Tamil Tigers a law unto themselves

Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
November 06 2003

Sri Lankan guerillas abolish the death penalty from their legal system, writes Christopher Kremmer.

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers guerillas are renowned for ruthlessly eliminating their enemies. So it comes as a surprise to learn that the movement has decided to abolish the death penalty.

In the rebel capital of Kilinochchi, in the north of the island, a gleaming new courts complex symbolises the Tigers' yearning for both autonomy and legitimacy. Here, judges trained at the rebels' own law college dispense a form of justice they say is superior to a Sri Lankan judiciary they regard as corrupt and inefficient.

Chickens peck the ground adjacent to the district courthouse, while inside, a judge is dressed like a Mormon missionary.

It is stiflingly hot, and the ceiling fans are not making much of a difference, and the case of the male plaintiff, who claims the female defendant is not paying interest on the loan he made to her, probably will not make the evening news bulletin on Voice of the Tigers' radio.

It may appear bucolic, but the rebels' courts have the power of life and death. In the past decade they have ordered the execution of four prisoners.

Now, says the chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam's (LTTE) judiciary, their autonomous state of Eelam is sufficiently secure to dispense with the cruel and barbaric punishment. "Our leader told us that after the war was finished we could finish with the death penalty. Now we are a separate country, so the time to abolish it has come," said Elyaphamphy Pararajasingham, speaking before this week's political crisis in Colombo plunged the peace process into disarray. Although sceptics question the ability of an unelected militia that rules by the gun to respect the rule of law, Tamil lawyers have constructed an extensive body of law, all of which has been approved by the Tigers' supreme leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. He has his own legal problems. He is wanted in India for the murder of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. Fortunately for him, Eelam has no extradition treaty with India.

The law of Eelam includes complete criminal and civil codes, and a law of evidence, all collected in 19 volumes. Students study the law of torts, international law, and English.

The courts, including a court of appeal, have ruled on 10,000 criminal cases since they were set up in 1993. They also rule in civil matters.

But given the LTTE's unsavoury record of bombings that have killed hundreds of innocent civilians there is one curious gap - there is no offence of terrorism.


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