Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Child soldier recruiter arrested in London

Andrew Kendle reports on the arrest in London of 'Colonel' Karuna, a former Sri Lankan warlord implicated in child soldier recruitment and torture

November 12, 2007
5 min read

On Friday 2 November, a too often ignored war in south Asia came to London. In a joint operation that day, the UK’s Border and Immigration Agency and the Metropolitan Police arrested a Sri Lankan Tamil man on immigration offences in London. The man in question, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, commonly known in Sri Lanka by his non de guerre ‘Colonel’ Karuna, a recently deposed warlord from that country’s war-ravaged eastern region.

According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Karuna has longstanding involvement in torture, extrajudicial killings, attacks against Tamil-speaking Muslims, and the recruitment of child soldiers in Sri Lanka, all of which are crimes under international law.

Before he split with his eastern followers from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in early March 2004, Karuna was one of the most senior members of that separatist organisation. While the Tamil Tigers have always been able to use the long-standing wellspring of antigovernment resentment amongst Tamils to recruit fighters, LTTE leaders have never had any qualms about using force to compel recruits. Karuna was no different in this regard. One of his responsibilities was to maintain the recruitment of cadres for the LTTE from the eastern Batticaloa region, since recruits from his part of the country had a reputation as some of the most reliable and battle ready cadres the LTTE had.

While he was not initially successful following the split with the LTTE, having been routed in a military campaign by the LTTE against him over the Easter weekend of 2004, by late 2005, Karuna convinced the Sri Lankan government to fully back him and his band of Tamil cadres as part of its counterinsurgency strategy against the Tigers.

Child soldier recruitment

Then, in November 2005, following the election of current President Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan army and the Karuna faction went on a war footing following a series of provocations by the LTTE. As a result, by mid-2006 Karuna was back in the game of child soldier recruitment with a vengeance. The difference this time, his Tamil-based group were aided and abetted by the Sri Lankan government, as I saw for myself during a research mission with Human Rights Watch in Eastern Sri Lanka in October 2006. (See ‘Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group’ http://hrw.org/reports/2007/srilanka0107/ )

While traveling through the East that month, my colleagues and I spoke to dozens of local Tamil and Muslim civilians caught in the fighting between the LTTE and the government forces and its paramilitary ally, the Karuna faction. Karuna and his people came up in almost every interview that we conducted. The scale of his operations had gone viral since I had last been in Sri Lanka the previous November. According to what we were told and verified, it included extortion, kidnapping, assassinations and other forms of extra-judicial killings, illegal detention, and child soldier recruitment.

The complicity between Karuna and the Sri Lankan armed forces was so blatant that when we asked a woman near Batticaloa town how her 14 year old son and his friends could have been taken through all the checkpoints to the Karuna faction office in Batticaloa without being questioned by the security forces, she looked at us as if we were stupid and said rhetorically, ‘They [the security forces and Karuna’s people] are all working together, no?’

A fair trial?

The UK government is now in a quandary about what to do with him. While there has been much fine talk about the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the emerging universality of international law, the rhetoric often doesn’t meet up with reality because the international infrastructure and legal norms are still very much a work in progress. The UK’s adherence to the existing international human rights conventions, while better than many countries, needs to improve dramatically in cases like Karuna.

Many perpetrators from the world’s war zones are inevitably going to show up from time to time in London. The UK government needs to be fully on board with the conventions against the recruitment of child soldiers, torture and the jurisdiction of the ICC, to name just a few. It’s simply not acceptable to just be a signatory to such documents. The government also needs to make all such conventions and international courts applicable to UK law both on paper and in practice.

Instead of suggesting, as it did to the BBC a few days ago, that Karuna could possibly be sent back to Sri Lanka because he apparently came here illegally. The government and the judicial system in this country should take a more nuanced and humane stance to the situation that they find themselves.

When the BBC uncovered the fact that Faryadi Zardad, an Afghan warlord, was living in the UK in March 2001, the case was examined by Scotland Yard’s antiterrorism branch. Charges were laid and Zardad was found guilty in a UK court of a campaign of hostage-taking and kidnapping in Afghanistan in July 2005.

Karuna has a long-list of offences that he could potentially be charged with and held accountable for in a UK court. Anyone who tells you that he would receive a fair trial in Sri Lanka, now that he is no longer useful for the government there, is simply not believable.

Andrew Kendle has been a consultant on Sri Lankan issues for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. He worked for Peace Brigades International in Sri Lanka in 1994-1996

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going

A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism

Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase

Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields

Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton

Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi

A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain

Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank

Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded

West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens

Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age

Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle