Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Bernard Goonetilleke has urged countries that have become State Parties to terrorism related international instruments and particularly those who have taken action to list terrorist organizations, to take strict measures to ensure that their efforts are not undermined by front organizations of listed terrorist organizations.

Ambassador Goonetilleke made this observation when he addressed the International Center for Terrorism Studies of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. today (28 June 2006).

Speaking on ‘International Cooperation in Combating Terrorism’, Ambassador Goonetilleke said, when civilized society is confronted with common dangers, the general tendency is to circle the wagons and prepare to meet the common threat. For example, when highly communicable diseases like SARS, which threatened the entire world, began to spread, there was rapid action regionally as well as internationally. Several years later, the international community is gearing once again in a similar fashion to deal with another deadly disease, the avian flu. While the spread of terrorism is considerably different from the spread of highly communicable diseases, effect of the spread of terrorism is equally dangerous in a highly globalized world.

The Ambassador, who acknowledged the continuing debate on how to define terrorism, traced the use of terrorism since early times and the national, regional and international efforts made to grapple with the problem. He emphasised that a facet of terrorism to which hardly any attention has been paid in the debates concerning terrorism and its manifestations is the existence of numerous front organisations, dealing with humanitarian, cultural, religious, commercial and social dimensions of ethnic groups, which look quite innocuous at first sight, but surreptitiously work in tandem with terrorist organisations. Much of the time, these organisations carry out propaganda activities and raise funds through licit and illicit means to keep the war chests of parent organizations full. These funds are periodically laundered at convenient locations and funnelled to purchase military hardware etc., to carry out acts of sabotage and terrorism against selected targets. In his view international efforts in addressing terrorism should also take cognisance of this rampant insidious development.

Drawing on Sri Lanka’s experience to evaluate the scope and limits of international cooperation and action in combating terrorism in affected countries, Ambassador Goonetilleke said, Sri Lanka had to face the onslaught of unbridled terrorism for almost a quarter of a century before 9/11. Consequently, Sri Lanka did not and shall not have the privilege of debating semantics of defining terrorism. Until recent times, international support Sri Lanka received to combat terrorism was at best lukewarm. For many years, our plea for help was a cry in the wilderness as the LTTE was seen as freedom fighters by some and underdogs by others. The barbarity of LTTE action against the Tamil people, whom they claim to represent, forcible conscription of teenage Tamil children for armed combat, fund raising through intimidation and physical threats against the Tamil Diaspora living particularly in the Western Hemisphere etc., were ignored by the international community until recently.

He said Sri Lanka’s experience makes it clear that terrorism is an international problem, which can only be defeated with cooperation among states, and active support of regional and international organizations. When dealing with terrorism, any weakness or vacillation by the international community will have the effect of feeding terrorism. He regretted that at times, notwithstanding international conventions and other commitments, some members of the international community have adopted an “ostrich like” attitude shirking their responsibilities claiming that terrorist violence do not directly affect their countries or citizens. At other times, their lack of understanding of the ground realities, prevent them from realising the nuances of the situation, and end up literally being taken for a ride by terrorist groups, whose preoccupation is to buy time.

Ambassador Goonetilleke noted that the fact that Canada and the EU that listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation recently, did so almost a decade after the US listed the LTTE as a terrorist organization in 1997, is by itself an example of the free run that organization had in many countries in the western hemisphere for over two decades. While appreciating the US government’s early listing of the LTTE as a terrorist organization, and emphasising that the US, as the most powerful state in the world has an important role to play in defeating terrorism, wherever it occurs under whatever guise. Ambassador Goonetilleke regretted that so far no action has been taken to stop the activities of LTTE front organizations. If substantial amounts are collected by front organizations of listed terrorist groups, and if these funds are fuelling terrorism in third countries causing the denial of enjoying human rights and democratic rights by people, then the affected countries have a right to demand that stringent action be also taken against such front organizations. He said it is noteworthy that countries such as the U.K. and Canada, which banned the LTTE more recently, as well as countries such as Australia and Denmark, which have yet to legally proscribe the LTTE, have endeavoured to confront front organisations’ challenge by raiding their offices, scrutinising their accounts and financial transactions.

Drawing on Sri Lanka’s experience, Ambassador Goonetilleke offered seven critical standards that have to be met by states, if civilized society is to overcome the scourge of terrorism.

I. Refrain from using terrorist groups to achieve political mileage in third countries.

II. Implement strictly national legislation against terrorism related action.

III. Exercise strict control over smuggling of weapons and money laundering.

IV. Make formal or informal arrangements to share intelligence.

V. Take swift action to proscribe terrorist organizations.

VI. Take action against front organizations.

VII. Use a carrot & stick approach in dealing with terrorist groups

The opening remarks were made by Mr. Frank J. Cilluffo, Associate Vice President (Homeland Security) and Director, Homeland Security Policy Institute, The George Washington University and Mr. Michael S. Swetnam, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Prof. Yonah Alexander, Director, International Center for Terrorism Studies and Prof. Edgar H. Brenner, Co-Director, Inter-University Center for Legal Studies co-chaired the meeting.

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is an independent public policy research institute. The Institute’s current endeavors have required the formation of special efforts in Terrorism and asymmetry, Emerging threats and opportunities, National health policies, Science and technology forecasting and National security.

Embassy of Sri Lanka
Washington DC

28 June 2006


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