The report of the University Teachers for Human Rights(Jaffna) covers key issues arising from the recently concluded war. It begins by examining current political prospects, and then moves on to a sketch of the last two months of the war primarily from the standpoint of civilians. While being frank about the LTTE’s cynical use of civilians, the report raises questions about the Government’s relentless move to crush the LTTE leadership while placing the civilians it held hostage at unacceptable risk. It examines humanitarian and human rights issues, the detention of the doctors who served with courage in the No-Fire-Zone, questions about the fate of the injured left behind and moral questions arising from the action against the LTTE leadership and the fate of Prabhakaran’s family. The report closes with a warning, noting the danger posed by the present government behaving increasingly like a replica of the LTTE, and makes some recommendations that UTHR(J) believes would be profitable at this juncture.
The full report follows
University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)
Special Report No. 32
Date of Release: 10th June 2009
1. Blood, Tears & the End of an Ordeal
1.1 The Last Phase 14th – 18th May 2009: Relief and a Murky End
1.2 Thursday 14th May: The First Attempt at a Mass Breakout
1.3 Friday 15th: Secret Negotiations to End Fighting, Civilians Allowed to Leave
1.4 16th May: No word on the Government honouring the deal
1.4.1 17th May: ‘We have decided to silence our guns’
1.4.2 18th May: Getting Uglier – Tell Tale Evidence of Killing Surrendees
1.4.3 17th – 19th May: Enigma of Prabhakaran’s Several Deaths
1.5 Prabhakaran: Likely Scenario
1.6 Deal Saved Thousands held by the LTTE, Questions about the Injured
2. Insensitivity to IDP Needs:An Incident in Menic Farm Zone 4
2.1 Oxygen for the LTTE
2.2 A War on Child Conscripts as Civilian Rescue
3. Lying about Heavy Weapons all the Way
3.1 19th April 2009: Far from Surgical
3.2 Apocalyptic Times for the Marooned
3.3 Doctors in the NFZ
3.3.1 The Doctors face Justice that Brays
3.4 Former LTTE cadres in IDP camps: A crying need for independent monitoring
3.5 A Note on Casualty figures
4. Coming to Terms with the History of Violence
4.1 The Conduct of Operations: More Troubling Questions
4.2 Decision to Move the Army into the NFZ
4.3 Exit the LTTE and the Birth Pangs of another Tiger
5. Meeting the Challenge of the Future
5.1 A New Direction for Tamil Expatriates
6. Matters of Urgent Concern
6.1 Issues for Immediate Resolution
6.2 Longer term issues
“I do not know which is apt, whether to laugh or to cry. The [expatriate] society weeping that ‘he is gone’ spares no thought for those whom ‘he’ devastated. Wounds will heal, scars will remain. How many of us oppressed in heart and mutilated by a myriad scars must yet get on with life? Those not directly affected would go on as before. Bearers of weapons of war cannot discern the feelings of those injured by them. Our future could look bright only if we possess that divine quality of forgiveness.” – A mother’s lament
This report covers key issues arising from the recently concluded war. It begins by examining current political prospects, and then moves on to a sketch of the last two months of the war primarily from the standpoint of civilians. While being frank about the LTTE’s cynical use of civilians, the report raises questions about the Government’s relentless move to crush the LTTE leadership while placing the civilians it held hostage at unacceptable risk. It examines humanitarian and human rights issues, the detention of the doctors who served with courage in the No-Fire-Zone, questions about the fate of the injured left behind and moral questions arising from the action against the LTTE leadership and the fate of Prabhakaran’s family. The report closes with a warning, noting the danger posed by the present government behaving increasingly like a replica of the LTTE, and makes some recommendations that UTHR(J) believes would be profitable at this juncture. The report and its recommendations emphasize two aspects in particular: the need for urgent measures to address the concerns of the recently displaced living in camps and to secure accountability of the state to ensure the due rights of its citizens.
The war ended officially on 20th May 2009 in a final flourish of brutality by both sides where almost the entire LTTE leadership was killed, much as the JVP leadership was decimated in 1989. As then, the hypocrisy and the attendant brutality remained after the conflict ended, leaving the gates open for future schism. Human rights had in the late 1980s been a game of politicians who used it to beat the UNP government with. At the same time these politicians were working with the security forces to deal with the JVP’s murderous rampage extra-judicially. The extra-judicial culture has again grown acute in recent times, with the present government feeling no qualms about killing someone for their views – indeed a ‘home grown’ substitute for the rule of law.
For the nearly 300 000 people held in internment like camps, the end of the war has not brought about the respite they deserve. They continue to suffer in squalid conditions of camps made not to last more than a few weeks. Living conditions including families packed into tents and the deteriorating hygienic conditions from the lack of proper sewage to garbage disposal are leading to further disease and suffering. These displaced peoples who had suffered much under the LTTE do not deserve to be held in these conditions. The Government in restricting people the choice of movement out of the camps is responsible for their suffering. While the screening should be much quicker, there is no justification for detaining those who are clearly not combatants.
Nurtured amidst appalling human rights violations by the Sri Lankan state from 1977, the Tamil militant movements made a virtue of impunity. The upshot was the LTTE whose astounding military success was founded on despoiling the social fabric of the Tamils and making everything, from child bearing to education, creatures of its military needs.
The LTTE politically took Tamil society hostage from the mid-1980s through systematic terror. Militarily stymied, it took physical hostage of 300 000 people in its final stages, repeatedly provoking the Army to underpin its claims of genocide, shooting or shelling hundreds who tried to escape and forcing thousands of their children who could barely carry a rifle to man the frontlines. Even as the LTTE leaders were discussing surrender terms, they were sending out very young suicide cadres to ‘martyrdom’ to slow down the army advance.
Through repeated abuse of peace processes to strengthen its war machine, the LTTE again and again resuscitated the Sinhalese majoritarian agenda which had lay dormant when peace seemed possible. Such provocative action during the last peace process enabled President Rajapakse to come to power backed by hawkish allies intent on a military solution to the ethnic problem.
In turn, it is ironic to see the Sinhalese polity is being taken hostage by the very elements of Sinhalese extremism that fuelled and exacerbated the conflict in the first place. These elements within and outside the major parliamentary parties have derailed every attempt at a political settlement since 1957. The present government too has relied on Sinhalese narrow nationalism, within the state and judicial apparatus and without it, to undermine any authentic investigation demanded by world opinion into major human rights violations and political crimes. The same abusive response is in evidence as the government attempts to defend itself against worldwide criticism of the way military operations were conducted in the last stages of the conflict.
Sections of the Tamil Diaspora blindly supported the LTTE’s terror at home and its political articulation of people as weapons of mass suicide. In turn they became accomplices in extending its dreadful fiat over the Tamil social and political space within Western democracies. Without batting an eyelid, this same Diaspora is using human rights campaigns to challenge the Lankan government. They enhanced the legitimate stories of profound suffering of their people with well-publicised lies that the people were staying with the LTTE willingly, all the while denying as always its abuse of children and blaming the Government squarely for all their ills.
While challenging the majoritarian exclusivism of the State as the primal cause of the violent ethnic conflict, the UTHR(J) were among those who saw with alarm that in resisting the State, the Tamils had become prisoner of a deadly fascistic dispensation. The transition to armed struggle from parliamentary nationalism exposed the weakness of our society and the futility of politics which relied on nationalist rhetoric that equated dissent with treachery. Those who tried to charter a broader and clearer vision were soon isolated and marginalised. The UTHR(J) were convinced from the start that failing to challenge this nihilistic trend would achieve nothing but debilitation and polarization that would lend legitimacy to the Sinhalese chauvinistic agenda. Our colleague Dr. Rajani Thiranagama felt this very keenly and wrote these prophetic words in the Broken Palmyra exactly 21 years ago and paid for her convictions with her life:
“The Tigers’ history, their theoretical vacuum, lack of political creativity, intolerance and fanatical dedication will be the ultimate cause of their own break up. The legendary Tigers will go to their demise with their legends smeared with the blood and tears of victims of their own misdoings. A new Tiger will not emerge from their ashes. 0nly by breaking with this whole history and its dominant ideology, can a new liberating outlook be born.”
