February 18, 2005


Mr. Lloyd Axworthy
Human Rights Watch

Response to Mr. Lloyd Axworthy’s letter addressed to Right Hon. Prime Minister

Dear Mr. Lloyd Axworthy,

I refer to your letter dated February 07, 2005 addressed to Prime Minister Paul Martin about LTTE recruitment of teen aged children by the LTTE and other spurious allegations against the LTTE/TRO in your capacity as Director, Human Rights Watch,  USA.  Yours is a clever attempt by an ex-liberal politician with profound disregard to facts showcasing the conservative HRW as a lily-white human rights watch dog!

HRW is founded on the idea that the values of the United States are universal and that the US has the right to impose its hegemony on the rest of world at gun point.

HRW is an almost exclusively US-American organization. Its version of human rights is the Anglo-American tradition. For example seizure and distribution of the property of the rich is unethical!

A look at the composition of HRW board members reveals that it consists of elite present and past government employees and overlapping directorates linked to major foreign policy lobbies in the US. It is certainly not an association of “concerned private citizens.”  Without sounding cynical, HRW can best be described as a joint venture of George Soros and US State Department.

I find you hold a doctorate in political science. Perusing  your letter I honestly feel that you deserve another doctorate on deception for your role as director of HRW.  

Your letter to Paul Martin makes a mountain out of a mole hill. Your information is based on hearsay and fanciful imagination.  The intensely political character of the attack on LTTE and TRO is easy to see.

In your obsession with child recruitment by LTTE,   you have completely ignored the plight of thousands of children orphaned (the term orphaned is taboo in LTTE’s parlance) by the tsunami disaster, children dropping out of schools due to poverty, widespread malnutrition etc.

I am pretty sure you have never experienced the pangs of hunger or thirst in your whole life! You should ask what those mean from children in Vanni! 

In your letter you claim that “During Human Rights Watch’s investigation, reliable local sources raised concerns about the close link between the TRO and LTTE, reporting for example, that TRO representatives are often former LTTE soldiers.”

May I ask you what is wrong in former LTTE soldiers engaging themselves in humanitarian relief work? Is that a crime for them to serve their brothers and sisters?  Don’t ex-soldiers in Canada or US involve themselves in community work? The whole thrust of your argument is to sling mud at the LTTE and demonize them. Nothing more.

You are oblivious to the fact or you conveniently omitted to mention that the LTTE and TRO run several children homes for orphaned children or children whose parents cannot support them due to grinding poverty.

It is one such children  home run by the LTTE for kids aged below 5 years that got swept away by the tidal waves on December 26, 2004. Out of about 145 more than 100 children died on that fateful day.

How I wish you leave your ivory tower and go to Northeast and repeat your accusations against the LTTE and TRO to the hundreds and thousands of refugees languishing in make-shift camps and improvised welfare centres?   

Again you claim “ Credible sources also report that since the tsunami, the TRO, in collaboration with the LTTE, has sought to control relief efforts in the East and relocate displaced persons camps to LTTE-controlled areas, in order to facilitate LTTE monitoring and control of vulnerable populations, as well as recruitment.” This again is a figment of your fertile imagination.  What do you mean by “vulnerable population?”  Do you honestly say that the LTTE is exploiting its own kith and kin at a time of such colossal calamity?

For your information, LTTE is concerned about the well being of every man, woman and children than you do or anyone else. That is the reason the Thamils consider the LTTE their saviours and heroes and the LTTE leader elevated to the level of a demi-god.

All these talk of “reliable sources”  “local sources raised concerns” are nothing but your own disingenuous subterfuges.   LTTE has told both local NGOs and INGOs that they are free to enter areas controlled by them and distribute relief supplies to whomever and wherever they want.

The LTTE are not terrorists as you have taken pains to paint them. They are not terrorists per se. Thamil people don’t buy your concept of “terrorism”. Fighting for one’s lost rights is not terrorism.  I need not remind you that George Washington was also a wanted terrorist by the British at one time.  So was Nelson Mandela of the ANC. Both later became heads of states!

Contrary to what you say both LTTE cadres and the TRO volunteers were at the scene of tsunami disaster within hours to rescue trapped people in collapsed buildings and homes, give first aid, dispatch the badly wounded to hospitals, clear debris, collect and bury dead bodies, move the survivors to make-shift camps/schools and other public buildings, provide food, medicine etc.  On the contrary it took more than 3 weeks for DART to set foot in Amparai!

