Transcript of the speech made by Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs, at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs on 15 April, 1998.
My friends at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office,
Members of the Sri Lankan Community,
Distinguished Invitees & Guests,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Terrorism is by no means a new phenomenon. It has been with us from the dawn of
recorded history. Every single country in the world, every civilisation has at one time or
another in history suffered the cruelty, the agony of terrorism.
But what is new today or at least what has been new over the last 30 years, is that terrorism has acquired an international dimension. It is something, this international dimension, that has brought with it new concepts of terror, new and more sophisticated methods of dealing out terror.
It has seen, these three decades have seen, the marriage of high technology, sophisticated banking and terror, that is new, that is sinister, that is immensely frightening, particularly to those who are presently the victims of terror. But the implications of this new dimension, are something that all of us have to take very seriously even if we are living today in secure countries.
International terrorism means quite simply terrorism, which is supported in one form or another from outside the country where the terrorist act occurs. There is a narrow definition of terrorism that means state-sponsored terrorism. This evening I will be dealing with terrorism in all its manifestations, whether state-sponsored or sponsored by sub-units of states or indeed by individuals.
One asks oneself the question why is terrorist crime so abhorrent. For one thing it is clear that in the last few years in particular, a number of societies both in East and West, North and South, have suffered from terrorism and have been very frightened by what has happened, they have been shocked and revolted. The World Trade Centre bombing in New York a few years ago and the Oklahoma bombing a few years ago, caused only 174 deaths, but the ripples, the shock waves of those two events, were felt very far and wide in the United States of America in particular. 20 deaths in one incident is certainly more sensational, more news worthy than 20 separate incidents with one death in each incident. That is understandable. But in the United States of America 15 deaths a year are caused by shooting and that is not a matter of particular alarm. Another aspect of the impact of terrorism is that it is something, which happens indiscriminately. It is something that happens in a mindless kind of way. But on the other hand even burglary does not have a relationship between perpetrator and victim, it is also in a sense mindless.
There is something else about terrorism that causes so much shock convulsions. I think the terrorist act is seen as an attack on society as a whole, on democratic institutions. A terrorist attack is an act of war against society.
Much time has been spent in recent years in national legislatures and at international forum on working out a definition of terrorism. The definition of terrorism is something that is beset with many difficulties indeed, indeed it is a veritable semantic minefield. But I think we are now approaching the stage in the evolution of international reaction to terrorism where the international community is coming to focus much more sharply on a working definition, not a definition that is absolutely perfect legally and philosophically but a good practical, commonsensical working definition.
The following elements I think are relevant. Terrorist violence is typically directed towards members of the public or a section of the public indiscriminately or at random. The bomb in the market place, the bomb in a city centre, but often terrorism is selective and purposive. The attack on worshippers in a temple, on tourists visiting some cultural site many thousands of miles away from home or terrorism can be aimed at a single individual, the assassination of a political figure. Secondly, terrorism frequently involves the use of lethal force and is capable therefore of causing extensive damage, casualties to the civilian population. Thirdly, consequently terrorism creates fear among the public which is precisely what it is intended and designed to do. Fourthly, its purpose is to secure political or ideological objectives by violence or threat and therefore aims to subvert the democratic process. Fifthly, the terrorist act is often committed by well trained, well equipped, highly motivated, more than adequately funded and financed individuals acting on behalf of organisations often overseas. In the United Kingdom there is a definition of terrorism. It is to be found in Section 20 of the United Kingdom Prevention of Terrorism Act. This is, in my opinion, a useful working definition that it has been found now to be too narrow. The definition is as follows: "The use of violence for political ends including any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear." Now in recent years, in the United Kingdom there have been many prestigious inquiries conducted into the scope and purpose and object of legislation covering terrorism. The most recent one was Chaired by Lord Berwick, and his report was submitted to the House of Commons in September 1996 and in the course of a very comprehensive study of the subject, he proposed a wider definition based on the working definition of terrorism which is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI of the United States of America. This definition in my opinion is acceptable, but there is room for a little further qualification refinement, - filtering perhaps to catch some of the nuances or the expressions of terrorism that we are now becoming more familiar with. Lord Berwick's definition, with the few additional words that I propose reads as follows:
"The use of or the threat to use serious violence, Lord Berwick suggested serious violence against persons or property or the use of or the threat to use any means to disrupt vital computer installations or communications".
