Freedom of expression/speech is not absolute. Legal limitations such as defamation and discrimination laws exist in all mature liberal democracies. Drawing on recent and historical events in the history of free speech, this essay will discuss freedom of expression’s role in democratic systems, why it isn’t absolute and why some do not identify with the ‘I am Charlie’ campaign in France.

The following essay will discuss why liberal democracies do not operate with an absolute freedom of speech and expression. Also, it will argue that there is a need to limit free speech for a ‘greater good’.

This paper will firstly describe what is defined by freedom of speech and expression, and what it entails. Secondly, using past and present cases, it will justify why it is necessary to limit freedom of speech when protecting the reputation of individuals from defamation and discrimination. Using historical events, it will discuss why there is a need to improve discrimination and defamation laws in liberal democracies if they are to demonstrate equality and fairness.

Thirdly, it will discuss the role of freedom of speech in a democratic system. Furthermore, it will look at why some people did not identify with the recent ‘I am Charlie’ campaign in France. Finally, it will conclude with why freedom of speech and expression is not absolute and why it can never be an absolute (Danesi 2013).

The right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas without fear of government retaliation or censorship is defined as freedom of speech and expression. It involves the act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of choice (Amnesty International 2013).

Governments restrict different types of speech by implementing policies such as speech codes. Common limitations on speech relate to slander, defamation, classified information, copyright violation, non-disclosure agreements, trade secrets, obscenity, pornography, and sedition, right to privacy, incitement, public security, public nuisance and campaign finance.

Free speech limitations can be expanded to exclude forms of expression as well, which are considered offensive to individuals, special interest groups or society as a whole. For example, freedom of speech is limited in many jurisdictions to varying degrees by religious legal systems, religious offence or incitement to ethnic or racial hatred laws.

There are reasons why freedom of speech should not be an absolute. For example, even in a liberal democracy such as the United States, one could not sell snake oil claiming it will cure cancer. Insider trading that gives an unfair advantage over competitors is prohibited. A person could not yell ‘Fire!’ in a way that could cause a stampede (Paulson 2011). In Germany, denying the holocaust is seen as a punishable crime.


With regard to Australian law, there are exceptions to limiting freedom of speech, defamation being one such exception. An individual cannot tell a lie that can harm the reputation of someone else. Even in liberal democracies, exceptions to the rules are necessary to mediate between competing interests. Defamation laws in Australia are expansive to protect the reputation of people from an unfair attack (Chesterman 2011:153-193).

There are two forms of defamation – oral and published. Oral defamation is usually linked with slander and applies to stories and/or comments told at a public venue such as a party or meeting. Public defamation is linked to libel and applies to television broadcasts or newspaper articles or pictures that claim to be generally false. However, outside oral and published defamation, anything that could be likened to injuring a person’s reputation can be identified as defamatory. This could be extended to a picture or comment that brings ridicule, contempt and disrepute to an individual (Mathis 2015).

However, this sort of extended protection could be seen as a regressive law in a liberal democracy. If the law applies, almost every citizen makes statements that are defamatory. For an example, if an employee says to his friends that his or her boss is unfair, such a comment could be seen as defamation. It is rare though, it seems, that someone uses the law against such statements.

The defences to such law suits are mostly based on the person’s right to say it, where it leads back to freedom of speech. If the person has the ‘right to say it’, then he or she has a legal defence. A persons ‘right to say it’ falls into three categories – what he or she said was factually and true, the individual had the duty to provide the information, or simply expressing an opinion.

Most defamation cases get settled before they reach the court. However, the minority of cases are still heard, but there are flaws such as cost, unpredictability, complexity and slowness even with the ones that do go into a court hearing (Arts Law Centre of Australia 2015).

Most people never sue due to legal costs related to processing claims. The cases could go on for years and even if sentences are passed, they can be appealed. This means it is mostly the powerful and rich who sue as a tool for blocking their public criticisms.

The unpredictability and complexity of defamation law has dire consequences on journalists. Writers with defamation at the back of their minds often write ‘watered down’ versions of the truth to be as least offensive as possible. Publishers even have lawyers read through articles to remove any information that might offend someone, even if the information is true. This is a tremendous restriction on free speech (Hirst M. & Patching R. 2014:223).

In 1965, the case of the New South Wales Premier, Sir Robert Askin, which was centred on a rumour that he was associated with organised crime and corrupt police was never openly published because the media was afraid he would sue for defamation, and that he would win. The National Times waited almost two decades (1981) after his death to publish their front-page story, “Askin: Friend to Organised Crime.” Liberal democracies often silence critics. They do what it takes to prevent further discussions of criticisms that could be damaging to public figures (Abjorensen 2007).

One of the best defences against defamation is a rebuttal to the claim. However, when defamatory statements are made in the media, people’s reputations are destroyed and there is very little that can be done to repair them. Freedom of speech is not much use when information is published en masse. There is no determining how far the information has reached or who received it. Even when an apology is made, it is often too late to restore the reputation.

The treatment of Sam Harris by the biggest Internet news company TYT (The Young Turks) is one such example (Harris 2015). TYT consistently misrepresented his views, which resulted in him appearing as a guest in one of their shows and stating the following: “Viewers coming naively to this (interview) video won’t understand the context of this conversation. I think you have treated me unfairly during the last few weeks, and I have come here to clean up this mess. The structure of that conversation is an unfortunate one. I’m going to say things that are going to sound defensive, I’m here to take the slime of a few people of your show before me, off of me. That’s and unfortunate context for any conversation. There is a deeper point about journalism (and defamation) that needs to be exposed here.

Let me explain, the website has a dozen articles about me that are just pure slander. They misrepresent my views, one of the writers called me a douche-bag (in the article). This is not journalism. These are just hit-pieces that are on the website Salon.

Any naive reader of that website would assume all of this is journalistically sourced, there is an editorial policy that has made all this ‘kosher’. But the truth is, much of what you read in Salon is people in their bed room typing, this is not the New York Times. There are factual inaccuracies and tonal differences with their articles about me.

So I complained to the editor-in-chief of Salon about this. He said to me – sorry you feel that way, at Salon we are open to all voices, and it’s all about conversation. This is a Salon after all. Perhaps you should write an article defending yourself? Defend how you are not a racist, bigot, Zionist and a Islamophobe.

So first they steal part of my reputation by putting out slander, but now they also want to steal my time but also they are trying to get me to work (for them) for free. Then they want me to drive all my traffic an fans to their site where they can read where I’m not a racist, Islamophobe and a genocidal maniac. Does this seem familiar to you?

What has happened on your show in previous weeks, you had this guy, C.J Werleman – who is now a well-established fraud, liar and serial plagiarist. He was obviously lying about my views and he was on your show unrebutted for an hour. So what journalistic purpose is being served by having that hour of video online till the end of the world where he is calling me a genocidal maniac, I want to execute a nuclear first strike to the Middle East, I want to kill people for thought crimes. What journalistic purpose is being served when that video is going to stand on it’s own in the internet – Even if I am here to rebut him, they (the public) are not going to find this video of my rebutting him. That video is going to be out there forever and this guy (C.J Werleman) has zero credibility.”

This is one of the core problems when it comes to most media organisations and defamation, that is, they avoid making retractions. They sometimes go far as defending a defamation case, even when they are in the wrong. They would rather go to court than admit to their wrong doing. As seen with the case of Sam Harris, it doesn’t serve well when it comes to protecting reputations. Once the information is out, there is no way of withdrawing it (Martin 2007).

Defamation law is consistently inconsistent. It prevents free speech but doesn’t completely protect the reputation of people. If defamation is to prove successful in liberal democracies, it needs to reform itself to represent all people in a democracy equally, instead of a select few. The reform should reposition the burden of proof from defendant to claimant. Therefore, the defendant should not carry the burden of proof. The defendant should not need evidence to support his or her claim for their sentence. Fulfilling the burden of proof effectively captures the benefit of assumption, passing the burden of proof onto the other party – the claimant.

At its core, defamation is a necessity in a liberal democracy. It is an effective tool that is available as a penalty for lying. However, since the law has been extended to capture any form of defame, it has become less credible and more unreliable. It has become its own enemy. In practice, it has hindered free speech and managed to protect powerful people from scrutiny whilst failing to defend others. Court costs should be reduced so that it won’t only be a tool used by people of power to shut down criticisms. Also, as in the case of Sam Harris, systems should be set up for people to lose credibility if they are exposed as lying or misrepresenting one’s statements.