In contrast to your innuendos and vilification, both the LTTE and the TRO have won plaudits and accolades from visiting foreign diplomats, correspondents and members of INGOs for the exemplary and timely humanitarian relief delivered by them!

John Lancaster, writing in the Washington Post (4 January 2005) under the heading “Tsunami Disaster & the People of Tamil Eelam -Thamil Tiger Guerrillas Directing Relief Effort - In Ruined Town, Rebels Outperform Officials” says, inter-alia, -

"All the activity that's been going on here has been guided or sponsored by the Tigers…..The central government hasn't given anything, really…. The Tigers have also been taking the lead in sheltering refugees, establishing an emergency task force along with representatives of international aid organizations and the central government, which maintains a low-key administrative presence in the area.” (emphasis mine)

The Boston Globe of January 04, 2005 editorially commended the work of TRO in glowing terms. Here is an excerpt –

"...A relief organization that cooperates with the Tigers, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, or TRO, has been assisting not only Tamil Hindus in the northeast but also Buddhist Sinhalese and Muslim families. The central government, however, wants nothing to do with the Tiger-linked TRO. In one community in northeastern Jaffna Peninsula, Tamil peasants refused food aid from a contingent of Sri Lankan Army soldiers, whom the locals had come to fear. According to the peasants, the soldiers later returned with their faces covered, entered a shed where local Tamil volunteers had stored food parcels, and burned it down. After visiting a Tamil town in the northeast that was destroyed by the tidal wave, Carol Bellamy, executive director of UNICEF, said Monday that the TRO's "well-coordinated relief arrangements put in place within so short a time are all really commendable."  (emphasis mine)

This does not mean everything is rosy in the Northeast.  The SLG itself has confessed that 70% of aid has not reached people because of bureaucratic red tape and bungling!  

A report by the Toronto Para medic group that went to the eastern province to undertake relief work reports that “Two hundred thousand people lost their homes in this district. They were the lucky ones. More than 3,500 people perished and that number will only rise as the more than 1,500 missing are either found or declared dead.  The camps are crowded and not clean. Respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections and skin diseases are common. People with chronic ailments such as hypertension have lost their medication. They live under the constant threat of cholera and E. coli outbreaks.” (“Cleaning wells and renewing lives” Toronto Star – February 14, 2005) 

What you are doing is the easiest job of criticizing others.  Your concern about child soldiers is hypocritical.  

On July 09, 1995,  when you were the Minister of Human Resources  the Sri Lankan air force bombed  St. Peters Church and St. Peters School in Navaly, Jaffna where hundreds have sought shelter,  was deliberately bombed by Sri Lanka air force planes. The death toll in this mindless bombing totalled 120. Thirteen babies died in their mother's arms. Rescue workers reported torn limbs and pieces of human flesh strewn over the area.  

On September 09, 1995 Sri Lankan Air Force Pucara plane bombed Nagarkoyil Central School in the Jaffna Peninsula. Twenty five children, aged 10-17,   died in this cowardly attack.  

These are only two instances out of many. The bombing of civilian targets continued right throughout the nineties till February 22, 2002.  

The Sri Lankan government imposed a vicious economic embargo on the North that lasted from 1995-2002 which reduced the people to starvation, disease and squalor. Thousands of pregnant mothers and children suffered second degree malnutrition due to lack of food. Sri Lankan government even banned pain-killers like Tylenol.   

During this period you were a Minister, you or your government did not raise the issue of human rights violations tantamount to war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government. Worse your government was supplying small arms and other so-called “non-lethal” military hardware to Sri Lankan army!  

Just before the 1993 when a FACT delegation made representation to you at Ottawa about the raging ethnic war in Sri Lanka, you said that once the Liberal Party is elected to office, your government will address our concerns.  When I later reminded about your promise at a dinner hosted in your honor at Ottawa, you merely quipped “You have a good memory!”  

I am recapitulating these facts just to demonstrate  that you as Director, HRW, is least qualified to speak about human rights, leave alone children’s rights.  

You are now shedding crocodile tears on recruitment of child soldiers in the comfort of your air-conditioned ivory towers!  

Your statement that an “unknown number of children died in conflict in April 2004” is bereft of any truth.  This is typical of the mind set of westerners who assume that they have a superior civilization and have a right to sermonize others.  An “unknown number of children died in conflict in April 2004” is based on hearsay.  You are trying to convey the impression that the conflict lasted the whole of April, 2004 when in actual fact it lasted only 3 days! A handful of cadres did get killed, but certainly no children died! 

