Human Rights Watch backtracks on extortion charge

[TamilNet, Sunday, 19 March 2006, 12:14 GMT]
Stung by criticism by expatriate Tamils of its report last week claiming the Diaspora was gripped by ‘a culture of fear’ regarding LTTE extortion, Human Rights Watch this weekend issued a statement that stepped back from its earlier sensational claims. Acknowledging that accusations of extortion were only being made about “a small number of individuals” who were “claiming to represent the LTTE or groups linked to the LTTE,” HRW said: “we do not suggest that significant numbers of Tamils are engaging in extortion or other unlawful activity. We also note that many Tamils actively and willingly support the LTTE.”

Last week a HRW report titled ‘Funding the ‘Final War’: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora,’ the New York based organization urged government authorities in Canada and the UK “to take stronger steps to protect members of the Tamil diaspora from violence, intimidation and extortion.”

“The Tamil Tigers are exporting the terrors of war to Tamils in the West,” the report’s author, Jo Becker, said. “The culture of fear is so strong that even Tamils who don't support them still feel they have no choice but to give money.”

HRW said its 45-page report “details how representatives of the LTTE and pro-LTTE groups use unlawful pressure among Tamil communities in the West to secure financial pledges.”

However, the report triggered a storm of protest and outrage amongst expatriate Tamils.

The Toronto Star reported that at a press conference Wednesday organized by the Canadian Tamil Congress, the message was that anonymous allegations made to HRW don't equal proof of a crime.

“At the event, attended by some of Toronto's most prominent Tamils, the group told reporters the LTTE was the victim of a smear campaign,” the Star reported.

Pointing out there has not been a single prosecution for extortion in Canada amongst the Tamil community, the CTC questioned the basis on which such sweeping allegations could be made about a community.

HRW responded this weekend with a statement on its website.

The human rights group said it had spoken to dozens of members of the Tamil community in Canada and UK.

However, in its clarification, it said there were “credible and consistent reports … of a widespread and systematic campaign by the LTTE obtain funds from Tamils in the West.”

This, Tamil expatriates point out, is quite different from a widespread campaign of extortion or intimidation. Indeed, HRW’s clarification admits: “While a large number of Tamils are subjected to demands for money, we do not suggest that significant numbers of Tamils are engaging in extortion or other unlawful activity. We also note that many Tamils actively and willingly support the LTTE.”

“The extortion activities described in our report are being carried out by a small number of individuals claiming to represent the LTTE or groups linked to the LTTE,” the

However, HRW said the fact there have been no prosecutions did not mean it did not take place, but that people were too scared to complain to Police.

The organization denied it had been instigated by the Sri Lankan government to file the report to smear the LTTE and defended its author, Ms. Becker, as a researcher with 8 years experience.

Expatriate Tamils protested, however, that the accusations, leveled anonymously, were impractical to disprove.

“Unless you interview all 300,000 [Tamils], you're not going to be able to counter these allegations,” Dushy Gnanapragasam, a spokesman for Toronto’s Tamil community told the Toronto Star.

The Star quoted Tamils suggesting that HRW had probably been fed bogus information by anti-LTTE Tamil groups.

External Links:
HRW: HRW replies to Canadian Tamil Congress


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