri Lanka’s move was also welcomed by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, who was in Colombo just one day after the announcement of the ban-lifting, as part of a tour in Asia. She me Sri Lanka’s president and foreign minister. “The world is watching what his happening in Sri Lanka far more closely than what anyone of you can imagine,” she told reporters.
Since his election in January, President Maithripala Sirisena has intended to improve relations with the Tamil community, pledging the return the military-held land to Tamil owners, the freeing of political prisoners and to work with the United Nations to foster accountability. Nevertheless, the actual measures taken to implement this have been critized by international organizations as too slow, particularly regarding the release of Tamil prisoners and the investigation of disappearances and alleged war crimes.
As per the recently published notification, the Sri Lankan government has lifted the proscriptions of the
- Tamil National Council (TNC),
- World Tamil Coordinating Committee (WTCC),
- Tamil Youth Organization (TYO),
- Global Tamil Forum (GTF),
- British Tamil Forum (BTF),
- National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT),
- Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC), and
- Australian Tamil Congress (ATC),
The government also plans to include some of these Tamil organizations in the planned Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the model of post-Apartheid South Africa.
But Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), Tamil Coordinating Committee (TCC), World Tamil Movement (WTM), Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TNGTE), Tamil Eelam Peoples Assembly (TEPA), World Tamil Relief Fund (WTRF) and Headquarters Group (HQ) and 157 individuals are continued to be proscribed. Sri Lanka’s government will annually review and update the list of proscribed persons offering them to be de-listed in case of distancing themselves from violence credibly. Canada accounts for the single largest number of individuals remaining banend. 22 of the banned are in Canada. Denmark comes second with 17; Sri Lanka 14; UK and the Netherlands 12 each; France 11; Germany 8; India 7; Italy 4; Malaysia 3; Norway 2; US 1; and Thailand 1. Interpol Red Notices count 26 wanted Sri Lankan nationals.
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