That is my addition because we have already come to the stage when interference with computer installations and electronic communications of various kinds is the focus of terrorist activity. The definition would go on "to intimidate or coerce a government, the public or any section of the public in order to promote political, social, ideological, religious or philosophical objectives". I would expand the definition that way bringing in objectives of terrorism, which are wider than merely political.
Ladies & Gentlemen,
There are, as I have discerned it, two basic approaches to terrorism adopted by States. The first is what I call the 'Nelsonian' approach, turning a blind eye! Many States which are not directly affected by acts of terrorism on their own soil, but who are aware that terrorist acts are committed on the territory of other States but where there are links between the terrorists concerned in the other State and in your own State, adopt a policy of well, what's happening is happening somewhere else, those people are their terrorists, they are not our terrorists, thank heavens for that, we will wait and see.
Ladies & Gentlemen,
Sri Lanka has been the victim of that approach for a long time. It is one of 4 or 5 countries, which by any reckoning is one of the most terrorist afflicted countries in the world. The others who might fall into that category are perhaps Peru, Algeria, Egypt, but certainly, unarguably Sri Lanka. I have had it said to me, Ladies & Gentlemen, in the course of discussions which I have had on behalf of my Government with other governments, all friendly governments, I have had it said, "well, we are very sorry that Sri Lanka is undergoing terrorism of this kind we wish we could do something to help you, unfortunately there is nothing we can do because we do not have laws in place that enable us to do anything about terrorism in your country."
And when I say that the terrorism in my country is financed to a very large extent by activities which take place by a certain organisation in the country where I am discussing this question, I met with the answer "well, we don't have much evidence, if you can find the evidence we might be able to do something about it," to which my reply has been, well how can I possibly find evidence of preparations to commit terrorist activities in my country which are taking place in your country which is thousands and thousands of miles away from my country. This has gone on Ladies & Gentlemen, for many many years. Then there have been so many occasions when after a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka, in a city, in a temple, in a mosque, on a railway train, in a business centre, in a school, numerous messages of condolence, sympathy and succour arrive and I have often said to myself, well it is good to know at least that our friends remember us on these sad occasions, but as the messages have gone on and on and then one finds that the senders all friendly countries begin to run out of 'adjectives' these condolence messages become repetitive.
It is a question of horror, shock, outrage and then the whole cycle all over again the next time when a bomb goes off.
Well so it has gone Ladies & Gentlemen. And I have had to accept two kinds of limitations in this area. One it is true that many countries do not have legislation which is particularly tailor-made or adopted or able to cover a situation where terrorist activity is sought to be countered, but I also know very well that where there is a will there is a way, where there is a political will to do something about terrorism in some other State, a way is found, a way has been found and I know the ways that has been found.
There is another limitation which is timeless it will be with us always and that is the limitation of being small, relatively weak and relatively lacking in what is called political clout and when you are in that position what you get is sympathy, commiseration, and condolence, not much more.
Some years ago, a few years ago things began to change very dramatically on the world scene. The World Trade Centre bomb went off in New York in 1993, the Oklahoma bomb went off in 1995, that bomb as you well know is a fertiliser bomb it was not one of these deadly Semtex or RDX type of bombs. There was a nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway. There were bombs in Manchester and Paris. There was an attack in the US Camp in Dhahran. There were suicide bombings in Israel. Suddenly, the international community has been described loosely; the group of nations who are particularly influential and affluent, the international community came vividly alive. In rapid succession, high level meetings were held at Leon in France at the Summit level, in Paris shortly thereafter and in great haste the international community began to put together a package of proposals to combat terrorism at the international level.
The message was very clear. When ones own national interests are seriously affected the realisation comes home very quickly that terrorism cannot be fought alone by individual countries it can only be fought effectively by countries standing together, working together and expressing a common political will to tackle a problem that is capable of menacing everybody.