Similar to defamation law, discrimination laws exist to protect the public from discriminatory speech. Discrimination laws help protect people being ill-treated due to their religion, national origin, race, colour, or sex. It is mostly there for restricting members of one group from opportunities or privileges that are available to another group. However, there is a fine line between free speech and discrimination. As a rule, the law on protecting people from discrimination should never surpass laws that protect freedom of speech (Lynch 2012).

Exceptions to this rule can be observed by criminalising the denial of the Holocaust. Some of the liberal democracies that banned the denial of the genocide, include Germany, Austria and Hungary, who were also the main perpetrators of the said genocide. They also have laws that extend to censoring speech and expression that is associated with Nazism (Ash 2007).

There are two main reasons to protect freedom of speech. The first is to respect the choice of individuals, and the other is to be pragmatic. To date, democracy is the best form of government that humanity has produced. Democratic governance is essential for individual citizens to thrive and unrestricted speech is part of it. The end goal of democracy is fairness and equality. For this to be achieved, its citizens need to speak, study, think and participate freely in self-governance.

However, living in a democracy also means that we have to compromise as well. When free speech collides with other interests, there is mediation and boundaries are established in the interest of achieving a balance. Some would even consider that words could be used as weapons and can have consequences. They can incite harm by degrading and assaulting an individual.

This is precisely why liberal democracies have limits on free speech, where people are not able to discriminate based on a person’s religion, national origin, race, colour, or sex. The reason why by law, we do not allow defamation and discrimination in liberal democracies is because it unfairly harms the reputation of a person. Protecting the reputation of a person is imperative in a liberal democracy.

However, the right to freedom of press is also indicative of a liberal society. The more there is freedom of press and media, the more democratic the society is. It becomes a society capable of self-governing and making its own decisions. Creating awareness of daily occurrences and having complete transparency can release the social, cultural and political tensions of a society. Journalism can be used as an effective tool by a liberal democracy to practice freedom of speech.

The key function of journalism in a liberal democracy is the unbiased gathering and dissemination of information. It could be argued that media is the fourth branch of power. It is the watch-dog of the government. This is self-evident in cases such as the Watergate scandal, which saw the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon, the Gulf of Tonkin scandal of the U.S involvement in the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba and more recently, the WikiLeaks tapes on the Iraqi war crimes and the NSA domestic surveillance scandal. In a free democratic society, information matters. It is what largely determines which political party is voted in to power (WTK 2015).

In a free society, the media should be given a license to criticise authorities, whether it be government or businesses. News should be produced based on public interests. This is something we do not see in an authoritarian regime. Journalism is the best tool the public has to exercise their freedom of speech.

Article 10 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right entails freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority, and regardless of the type of media used. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprise.”

From the above international declarations, we can see that they declare a clear right to freedom of expression. However, as mentioned earlier in this essay, we can see that freedom of speech is not an absolute. Even within these international declarations, provisions have been built into them to protect against defamation and discrimination (United Nations 2015).

ICCPR has set two provisions. One is about respecting the rights and/or reputations of others. The other is to protect national security and/or public health, morals and order (OHCHR 2015).

However, the breadth can be troubling. The issue of information being detrimental to national security can also be in the public interest. As stated earlier, examples of this can be seen by the WikiLeaks tapes on the Iraqi war crimes, Watergate scandal and NSA spying by Edward Snowden.

The European Convention on Human Rights (EUHR) specifically addresses these issues. The Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that:

“The right to freedom of expression belongs to everyone. The exercise of free speech, carries with it duties and responsibilities, which may be subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.” (ECHR 2015).

The ECHR is very comprehensive with regard to restrictions, but the preconditions that limit the freedoms are necessary in a liberal democracy which is statute driven. There is a case to be made that free speech could also come with a responsibility. Unrestricted speech can lead to the violation of other human rights. It is important to note that ECHR differs from Australian law. It states that if certain speech can offend or shock, it still needs to be protected whereas in a liberal democracy, it is important to discuss issues that are in the public interests, where it is the scrutiny of a public official or a well-known celebrity. If the claims are true, the speech should not be suppressed.

In the case of Lingens V. Austria (1986), the court ruled that a politician should be able to take on more criticism than a regular citizen. It also established that a journalist can’t be silenced in order to protect this reputation. This made defamation laws that prosecuted public personalities more in line with press freedom (HUDOC 2015).

The ICCPR believes that propaganda for war – advocacy for racial, religious hate that incites discrimination or violence, should be made illegal. Since we live in a globalised world, unrestricted freedoms can lead to global incidents, as is evident through the Charlie Hebdo shooting, Muhamad cartoon in Denmark and Salman Rushdie’s Fatwa in the United Kingdom (Democracy Now 2015).

Even the media bore some responsibility when it came to the spread of propaganda in the Yugoslavian wars, as well as the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In a liberal democracy, it’s reasonable to have restrictions on freedom of speech but they need to be balanced by a court system that can judge if the restrictions are legitimate.

In a liberal democracy, free speech is one of its cornerstones. It facilitates progress and development of a society. It is important to distinguish between limiting free speech and having no free speech. It is a slippery-slope of an argument – if there is no absolute free speech, then we as a society should restrict it endlessly.

During the last 20 years, there has been a movement called the ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’ in Northern Uganda. By parading under the banner of ‘God’, they have practiced warfare. It rules as it pleases and when there is a speech that is in conflict with their interests, as a punishment they cut off the lips of the Ugandan citizens and sometimes punch holes through their lips, then padlock them in order to silence their speech (Global Security 2015).

Speech is a powerful instrument which can be intrinsically dangerous. The Rwandan genocide was orchestrated by radio speech and public speech. However, they never used clear words that could be identified as direct hate speech. They used euphemisms such as ‘Do your work. Do not let a weed escape the blade. Clear the bush’. The context matters. In a historical context, they should be considered hate speech. This form of hate speech did invariably lead to the genocide of the Tutsis. The problem here was not hate speech, rather, there wasn’t enough free speech. Citizens who protested against the genocide were silenced and deemed offensive (Gourvitch 1998).

The argument for hate speech is a difficult one. It is not the case of where free speech ends, but where hate speech begins. Once you start branding sacrilegious and racist speech as offensive, you might have to resort to book burning. In that context, it is perfectly normal to burn books such as Huckleberry Finn where African Americans are negatively portrayed. Speeches such as a Holocaust denial, defeat the purpose of free speech. Making a speech like the Holocaust denial illegal ends up creating a platform and elevates such inaccurate claims in order to silence them.

In the article, ‘Limits of free speech’ by David Cesarani, he says that “Thanks to the Internet, it is virtually impossible to stop the dissemination of laws and propaganda these days. The classical argument of free speech drawn from Voltaire and Mill are redundant. They addressed small, literate elites at a time when the means of reproduction were relatively few and easily controlled, when it was easy to contend that in a contest between truth and falsehood held among reasonable men, lies would be exposed and driven from the public sphere. But the Internet is awash with falsehood and bigotry. Good ideas and beautiful truths coexist with trash and outright evil. Heaven forfend that bad ideas should be out there. Amid this anarchy, all that decent people can do is agree to reasonable limits on what can be said and set down legal markers in an attempt to preserve a democratic, civilised and tolerant society.” (Casarani 2008).

However, this could be problematic as it could be argued to be a thought crime. There should be no regulation that prohibits a person from thinking what he wants to think or what he wishes to say.

At times we silence people who are pro-Jewish and at other times we silence people who are anti-Muslim – it depends on where we are and the decade we are in. This is dangerous, as we are accepting that speech should be limited but we are also responsible for limiting it. It should not be a choice of the lesser of two evils. Creating an idea of licensing speech is troubling as most speech would be restricted before it is licensed. That means that an authority would be in charge of issuing the license which begs the question, ‘What would happen to the free speech that criticises that authority? How would this authority not be corrupted and not fall into the wrong hands, like in northern Uganda?’

Arguments from authorities and/or tradition that suggest free speech can be limited by higher authorities should not be part of a liberal democracy. Thomas Paine, former American president, suggested that someone who represses the opinions of another end up being prisoners of their own opinions. They deny themselves the information that could possibly change their ideas (Stanford Encylopedia 2013).