That demise having come to pass there is real concern that the politics of the South will become preoccupied with the Sinhalese majoritarian agenda. That would undermine any meaningful course of reconciliation and restoration of human dignity. Obscurantist statements by the Defence Secretary and Army Commander with a strong hint of menace exhibit this danger very clearly. On the eve of victory celebrations on 3rd June 2009, senior journalist Poddala Jayantha who was previously threatened by the Defence Secretary was attacked and injured in the now familiar fashion: ‘Those who love us do what is required. We cannot help that’, Sunday Times 1st Jun.08.
Addressing past violations, reforming the state, and bringing to an end the culture of impunity are imperative if the country is to move forward towards a stable and dignified peace.The demand from sections of the international community for an international inquiry is being used by the State to whip up xenophobic emotions which may undermine any genuine peace process and entrench Sinhalese nationalist ideology that is detrimental to the country. The handling of the ACF case and impunity enjoyed by those who were involved in extrajudicial killings show the present government is steering the country along the beaten track to disaster.
The failure of the international community to rein in the LTTE once it was clear that it had doomed the 2002 peace process, gave the Rajapakse government the political pretext to ignore their warnings and prosecute the war relentlessly with the objective of wiping out the LTTE leadership. They succeeded and kept out the international community even when it offered opportunities to minimise harm to the civilians. Our examination of events suggests that by normal military standards, the soldiers in close encounters behaved exemplarily towards civilians. But needless and at times tremendous harm was done by political decisions of the High Command to take the No-Fire-Zone using artillery barrages at a time when the LTTE was relying increasingly on children. It was callous not to give opportunity for diplomatic alternatives that could have achieved the same result.
The destruction of the core of the LTTE has been achieved, but many legal and moral questions remain. One group of questions concerns the political decisions mentioned above. The other concerns what appears to be the politically ordered massacre of people who wanted to surrender or surrendered; the fate of their families and LTTE injured left behind; and the question of what happened to Prabhakaran’s wife, and the 12-year-old son, whom all accounts from army sources claim was captured. It is not so much a case of what the LTTE did to the people, but what the State became through its own excesses in the course of fighting it.
Against this legacy, those in power are using the victory (for which they owe the subaltern dead) to build for themselves citadels of power and glory. And they attempt to reinforce that power by appealing to Sinhalese ideology. Now with the war over, they are calling for a huge army, one assumes to keep the minorities under check and also to maintain the prominent role of the military in the affairs of the country. Lost opportunities have become the bane of Lanka. The righteous society the President seeks to build cannot be built on pure rhetoric and manipulative politics. It can be done only if the leadership thinks beyond their power ambitions towards the well being of the people.
The President’s victory speech in Parliament on 19th May while carrying some good sentiments in a nebulous way, left little room for optimism. He again spoke of a home grown solution to the country’s ethnic impasse, said nothing about how he understood the problem and how he would approach it, except to play to the xenophobic gallery by repudiating ‘imported solutions’. One cannot begin without acknowledging that the home grown idea of Sinhalese-Buddhist hegemony has always stood in the way of any solution, was the principal cause of the bloody anarchy we faced and needs to be explicitly repudiated. The need for reconciliation was missing from his speech.
All peoples and nations share a common fund of experience and a common history. ‘Home grown’ has in the tenure of this government served as populist rhetoric to mask what is really just evasion of responsibility, arrogance and a refusal to understand. Except for those blinded by their narrow vision, all that we have seen of home grown ideas in the last six decades is homicidal ignorance: communal violence rooted in majoritarian ideology, based in turn on third rate history, and a total erosion of standards.
In his speech, the President thought it a brilliant stroke to abolish the word ‘minority’ from the vocabulary and make everyone equal, as if all it took were a royal proclamation. Along with this he recognized only two kinds of people, those who love their motherland and those who do not, the latter being the lesser. The problem with that, of course is whose idea of a motherland prevails? These sentiments in the speech reflect those who hold to the Sinhalese-Buddhist hegemonic view. This hegemonic rhetoric about motherland accompanied by anti-Tamil violence led to its Tamil version, which at that historical juncture most Tamils believed was forced on them. Thousands of Tamil youth fought in several groups and willingly gave their life, not because they did not love their country fervently, but because they believed their country was Tamil Eelam. They include the majority of LTTE cadres who have died.
Even if one rejects the LTTE leadership as totalitarian, barbaric and utterly self-indulgent, one cannot dismiss the cadres both in the LTTE and from other groups as “terrorists” and traitors against Lanka. The lesson for those of us living is that however much it took hold of us at that time, nationalist rhetoric contained within it the seeds of war, a terrible waste of lives and totalitarianism. We must honour the dead, both militants and soldiers, with a heavy sense of responsibility. In order that the honour we give them are no mere empty words, we have to feel where we all went wrong and do what is needful to prevent a repetition.
The only way those Tamil families and communities that have lost loved ones can find meaning in their loss and begin to think about a future as part of Lanka is if they as a people are granted equality and dignity through a just political process. Making them feel Lankan will be hard work, and the President seems to lack that sensitivity. It comes from his ideological make up and inability to understand the structural problems entailed by the character of state, and as a result the insecurity felt by the minorities.
Discrimination in Action: No sooner the President abolished the term minority, some old discriminatory habits which caused the Tamils to rebel show signs of returning with a vengeance. ‘Sinhalese’ fishermen have been brought under naval protection to fish in the sea off Mannar Island without any restriction. The local Tamil and Muslim fishermen are allowed only about four days a week on the pretext of security for some minor naval movements. The trawlers with Sinhalese fishermen use large Japanese nets of a kind now banned internationally, which drag the seabed, pulling out coral, the nets of local fishermen and damaging the breeding ground, eggs, weeds and fish fodder.
On 28th May the Tamil fishermen protested and had an argument with a group of Sinhalese trawler fishermen, who using the communication set the Navy provided, informed them of the boat number. When the Tamil fishermen came ashore, naval men who were waiting for them with batons, made the Tamils kneel and beat them up severely.
At this time when the official narrative dismisses the insurgency as one of Tamil terrorism backed up by international conspiracies, we must re-emphasise that the Tamil rebellion was the result of the leering loutishness of a Sinhalese dominated State that tried to deal with the minorities by the use of feudal thuggery (best exemplified by repeated outbreaks of communal violence) and persistent deprivation and humiliation. Over decades, none of that has been effectively redressed.
There is always hope amidst despair. Ordinary Sinhalese people from all walks of life felt the pain of Tamil civilians caught up in the conflict. Even from the border villages, Sinhalese who suffered grievous violence over many years have donated whatever they could lay their hands on for collections for the relief of Tamil IDPs. Even many middle class Sinhalese feel that time has come for reconciliation and initiatives to give new life to the country. They look to a broader political settlement that gives dignity to the minorities. Instead of building on this potential, the leaders are again failing the country through their preoccupation with a witch hunt and entrenching abuse of authority, while further subverting accountability.
1. Blood, Tears & the End of an Ordeal
1.1 The Last Phase 14th – 18th May 2009:
Relief and a Murky End
“On the road we saw a few bodies. No one buries them anymore. This has resulted in the whole area being permeated by a putrid stench. When someone dies or is killed, people are only looking for food to be taken, but do not bury the victim. From our new location, where we just moved in, the water source is some distance away. When I attempted to fetch water early this morning, I had to race back to our bunker upon hearing the ominous boom of cannon and soon shells began falling around. It doesn’t bother me too much anymore. It has become normal that you could die any moment and anyway the food situation is so bad that some were dying from starvation. In desperation, resulting from shelling, food scarcity and total misery some people felt it was better to walk out of the safe zone although you know the LTTE is shooting people who attempt it, besides, it is extremely dangerous.” (15th May 2009)
This was among the last desperate messages out of the cruelly farcical safe zone, as the violence reached its final stages. To many Tamils, this would evoke memories of a generation of war that nearly everyone has experienced to some degree, but never so severe, prolonged and so devastatingly apocalyptic. Previously survivors rebuilt their lives in a matter of a few months. The challenge this time looks almost insuperable for those nursing their crippled bodies and haunted memories in prison camps after being hostages shelled within the LTTE’s shrinking defences. The war itself increasingly became one of the Government against Tamil children the LTTE placed on the frontlines.