This approach, the second that I have discerned, I describe as the approach of enlightened self-interest. Therefore enlightened self-interest in the last two or 3 years, having galvanised the international community into action, led with amazing speed to the enactment by the United Nations General Assembly of the Convention on the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings.
Here Ladies & Gentlemen, on one hand the remarkable situation where conventions, United Nations Conventions which are known to take years and years of discussion and argument before they mature and ripe enough for enactment, this particular convention was adopted in two sittings of the General Assembly in 1996 and 1997 and the convention was opened for signature on the 12th of January 1998. On my instructions, Sri Lanka was the first country to sign it on the morning of the 12th of January 1998.
Ladies & Gentlemen, the United Nations Convention I have just referred to is a very significant development in the campaign against terrorism. The resolution put to the General Assembly and adopted unanimously addressed the question of terrorist groups taking advantage of the openness and vulnerability of public facilities and the need for the international community to co-operate in protecting and securing public buildings and utilities as well as transport and information systems. It recognised the increasingly widespread nature of terrorist attacks using bombs, explosives or other incendiary or lethal devices. The convention creates a legal regime of universal jurisdiction and requires States to take steps to establish jurisdiction over the offences created under the convention. It provides for an extradite or prosecute regime with a view to ensuring that the terrorist offenders do not enjoy safe haven in any part of the world.
The offences under the convention are to be treated as non-political offences so that the so-called political motivation would not preclude the extradition of terrorist offenders to stand trial and to bring them to justice.
What this means, Ladies & Gentlemen, simply, is that it will no longer be open to an organisation that uses terror for the purpose of advancing its own political objectives to plead that they are a national liberation organisation and not a terrorist organisation. Under the new definition adopted by the United Nations nobody will be able to take the plea that terrorism can be used legitimately in pursuit of political objectives which are considered to be of the nature of a liberation struggle or something of that kind. Terrorism is terrorism - period. Another important aspect of this convention is that it obliges the State parties to co-operate in the prevention of offences related to terrorist bombings. These preventive measures requires States to prohibit illegal activities of groups and organisations, in particular fund raising activities by such groups in one State for the perpetration of terrorist bombings in another State.
Ladies & Gentlemen, it is vital that all those who signed this convention and it is certain that at least 25 or 30 countries will sign it in the first instance should get to work with speed, with all speed, to bring domestic legislation into force in their respective countries. Because otherwise all the work that has gone into the formulation of this important convention would have been in vain. Another critical issue which is of particular concern to all countries who are affected by terrorism was addressed by the convention and that was the question of depriving terrorists of their sources of finance, in particular to explore the means of tracking and freezing assets used by terrorist groups. For the first time, Ladies & Gentlemen, it has now been recognised that front organisations, some ostensibly, with charitable, social or cultural goals, could be used by terrorists as a cover for their fund raising activities and the State concerned must take measures to look behind the front to see what the purpose of the funding which is being handled by that organisation really is. Ladies & Gentlemen, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka it would be idle for me to pretend that my interest in this subject on which I am speaking this evening is merely academic. It is obvious that I speak with a particular terrorist group very much in mind. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE, has been engaged in terrorism for at least 15 years. The terrorist activities which they have carried out in my country range all the way from attacks on human beings, children, two attacks on economic targets, - Central Bank of the country, the World Trade Centre in Colombo; to an attack on the most sacred Buddhist shrine in the world - the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. It is well known that the LTTE is able to sustain such terrorist activities by virtue of the continued flow of funds to their coffers through which they are able to procure illicit arms, explosives, weapons, including missiles. The flow of such funds to the LTTE is sustained through their own offices or front organisations operating publicly in a number of Western capitals. The LTTE maintains, Ladies & Gentlemen, their so-called International Secretariat at No. 211 Catherine Road in London and several front organisations operate in this great city which raise funds and transmit funds, much of which goes to the purchase of weapons and explosives.
The "Times of London" in its issue of the 23rd of October 1997 in an article headed "British Tamils fund war in Sri Lanka" - reported the raising of £250,000 a month by the LTTE from Tamil nationals living in Britain. According to this report, the LTTE's world wide income is believed to be about £1.25 million per month, some of which goes to humanitarian causes but most of which funds for the sophisticated war machine.
