Activist `Intimidation: Surveillance and Intimidation of Tamil Diaspora Activists and their Supporters

By Together Against Genocide (TAG, formerly Tamils Against Genocide), Wednesday, March 13 2013
This report is in part an update to the TAG report “Returnees at Risk: Detention and Torture in Sri Lanka” (hereafter ‘Returnees at Risk’) published 16 September 2012.[1] The focus of this report is the Government of Sri Lanka (hereafter GoSL) surveillance and intimidation of Tamil diaspora activists. We include in this broad category of ‘activists’ protesters who campaign for political objectives, such as devolution of the North and East of Sri Lanka, but also those who campaign for accountability for violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. 
 
The report analyses afresh the data sets from the ‘Returnees at Risk’ report but also presents and analyses material that has been collected by TAG since that report, namely, five interviews with activists conducted in January 2013, and a further eight successful asylum appeal determinations. The backdrop to analysis of these data sets is the changing context since September 2012, since events prior to that date are covered by the ‘Returnees at Risk’ report. Briefly listed, primarily for reference purposes, are particularly significant protests and activist events, predominantly in the UK. 
 
In light of analysis of the above-mentioned data sets, and within the context elaborated upon in the ‘Returnees at Risk’ report and briefly updated here, we find as follows:
 
  • The GoSL defines ‘traitor’ and ‘terrorist’ broadly to include both those who call for an independent international process of accountability for the crimes committed during the Sri Lankan conflict and human rights abuses since the end of the conflict[2], and those who are considered to bring Sri Lanka into international disrepute, such as asylum seekers and protesters. Commensurate with its assessment of the threat, the GoSL allocates resources to collecting (both through surveillance and interrogations) and then acting upon that threat. Those accounts of interrogations under torture that are detailed in our data sets reveal the information requirements of GoSL officials.
 
  • The findings from the data sets confirm that the diaspora is considered the locus of the ‘LTTE’ threat.  Members of the diaspora are treated as suspicious, by virtue of the fact that they are in the diaspora.[3] The risk to returning members of the Tamil Diaspora is further heightened when that member:
    • Is an actual or perceived member of an organisation that is (actual or perceived) to be critical of the GoSL
    • Has been (or is perceived to have been) involved in protests and/or activist events against the GoSL
    • Is believed to have brought the Rajapaksa Administration into disrepute in any way - this includes asylum seekers and witnesses of war crimes or human right’s abuses who dare to speak out.
 
As diaspora groups have become increasingly better organised and more active, largely in response to the crimes committed in the final months of the conflict in 2009, the GoSL has responded by increasing its surveillance and intimidation of those groups and individuals. In the wake of the Petrie report[4], and the international condemnation of the impeachment of the Chief Justice[5], with the mounting international attention and pressure in the build up to Sri Lanka’s review at the Human Right’s Council this March 2013, the growing campaigns against the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)[6] being held in Colombo, and the growing media storm generated by the release of another Channel 4 documentary[7], it is assessed that the collection and intimidation tactics of the GoSL are likely to increase.

[TAG's full report can be downloaded here http://www.tamilsagainstgenocide.org/Data/Docs/Activist-Intimidation-v2.2.pdf ]
[2] These calls have been largely for an international process for accountability for allegations of war crimes in the final phase of the war, but in some instances they also include calls for accountability for IHL violations during the 60 years post independence. GOSL sees these calls as threatening its “sovereignty” and objects to any “international interference”
[3] Indeed, where threat = capability + intent, Tamil diaspora have both the capability (since they are not in Sri Lanka) and the motivation (the crimes amply committed by successive Sri Lankan Governments.)
[4] The Internal Review Panel Report on Sri Lanka (The Petrie Report), November 2012
[5] International Crisis Group Blog, 17 January 2013,”Impeachment of the Sri Lankan Chief Justice”, accessible at http://www.crisisgroupblogs.org/srilanka-lastingpeace/2013/01/17/the-impeachment-of-sri-lankan-chief-justice/.
[6] “Call for Cameron to boycott Sri Lanka summit over human rights” BBC News, 15 November 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20323364,
[7] “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” First Broadcast Tuesday 14 Jun 2011, and “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields: War Crimes Unpunished” First Broadcast Wednesday 14 Mar 2012. Accessible at http://srilanka.channel4.com/.