It was to be an end with relieving features, but sadly also encapsulating the lies, murder and treachery that would haunt the country for years to come. The civilians who had not escaped in the three days following the entry of the troops into the northern half of the No Fire Zone (NFZ) on 19th April, were confined to 1½ miles between Vellaimullivaykkal to the north and Vattavaikkal to the south near Mullaitivu town in the southern half of the eight mile strip that formed the original NFZ. The Army commenced operations to capture the truncated NFZ following a barrage of shelling on the night of 9th May. The LTTE had placed the civilians in the middle of the strip to prevent their escape. This enabled the 53rd and 58th Divisions to commence on 13th May a southward movement along respectively the western (lagoon-ward) and eastern (sea-ward) shores of the strip. The purpose was to link up with the 59th Division advancing northwards from Mullaitivu.
These manoeuvres enabled according to the Army 4000 civilians to cross over to their lines in all directions on the 14th and also opened a gap for civilians to escape south towards the 59th Division. By the 13th evening the exit polls had indicated that the Congress was returning to power in India and any hope of a reprieve for the LTTE from that quarter was closed. The only hope for it was to surrender or break out. From available reports, there were at least two plans being considered. One to negotiate a surrender where the key leaders would be allowed out of the country and the second which came through state intelligence sources that in some respects matches the plan reported by D.B.S. Jeyaraj  .
The second plan was for a group of key LTTE leaders, their families and experienced fighters, numbering about 200, to cross Nanthikadal and break out west into the jungle and operate from there, for the political cadres to move into IDP camps and for a third group exempted from the first to surrender. According to this intelligence source, the selection was made by Pottu Amman of persons close to him and some key persons exempted from the select group were angry, crossed with civilians, surrendered to the Army and made this known. An important person reportedly left out was Lawrence, a key military commander in the operation to take Thenmaratchy after the success at Elephant Pass in 2000 (see Bulletin No.24) and was also a deputy of Theepan at the Anandapuram disaster in March 2009. Our source believes that he fell into the Army’s hands and was killed. Given the risks involved, the first plan may have been preferred over the second if feasible.
The talk of surrender in the air had also a disturbing effect on young cadres who had come to believe that the movement would never contemplate such a course after making so many commit suicide for its sacred cause. Among those who had cause for bitter complaint were parents who had lost a child or more who died fighting as conscripts. Because of disorganization during the latter period not all cadres had cyanide capsules. According to those who later escaped, a number of LTTE cadres began committing suicide by exploding grenades in their possession. There was a kind of anarchy. Some cadres were going to bunkers where civilians were sheltering, asking “So you want to run away to the Army do you?”, and then opening fire at them. It would also explain why Intelligence Chief Pottu Amman made his selection with care.
1.2 Thursday 14th May:
The First Attempt at a Mass Breakout
Following the shelling on Saturday 9th May, the people who were used as a civilian shield in the shrunken NFZ were desperate to get out, as were the Tigers to prevent them. We relate the story as told by a family in a large group of an estimated 60 000, who in the desperation of their plight, decided to make the journey across the Nanthikadal lagoon. Herded together, they trekked north along the coast of the lagoon towards a point in the NFZ where the crossing was shallower.
A group of LTTE cadres moved into the crowd cutting it in two and started firing and chasing back south the section of the crowd that came behind. The section at the front ran forward along the lagoon coast towards the intended crossing point.
Having driven back one section, the LTTE shelled the lagoon beach where those who moved forward were gathered for the crossing. Many of the civilians perished.
Even at this point the depth being about six feet is above the heads of adults and the distance to the farther end, about 3 miles. Even when in the earlier phase, before 22nd April, the crossing was made on foot across the lagoon at Puthumattalan, eye-witnesses reported that many who under the pressure of the situation failed to keep to the narrow line where the depth was only chest high perished by drowning. Nanthikadal lagoon which lies to the south of Puthumattalan, is wider and shallower northward. Some in the crowd who are from that area and owned fishing boats also had rubber vehicle tubes that they used as dinghies to carry the aged, the ladies and the children with the rest swimming or supporting themselves by clinging to the dinghies.
In the case of the vast majority of the crowd, their able bodied men had to swim across to the other end (Vattuvan), find dinghies abandoned by their owners who had previously escaped, and swim back with them and then use them to carry and guide their families to safety. The Army at the other end, came to the shore realising what the civilians were trying to do, lent support by inflating and keeping ready at their end their own vehicle tubes for the men to take back. Many among the people – especially children and women – perished as a result of dinghies capsizing.
About this time, another youth set off with 12 others to the coast of Nanthikadal. They had not had any food other than an occasional cup of tea and biscuits for the past ten days. Along their trek they wearily sat down under a tree. A shell from the LTTE suddenly struck them and killed all the other 12. Shocked and weary, the youth ran desperately, plunged into the lagoon and began wading. Soon finding the water above the level of his head, he frantically began to swim. He was not a good swimmer and was already very weak. When he thought he would perish, he spotted a plastic water can floating towards him and was saved by it.
1.3 Friday 15th:
Secret Negotiations to End fighting, Civilians Allowed to Leave
While the fighting went on it is clear that negotiations were also under way. Once the Army entered the NFZ, gun battles raged between the two sides. The civilians were anxiously cringing in available bunkers, or in their tents. No information is available from the data gleaned by our sources as to the extent of civilian casualties in this phase. To avoid being caught up in the fighting the civilians at the northern and southern ends were anxious to escape. According to the civilians who escaped, the LTTE deployed suicide cadres in plenty to stop the army advance. The Army reported an attempt to ram the 58th Division by four cadres driving an explosive-laden truck, which exploded prematurely. The civilians said that the Army took many casualties, but refrained from harming the civilians, and in fact physically helped them to get across.
At the beginning of the operation the Army had used some shells which resulted in some civilian casualties. However, the IDPs are uniformly emphatic that the Army shelled only in reply to the militants’ mortar and gun fire from among the civilians.
There was something else that started happening on the 15th morning that pointed to a deal. The pro-LTTE TamilNet reported the safe zone in smoke from army-shelling and huge civilian casualties. At one point in this scenario, the militants decided to pile up all their weaponry, ammunition and vehicles and make a huge bonfire. This huge flame rising into the clouds was what had been shown in many television channels around the globe. The explosive heat, according to eye-witnesses, resulted in death and searing burns to many as their IDP tents caught fire.
When the civilians tried to run away from the zone, they were confronted by the LTTE who threatened to shoot them. They went back and attempted escape again and were again turned back by the LTTE. They tried the third time. This time the LTTE cadres who had cordoned them off previously had vanished, leaving them free to escape.
The message soon got around that the LTTE which had held the civilians hostage, had let them go. The doctors also left as the TamilNet reported the following day (16th): “Medical Superintendent Dr. Shanmugarajah who was attending the wounded at the makeshift hospital at Mullivaykkal junior school, his family, Regional Director of Health Services (RDHS) doctors, Dr Varatharajah and Dr Sathiyamoorthy, and three other doctors have entered the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) controlled checkpoint at Omanthai. Dr Varatharajah has been seriously wounded during his passage out of the Safety Zone, and reports from Vanni say, he has been air-lifted for medical treatment.” It also reported the departure of Additional Government Agent K. Parthipan, effectively closing down the government administration in the area.
Another indication that a deal had been made is a statement by the LTTE’s global plenipotentiary Pathmanathan alias KP issued later on 15th May and reported on TamilNet: “The Sinhala people have a duty and responsibility in stopping [the ongoing carnage and bloodbath], considering their own interest if not that of the Tamils. The Sinhala people should not forget that we are always going to be neighbours in the island.”
Civilians also said that on Friday 15th the Army stopped shelling after the LTTE began destroying its paraphernalia. Piecing together the events and scraps of information, we may describe the outlines of the deal: The Government would accept the surrender of the remaining LTTE personnel and leaders, with due consideration to prevailing norms of surrender, and allow a certain number of leaders to leave the country, the conditions being: 1.) Surrender of Weapons and equipment, 2.) Release of Civilians and 3.) Release of prisoners from the government forces the LTTE held.
The LTTE agreed to destroy its weapons and equipment instead of surrendering them, and apparently this was agreed. On Friday 15th it began complying with 1.) & 2.). It also complied with 3.) as would be seen. According to our information three TNA MPs, including Chandra Nehru Jr., were among those involved in making these arrangements.
