Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons: Plagiarism and the fate of LTTE surrendees

Photo courtesy Deccan Chronicle

When I first read Shamila’s piece posted on 24 February (Female ex-combatants of LTTE in post-war Sri Lanka), I had the strange feeling that I had read it before as it seemed very familiar. A moment later I realized that not only had I read it, I had actually written much of it. Shamila has both paraphrased, and quoted verbatim, a section of my piece titled Jaffna and the Vanni today: The reality beneath the rhetoric, posted on 17 March 2011, without giving due acknowledgement. Although Groundviews is a citizen journalism website, and not an academic journal, all those who contribute are expected to abide by accepted rules relating to due acknowledgment of sources and refrain from engaging in plagiarism.

For ease of reference, I shall list below the striking similarities between the two pieces. It is the first section of Shamila’s piece that has been ‘borrowed’ from my article while it appears the second half to be the work of the author. All paragraphs set out below contain both paraphrased sentences as well as verbatim quotes, which have been highlighted.

Valkyrie: As this author has written in a previous piece on Groundviews, many ‘surrendees’, as they’re called, were not combatants but those who worked in the LTTE administration while others were forcibly recruited even hours before the end of the war. Moreover, during the period they were held at the purported rehabilitation centres they inhabited a legal black hole unable to exercise their right to due process.

Shamila: Many ‘surrendees’, as they are called, were not combatants but those who worked within the LTTE’s administration, while others were forcibly recruited even hours before the end of the war. Moreover, during their internment at rehabilitation centres, they were unable to exercise their right to due process in order clear any charges against them.

Valkyrie: In cases where they are, it appears to be mostly due to the fact that they are being asked to register, and then report regularly to sign in with the Civil Affairs Office.

Shamila: Even after their release, these “rehabilitated” surrendees are asked to register with the Civil Affairs Office (within the military). Following the process of registration, they have to report regularly to the military and their movements are closely monitored.

Valkyrie: This identifies the alleged former combatants to the community as people who pose a potential threat, not due to their previous perceived or actual involvement with the LTTE, but because they are constantly monitored and their movements restricted by the security forces.

Shamila: The situation is compounded by the identification of these female ex-combatants to the community as people who pose a potential threat – not necessarily due to their previous perceived or actual involvement with the LTTE, but because they are constantly monitored and their movements restricted by the security forces.

Valkyrie: People in the North are afraid that ‘if something happens’ the security forces will first seek the person who was released from the ‘rehabilitation’ centre and hence the community at times chooses to stay away from these persons for fear they too will draw the unwelcome attention of the security forces in some way.

Shamila: The communities of the north at times tend to avoid association with ex-combatants in the fear that the attention of the security forces might be drawn towards them, and ‘if something happens,the security forces might first seek the person who was released from the ‘rehabilitation’ centre and then those who might be associated with them.

By pointing out the plagiarism, I am not claiming that the issue is not real or valid. Rather, as I have stated in my pieces on Groundviews, (Response to Michael Roberts’ ‘Turning Former LTTE Personnel into Sri Lankan Citizens?’Reconciliation through ‘Rehabilitation’ & ‘Reintegration’ of Ex-LTTE members in Sri Lanka: Separating Fact from Fiction‘National security’ in post-war Sri Lanka: Women’s (In) security in the North)  from which I shall reproduce relevant sections below, the rehabilitation and re-integration of alleged former combatants, particularly women, is a very serious issue that is not receiving the attention it deserves. For instance, to date we do not know exactly how many persons have been sent to the rehabilitation centres. Since July 2009, when ICRC was prevented from accessing the rehabilitation centres no independent protection agency has visited the centres to undertake protection monitoring, i.e. ascertain whether the rights of the inhabitants were violated in any manner during their detention. Even a year following the end of the armed conflict, the government continued to identify persons who were perceived to have had some link with the LTTE, who were then sent to rehabilitation centres. For instance, there were numerous reports that persons were separated from their families and taken away during the IDP return process in late 2009. This continued in areas of origin of the IDPs after they returned home. Further, detainees held at centres such as Boosa have been transferred to rehabilitation centres, and vice versa. The population at the rehabilitation centres therefore has been fluid. Hence, we do not even know how many women were held at the centres and whether all have been released.

Although the government claims it has provided vocational training to all those held in rehabilitation centres, according to released persons, only a handful appear to have received any form of training at all. Many stated that of thousands of persons only a limited number, around 20-30, were chosen for each training course at any given time, i.e. training was not provided to all persons held at rehabilitation centres. As the women who appear in the video posted by Shamila state, one of the most pressing needs of those released from rehabilitation centres is livelihood opportunities.

The post-release monitoring continues to cause difficulties and prevent the effective re-integration of former rehabilitees, particularly women. For instance, some former rehabilitees have reported that during the visits to the Civil Affairs Office (CAO) they were asked to sign documents that were in Sinhala, a language they don’t understand, and interrogated. They said they were asked the same questions that were posed to them in the rehabilitation centres- of which section/battalion/unit were you a member? Who was your commander? How long were you in the LTTE? Do you know where weapons are hidden? etc. Some who were forcibly recruited by the LTTE lament that these questions only remind them of a period they wish to forget when they are trying to move forward with their lives, while other expresses anger about the constant harassment and suspicion with which they are viewed that they say makes them feel like second class citizens. For women, visiting the CAO poses several problems since they cannot go alone but have to take a companion along. Visits by military or intelligence services to their homes increases the vulnerability of women in a socially conservative society such as the North, and makes it harder for women to be accepted by their communities.

While Shamila’s attempt to enable the voices of the alleged former combatants to be heard is laudable, the method she has used has the potential to undermine the integrity of her efforts. My response therefore is not intended to trivialize the issue, but to point out the need for the highest standards of rigour and professionalism with regard to research, documentation and presentation, in order to ensure that the difficult issues human rights advocates raise are heard and able to withstand scrutiny by even the severest critic. At the very least, we owe that to those on whose behalf we claim to work.