The LTTE (or ‘Tamil Tigers’) were a brutal organisation that carried out massacres, assassinations, and various acts of ethnic cleansing in the name of carving out an independent Tamil state. Thousands of people – including many civilians as well as government officials – were killed or permanently injured as a result of their actions.
The LTTE’s ruthless approach was not limited to its targeting of state officials or those from the Sinhala population. Scores of Tamil opponents, including many peaceful critics, were killed by the organisation in its goal of becoming the sole voice of the community. While some have sought to emphasise the movement’s purported progressive features – for example, its treatment of women and anti-casteism – it was also one defined by its militarism, intolerance of dissent, and totalitarian mind-set.
Investigations by the UN have highlighted evidence of multiple alleged human rights violations by the LTTE during the final stages of the war, including the use of forcible conscription (often involving child soldiers), the use of civilians as ‘human shields’, and extra-judicial killings. While it is indisputable that the government of Sri Lanka bears direct responsibility for the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths during the war, many have pointed to the LTTE’s policy of preventing people from leaving the war-zone as significantly contributing to the loss of life and human suffering.
By refusing to establish credible truth and justice mechanisms to investigate the past, the government of Sri Lanka shields not only itself, but also the LTTE, from the accountability they can and should face. Some of the worst alleged human rights abusers in the LTTE, people such as Colonel Karuna, went on to serve as Sri Lankan government ministers and continue to live in Sri Lanka with impunity.
Unfortunately, many of those in the LTTE with command responsibility for serious human rights abuses were killed before they could face justice. Nonetheless, we would strongly support the prosecution of any surviving members of the organisation against whom there are credible allegations – and believe that a wider process capable of establishing the truth about the LTTE’s crimes is essential.