Sea Tiger Chief Soosai on the morning of the 15th when a coastal strip was still accessible to the LTTE, sent his five members of his family out to sea in a boat with six others. His family were his wife Sathyadevi, daughter Mathi (17) and son Suresh (16). There was no chance of their evading the Navy. There was speculation that their task was to surrender to the Navy and to pass on messages about surrender issues.
1.4 16th May:
No word on the Government honouring the deal
Early in the morning Prabhakaran as reported by Marie Colvin  (Timesonline, 17. 05.09), told an overseas contact to arrange for an end to the fighting, but not to use the term surrender. The LTTE leaders had started keeping their side of the bargain as understood by them and were anxious about the Government keeping its. While destroying their weapons, they passed desperate messages to the international community and the ICRC calling for their intervention citing continued shelling, the presence of civilians and the thousands wounded in need of medical care.
Pathmanathan in a statement referred to US President Obama’s call for both sides to take immediate measures to alleviate the humanitarian tragedy and said, “The LTTE and is willing to heed to his call…Our people are now at the mercy of the international community.”
The Defence Ministry reported a battle fought at close quarters when the 58th Division closed in on the last half a mile of coastal strip controlled by the LTTE killing 32 cadres, including leaders Sornam and Sashikumar, and completed the encirclement of the LTTE. According to persons who were present, civilians were not much affected by the fighting on the 16th.
1.4.1 17th May:
‘We have decided to silence our guns’
In the early hours of the morning the LTTE cadres guarding the seven servicemen (4 sailors and 3 soldiers) held prisoner let them walk away reportedly on the understanding that they would help them to surrender.
The LTTE leaders were probably becoming impatient that while they were being systematically surrounded, nothing had been heard on arrangements for their surrender. A decision was evidently made to put the second plan into action. The Army reported what was apparently a last attempt on the part of a section of the LTTE to break through army lines and flee westwards into the jungle. Cadres crossed the Nanthikadal Lagoon in several boats about 1.30 AM and attacked the army line beyond the western shore of the lagoon. The attempt ostensibly failed with the loss of scores of cadres after hours of fighting. Subsequent reports indicated that Prabhakaran and some others close to him were caught or killed in this attempt. We have no information on those, if any, who got through.
From a civilian perspective, they had continued to cross Nathikadal lagoon from Vellaimullivaykkal into Vattuvan. At Vattuvan they had to wait for army clearance to move on. The army positions were one mile west inshore. The civilian movement may also have enabled the LTTE to disguise their movement while crossing the lagoon. On the 17th morning the civilians waiting for clearance were surprised to find the LTTE among them. The LTTE ordered the civilians to disperse elsewhere, went forward to confront the Army. The civilians heard a tremendous exchange of fire with the Army. They think some civilians who were too close may have fallen victim to cross fire. The civilians do not know much else and cannot confirm the presence of senior leaders.
In a statement Pathmanathan issued about noon saying ‘This battle has reached its bitter end’, he faulted the international community’s inaction, “…we have appealed to the countries of the world and called on them to halt the unrelenting massacre of our people by the Sri Lankan armed machinery. We are extremely saddened that this plea has fallen on deaf ears.” He announced, “We have decided to silence our guns…In the face of the current conditions, we will no longer permit this battle to be used as a justification by the forces of the Sinhala state to kill our people. We willingly stand up with courage and silence our guns. We have no other option other than to continue our plea to the international community to save our people.” This was followed immediately by a broadcast statement by Sea Tiger Leader Soosai speaking of continuing artillery attacks, thousands in need of evacuation and the unresponsiveness of the ICRC.
By mid-day thus on the 17th, as Pathmanathan’s statement indicates, the LTTE had in effect decided to surrender, come what may. There is little doubt that a deal had been made, in accordance with which the LTTE had let the people go, destroyed most of its heavy weaponry and released detainees from the security forces unharmed. The troops were moving in their vicinity without any word about accepting surrender and the LTTE remnants had little choice but to fight to death.
Two official announcements were made that afternoon, which were ominous for the civilians remaining in the NFZ. About noon Military Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara announced that‘troops have rescued all remaining civilians held hostage by LTTE terrorists’ and that 50,000 civilians were rescued during last 72 hours. The second announcement that President Rajapakse would make a victory speech in Parliament on Tuesday 19th morning effectively set a political timetable. The first implied that the Army would not exercise the same caution over the civilian presence. The announcement notwithstanding, the final evacuation of 29 000 the following day pointed to over 30 000 civilians having remained.
Desperate attempts to surrender by Nadesan and Pulidevan of the LTTE’s political wing have been documented by Andrew Buncombe  in the Independent (19th May 09) and by Marie Colvin in Timesonline (24th May 09). They involved contacts between the LTTE’s international support group, Chandra Nehru Jr. MP, the UN, ICRC, Norway’s Environment Minister Eric Solheim and from the Government, President Rajapakse, his brother Basil and Secretary to the Foreign Ministry, Dr. Palitha Kohona. It was agreed that they would be safe if they hoisted a white flag, walked towards the Army and surrendered. Nadesan had said he had 300 people with him, some of them injured. Other Tamil political party sources said that Nadesan and Pulidevan appealed to nearly all those in politics who had once been on the LTTE’s hit list
Marie Colvin had personally spoken to the UN Secretary General’s envoy Vijay Nambiar, whom the two prospective surrendees requested to be present to witness the surrender. He told Colvin that it would not be necessary as the President’s assurances were enough. Chandra Nehru later told Colvin that upon his contacting President Rajapakse he had guaranteed the safety of Nadesan and his family. These were repeated by his brother Basil who also gave the route they should follow. After speaking to Chandra Nehru about 6.20 AM on the 18th, the party went with a white flag in a group of about a dozen men and women. Colvin quoted a source, who said, the army started firing machineguns at them. Nadesan’s wife, a Sinhalese, yelled in Sinhalese at the soldiers: “He is trying to surrender and you are shooting him.” She was also shot down. All in the group were reportedly killed.
Kohona told the Independent that he had been told by troops present at the time that they understood the two men had been shot by LTTE cadres who learned of their attempt to escape, adding that ‘this is consistent with their behaviour’. The same day the Daily Mirror quoted him pointing otherwise: “The LTTE wanted to surrender their arms a little too late”. This summary action also suggests the Government having decided that it had nothing useful to learn (e.g. about Prabhakaran) from those killed.
1.4.2 18th May:
Getting Uglier – Tell Tale Evidence
of Killing Surrendees
The official Defence Ministry web site defence.lk reported in two separate items finding in the morning during mopping up operations the bodies of Nadesan, Pulidevan and Ramesh in one and the LTTE leader’s eldest son Charles Anthony in the other. It said vaguelyof Charles Anthony that ‘the body was found after an unsuccessful and half-hearted attempt by the LTTE cadres to evacuate their leader’s son early this morning.’
The fighting became heavy as the Army closed in. Civilians going westward across the lagoon from Vellaimullivaykkal on the 18th morning confirmed this and they saw dead and injured in the area. Some other civilians who left that day were in bunkers and the atmosphere became smoky causing nausea and vomitishness. Amidst this they saw an army truck from which the soldiers were beckoning them to come and get in. Many of them got in and were taken away and transported to camps. They saw many bodies and said the wounded were left behind and do not know what became of them.
With the prospect of surrender denied, the remaining LTTE cadres had little choice but to fight as they did on the morning of 18th May. The following story from the Army carried in the Daily Mirror of 19th May (slightly edited) is the first of the constantly changing official versions of what happened on the 18th morning:
“A group of nearly 100 LTTE cadres believed to include LTTE leader Prabhakaran and senior leaders including intelligence chief Pottu Amman and Soosai infiltrated the army’s forward defence line and reportedly attacked the ambulance. The driver and two critically injured soldiers however managed to escape. Later, some of the LTTE leaders reportedly got into the ambulance and attempted to escape through Puthukudiyirruppu. The Special Forces attacked the ambulance which caught fire. A fierce gun battle lasting over an hour resulted in more than 250 bodies of LTTE cadres lying scattered. The Defence Establishment believed that all top LTTE leaders, including Prabhakaran, were killed during the abortive escape attempt on the 18th morning.”