Freedom of speech is the freedom of ideas. However unwelcome it is, it needs to be heard. Deeming one opinion as illegal is an offence against all opinions. No matter what the opinion is, in a liberal democracy it has the right to be heard. In a free market of speech, negative ideas will be heard and rejected and good ideas will surface. If bad ideas continue to triumph over good ideas, it is not a problem of freedom of speech or society having to limit free speech, it is more or less a reflection of society itself.

In 1997, the Nazi party of America paraded through a little town in Illinois, Skokie. It is a popular retirement village for the survivors of the Second World War. The American Civil Liberties Union allowed the march and in turn lost a lot of its members (ACLU 2015). However, in accordance with free speech – it was correct to defend that speech. As stated in the book, ‘The Friends of Voltaire’ by S.G. Tallentyre,’I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ (McNally 2015).

In the mid-1850s, a democratic politician named William M. Tweed was facing a barrage of criticisms in the form of cartoons about the handling of the Orange country riot of 1971. Mr. Tweed responded with, “Stop them damn pictures!” Even after 150 years, the issue still remains, but this time it is ‘Stop the damn pictures – Charlie Hebdo’. (Hess 2010)

Most people wanted to ‘stop them damn pictures’ that Charlie Hebdo published. To an extent, the shooters of Charlie Hebdo were successful. In July of this year, Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Laurent Sourisseau released this statement: ‘We won’t publish pictures of Prophet Mohamed anymore’. (Mortimer 2015).

On January 7th, 2014, Cherid Kouach and Said Kouach forced themselves into the offices of Charlie Hebdo. They killed twelve people because they found what the newspaper published was offensive. This wasn’t the first time there was incited violence in the offices of Charlie Hebdo. In 2011, the officers were firebombed by other critiques of the magazine. The editor-in-chief, Stepane Charbonnier, required police protection, until he was eventually killed by Cherid Kouach and Said Kouach in 2014 (Callimachi 2015).

The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are always mostly insulting and crude. However, they were still allowed to be published. After the January 7 attack, French art director, Joachim Ronchin created the slogan, ‘I am Charlie’. It was quickly adopted by the supporters of freedom of speech. As Joachim Ronchin would describe it, it identifies with the journalist who were killed at the Charlie Hebdo shooting. It supported a peaceful resistance to armed threats to journalists and supported the freedom of expression. The slogan was first adopted by Twitter, in the form of a hashtag. Within two days, the hashtag became the most popular hashtag in the history of Twitter. It was supported by a global audience who were in favour of freedom of speech. It was used in music, print and animated cartoons. A town square in France was also named after it to immortalise it. (Provost 2015).

However, some people do not identify with the ‘I am Charlie’ campaign. Immediately after the positive global response to ‘I am Charlie’, there was an ‘Anti-Charlie’ response. Some people claimed that the staff of Charlie Hebdo brought it on themselves and that they deserved to be murdered for their cartoons.

The ‘Anti-Charlie’ response failed to recognise the right to be offensive and offended, as individuals forgot the right to offend is also part of free speech. The mere suggestion of allowing freedom of speech until you say something is said that one disagrees with is imperative in this narrative, where more commonly, free speech would suggest ‘I might not like what you say but I will defend the right for you to say it’, as we saw with the case of the American Civil Liberties Union defending the right of the American Nazi’s to protest in Illinois, Skokie.

Another reason that people associate with the ‘Anti-Charlie’ response is religion, specifically in Islam and other religions that have blasphemy laws. In accordance with the Islamic Quran, blasphemy against the Prophet is a very heinous crime and the Quran strongly forbids it. It makes eleven references to it (Surah 2:88, 4:15, 5:17, 5:64, 5:68, 5:73, 6:19, 9:74, 11:19, 14:28, 39:8) (Surah Al-Barqarah 2015). The suggestion is that there should be silence when it comes to criticising Islam. This is evident by the murders of bloggers who criticise Islam in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Therefore, the core of Islamic law is not compatible with freedom of speech and therefore not completely compatible with democracy. However, there has been a tremendous effort by liberals in the Middle East, for example by Maajid Nawaz, to reform religion to accept criticisms and not resort to violence when criticisms are made (Nawaz 2015).

Months later, the ‘Anti-Charlie’ response is still influential. There have been several related shootings in Texas, United States and Copenhagen, Denmark. This is not acceptable behaviour in a liberal democracy but these sort of reactions will continue until there is a reformation of Islam. This can be observed in Christianity which went through reformation after the dark ages, making blasphemy tolerable (Shoichet 2015).

Undoubtedly, due to the various colonial enterprises in France, a section of the minority has been marginalised and victimised. A large percentage of that minority have been devout Muslims. To devoted Muslims, the cartoon is offensive and causes further humiliation. The ultimate question is, is it in the public interest for it to be seen?

From the years 2005 to 2015, most of their publications had nothing to do with religion. Also, out of the 523 Charlie Hebdo publications, only seven have relevancy to Islam. It was in the public interest based on context. It fit precisely with the French satire and culture where they have no sacred cow and no prisoner type of humour that other countries do not abide by. Therefore, in context, it was in the public interest that the cartoons were published (Dwyer 2015).

In conclusion, freedom of expression and speech is not an absolute. The standard used to limit freedom of speech should be whether a claim is true or false. Regardless of defamation or discrimination, in a liberal democracy, factual and true speech should be allowed. In current liberal democracies, defamation is often used to silence criticisms of powerful people, an example of this being the 1965 case of Sir Robert Askin.

However, a solution for more equality and fairness would be to shift the burden of proof from defendant to claimant. Another protected speech is discrimination. Speech such as hate speech should be reformed as it remains ambiguous, which was the case in Rwanda. As it inherently doesn’t need to incite violence to be hate speech, speaking in innuendos was just as effective in harvesting a genocide. Therefore, society might never have a definition of what could be defined as ‘hate speech’.

In a liberal democracy, freedom of speech is fundamental to the operation of any democracy. The Universal Declaration on Human rights and other international conventions have established speech and expression as a basic human right. However, these conventions are somewhat flawed as they give priority to authorities such as national security in comparison to democratic principles such as the ‘public’s right to know’. We have seen issues such as the WikiLeaks tapes on the Iraqi war crimes and NSA domestic surveillance scandal come to surface due to this. They have been made illegal due to national security, but once they surfaced they were deemed to be of the public’s right to knowledge. Thus, some issues will always be a battle between national security and the public’s right to knowledge.

Thomas I. Emerson argued that freedom of speech helps to provide a balance between stability and change. Free speech acts as a safety valve to let off steam when people might otherwise be bent on revolution. The Worldwide Governance Indicators project of the World Bank researches into the accountability of global governance. They found that that freedom of speech and accountability are intrinsic and it has a significant impact on the quality of the governance of a country. “Voice and Accountability” within a country, defined as “the extent to which a country’s citizens are able to participate in selecting their government, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of association, and free media” is one of the six dimensions of governance that the Worldwide Governance Indicators measure for more than 200 countries (World Bank 2015). Against this backdrop it is important that development agencies create grounds for effective support for a free press in developing countries (Harvard Law review: 1210-1227).

Yes, freedom of expression and speech is not an absolute. Legal limitations should exist to protect the reputation of individuals. However, laws that deal with defamation and discrimination need to be reformed to represent all individuals equally in a democracy, which it has not done so far. Free speech has a vital role in a democratic system – it is considered a basic right. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was a violation of this right.

It is necessary to exercise freedom of speech and expression in order to have a democratic society, but limitations are also needed for the maintenance of the democratic society. The limitations of free speech should correspond to the two key preconditions: necessity in a democratic society and established statutes, as the rule of law is the basis for democracy. Sometimes, in a democracy, citizens may choose to identify more with their personal and cultural beliefs rather than the liberal democratic values of their country. This is essentially why some do not identify with the “I am Charlie” campaign.



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Freedom of expression/speech is not absolute. Legal limitations such as defamation and discrimination laws exist in all mature liberal democracies. Drawing on recent and historical events in the history of free speech, this essay will discuss freedom of expression’s role in democratic systems, why it isn’t absolute and why some do not identify with the ‘I am Charlie’ campaign in France.