You state “Prior to the ceasefire, children were routinely used in combat. Studies conducted during the mid-1990 found that 40-60 percent of LTTE soldiers who died in battle were children under the age of eighteen…”   

The LTTE forces over-ran heavily fortified bases of the SLA many times.  Are you serious that LTTE forces consisting of 40-60%   teen-aged fighters defeated a professionally trained and better equipped SL armed forces? Does that make sense? 

You also state “the devastating December 26 tsunami has not halted the LTTE's recruitment of children. As of January 26, UNICEF had registered over forty cases of child recruitment by the LTTE.” The fact of the matter is that these children lost their parents during the tsunami disaster. And the LTTE was merely looking after them till they are found shelter. UNICEF simply jumped the gun and made much ado over nothing! 

The issue of child recruitment is now jointly tackled by the UNICEF, NESOHR (North East Secretariat for Human Rights) and LTTE. The LTTE has already handed over children found to be under-aged.   NESOHR in a statement published in February has answered in detail the accusations contained in HRW report titled Living in Fear, in November, 2004.    

This is the type of disinformation you spread in the name of defending human rights! And you want to pose off as someone more concerned about our children than ourselves!  

The HRW foolishly suggests that Thamil Diaspora should avoid giving money to Thamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO). This is nothing more than sanctimonious humbugging and a sure recipe for those children to die a slow death!  

Ms. Jo Becker of the HRW who held a meeting in Toronto to bash the LTTE met her waterloo. The poor lady could not find a single Thamil Canadian to represent the 250,000 strong Thamil Canadian community! As expected the meeting ended in a fiasco.   

I would suggest that you first write to Prime Minister Paul Martin about Omar Chard, a teen-aged Canadian citizen jailed, abused and tortured at Guantanamo Bay by US forces and fellow detainees. Chard, 18, visited by his American lawyer over four days last November alleged he had been beaten, threatened with rape, tied for hours in painful positions, and once had pine oil thrown on the ground and his body used to clean the floor.  

"With Omar still cuffed, his hands and feet behind his back, military officials lifted Omar off the ground, used him as a human mop and used his body to clean up the urine on the floor. He was then returned to his cell and not allowed a change of clothes for two days," Washington lawyer Miner Ahmad told reporters at a press conference in Toronto a few days ago.   

Mind you he was only 15 when he was captured by invading US army in Afghanistan. The lawyers for Chard allege that Canada has failed to change the plight of this teen-ager.  

Unlike the children in distant Vanni this teen, Mr. Axworthy, is right under your nose! 

You can also take up  what Federal Court judge has described as Canada's own Guantanamo Bay  situation facing five Muslims held a collective 184 months behind Canadian prison walls without charge or bail.  

They are Hassan Almrei, a Syrian refugee in solitary confinement in a Toronto prison since October, 2001; Mohammad Mahjoub, detained since June, 2000, in solitary for half that time; Mahmoud Jaballah, held since August, 2001; Mohamed Harkat, detained since December, 2002; and Adil Charkaoui, held since May, 2003.

They still do not know why they are being detained, as neither they nor their lawyers are allowed access to the secret case.  

All the five men have asked for is that they either be charged or tried in a fair and open court proceeding with disclosure of the case against them, or that they be released immediately.  

Perhaps Prime Minister Paul Martin would then be in a better position to talk about human rights on the global stage if he polished his image and cleansed house here at home first.  

I will like to ask Mr. Axworthy to apply his energies to more flagrant and worrying breach of human rights. Especially on the unilateral military and illegal invasion of Iraq on fabricated evidence, short-circuiting of the UNO, killing of 100,000 Iraq civilians by dropping smart bombs, the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prison abuse/torture scandals etc. All these make  mockery of US statement department rhetoric on terrorism!   

An unknown number of innocent Iraqi children have been killed by US indiscriminate bombing of Iraqi cities during the last two years.   

To sum up, the evidence indicates your letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin lacks substantive credibility and is driven by a clear and consistent political bias on ideological grounds.  

Beyond contributing to selective human right norms, pretended self-pity and demonizing LTTE, your agenda also diverts attention from genuine human rights problems faced by Thamil people  and Thamil children like  arbitrary  arrests, torture, involuntary disappearances,  mass-graves,  restrictions on fishing,  forceful occupation of  homes and farmlands  etc. by the Sinhala  armed forces.  


Yours truly,




cc. Right Hon. Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Members of Parliament and Media.   

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