The story about the leaders trying to escape in an ambulance was dropped the next day. The defence columns of the following Sunday carried the uniform version, that Pulidevan and Nadesan who attempted to surrender, died allegedly in the fighting described above. This clumsy attempt at lying creates the suspicion that many of the cadres killed that morning were massacred like those with Nadesan and Pulidevan.
The number killed was later placed by the Defence Ministry at above 350 and its pictorial evidence showed corpses, some with burn marks. The Defence Ministry has not said what it did with the injured and prisoners. Claims of a massacre have been emanating from the security forces from the same day. These were messages from very senior officers, middle ranking officers and personnel. They were posted in various areas. Some heard it from friends on the scene and others from the armed forces grapevine. The common substance was the same: All LTTE members who were left there were massacred, including the women and children. The few who survived are Soosai’s family and their company who surrendered to the Navy on the 15th and George Master and Daya Master who surrendered to the Army in April.
We try to piece together the truth from the testimony of civilian sources. The night of the 17th saw heavy fighting going on into the 18th morning. Some reliable witnesses and other IDPs who were present when the Army entered are certain that a large number, perhaps the majority, of those killed in the NFZ during the last 12 hours were killed by LTTE shelling. Shells were falling into them and from the direction they are certain that they were fired by the LTTE.
There was already a political timetable with the President due to make a victory speech in Parliament on the 19th morning. Along with this it had been announced the previous day that all civilian hostages had been freed – i.e. the 30 000 or more civilians who were there did not exist or matter. It had evidently been decided to wrap up the fighting by the 18th, whatever the civilian cost. Those present there said that the Army in trying to move into the remaining territory suffered heavy casualties. Perhaps as the result of this when they entered, they had abandoned the ‘hostage rescue mode’ and did not as before make due allowance for the civilian presence. They threw grenades into several civilian bunkers as they moved, as a precaution against the LTTE attacking them from these (as on 19th April). Some civilians also reported seeing an army truck running over injured lying on the road. A fuller picture would require months to assemble.
After the guns fell silent, the Army, according to witnesses, allowed civilians to leave and helped them to do so. They crossed the Vattuvan Bridge which the Army had repaired into Mullaitivu instead of having to brave the open lagoon. Most left, except for about 10 000. Suspecting many militants and their supporters as well as suicide bombers were ready to explode them-selves within the public, the Army fenced them in by erecting a barbed wire fence around the latest NFZ. They had then erected tall secure sentry posts with only a narrow hole for the eyes.
Civilians then had to walk out one at a time, stripped, to these posts. The ladies walked out with only their under clothing. Our source did not inquire as to whether female personnel were used for the examination of women.
When the Army entered, there was a mass of dead bodies, some stinking after lying there for two days or more. They used earth moving equipment to dig up and then bury these bodies in mass graves. The last day was the murkiest and our sources place the number of civilians killed higher than on any previous occasion. Of the injured, the Army later transported 15 packed bus loads, of about 1400 injured civilians, to Padaviya. As we would discuss below in the section on casualty figures, this falls far below the number injured. We have no information on casualties taken to other hospitals. The Government has said nothing about the LTTE injured. Early that morning Pulidevan had told his contacts that 1000 injured cadres were with them. This was while the fighting was in progress.
Given also the fact that earth moving equipment was used to clear the area before the President’s victory announcement the following day, we need to ask if adequate care was taken to separate the dead from the injured and the dying. On the testimony of civilians there were several injured persons asking for help. They did say that the Army picked up injured persons, but their general approach was to wind things up in a hurry. Given also persistent stories of a massacre from within the Army itself, an important task of an inquiry should be to lay bare the fate of those injured in the last week and what really happened from the 17th May evening to the 18th morning when the fighting ended.
1.4.3 17th – 19th May:
Enigma of Prabhakaran’s Several
Information about Prabhakaran’s death in the public domain has been dominated by government disinformation and the LTTE’s silence. It is also of interest that no reports of conversations between Prabhakaran, who had his personal sat-phone and his overseas contacts have surfaced in the public domain after the one on the morning of Saturday 16th May seeking an end to the fighting without using the term surrender. Also in surrender talks later on the 17th May reported by Marie Colvin and Andrew Buncombe involving high level persons locally and abroad, there is no mention of Prabhakaran. Also of significance is the announcement of the President’s victory speech in the 17th afternoon.
On the night of the 17th there were reports coming from a high level within the security forces that Prabhakaran’s person or body had been brought to Colombo. This story was soon overtaken by copious material fed to the media the morning after, 18th. Finding of the bodies of Charles Anthony, Nadesan and several others was reported. The Army Commander went on state television to report, “We have also found bodies of several other LTTE leaders, and are carrying out checks to confirm whether one of the bodies is that of the LTTE leader.” Other officers filled it out and told journalists that they had fired thermo-baric weapons at the ambulance carrying allegedly Prabhakaran, Pottu Amman and Soosai, and were doing DNA tests on a charred body that looked like Prabhakaran’s. While celebrations were going on, Pathmanathan said about mid-night that the LTTE leader is alive and well.
On the morning of the 19th journalists got SMS messages that Prabhakaran’s body has been found close to the northern shore of the Nanthikadal lagoon and Karuna and Daya Master were on their way to identify it. There appeared to be a full body, but almost everything else about it was a hoax. Allegedly felled by a bullet in the head, the eyes were clear. It was on a crude stretcher; no signs of charring by a thermo-baric weapon, naked except for a black flap covering its genitals, held in place by a tape around its tummy. The chest neck and jaw were covered with superfluous mud.
The Government and the Army were at pains to explain this development and again there were contradictory stories from within the Army. One was that a soldier who was part of a search operation ran into Prabhakaran, exchanged fire with him and shot him, not knowing who he was.
Another coming from a senior officer says that Prabhakaran was a free man, alive and well on the morning of Tuesday 19th. Prabhakaran sent his younger son (12 years, b. 1st Oct. ‘96) with six body guards to surrender, thinking the soldiers wouldn’t harm the boy. They came and discovered Prabhakaran with his family. He was not certain what happened thereafter except that Prabhakaran died of a shot in the head. Despite constant reports of discovery of her person or body, the Government remained evasive about Prabhakaran’s wife Mathivathani. Brigadier Shavendra de Silva, who commanded the 58th Division told the New Indian Express (21 May.09), “We had to look for Prabhakaran’s body because the world was interested in seeing it. But the body of his wife is not of any importance to us.” That would be the fate of the unknown hundreds of civilians and militants killed in those last days.
A new version of the story fed to the Sunday papers (24th May) is no less fishy: “Prabhakaran was… apparently inside one of the six mangrove islands in the lagoon. Troops using medium calibre guns pounded the small island…Later, infantry troops [about] 10 AM in the morning…found the body of the Tiger chieftain bleeding from a yawning wound on the forehead. His bodyguards lay dead around him (Lakbimanews).” Another variant in the Nation claimed that two of Prabhakaran’s body guards who approached the Army to surrender were killed by their colleagues.
We had referred to reports that Prabhakaran was killed or captured when Tiger fighters made a desperate attempt about 1.30 AM on 17th May to get him along with some senior leaders and their families, west across the lagoon, past lines of troops from the 53rd Division, into the jungle. This was Plan 2 above. The evidence suggests that Prabhakaran was killed or captured in the attempt. Information seeping into the public domain from within the Army points to capture or surrender, but the official responses dismissing this are a rehash of stories the public no longer finds credible. It is left to an impartial inquiry to answer this and related questions.
The Army web site reported the recovery of the bodies of 70 Tigers after the breakout attempt on the 17th morning, but said nothing of Prabhakaran’s family. Reuters reported the same day, 17th, quoting a military official on condition of anonymity, “They are taking the body for checks to confirm it is the real Prabhakaran”. Four other military sources confirmed the account to Reuters. CNN-IBN too reported in addition that 150 LTTE bodies were recovered pointing to the early morning attempted break out.
Asian Tribune (7.00 PM, 17 May) placed the number of Tiger bodies collected at 35. AT quoted an army source saying Prabhakan’s wife Mathivathani and sons, Charles Anthony and Balachandran, had been killed. The report presumed daughter Dwaraka was abroad. It said that Prabhakaran’s body had been taken to an army camp in Colombo for DNA testing.