Feature Article: Trouble in paradise

(Reading time: 10 mins)

By Greg Marat

Paradises are usually places where you get killed. – Rick Riordan, author.

Shabbir Noor, 26, has been planning a trip to Indonesia, one of a few countries he longed to visit.

‘My best friend is Indonesian, and all our conversations end with him asking me to come to Indonesia to visit him. Since he is getting married soon, my bags are half packed. I finally have an excuse to go there!’ he said.

Shabir Noor, says he is excited but at the same time he is going through some feeling of guilt. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)
Shabir Noor, says he is excited but at the same time he is going through some feeling of guilt. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)

But now he’s not so sure.

‘The Bali nine, I do sympathise with the families of the executed’ he said. After months of planning a visit to paradise, Mr Noor admits he now has doubts.

‘To go or not to go?’ His ‘half packed bags’ could even be seen in a metaphoric sense on his divisiveness within himself.

In recent years, Indonesia has become a playground for young Australians seeking adventure, peace and happiness.

Up to 11,000 Australian tourists visit this paradise on Earth every year – and one in three are young people (aged 24 to 36).

But as Tourism Australia warns, trouble is brewing in paradise.

The industry body launched a campaign last month in a bid to tackle falling numbers of young tourists to Indonesia.

A spokesperson for the Tourism Australia says ‘it is very hard for us to compete with Asian countries, we are one of the most expensive countries to live and to travel’.

Young tourists are saying that the deaths of Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan would be a added to the list of reasons why we dislike Indonesia, along with the live cattle exports, police brutality and corruption.

It’s a stark contrast to recent years.

There is little wonder so many young Australians have – until recently – made a beeline for Indonesia.

Twenty-eight year old traveller Aleta Catania, for example, says she had spent many years travelling the world – but Indonesia was some place special.

She recalls standing on a beach, with her feet below the crystal clear water, looking back she sees the light of dusk touching the large palm trees that waved to the onlookers.

The restaurants were serving fresh seafood and colourful surfboards were parked next to them on a golden sandy beach.

‘Just beyond the surfboards was the bar. The staff was wearing their button downed Hawaiian shirts and khaki pants while their hair couldn’t be jelled up any straighter’ she said.

The girls were wearing a towel wrap over their Roxy two piece while the guys were wearing their oversized Ray-bans to absorb the last moments of sunlight to end a perfect day.

‘If I could summarise everything in a word, it was, paradise’ she said. If paradise is another way to verbalise a feeling of utopia, then the definition of utopia would be a place of peace, happiness and contentment.

She said she did find peace, happiness and contentment at a beach in Indonesia.

Aleta Catania in her paradise beach in Bali. Photo: Aleta Catania (2013)
Aleta Catania in her paradise beach in Bali. Photo: Aleta Catania (2013)

It is the young Australian Dream.

Indonesia is a paradise on earth.

No wonder 11,000 Australian tourists visit Indonesia every year.

But among the exotic beaches and excitement and the entertainment, danger lurks.

During the last decade, fifteen Australian tourists were arrested for drug related incidents.

Furthermore, most of Indonesia’s death row inmates are foreign nationals.

The election of Joko Widodo saw Indonesia become a more conservative country.

In his first four months as president, he had been very tough on narcotic prisoners in Indonesia.

His government aims to clear its death row of narcotics prisoners as soon as possible.

This will see another forty more foreign citizens ending their life in an Indonesian prison.

Executions in Indonesia started four decades ago in 1973.

Since then, sixteen crimes have been added to the capital punishment list in Indonesia. The most targeted crimes are related to narcotics, murder and terrorism.

But, since the election of Joko Widodo, all fifteen executions have been narcotics related.

Diane Zhang’s article ‘By the numbers: Indonesia’s executions of foreigners’ states that more foreigners have been executed or are slated for execution in 2015 than the total for the previous 16 years.

‘Prior to Widodo’s administration, only seven of the 27 people executed were foreigners.
By contrast, five of the first six people Widodo has executed have been foreigners and nine of the next 10 slated executions also involve foreigners’ says Ms. Zhand.

One could begin to wonder if these executions are to target narcotics or to target foreigners instead?

The Widodo government claims these executions are necessary to combat Indonesia’s reputation as a dangerous destination.

Aditya Maulana, and Indonesian national, residing in Melbourne says that ‘as far as I know, one of Joko Widodo’s priorities is war against the drugs and not foreigners’.

'The war is against Drugs, not foreigners' says Aditya Maulana. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)
‘The war is against Drugs, not foreigners’ says Aditya Maulana. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)

‘In several speeches he mentioned, this country is already sinking from the young generation by the use of drugs as a life style. He is concerned about the next generation of
Indonesia’ says Mr Maulana.

After the recent executions of two Australians, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan,

Australians were disappointed and angry at the Widodo government.

But, the distaste wasn’t contained to the Widodo government, sooner it escalated into a resentment of the country, Indonesia.

Australians took to social media to vent their frustrations.

In awake of the executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the hashtags #boycottBalifortheboys #boycorrIndonesia #boycottBali began to surface. In a recent study done by the public relations firm Edelman, it states that they found 16,944 total mentions of #boycottbali and #boycottindonesia from 29 April 29-30, 2015.

The “Boycott Bali for The Boys” Facebook page currently has almost 10,000 likes.

'I don't think I can ever forgive Indonesia' says Stephanie Scorbell. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)
‘I don’t think I can ever forgive Indonesia’ says Stephanie Scorbell. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)

Stephanie Scobell a member of the ‘Boycott Bali for The Boys’ Facebook page says that before the executions, it was a destination that she would have considered going.

“I would have definitely gone there because  everyone says Bali is great, it’s close to  Australia and it’s cheap. Food is cheap; flights are  accommodations are also very cheap.”

“But I don’t think I would ever go to Indonesia now. I won’t go to Indonesia because I felt strongly about the executions’ says Ms Scobell.

Daphne Wanniarachchi, who has visited Indonesia in the past, says that she will not go there again.

‘It is not just because of the Bali executions, it is because of the live exports, and it is the Bali bombings that targeted innocent Australians. They have a double standard when it comes to terrorism and narcotics and it’s mainly due to the corruption of the government.
It’s all of those factors together that I came to my decision’ says Ms. Wanniarachchi.

Mr Maulana says that ‘it is a fair reaction. If your neighbours are being unpleasant to you, your patriotic side comes out naturally. It can lead to anything, boycotting Indonesian products and boycotting Indonesian tourism etc.’

Some Australians do feel the same way as Ms Scobell and Ms Wanniarachchi did, but some do not.

'There is more to a country that it's laws' says Natalia-Eva Trezciak. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)
‘There is more to a country than it’s laws’ says Natalia-Eva Trezciak. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)

Natalia-Eva Trzeciak, who opposes boycotting Indonesia, says that the recent political developments would not affect her traveling to Indonesia.

‘#BoycottIndonesia? Wow! There is more to a
country than how they handle their laws’ she said.

‘I think it is a rich country in terms of culture and tradition.

There is a lot more to the country than the illegal drug trade!’ says Ms Trzeciak.

Ms Scobell says that ‘BoycottIndonesia will blow over with time, people will forget it over time, unfortunately’.

‘A lot of people didn’t care that these two got executed’ says Ms. Scobell.

A spokesman from Flight Centre, Haydn Long said so far the executions haven’t impacted travel patterns.

“The people who have existing bookings were obviously aware of what was going on in Indonesia when they made those bookings and have typically travelled as planned, rather than cancelling their holidays,” Mr Long told

Mr Maulana says that the ‘Bali executions would not have a significant impact on Australians traveling to Indonesia’.

He says it should be seen as a good thing.

‘The way you can make a strong relationship with a neighbouring country is not only through government to government but it also needs to be people to people. The Bali executions wouldn’t have any impact on Indonesians traveling to Australia either’.

‘The people who travel to Australia are the middle and upper-class of Indonesia, they are not really concerned about these political issues. They don’t over think it’ says Mr Maulana.

Sam Fairweather, an Australian living in Indonesia says “Seriously people, I will not join your anti-Indonesia bandwagon. The demonisation/boycott of a nation due to the administration of the death penalty is only valid if you’re consistent about it. But, you aren’t. People couldn’t give two sh*ts about Indonesians who are being executed by their own government for similar crimes. So, why not boycott the death penalty – and not a nation?”

