28 March 2007
Despite promises to investigate abductions of children by the pro-government Karuna group, Sri Lankan authorities have taken no effective action and abductions continue, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Thursday.
“The Karuna group’s use of child soldiers with state complicity is more blatant today than ever before, ” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW said in a statement. HRW also accused the LTTE of recruiting child soldiers.
“The Karuna group is doing the government’s dirty work,” Adams said. “It’s time for authorities in Colombo to stop this group from using children in its forces.”
HRW says in February its staff in the eastern Batticaloa district, “witnessed children clearly under the age of 17, some armed with assault rifles, performing guard duty at various offices of the Karuna group’s political party, the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP).”
“Sri Lankan soldiers and police routinely walked and drove by the children without taking any visible action,” the group said.
HRW staff saw a child with an assault rifle guarding the TMVP office in Kiran, home town of the group’s leader, V. Muralitharan, also known as Colonel Karuna.
Other children, some of them armed, were seen in and around TMVP offices in the district, including in Valaichchenai and Morakkottanchenai, where the office is across the road from a Sri Lankan army base, HRW said.
“When government troops at a military base look across the street at children standing guard at a Karuna office and do nothing, it’s hard to believe the government is taking any meaningful steps to end this abuse,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
“The Karuna group’s use of child soldiers with state complicity is more blatant today than ever before. ”
When relatives of the some children complained at one Karuna camp, cadres there told them not to report the case – or to say the LTTE took their sons, HRW said.
When parents complained, “the military pressured them to say that their children were taken by ‘an unidentified group.’” HRW said.
“There is strong evidence that government forces are now openly cooperating with the Karuna group despite its illegal activities,” HRW said.
“Armed Karuna members regularly walk or ride throughout Batticaloa district in plain view of government forces,” HRW said.
“In February, HRW saw a Karuna commander named Jeyam riding atop a Sri Lankan armored personnel vehicle outside Valaichchenai. In Batticaloa town, residents have seen Karuna cadre patrolling jointly with the police.”
“The Karuna group maintains at least five camps in the jungle about 10 kilometers northwest of Welikanda town in the Polonnaruwa district, about 50 kilometers northwest of Batticaloa town. Welikanda is where the Sri Lankan Army’s 23rd division has its base. The area is firmly under government control, as is the main A11 road from the eastern districts to the Welikanda area. The Karuna camp at Mutugalla village is near a Sri Lankan army post.”
HRW protested that though President Mahinda Rajapakse and other officials have repeatedly said that the government would investigate the allegations of state complicity in Karuna abductions and hold accountable any member of the security forces found to have violated the law, “to date, however, the government has taken no effective steps.”
“The government says it needs evidence to start an investigation, but it already has ample information,” Adams said. “In addition to UN documentation and testimonies in our report, many families have made formal complaints to the police.”
In January HRW provided the government with a 100-page report on Karuna abductions.
With case studies, maps and photographs, the report shows how Karuna cadres operate with impunity in government-controlled areas, abducting boys and young men, training them in camps, and deploying them for combat.
According to UNICEF, there were 45 reported cases of Karuna child abductions in three months – 10 in December, 24 in January, and 11 in February. Among these were three children abducted by Karuna cadre from camps for internally displaced persons in Batticaloa district.
“The actual number is likely to be higher because many parents are afraid to report cases, and these numbers do not reflect the forced recruitment by the Karuna group of young men over 17,” HRW said.
The LTTE has continued to abduct and forcibly recruit children and young adults, including women and girls, HRW said, saying UNICEF documented 19 cases of LTTE child recruitment in January and nine in February. The LTTE has also abducted at least four people from camps for the internally displaced, HRW said.
HRW said it has repeatedly documented and condemned the use of child soldiers by the LT TE, and it has called on the United Nations to impose targeted sanctions on the LTTE because of its long history of recruiting children in violation of international law.
“The LTTE is a notorious repeat offender of child recruitment,” Adams said. “It’s a shame that government forces complicit with the Karuna group are now involved in the same ugly practice.”