The foregoing is in accordance with what we heard coming from top level army sources. A further piece of evidence is that the next day President Rajapakse called up Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to confirm that ‘armed resistance by the LTTE had ended and its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was dead’ (The Hindu 19.05.09). Given the leaders’ personal obsession with Prabhakaran, we may surmise that the President or his brother saw first hand evidence before contacting Mukherjee.
Pathmanathan reversing his earlier denial, by confirming on 24th May that Prabhakaran died on the 17th, adds further substance to this scenario. This makes us bold to speak of other information we received from sources that gave the core story. These sources said that Prabhakaran was tortured probably at Division 53 HQ in the presence of a Tamil government politician and a general. Several army sources have said Prabhakaran’s 12-year-old son Balachandran was killed after capture. Ours said that he was killed in front of his father. These sources added that this information is correct unless officers at the highest level are fibbing to one another. Our sources in addition to several others have said that all the LTTE persons remaining in the NFZ were massacred.
We may now piece together things that we touched on. When President Rajapakse left for the G11 Summit in Jordan on 14th May, the surrender deal with the LTTE in which TNA MPs including Chandra Nehru Jr. and several external actors was ongoing. The Government let the LTTE do its part and played for time keeping its options open. On 16th May the Army captured the last bit of coast under the LTTE and had them boxed in. The President flew back after announcing at the Summit that he will ‘return to Sri Lanka as a leader of a nation that vanquished terrorism’. Before he reached Colombo he would likely have received the news of the attempted breakout.
Rajapakse had no more use for the deal with the LTTE further weakened after the morning’s attempt. UN envoy Vijay Nambiar either lost interest or was following instructions. This is suggested by what he told Muralidhar Reddy of the Frontline (19th June) about events of the 17th May 2009:
“I received a call from KP at Amman while I was on my way to Colombo in preparation for the visit of the U.N. Secretary-General. He told me the Tigers are ready to surrender to a third party. I asked him on the whereabouts of Prabakaran and his reply was that he had no idea. I told him that I would convey to the government his message about the Tigers. I received another call from KP as soon as I landed at Colombo around 5.30 a.m. I conveyed to him that I had passed on his earlier message to the Sri Lanka government and that it was ready to accept surrender but only to the military and not to a third party. Once again I asked him on the whereabouts of Prabakaran and he repeated that he did not know anything on the subject. That was the end of the matter as far as I am concerned.”
When KP told Nambiar he did not know about Prabhakaran’s whereabouts, he was likely being truthful. Nambiar would later have heard the reports doing the rounds in Colombo. The fate of the survivors, the small fry, was sealed. We may disbelieve the Government’s stories about how various LTTE members died, if they did. Much of the drama put on by the Government was to destroy evidence and avoid adverse legal implications.
As to the fate of the women, the Defence Ministry’s web defence.lk displayed among bodies identified that of a woman named as Colonel Mekala. Her body lies beside that of another woman in what appears to be a night dress, not battle fatigues. Mekala’s picture suggests that she had been stripped and her body was covered with a blue cloth before being photographed. Some flies and some white substance in her hair could also be noticed. Some of the victims had been executed by shooting into the ear. One wonders what made the Defence Ministry take pride in displaying these pictures.
The Army had for the most part conducted itself in a disciplined manner in trying to protect civilians. But once the command gives a signal for barbarity to be let loose, the men touch the most depraved depths of humanity. That appears to have happened to some units when given the licence to brutality among prisoners of war. Several other officers and men were thoroughly disturbed.
1.6 Deal Saved Thousands held by
Questions about the Injured
Although the surrender deal did not work from the LTTE leaders’ standpoint, it saved thousands of lives that would have been lost if shelling continued in the small area and people tried to cross the deep lagoon under fire. Had this process started earlier when the UN and other influential countries demanded the LTTE should surrender, the international community’s ability to play a constructive role would have been greater and thousands of lives would have been saved.
The surviving child conscripts got away leaving only a hard core behind. Some medical sources place the number of injured conscripts and cadres who got away with the civilians at several thousands. 15 bus loads of injured youngsters totaling about 1000, many among them child conscripts aged 12 to 14 were moved to Mannar Hospital. The youngsters are in two wards, one for boys and one for girls. It is not clear why the Government is holding them under police security where relatives cannot easily talk to them.
The local army command sometimes accused hospitals of sheltering LTTE cadres and applied pressure on them to release them for screening. In one instance a Sinhalese surgeon sent to one of these hospitals took the Army’s view that LTTE cadres were taking refuge as patients. The Medical Superintendent stood firm and refused to discharge anyone who was not fully cured. This is an area where the Government would have done well for itself by showing greater generosity and openness.
Nearly 287 000 IDPs are registered at camps at the time of writing. This suggests that the final exodus during May involved over 80 000. The larger camps are in Vavuniya and Murunkan. Some smaller camps are in Padaviya-Weli Oya (Manal Aru) and Pulmoddai. About 7000 injured are in hospital at the time of writing. The Government has said that over 7000 surrendered LTTE cadres are in rehabilitation camps.
The smaller camps in Pulmoddai and Mullaitivu District are being closed. The inmates are being moved to a large camp named Sahanagama in cleared jungle at 13th Mile Post on the Pulmoddai-Padaviya Rd. This camp is eventually expected to house 25 to 28 thousand persons. That gives the appearance of long term imprisonment far from where their relatives could have access to them.
In a press release on 18th May, the ICRC took up the question of the injured left behind in the NFZ after the effective closure of the makeshift hospital on the 15th: “For nine consecutive days the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been pursuing efforts, so far without success, to reach the area of north-eastern Sri Lanka hard hit by fighting in recent weeks.The ICRC has therefore been unable to obtain first-hand information about the needs of civilians and wounded people in the area. Although thousands of civilians have fled the conflict zone in the past days and weeks, the ICRC remains concerned about the wounded needing urgent medical care.”
After 9th May the ICRC had not been able to remove by sea injured persons to hospital in Pulmoddai, owing to the escalation of fighting in a shrunken area. According to NGO officials who were in touch with the ICRC operation, there were last about 3000 injured left in the NFZ. We have referred to the events of 18th May, when many combatants and non-combatants died or were injured. The ICRC was not allowed north of Omanthai.
We referred to the Army having moved 15 packed busloads of injured, numbering about 1400 from the NFZ to Padaviya Hospital. Witnesses who saw them said that nearly all of them had not received any first aid. There were several bad cases of shell injury where a man’s hand was hanging limply from the shoulder without any previous attention. They also said that many of the injured were young mothers with neck injuries. They held their young ones out of the bunker to urinate and were injured with their young by flying shrapnel. Sources who met the injured said that the persons brought were family folk or children and did not include cadres.
The Medical Officer at Padaviya did an excellent job with the injured before the serious cases were dispatched to better equipped hospitals in the South.
Our sources felt that there must have been over 3000 injured in the NFZ. TamilNet reported on 8th May that 500 patients were awaiting transportation by the ICRC after the last ICRC ship left. Following the artillery barrage on the night of 9th May that preceded the Army’s advance into the southern half of the original NFZ, Dr. Shanmugarajah told the international media that the number of injured increased by 1100 overnight. The 15th was another bad day. The 21st May 2009 Timesonline report quoting UN sources also placed the injured at 3000.
What became of the 3000 or so injured is not clear. A TamilNet report on 16th May quoting volunteer medics placed the number of injured in the makeshift hospital at 2000+. TamilNet in its last report of 18th May 2009 quoting the ill-fated Pulidevan reported: “Monday early hours around 3:00 a.m. Vanni local time, the LTTE Political Chief B. Nadesan and LTTE Peace Secretariat Director S. Puleedevan telephoned their contacts in Europe and informed them to tell the ICRC Head Office that only around 1,000 wounded cadres, civil officials of the LTTE and civilians remained in the so-called safety zone and there was no firing from the LTTE side. They urged the ICRC to evacuate the wounded.”
This suggests that many of those fleeing the NFZ had helped along injured relatives who were not absolutely helpless. The fighting on night of 17th May to the 18th morning as said led to a number of civilian casualties. The civilian dead on this night on the basis of information from people who were there is estimated at 1000 to 4000, which corresponds to at least 2000 injured.