'My mind says to go, but my heart says should I?' says Shabir Noor. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)
‘My mind says to go, but my heart says should I?’ says Shabir Noor. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)

Shabbir Noor who is waiting on his consciousness to prevail says ‘The Bali nine, I do sympathise with the families of the executed’.

‘But, one of my friends is getting married in Indonesia. He is one of my closest friends, and I have to be there. I know him; I don’t know anyone who got executed or families of the people who got executed. So I do feel somewhat of a detachment with the Bali executions’ says Mr Noor.

‘With the question, to go or not to go? At the moment, I’m leaning more towards going – the cost benefit of missing my friend’s wedding over a political implication is far greater to me, personally’ he said.

Webjet chief executive John Guscic told that ‘there has been no boycott to Bali’.

He stated that the four weeks continuing the executions, flight bookings to Bali have actually increased.

Based on empirical data, Australians are not boycotting Indonesia. In fact, the situation is the polar opposite.

More Australians are going to Indonesia after the executions. If these trends continue, Indonesia will be Australia’s favourite holiday destination by 2020.

The lives of Myuran Sukumaran, Andrew Chan, the live cattle exports, police brutality and corruption can never make up how much we Australians love cheap food, accommodation and flights.

Aleta Catania described Bali as ‘paradise.

A beautiful backdrop with palm trees, pristine beaches and colourful surfboards and crystal clear oceans would define it.

What she forgot to mention was laws, politics and diplomacy would have very little to play in the structuralism of a paradise in a young Australian dream.

Feature Article: Trouble in paradise

News Article: Despite the depreciation of the dollar, Australians prefer to travel overseas and we still love going to Indonesia, says the RBA

(Reading time: 4 mins).

By Greg Marat

The Gen Y holiday starter pack. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)
The Gen Y holiday starter pack. Photo: Greg Marat (2015)

Since its peak of 110 US cents in August 2011, the Australian dollar has been steadily depreciating.

In March of this year, the Australian dollar dropped to 75.6 US cents. This is the lowest point since the global financial crisis in 2008 which created one of the greatest recessions of our generation.

But, this has almost no bearing in Australia’s leisure travel choices.

The RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) released their findings of the Australia’s overseas departures in March 2015.

Natalia-Eva Trzeciak, a frequent traveler to Europe and the Americas says ‘I don’t think the value of the dollar would have any impact (on my travels). I have done domestic travel but I prefer going overseas because I enjoy the foreign aspect’.

‘It is more culturally enterprising’, she said.

Graph 1.1 Short-term Overseas Departures

 The travelling for business, education and employment has only steadily increased.

The business, education and employment sectors has also seen reactionary outcomes from the GFC in 2008, where they have seen a decrease in travel.

In comparison, the leisure sector has increased substantially. It has a contrasting effect on the Australians traveling for leisure.

Tourism Research Australia states that the number of Australians wanting to travel overseas for leisure has increased significantly, while domestic travel has declined.

Stephanie Scobell a frequent traveller to Asia says, ‘I don’t think traveling around Australia is that exciting to be honest. I don’t think I would see anything different from what I would see when I am overseas. There is not much culture here. It is not cheap, it’s expensive here. Places like Thailand and Indonesia is cheap’.

Over the period 1998 to 2010, domestic trips have decreased by 6.4 million trips.

This is a decrease of 8.7 per cent during the twelve years.

In contrast, outbound tourism over the period 1998 to 2010 has more than doubled.

It has increased by 4 million trips with an average annual increase of 7 per cent.

Some of the key factors are the price of tourism, airfares and income with income is the major driver of leisure tourism.

For every 1 per cent increase in an individual income, his or her outbound tourism demand increases by 1 per cent, while domestic tourism demand will decrease by 0.5 per cent.

For every 1 per cent increase in domestic accommodation rates, outbound tourism demand will increase by 0.3 per cent.

For every 1 per cent increase in the Australian dollar, outbound tourism demand will increase by 0.5 per cent.

For every 1 per cent increase in domestic airfares, outbound tourism demand will increase by 0.6 per cent.

Attributes such as an increase in minimum wage and GDP capita would be correlated with an increase in disposable income among Australian Households. Thus, increasing the demand and supply for outbound tourism while decreasing the demand and supply for inbound tourism.

A number of interrelated factors also have contributed to the increase in overseas travel. These include greater affordability of overseas holidays and accommodation (due in part to the increasing competition among airlines), as well as greater marketing and online facilitation of booking and travel information.

More than 80 percent of Australian outbound travel is for a holiday.

In 2014, 11.3 per cent of Australian outbound travel was to Indonesia.

The Indonesian market share has doubled since the last decade.

It was at 5.9 per cent in 2003.

Indonesia is the second favourite destination for Australian travellers.

They are only second to New Zealand’s 13.3 per cent market share.

But, New Zealand’s market shares have been falling.

The New Zealand market share had decreased by 28.8 per cent since the last decade.

It was at 18.7 per cent in 2003.

The trend seems to suggest, by 2020 Indonesia will be the favourite destination among Australians.

News Article: Despite the depreciation of the dollar, Australians prefer to travel overseas and we still love going to Indonesia, says the RBA

Essay: Under what conditions should a minority be entitled to the right of secession?

(Reading time: 5.30 mins)

By Greg Marat

Palestinians hold a flag and throw a stone in front of a mural depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the controversial Israeli barrier, during clashes with Israeli troops at Qalandiya checkpoint, near the West bank city of Ramallah September 23, 2011. Photo:Darren Whiteside 2011.
Palestinians hold a flag and throw a stone in front of a mural depicting the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the controversial Israeli barrier, during clashes with Israeli troops at Qalandiya checkpoint, near the West bank city of Ramallah September 23, 2011. Photo: Darren Whiteside (2011).

Even though there is no ‘clear-cut’ universal formula to apply to every case of secession, this essay is going to argue that the only condition from which minorities should be able to secede is when the majority population clearly violates the human rights of a particular minority and their capability of being a self-sustaining state.

This essay will briefly look into examples such as Palestine, Québec and Pakistan as a formulation to such secessions. It will consider if they have each of those situations and have the right to self-determination and secession.

Prior to Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (signed in 1966), there was no such protection of minorities in the international community.

One of the bases for this was the term ‘minority’.

It keeps evolving over time.

The term minority can be separated into two different sections: individual rights and collective rights. Individual rights could be seen as rights that are obtained by individuals e.g. racial, class, ethnic, religious, linguistic and more recently, sexual minorities.

Collective rights are rights that are obtained by a group of these individuals that share the same attributes.

One of the main reasons why minorities call for secession is the right to self-determination. On the contrary, this appears to defy state sovereignty.

It enforces the notion that a minority group of people should be free to cherry-pick their own territorial boundaries.

Thus, there are some states that are self-identified but have no legal process to claim their state boundaries. Palestine is in an example of this.

The territorial boundaries of Palestine and Israel have been changing throughout history.

The issues that are fumigating the violence in the area remain to be: borders, security, water rights, mutual recognition, resolutions for the refugee and who governs Jerusalem.

During the conflict, there have been several violations of human rights from both sides.

And there have been several attempts to create a two-state solution to the problem, including the most reason one that made Palestine an observer state of the United Nations.

A majority of the Jewish public do see the justification for a separate Palestinian state but there is still disagreements over the shape of a concluding agreement and also if both sides would uphold the commitment and respect the peace.

Since there have been human rights violations, I would agree that ‘two-state solution’ would be the best fit for this situation, and both states should be recognised by the Islamic and Jewish communities.

Also Jerusalem is of an importance Christians, Muslims and Jews. It should be an independent city separated from Israel and Palestine.

Human rights is the central issue relating to the conflict. Could these be considered a reason for minorities to secede?

The Québec sovereignty movement is a political movement that is calling for a separate state for the province of Québec from the rest of Canada.

The Québec sovereignty movement is a political movement, calling for a negotiation-based diplomatic separation from Canada.

The justification for the secession is based on linguistics, where the majority of the Québec province speak French and the rest of Canada majority speaks English.

But the real reason is due to cultural, political and social differences.

In this case even though Québec has the potential to become a self-sustaining state, the majority population of Canada hasn’t violated human rights in opposition to this or prior to this.