"The Times of London" is not a hysterical newspaper. Recently one has become aware of the use by the LTTE of electronic or wire communication systems or networks to carry out criminal acts. The LTTE has actively engaged itself in using international information networks such as the Internet for their fund raising activities to perpetrate acts of terrorism in Sri Lanka. Appeals have been made through Internet bulletins, which are designed to appeal to the humanitarian sentiments of the donor communities but in reality it is aimed at raising funds for LTTE activities. In these bulletins the LTTE has been specifically listed as one of the organisations to which funds could be channelled for, I quote "humanitarian purposes." These bulletins appeal for donations to be made to LTTE related organisations based in Western capitals rather than to recognised international humanitarian organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and reputed NGOs based in Sri Lanka. Thus the humanitarian facade is only a convenient cover for the perpetration of terrible crimes by the terrorists.
An appeal for money for the LTTE made through Freenet Carlton of Carlton University of Canada openly acknowledges that this particular fund raising is for the purchase of missiles for the LTTE. I have seen that particular advertisement.
Furthermore, the LTTE has also made attempts at interfering and disrupting E-mail communication systems of the Sri Lanka Government agencies through technical sabotage. Another development which requires the immediate attention of the international community is the resort by the LTTE through its overseas offices to issuing direct threats to international maritime navigation as evidenced, particularly the threat issued from its London based International Secretariat at 211 Catherine Road.
The LTTE does not confine their activities to the mere issue of such threats it has also demonstrated its policy of unlawfully interfering with international maritime navigation by attacking vessels in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka. Such attacks cause violence to persons on board, caused damage to vessels and cargo and have endangered the safety of navigation.
In carrying out these acts the LTTE is deliberately targeting the movement of civilians and foodstuff being transported for distribution among the people in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka. Their offices in these capitals continue to be the nerve centre for the perpetration of these activities in Sri Lanka.
International co-operation as envisaged in the United Nations Resolution and Declaration has therefore become vital to set in motion regulatory controls on the abuse of electronic mail or wire communication systems and networks recognising that terrorist groups are now openly abusing Internet facilities for criminal activities with impunity. Another important issue on which the UN Convention has focused is the abuse of refugee status. There is a clear linkage between fund raising activities of terrorist groups in foreign countries and the trafficking of asylum seekers into those countries. The presence of a substantial population of asylum seekers on foreign soil greatly facilitates the generation of funds through extortion.
Apart from supporting the perpetration of terrorist activities in Sri Lanka, the abuse of asylum and trafficking of persons also facilitates the displacement of people both internally and externally. The so-called refugees are known to have exploited and abused the welfare system generously provided for them by the host country. It represents a gross distortion of a system of protection that was provided with purely humanitarian considerations as its objective.
The UN Declaration makes it clear that the convention relating to the status of refugees does not provide a basis for the protection of perpetrators of terrorism. In other words, under the new UN Convention it would not be open to persons who claim the status of refugees to seek protection if they are found to be guilty of assisting or conspiring in the commission of acts of terrorism.
Ladies & Gentlemen, I wish to make some proposals with regard to legal measures that could be taken, indeed in my respectful opinion, should be taken in the United Kingdom to combat LTTE terrorist activities.
First, measures should be taken to introduce necessary domestic legislation to give effect to international legal obligations undertaken in the field of the suppression of terrorism, in particular legislation should be introduced to give effect to the obligations under the convention on the suppression of terrorist bombings which was passed by the General Assembly last December. Legislative and other measures should also be introduced to deal with the abuse of Internet communication facilities.
Secondly measures should be taken to reform the law relating to conspiracy in the United Kingdom. It is well known that there is a lacuna in the criminal law of the United Kingdom dealing with the crime of conspiracy. At the moment it is not a criminal offence to conspire within the United Kingdom to commit or abet the commission of a terrorist act outside the country. The most recent survey of anti-terrorism legislation conducted in the UK, that is the Committee headed by Lord Berwick, came clearly to the conclusion that the most significant additional measure which the government can take is to amend the law of conspiracy so as to facilitate the prosecution of those who conspire here to commit terrorist acts abroad. The report went on to say it may take a prosecution or two before this measure takes full effect but it should then serve as a demonstration both to those involved and to the international community of the government's determination to make the UK as difficult and uncomfortable a place as possible to supporters of terrorism overseas. I urge that this particular recommendation of Lord Berwick's report be implemented with the least possible delay.