One would still have expected a minimum of 3000 injured to have been in the NFZ, including 1000 cadres. The number transported by the Army to Padaviya accounts for only a section of the injured civilians left behind. As we pointed out before, the persistent reports of a massacre, the use of earth moving equipment, the hurry to wind up operations in keeping with a time table and the absence of independent observers, gives room for considerable anxiety about the fate of the injured.
The Government was so obsessed with wiping out the LTTE leadership that it did not think of halting operations for a few hours to give the ICRC an opportunity to pick up the injured suffering without medication in the NFZ. By failing to give the ICRC timely access, suspicion would remain about the fate of many injured persons, until at least an impartial group talks to and documents the fate of civilians village by village. All that we could say is that deliberate shelling by the LTTE, and the Army intent on finishing the job hurriedly without taking chances, led to a large number of civilian deaths on the final day. The fate of the injured, including LTTE cadres, needs to be resolved. The failure so far to account for LTTE prisoners and injured cadres, including those referred to in Pulidevan’s final communication, must be addressed.
One person who crossed with the civilians in the final days and surrendered to the Army is Baby Subramaniam – a member of the LTTE from 1976. The state-owned Sinhalese paper Dinaminareported that those who apparently escaped with the civilians and are now in government custody include political and administrative leaders Karikalan, Yogaratnam Yogi, Lawrance Thilakar, Elilan, B. Balakumar, Ilamparithi and Thangan. Karikalan was one time eastern political leader of the LTTE, and later was in charge of economic affairs. Yogaratnam Yogi was a political leader and spokesman of the outfit in the early 1990s. Former EROS leader V. Balakumar was an advisor, while Kannan is deputy political leader of the LTTE. Another arrested LTTE leader is Lawrence Thilakar, who was head of its Paris office.
Administrative head Puvanakkan, commissar of sports Papa, deputy internal affairs head Gnanam, Jaffna leader Ilamparithi and Trincomalee political leader Elilan are also in the custody of defence authorities.
That makes up an archive of history for researchers who want to find out more about the fate of thousands of dissidents killed by the LTTE from the late 1980s and in the gulags of the early 1990s. Or would the gentlemen above become SLFP politicians like Karuna and history disappear with it? As with Karuna, they would for now find it very hard to get genuine votes. The people in camps are cursing them for forcing their unwilling children to face death while themselves surrendering.
One wonders at the ironies, remembering that the LTTE was born in a blaze of publicity in July 1975, when SLFP politician and Jaffna Mayor Alfred Duraiappah was branded a traitor to the Tamil nation and shot dead. That birth story too remains a mystery like the end. It is not at all clear if it was Prabhakaran who fired the fatal shot as proudly acclaimed (see Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power). History may have the last laugh if the SLFP were to be the beginning and the end of the LTTE.
2. Insensitivity to IDP Needs:
An Incident in Menic Farm Zone 4
“What if after the death of Rohana Wijeweera and the top JVP leadership, the government decided to incarcerate all residents of the areas previously under de facto JVP control (such as most of Hambantota and Moneragala districts), in order to catch a few thousand JVP operatives? What if huge ‘welfare camps’ were built and hundreds of thousands of Sinhalese were herded into them, so that the Security Forces could weed out a few thousand JVP cadres hiding amongst them? Would that not have been as illegal as hell and a moral outrage? Counterproductive too, as it would have further polarised the South, rendering impossible any reconciliation, any return to normalcy. Sri Lanka would have remained an unstable land, riven by fear, suspicion, bitterness…The men, women and children in these camps are not de jure prisoners because they have not been found guilty of or even been charged with any crime. They are de facto prisoners, whose sole ‘crime’ was living in ‘enemy territory’. The camps represent nothing less than the extra-judicial internment of almost the entire population of the Northern districts which were under Tiger control during the last phase of the war. If this is not ethnically based collective punishment, what is it?” – Tisaranee Gunasekara (Sunday Island 7 Jun.09)
The first reaction of most IDPs is relief at having got away from the LTTE and the first of their priorities is to reunite scattered families. The way the Government is dealing with the problem, many Tamil officers who were with the people are themselves in IDP camps regarded as suspects. The administration and running of camps is in the hands of the military and a largely Sinhalese officialdom. There is too much of the Sinhalese hegemonic mindset in the affair. Those outside trying to contact their relatives go to the camps in the morning and are dispersed by the military if some ministers or officials are visiting. They must return in hope another day. New regulations that would involve an elaborate pass system may for visitors make it more difficult than visiting an inmate of Welikade prison.
There are now increasing concerns as to whether there will be timely resettlement of this displaced population. While the government has stated that it plans to resettle the bulk of the displaced in six months, the conditions in the camps are such that this time frame looks gruelling for the displaced people. The lack of progress in resettlement of those who had been displaced for a few months raises skepticism about the six month deadline. The heavy monsoon rains due in a few months will further exacerbate the situation.
The government has bureaucratized procedures and made it very difficult for aid agencies and NGOs to work in this environment. In this context those helping the government with such humanitarian work are struggling with the dilemma of whether to legitimize these camps by working there or to leave them and abandon the people who are desperate for any help. The displaced people who are being subject to such collective punishment are bound to lead to further bitterness among a population that has suffered much. The attitude of the State towards the humanitarian concerns of its displaced Tamil citizens also relates to broader human rights concerns and the peoples dignity.
What people see is insensitivity, trying to impose an alien system rather than involving people, their political parties and civil society representatives. Once something wrong in principle as detaining civilians arbitrarily for an indefinite period is admitted, everyone involved tends to become corrupt. The new camp to house nearly 28 000 people at Sahanapura near Pulmoddai, to which relatives have no easy access, becomes a cause for even greater anxiety. Why think of it at all?
From March 2009, many of those badly injured by government shelling and bombing had been evacuated by the ICRC to the hospital run by the Indian medical team at Pulmoddai. Discharged patients would mostly be housed in Sahanapura camp. Initially the camp is meant to run for six months. The Government needs to be sensitive to how many would see its implications. These persons, who could testify in an inquiry about the bombing and shelling of civilians which the Government denies, would appear to be hidden away with little access guarded by Sinhalese bureaucrats and security forces.
All these camps have become lucrative business for some government ministers, their hangers on who undersupply food parcels and charge for the whole amount and make a tidy pile of money by selling timber, and for those put to guard the inmates making money by releasing those who could afford. Tighter the regulations become, greater the potential to mint money. However well-behaved an army, people have limited patience for living under one. We give below an example of what could go wrong
Those who remained in the NFZ to the end were subject to cautious screening that caused a four or five day delay in the people being brought to the refugee camps. Zone 4 is about 5 miles away from Zone 3 towards Mannar. When a whole group of 29,000 is suddenly dumped in an isolated spot in the jungles, with no proper preparations by way of supplies, cooking facilities and tents kept ready, there was bound to be initial chaos.
The government men who are generally there until about 5 or 6 pm were then not there. That was also the time of victory celebrations. For the first three days from their arrival they were left alone with only the military. So there were no civil authorities with whom they could speak.
Some Sinhalese government officials on the scene have admitted that the reason why the military was much slower in its response to the pronounced dire needs of these recent arrivals, was because they were perceived as “Veera Puthira” (warrior sons). There is a strong conviction that this batch had stayed to the last with the militants because they definitely are part of the LTTE or are at least deeply involved supporters. This is not entirely true as the group contains many who are the most timid from the Vanni and lacking initiative. Even after the LTTE allowed people to leave, many were scared because the group earlier fired at those who left.
For the first two days no one provided food. The IDPs had already been starved for days in the Vanni. They were desperately hungry. Neither the military coordinators who were in charge (not the lower rungs on the field) nor the government officers like the GA had the capacity to do any-thing about food supplies except to keep asking the NGOs that one of them take responsibility. Finally on the third day one NGO accepted responsibility.
Until then the military lower rungs who were put to guard the IDPs and the IDPs them-selves were just dumped there and left to themselves with not a single government officer visiting the place.
During the earlier two days a group of Catholic fathers as well as others like World Vision had supplied food parcels. The parcels were not sufficient for everyone. Understandably, the hungry crowds made an unruly dash for the food. The Army tried to bring order by shouting to the people to stand in a queue. In the face of the crowds’ refusal to comply, the military men did just what they were trained to do.