This is the distinction of this situation and the Israel-Palestine conflict where there were consistent violations of human rights.

Cultural differences of a minority without any violation of human rights doesn’t seem as a legitimate reason for secession.

The stability of the new state is almost as equal in importance to secession and the right to self-determination, if we were to look at Pakistan.

In 1930, addressing the Muslim league, philosopher Allama Iqbal proposed a separate state for Muslims in India because he believed Muslims were misrepresented in the majority Hindu parliament.

In 1947, he got his wish when British-India was separated on the basis of religious demographics such as India, Pakistan and West Pakistan (Bangladesh).

During the partition estimated 500,000 people died from riots and resulted in several wars and conflict between in India and Pakistan since the secession (1947, 1965 1971 and 1999) (White M. 2012).

This partition would be seen as a mistake when we look at the progress of the two countries.

India became a superpower and Pakistan ended up being a failed state that harbours terrorists.

They are consistently becoming a nuisance to India with their across border terrorist attacks, as well as bridging violence against their neighbour Bangladesh.

If we look at the state of Pakistan, we can observe that it has become a failed state after their independence from India.

Therefore, the secession of a state should be validated only if the new state that would be created can be a self-sustaining state (i.e form a government and the capability to collect taxes from its citizens) and wouldn’t infringe upon human rights.

In conclusion, there is no concrete method to sort out secession or to create a formula that could be applied universally.

Moreover, you might not end up with the state that you wanted (e.g. as was the case with Pakistan).

Due to globalisation, no single state can claim to have a completely homogenous society.

Creating a majority state would again lead to discrimination of another minority, thus creating a never-ending process of creating of smaller and smaller states based on majorities.

That said secession should always be a choice that is available but only as a final resort. And a minority to be successful in secession, the following two conditions should be met;

  1. Clear violations of human rights by the majority.
  1. Ability to create a sufficient state.
Essay: Under what conditions should a minority be entitled to the right of secession?

Essay: Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – Why does gender inequality continue to exist when women comprise at least (and usually more than) 50% of the world’s population?

(Reading time: 6 mins)

By Greg Marat

A female activist carries a sign promoting gender equality as protesters march through downtown Rabat calling for greater democracy. Photo: Paul Schemm (2011)
A female activist carries a sign promoting gender equality as protesters march through downtown Rabat calling for greater democracy. Photo: Paul Schemm (2011)

Although approximately half of the world’s population are female, inequality of the sexes still exist.

This essay will establish that this is due to social and cultural norms and expectations of gender roles.

The essay will also coincide how the Convention on ‘Elimination of Discrimination against Women 1979’ has tried to tackle this form of discrimination.

The origins of discrimination of women, could be dated back to the time of the ‘stone ages’ where men were seen as hunter gathers and women were left behind to take care of the sick and the young.

These roles remain the same and they were later enforced by modern religious texts such as the Torah, Bible and the Qur’an where men were seen as superior to women.

Often it seems that religious texts see women as property and commodities of a father or husband, and often had to obey their father and their spouse.

This form of discrimination has been continuing for generations and been imbedded into human culture.

Expected gender roles or gender stereotypes are the subliminal problem of inequality that exist between the sexes.

Of course, Men and Women are different in certain attributes and have different strengths and weaknesses.

Studies show that women are better negotiators than men (Gates 2011), and men are better at the front line of an armed force. But it doesn’t mean that all women are better than all men nor does it say that all men are better than all women to serve in the front line.

It is more of a correlation than causation. But there is no reason why women and men should not receive equal pay for the same job they are doing.

In the United States, since the Equal Pay Act was established, the wage gap between the sexes has been closing.

In 1963, women who worked full-time earned $0.59 to a dollar that men earned.

In 2010, this was increased to $0.77 to the dollar (NCPE 2012). Even in a developed country like the United States, it took 47 years to move 18 cents closer to the dollar.

But is it enough?

At this rate it will take the United States another 60 years to obtain equal pay among the two sexes.

The most predominant cause of the wage gap is the education levels and qualifications. Since now men and women tend to be more equal in their credentials, shouldn’t they get paid equally as well?

Another cause of inequality is the steam from social structures that have invaded the notion of gender differences (e.g. where media advertisements that promote being a housewife and a mother).

Also gender discrimination could be another cause of inequality; men usually occupy positions of hierarchy in the economy and they are more likely to hire and promote other men for having similar characteristics and taste. This in turn creates further discrimination against women.

In 1981, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an attempt to reduce global discrimination between the sexes.

The Convention states;

‘Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economy, social, cultural, civil or any other field.’

The positive submission that was achieved by the convention is that states must actively seek to eradicate prejudice and customs that reflect the idea of superiority and inferiority of a single sex.

Also states that ratify the convention are mandated to protect gender equality by adjusting their domestic law and remove all gender discriminatory provisions as well as enact new provisions to safeguard discrimination against women.

The convention also calls for the creation of domestic tribunals and public institutions to guarantee women protection against discrimination.

Also, article 10 encourages coeducation and equal opportunities in education for female students are required.

This is a fundamental item as higher the education level, the better earnings potential.

However the less progressive part of convention is article 6, it doesn’t include legislation to suppress trafficking of women and forced prostitution is not regarded as gender discrimination.

Also article 4, doesn’t give special protection for maternity as gender discrimination.

This is when it becomes ‘too’ equal; as there should be a distinction between women in maternity as the men and women have a different anatomy and should be treated in retrospect.

Since the convention was introduced in 1981, over fifty countries have verified the convention.

However, most countries have verified it as subject to reservation and objections within the convention.

Especially with article 29 on the convention, this is the domestic interpretation or the application of the convention.

Thirty eight countries of the fifty countries have rejected this. This should be addressed as even though not all states are equal, human rights should be equal across the board.

In conclusion, we have come a long way into achieving equality between the sexes. In recent study done by the committee of Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) in 121 countries (OECD 2012), 29 countries now have quotas to promote women’s political participation, early marriage rate has decreased to 17% (2012) from 21%(2009).

CEDAW is definitely a step in the right direction.

But a lot more needs to be achieved if we were to create equal rights in women.

Education and attitudes toward women should be the key issues, the SIGI report continued to say that 86 countries of the 121 have discriminatory practices against women.

One in five women have no access to family planning and women only hold 15% of land titles.

Also women in half of the 121 countries, believe that domestic violence against them is justifiable, therefore attitude from women should also become more progressive and transition out of negative cultural constructs.


White M. 2012, ‘Secondary Wars and Atrocities of the Twentieth Century’, retrieved 5 June 2013, <;.

Gates L. 2011,’Why Women are Better Negotiators than Men’, retrieved 5June 2013, <;.

NCPE 2012, ‘The Wage Gap over Time: In Real Dollars, Women See a Continuing Gap’, retrieved 6 June 2013, <;.

UN 2012, ‘Overview of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against Women’, retrieved 6 June 2013, <;.

OECD 2012, ‘2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index: Understand the drivers of Gender Inequality’, retrieved 6 June 2013, <;.

Essay: Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women – Why does gender inequality continue to exist when women comprise at least (and usually more than) 50% of the world’s population?

ESSAY: The self-determination movement of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

(Reading time: 18 mins)

By Greg Marat

“War does not determine who is right. Only who is left” – Bertrand Russell. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena (2011)
“War does not determine who is right. Only who is left” – Bertrand Russell. Photo: Eranga Jayawardena (2011)

Executive Summary

The Sri Lankan based terrorist organisation of Liberation Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) first captured international attention when they assassinated Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 (former Prime Minister of India) and went on to assassinate the president of Sri Lanka, Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993.

The 1991 assassination provoked the Indian military forces to intervene in the civil war but it was short lived as the troops were later withdrawn by the Indian government (Garagan 1993).

At the peak of their power, the militia consisted of a highly-developed guerrilla militia and was able to carry out many high profile attacks.

These consisted of several high ranking Indian and Sri Lankan politicians. They also managed to occupy nearly 80% of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka (15,000 square kilometers) (Suthaharan 2005:89).

During these years, the LTTE emerged as the most irrepressible and dangerous terrorist actor in South Asia.

They were one of the first terrorist organisations in the world to develop and use women in suicide bombings.

They were also one of the first militant organisations to acquire an air force and the first terrorist group to utilise cyber terrorism (Monoharan 2005).