Thirdly, the very important question of terrorist fund raising. The existing
legislation in the United Kingdom has provision in the Prevention of Terrorism Act for
curbing fund raising activities of foreign terrorist organisations. This provision is
ascribed by certain limitations. It applies only to a certain number of designated
countries, 24 in number, which means it does not apply to countries which are not
designated under the Act and Sri Lanka is one such country, which is not designated under
the Act. Lord Berwick therefore proposes that there should be a significant extension of
the powers conferred on the authorities in the UK to curb fund raising activities indulged
in by terrorist organisations.
I quote from his report, he says "a better approach would be to introduce new powers based on proscription which could extend to international as well as domestic terrorism, the approach would be similar to that recently adopted in the United States of America, but it would differ from the US power to designate an organisation as a terrorist organisation, in that it would not be necessary to demonstrate that the terrorist activity threatened the UK's national security or the security of UK nationals abroad."
Lord Berwick's suggestion is that proscription powers should extend to foreign terrorist organisations operating or seeking support in the UK. Once an organisation has been proscribed provision equivalent to the existing Prevention of Terrorist Act, Sections 2 and 10, would come into force making it an offence to be a member of the organisation or to give or receive funds for its benefit. An application could then be made to restrain the organisation's assets pending proceedings leading to forfeiture. This approach, the report goes on to say, overcomes the principal difficulty inherent in proceeding under the other terrorist finance provisions or establishing a link between the funds and particular terrorist act. The Secretary of State could decide on information and intelligence provided to him that the organisation was a terrorist organisation and liable to proscription. The order would obviously need to take effect immediately but should perhaps be subject to review by a specially appointed Advisory Committee. It would then be for the organisation to appeal against the decision by way of judicial review, if it wish to do so.
I wish to say Ladies & Gentlemen, that the mandate under which Lord Berwick conducted this inquiry required him to assume that there would be a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. In other words the ambit of the inquiry was taking the assumption or proceeding on the assumption that there would be lasting peace in Northern Ireland. He was required to look into the various necessary legislative measures that would be required to combat terrorism in the future in the United Kingdom. And his report, I venture to suggest it is very interesting because he proceeds precisely on the basis of the assumption that he was required to proceed on, that is removing the Northern Ireland situation from the scene, as it were all the suggestions he made of curbing fund raising, proscribing, regarding the definition of terrorism and so on, were all measures which he suggests should be adopted in the United Kingdom in a peace time situation. He says on this point in his report, "In my view there should continue to be a power to proscribe terrorist organisations as at present. It should not be limited to Irish terrorism. It should be extended to include international as well as domestic terrorism. The purpose of proscription will be two fold; first it will furnish a conclusive presumption that an organisation which is for the time being proscribed is a terrorist organisation. This will facilitate the burden of proof in terrorist cases. Secondly, proscription will be the starting point for the creation of a number of fund raising and other offences, especially fund raising for terrorism overseas". This is the purpose of designation in the US Terrorism Prevention Act. Proscription is another word for the same thing and will serve the same purpose. Lord Berwick had no doubt at all in his mind that the power to proscribe terrorist organisations was an essential tool or weapon in the legislative armoury that the United Kingdom should be equipped with. Anti-money laundering legislation is another area in which legislation should be introduced. Such legislation would give greater powers to carry out financial investigations and to provide Courts with the necessary authority to impose sanctions to deter terrorist financing and to seize funds, which are used for terrorist, related purposes. As the law presently stands in the UK, it is an offence to raise funds to support terrorism abroad only if the act of terrorism itself is pliable in the United Kingdom. As I suggested a moment ago and indeed Lord Berwick has suggested that the proposed conspiracy law reform should take care of that particular lacuna in the law, that was discovered when investigations were being conducted into the common law basis on which the law of criminal conspiracy is based.