After 26 years of conflict in Sri Lanka, the LTTE has been claimed to be defeated military by the Sri Lankan government.

The remaining rebel fighters laid down their arms and surrendered in 2009.

This followed one of the biggest hostage rescue operations in the world (179,000 refugees).

Even though their operations currently remain to be ceased, the LTTE is still banned as a terrorist organisation in 32 countries.

However, they still have support amongst the Tamil diaspora and Tamil population in the South of India (Tamil Nadu) and the North of Sri Lanka (Bandarage 2008:156-176) (Herman 2009).

This paper will firstly describe the evolution of the LTTE from its rebel roots to becoming one of the most ruthless terrorist organisations in the world.

It will mainly focus on how the group was organised, financed, it’s tactics and how effective they were at obtaining their ultimate political goal of a separate state.

Finally, it will conclude by arguing the LTTE movement was counterproductive towards the self-determination movement of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

The Evolution of the LTTE

Sri Lanka received independence from the United Kingdom in 1948. Since then there has been an ethnic divide between the Sinhalese majority (81%) and the Tamil minority (11%) (MOW 2013).

The divide between the two races is rooted in the grudges between Sinhalese and Tamil regional kingdom wars, dating back to the year 170 B.C.

However, more recently (mid 1900s), the tension between the two groups was fuelled by the British preference to Tamils during colonial times.

The majority of the labour jobs were given to the Tamils. This was due to the Sinhalese population refusing to them on those labour jobs.

The tension remained peaceful for decades passing the colonial independence.

However, this changed when a conservative Sinhalese women (Sirimavo Bandaranaike) was elected president by the Sri Lankan public in 1968 (Bandarage 2008:54-77) (World Press 2013).

In 1971, she implemented a policy to change the state language from English to Sinhalese.

This caused a sudden drop in Tamil students and an increase in Sinhalese students in the local universities.

As a counter movement for these racially profiled policies, the Tamil Student League (TSL) was created.

This group advocated for the fair enrolment of Tamil studnets.

However, unsolicited kidnappings by the government and grassroots organisations saw the fall of TSL and their political ambitions (Mahavalirajan 2009).

The fall of the TSL and the continued suppression by the Sri Lankan government and the Sinhalese majority gave way to the creation of a dangerous outfit, the LTTE.

Although an advocate groups for the rights and a separate state for the Tamil minority were their political ambitions, the movement took a drastic turn for the worse when they started carrying out violent hit-and-run operations against Tamil politicians who were associated with the government (Rinehart 2012:110-139).

How they were organised and financed

By the late 1970’s, the LTTE managed to train and establish a highly professional guerrilla military force. The group was kept small and was ruthless and accurate at carrying out their attacks against the police, politicians and other government related targets.

They were commonly misunderstood for being Marxists, as what they were objecting to was not capitalism but the human rights of the Tamil minority.

In 1976 the Tamils in the East formed a political party named the TULF (Tamil United Liberation Front); they went on to win 18 out of the 168 seats and approximately 7% of the popular vote.

It seems that at this stage they were a legitimate political party that represented the human rights and the right to self-determination of Tamil people, and for the first time in the island history (Nubbin 2014).

After the election, the TULF leader, Amirthaligam stated that the TULF should remain separate from LTTE and should be representative of the political movement of the Tamil people (Rinehart 2012:110-139).

However in 1977, a surprising move was made by the TULF leader Amirthaligam.

A letter of references and funding obtain by wealthy Tamil leaders was referred to the LTTE by Amirthaligam.

The following year Amirthaligam, in association with a London based Tamil activist group, the S.K. Vaikidavasan formed a front for the LTTE named the WTCC (World Tamil Coordination Committee).

The WTCC became the main source for shadow money laundering for the LTTE (Vinod 2005) (Sabarathnam 1996).

At the peak of its international support, the LTTE had 52 offices globally, most of which, either laundered money or engaged in arms procurement and shipping.

This continued for several years until the turning point of the Black July riots (ethnic riots) in 1983. Initiated in Colombo (the most populated city in Sri Lanka), it spread to all parts of the country.

During a week of chaos, the majority Sinhalese attacked Tamil civilians and either destroyed or looted Tamil businesses.

The week ended with creating 150,000 homeless people, 5,000 business and 10,000 homes being destroyed while the number of deaths ranged from 400 and 3,000 Tamil civilians.

Events preceding that saw a mass exodus of Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka while others joined the LTTE (Suthaharan 2005:93) (Kristian 2006:1024) (Amarasingam 2011) (BBC 2013) (Hoole 2013).

The simple rebel group LTTE has now turned into a military insurgence.  The Black July riots saw a breaking up of numerous Tamil families.

Some family members were left in Sri Lanka, while others escaped to mostly India and Western countries.

This in turn helped the cause of the LTTE where they gained empathy and support from all around the world.

It also presented them with an opportunity to extort the family members who were overseas while their relations were left behind.

At the peak of the Insurgency, the LTTE has a net worth between US$ 200-300 million (Patranobis 2008).

The LTTE financial portfolio boasted from overseas business ventures to investments in media 
organisations, shopping centres, fuel stations and restaurants.

It managed to oversee organisations of charity such as the Tamil’s Rehabilitation Organisation.

Although some of the funding to the LTTE arrived from legitimate sources, most of the funding arrived from arms smuggling, drug trafficking, people smuggling and extortion (Suthaharan 2005:87-110).

A cargo company named “Otharad Cargo (U.A.E)” provided the front for the arms operations for the LTTE.

The Mackenzie Institute claims that the LTTE used this shadow company to smuggle weapons and explosives.

They also claim that the LTTE managed to steal a shipment of more than US$ 32,400 of mortar ammunition from Tanzania purchased by the Sri Lankan government.

Alongside the arm smuggling, the LTTE also had a very lucrative drug trade. In 2010, LTTE was in charge of a one billion dollar market in Montreal, Canada.

The Otharad Cargo Company also assisted by smuggling drugs using their merchant ships (Dawn 2009).

People smuggling was the second most effective method that the Tigers used to generate revenue.

The majority of the people smuggling consisted of Tamils.

They were getting smuggled mostly to Western countries.

The economic refugees were always charged higher prices than the usual cost of travel.

The LTTE also charged an exit fee to refugees to depart the LTTE occupied areas.

Even since the military defeat of the LTTE, major financial revenue to the LTTE arrived from people smuggling operations.

Since 2010, there have been over 600 operations to countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia (Fernando 2011).

The tactics they used

The studies done by the International Institute for Strategic Studies states that the LTTE was the first terrorist organisation to invent explosive belts and vests for suicide bombings.

This was one of the signature moves of the suicide branch of the LTTE, Black Tigers (BT).

In accordance data received by the LTTE, the BT managed to carry out approximately 378 suicide attacks from 1987 to 2008, with the male to female ratio of these attacks being approximately three to one (Waduge 2013).

Although most of these attacks targeted military objectives on the north and east of the Island, civilians have been targeted on many occasions (Herath 2012:28-65).

An example of this can be observed by the 2001 Colombo International Airport attack which ended up killing 16 people (World Press 2010).

The most symbolic target was the 1998 attack on a Buddhist temple which killed eight civilians. It is considered the holiest temple for the Singhalese people.

This was only just one of many instances that the BT attacked Buddhist temples.

These attacks were symbolic in the sense that nearly most Sinhalese people are Buddhist (70.19%) and Tamils are either Christian or Hindu (Kwintessential 2013).

The BT never targeted temples nor Christian churches.

This implies that they were a racially motivated separatist outfit rather than a secular terrorist group.

Racism divided them, not secularism.

Religion and nationalism are deeply rooted in the country’s history.

Evidence of this can be seen by the research done by the Gallop poll in 2009, where 99% of Sri Lankans believed that religion was a major influence in their lives (Gallup World 2009).

Despite the rationale behind attacking Buddhist places of worship, the BT carried out high profile attacks outside and inside the island.

The attacks included the successful assassinations of Rajive Gandhi (former Indian Prime minister), Ranasigher Permedasa (former president of Sri Lanka) and the attempted assassination of Chadrika Kumarathunga (then president of Sri Lanka).

Similar to the suicide bombers of Izz ad-din al_Qassam Brigade (Hamas), the suicide bombers of BT were glorified by their families and given a hero status in the local community.

One of the privileges that were given to becoming a BT suicide bomber was that they were allowed to have their last meal with the leader of the LTTE, Prabhakran (Suthaharan 2005:91) (Garagan 1993).

Another tactic they used was the recruitment of child soldiers. It is estimated that the LTTE had approximately 6,000 child combatants since 2001.

As a result of immense pressure both by the UNICEF and the Human Rights Watch, the LTTE released 135 children who are less than 18 years of age.

The LTTE also didn’t operate within the Geneva Convention on war (Perera 2009). They would consistently execute prisoners of war, evidence of this could be seen by the 1990 incident in the Eastern Province where 600 police officers were taken captive and then blindfolded and executed.

In 1993, 200 government soldiers received the same fate. During the end of the war (2009), the LTTE was also accused of having committed war crimes (Ferdinando 2011).

During the final months, they attacked civilians as well as Sinhalese and Tamil buildings. They continued to execute prisoners of war while holding remaining civilians as human shields without access to medicine, food and clean water (SLMOD2010).

They were also the first terrorist group that utilised cyber terrorism.

One of the key fundraising avenues for the LTTE was online identity theft and credit card fraud. Notably, there was a cyber-attack on the Sheffield University (Sheffield, UK) where they used the IDs of academics and in ways to secretly fundraise for the cause (i.e. letters of recommendations, false asset allocation) (Asian Tribune 2006).

In 2007, the Norwegian government captured six members of the LTTE attempting to defraud approximately US$ 4 million in Norwegian currency in a credit card scam.

There was also a barrage of online Tamil separatist movements that collected funding to sustain the LTTE campaign (SATP 2013).

They still continue to operate today, despite the fall of the LTTE (Rinehart 2012:110-139).

Sea piracy was another method that the LTTE used to fund their operations. They hijacked several vessels and ships in the vicinity of the waters outside Sri Lanka.

The most notable abduction was the MV Sik Yang, a 3,000 ton cargo ship from Malaysia which sailed from India which went missing in 1999, and the fate of the crew of 15 is unknown to this day.

Another instance was the abduction of MV Farah III, a Jordanian ship which was heading to India with 14,000 tons of rice which was taken over by the LTTE and the crew was forced to abandon the ship (Marine Buzz 2009).

The active and passive supporters

The LTTE gain both international support and domestic support during their military campaign due to the substance of which the government of Sri Lanka was still stampeding on the rights of the Tamil people.

The Tamil diaspora communities around the world were the major supporters of the LTTE. They expressed concerns about the treatment of the minority Tamil population in Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan governments in the past and the present (Suthaharan 2005:95).

Since the 1970s, the international headquarters of the LTTE has been located in London. By 1998, the LTTE network had spanned to at least 54 countries, most of which were Western countries (i.e. UK, Australia, Canada, Germany and France).

These networks were sustained mostly by the diaspora community in those countries. The LTTE was also supported by countries such as North Korea, Ukraine, Thailand, Malaysia, Panama, Ethiopia and Eritrea (Suthaharan 2005:97).

In 1994, Ukraine supplied the LTTE with 60 tons of explosives while North Korea became the primary country that delivered arms and ammunition (Bandarage 2008:177).

The Sri Lankan government has also accused several INGO’s (International Non-governmental organisations – mainly the Red Cross and the UN) of being apologist to the LTTE cause (Waduge 2010).

However, the accusation including the most recent of the Red Cross doesn’t seem to hold any substance.

The Red Cross establishment in Sri Lanka goes back to more than two decades, and the ICRC (International Committee of Red Cross), in close partnership with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS), has been working to assist the population affected by the prolonged armed conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE (SLRC 2013).


The LTTE resorted to every tactic at their disposal to achieve their goals of creating a separatist state.

This was not achievable due to the sheer numbers and the funding of the government forces.

However, their ideological goals of self-determination and a separatists movement still remains in the Tamil minority as the Sri Lankan government continues to ignore addressing the inequality of the ethnic divide.

This has the potential to cause further conflict as the problems that initiated the roots of the TSL, TULF and later the LTTE still lingers on in Sri Lankan social structures, culture and society (Suthaharan 2005:99).

The LTTE is a product of thousands of years of tension between the Singhalese majority and the Tamil minority.

The student activist group TSL’s transformation into the most dangerous terrorist outfit in the world was mostly due to the continued repression by the Sinhalese majority and the past Sri Lankan governments.

The purpose of the TSL and the TULF was not initially to resort to violence against the Sinhalese majority but a political solution to the continued inequality they faced as being a minority.

When their voices went unanswered by the government and the international community, they decide that succession was only possible path to self-determination.  The rise of the LTTE was mostly due to the inequality that existed in Sri Lankan society.

Inequality of the two ethnic groups was its primary manifestation, a problem that the Sri Lankan government still has failed to solve (Kristian 2006:1029).

Even though the LTTE was defeated, the Tamil minority is still not represented in the Sri Lankan government nor their right to self-determination.

This is very similar to the rights of the people of Palestine who are fighting for a separate state, ironically which the Sri Lankan government recently voted in favour of in the United Nations General Assembly (Charbonneau 2012).

As long as there is inequality between the Tamil minority and the Sinhalese majority, there will always be the risk of terrorist group such as the LTTE rising again, if not worse than the LTTE (Kristian 2006:1037).


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ESSAY: The self-determination movement of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

News Story: Tech in Asia breaks a solution for Australia’s labour cost in the hospitality industry

(Reading time: 3.30 mins)

By Greg Marat

The first look at drone waiters. Source: Greg Marat

Drone waiters are being trialled in a music bar and restaurant in Singapore, signalling a technological breakthrough with could revolutionise the hospitality business.

Infinium Robotics  have showed off their latest drone waiters at Singaporean live music bar and restaurant Timbre.

Floor plan of the restaurant Timbre, Singapore. Source: Infinium Robotics

At the moment, these drones can’t fly directly from the kitchen to the customers table.

The drones can only fly from the kitchen to a central drop-off table. The staff then sorts the order and delivers the food and beverages to the customer.

The Infinium Robotic drone program was an initiative taken up by the incentives given by the Singaporean government.

The initiative was to automise as many jobs as possible due to the rising costs of labour in Singapore.

The Singapore government grants up to 400 per cent tax deduction or a 60 per cent cash payout if a company chooses to invest in programs such as the Infinitum Robotic drone program.

However, with prices starting at AUD $ 940,000, the likelihood that a small-to-medium business might be taking on such ventures depends on tax incentives given by the government.

Novotel Glen Waverley restaurant supervisor Daphne Fernando, who also has more than 30 years of industry experience, said: “Without a government incentive program, there would be a great difficulty in integrating this program into restaurants in Australia.”

Ms. Fernando said it wouldn’t be as cost effective. Instead of hiring wait staff, the amount of people that they would need to employ as well as the cost of maintenance to keep these drones in operation should also be taken into account.

Fasta Pasta Brandon Park manager Jerald Wanniarachchi said removing the human contact out of the service felt wrong.

“You couldn’t possibly have a fine dining experience without professional waitstaff that is trained by industry experts,” Mr. Wanniarachchi said.

‘Maybe this will work at your average restaurant but not at the top-tier restaurants.

“The service by the wait staff is an extensive part of the culinary experience.”

Journalist Joanna Mather, who wrote Unsustainable labour costs crippling restaurant industry, found that 71 per cent of businesses had now reduced staff while a further 69.5 per cent of business owners now have to work on weekends.

In 2014, there was an increase of 12.9 per cent in Australians restaurants closing on both Sundays and public holidays due to the increase in labour costs.

Restaurants, cafes and take-away food places are the biggest employers in the tourism sector.

They employ 517,000 people in Australia.

‘You get what you pay for, our labour costs are high because we offer excellent services,” Mr. Wanniarachchi said.

“We pay our employees well. We pay them well because we want people to make a career out of the hospitality industry.”

Ms. Fernando said you could replace some of the service sector with robots, but there is something intangible about the human experience.

“May it be a wine recommendation or something small like a smile,  but there will always be something human that a robot will never be in position to provide”, Ms. Fernando said.

Drones waiters in action at Timbre, in Singapore.

Follow Infinium Robotics in Youtube for new and exiting inventions:

News Story: Tech in Asia breaks a solution for Australia’s labour cost in the hospitality industry