Fourthly, legislation should be introduced to prevent the abuse of asylum as envisaged in the UN Declaration. In fact, the abuse of asylum proposal was indeed a UK initiative taken in connection with the preparatory work for the UN Declaration. As I said the object of legislation on that particular point is to prevent a refugee status, an asylum seeker acquiring refugee status if he had been engaged in terrorist activities and the status once granted is not to be used for the purpose of preparing or organising terrorist acts intended to be committed against other States or their citizens.
Fifthly, the need to enter into bilateral treaties covering matters such as extradition and the confiscation of terrorist funds. There is increasing recognition in international treaty practice relating to extradition that the political offences exception should not apply in respect of terrorist crimes so that as I mentioned a moment ago, the so called political motivation should not preclude the extradition of a terrorist offender to stand trial. Agreements for the confiscation of terrorist funds provide a comprehensive legal regime for mutual legal assistance among States and that is an avenue that could be explored to strengthen the efforts that are being made by countries working on a concerted basis to prevent terrorists from accumulating funds in one country for the purpose of financing terrorist activities in another. Ladies & Gentlemen, I have suggested a few practical measures that could be taken in the UK because I happen to be addressing this subject here at Chatham House tonight. These are measures that will have to be taken sooner I hope rather than later by all those countries who profess to be concerned with combating terrorism at the international level. Soon Ladies & Gentlemen, the United Nations Convention will require that such domestic legislation be brought into force.
With regard to the United Kingdom. I close with this simple observation - the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka have been friends for a very long time indeed. At first the relationship was one forged in the colonial era, that was a relationship, which subsisted for over 150 years. Sri Lanka and the UK parted company in the legal legislative sense in 1948. This indeed is the 50th anniversary year of Sri Lanka's Independence. But our two countries parted company as friends. The struggle for independence was bloodless. We have remained friends, staunch friends, and close friends for 50 years. I have no doubt that that relationship will continue as strongly in the future.
That is why I would be failing in my duty, Ladies & Gentlemen, if I did not tell you this evening that the question of the role of the LTTE, unarguably the most effective, ruthless terrorist organisation that we have seen this century, its role in the United Kingdom in relation to Sri Lanka is one that gives my people, our people, very great pain of mind. I cannot tell you how deeply grieved and sad the Sri Lankan people were in recent years when they have seen as bomb after bomb has gone off in our cities killing, maiming hundreds, thousands of people, the response from the United Kingdom has been less than we would expect from a close and valued friend.
How galling it is to our people, I must tell you, the day after a bomb goes off a flurry of brave communications issued from 211 Catherine Road in London. I do not say for one moment that what happens here at 211 Catherine Road or elsewhere is something, at which the Government of the United Kingdom, past or present, connives or condones. But I do say that there is a degree of passivity in its reaction to the role that this terrorist organisation plays in this country that causes very great distress to the Sri Lankan people.
It is difficult for them to understand, indeed it is very difficult for me to understand why it is not possible, and why means can not be found to at least make it clear to this terrorist organisation that their presence in this country in all its multifaceted manifestations is unwelcome. One has not seen that happening.
What we ask therefore, Ladies & Gentlemen, is not much, if the laws are deficient and I accept the fact that there are deficiencies in the laws of the United Kingdom for the simple reason that those laws were not enacted at the time when all aspects of terrorist activities could be foreseen. If the laws are deficient the laws can be suitably adjusted because one is dealing here with immense human suffering on the one side far away in a friendly country and the terrorist organisations firmly and comfortably established in the United Kingdom acting as though they can do what they like with impunity.
I am confident Ladies & Gentlemen that in the near future, I hope in the very near future, the Government of the United Kingdom will adopt such legislative measures as are necessary now to honour the international treaty obligations that it has undertaken by virtue of the newly adopted United Nations Conventions on the Suppression of Terrorist bombings. I am also confident Ladies & Gentlemen that the Government of the United Kingdom will find the political will to implement those measures once they are enacted. I am confident that once that is done we will begin to see the end of the flow of funds which go to purchase the deadly weapons that are killing, maiming and mutilating the innocent people of Sri Lanka. I thank you very much.