An IDP lady, who had been at the scene hoping for a parcel, received a facial injury when a soldier who had been talking to someone swiped her on the face with his stick. The lady felt that the fault was really with the crowds as they had been told repeatedly to queue up. To many of these people who had long been accustomed to the harsh regime of the LTTE, the military’s treatment appears benign. Hence the comparative soft corner that deters the majority of these IDPs from finding fault with the military.
A similar situation prevailed when the Zone 2 camp was opened. Then, too the same group of priests had come with food parcels, eager to help. The same thing had happened then. Some observers feel that the priests should have come prepared to handle such an eventuality without exposing the crowd to the military. These observers feel that while the military does bear part of the responsibility for the incident, others too have contributed significantly.
2.1 Oxygen for the LTTE
The LTTE tortured, robbed, murdered the people, suffocated alternative voices and conscripted their children in the name of liberation. Finally when the lie bloated by decades of elite conceit exploded, the people are left scavengers among the unnumbered dead and missing, their lives ravaged, distrusting everyone. One marvels at the utter irresponsibility among a large section of the elite flung across the oceans by the bigotry of a state which from 1956 unloosed violence against the minorities and went on arrogantly as though there was nothing to repent. Liberation primarily involves building brick by brick a political edifice of trust, democracy and openness that gives self esteem.
Instead a large section of the allegedly educated and intelligent elite turned a deaf ear to all the painful moral and political questions and joined the stampede after a lie. They denied the LTTE’s mass prisons and systematic extermination of political dissent or justified it. When forced to face the reality of the LTTE’s conscription of children, they called it voluntary and paid moving tributes to the thirst these children harboured for Tamil Eelam. They simply refused to face the reality of their maimed lives and stolen childhoods.
Even in the final apocalyptic days of the dream, children as young as 11 or 12 were being conscripted and sent to the front after a few hours of training in carrying a gun, and the LTTE was holding people against their will in utterly dehumanising conditions as both a human shield and to service stories of genocide for expatriate lobbies. Even as the truth was becoming clearer to the international media, the expatriate lobbies busied themselves with fanciful explanations, trashing any credit they retained.
The pro-LTTE lobby never protested when the LTTE abused peace processes in the past and spurned opportunities for a political settlement, applauding it as part of a Machiavellian strategy to acquire Eelam. This made their recent cry of genocide a sham. They and the LTTE must bear principal responsibility for the fate of the civilians.
2.2 A War on Child Conscripts
as Civilian Rescue
In the latter stages, the No-Fire-Zone of 8 square miles accommodated a civilian population of well over 150 000 when the Army first entered it on 19th April. Moreover the LTTE had been conscripting very young children on sight and placing them on the battle front after barely a day’s training.
The Sydney Morning Herald (5th May 2009) quoted Major-General Jagath Dias of the Army’s 57th Division, saying his men had been fighting girls as young as 11: “It’s very difficult [to shoot at children] but when someone has a weapon and is firing it at you, it doesn’t matter what age, you have to shoot.” Brigadier Shavendra Silva of the 58th told SMH, “Most of the Tiger cadres captured since April 23rd were aged between 11 and 18. There were many young girls aged 13 and 14. All of them had short hair. They don’t have the numbers of fighters they need so they conscript civilians forcefully”.
Cases reflecting the reality received considerable publicity in the world media. We give two that came through our sources. The 12-year-old is from Kovilkulam, West of Illupakadavai about 4 or 5 miles north of Vidataltivu. During mid-April, an LTTE press gang came to their home in the NFZ. Two of the boy’s elder brothers, who were at home, fled upon seeing them. But the 12-year-old who was not fast enough on his feet was taken away by the press gang. After the Army breached the NFZ bund on 20th April, the father ordered everyone in the family, including his two elder sons, to flee. He said he would wait and somehow escape with the 12-year-old. The father made it to Vavuniya with his son a few days later.
In another instance, a 12-year-old who was conscripted by the LTTE escaped back to the family. The LTTE then came home and snatched away an elder son aged 22. He was badly beaten in front of the father. The youth resisted to a point where his face swelled up even as he bled. The LTTE later dragged him away. The rest of the family later escaped without him.
Testimony concerning the LTTE’s forcible removal of 600 teenagers who sought refuge in the Valaignarmadam church appeared in the New Indian Express (3rd May 2009):
“People had gathered there to hide from the army shelling, and also from the Tigers who were trying to recruit youngsters. But one day the Tigers arrived in 12 vehicles, firing their guns in the air, and forcibly took away around 600 girls and boys who had been hiding in the church. They were screaming and crying, but we were helpless.”
While the LTTE was being utterly contemptible, a Government with a little humanity left should have called off the onslaught and let the international community deal with it on the clear understanding that that the LTTE would not trouble the people anymore. If they doubted the international community’s ability and commitment, they ought to have laid down in clear terms what they expected from the LTTE. If the LTTE were unreasonable, they would have been subject to mounting pressure. The Diaspora’s campaign would have been neutralised and LTTE’s intransigence exposed. It would also have given the people trapped under the LTTE greater strength to assert themselves.
The Government instead went into a xenophobic refrain accusing any concern for the civilians as a pro-LTTE conspiracy. It acted as though its priority was to get Prabhakaran’s hide and the lives of tens of thousands of civilians would not stand in the way of the coveted prize. In this the Government’s behaviour became very ugly and irrational.
3. Lying about Heavy Weapons all the Way
The regime’s direction could be seen in its equivocations concerning civilian safety. On 18th April 2009, soon after UN Secretary General’s Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar’s failure to urge a cease fire on the Government, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse spoke to the Press. Insisting that they had made it clear to Nambiar that they would not restrict offensive operations, he said the government forces would not launch any massive military assault on the safe zone due to the presence of the civilians. He described it as a ‘hostage rescue operation’, something like [Israel’s 1976] ‘Entebbe rescue mission’. He added, “It has to be discreet and surgical”.
3.1 19th April 2009: Far from Surgical
The Army began its entry into the No-Fire-Zone (NFZ) just before mid-night on 19th April after shelling the bund on its northwestern strip. Commandos were followed by troops. This part of the official version is largely correct. What is not mentioned is the heavy shelling of the northeastern shore of the strip facing the Ocean. Reports from some evacuees on the east said that the commencement of the operation was also marked by aerial bombing of the eastern seaboard of the northern sector. This was the area of embarkation for the injured, sick and elderly boarding ICRC vessels which came regularly.
According to the doctor who was in charge of Puthumaththalan Hospital, 200 yards east of the breached bund, the fighting in front started at 2.30 AM. In the wake of the fighting, the NFZ itself being crowded, many people on the west of the strip where the fighting was taking place moved eastwards, creating an impression that the Army had used people who had escaped to the other side of the lagoon earlier during the night as a human shield to move in. Pictures escapees had built up from impressions amidst preoccupation with escape from the fighting around them, need to be handled with care. A more persistent story is that some who escaped across during the night agreed to go back into the lagoon to point out the weak points of LTTE defences and then move back. This also tallies with the surprise element in the attack. It was later that three suicide cadres who should have confronted the troops blew themselves up to deter civilian escape.
Escapees, who were closer to the western edge of the strip, positively discounted the Army using a human shield to move in. Their experience was that LTTE cadres who withdrew from the bund moved into bunkers the civilians had built to protect their families from shelling and aerial bombardment, and started fighting the Army from these. The civilians scolded them and virtually chased them away. They also said that the second line of soldiers advancing directed the civilians out of the zone and helped them across, before resuming their advance. Deaths in their sector, they said, were mainly due to people peeping out from cover while the fighting was on and getting shot or from LTTE fire as civilians escaped towards army lines.
Owing to the fighting in the west and shelling of the eastern seaboard of the strip, many of the people got into about 400 boats and put out to sea eastwards. They were later escorted by the Navy to Jaffna and Pulmoddai.
We also received testimony that many civilians were killed in the northeastern sector of the strip due to shells and missiles. This area housed many elderly (over 60) and very young persons in addition to the sick and injured who were waiting for the ICRC carrier vessel. The LTTE encouraged them to leave as they were a burden on services that were stretched. Civilians loosely spoke of deaths up to one thousand on the 20th morning. They had certainly seen many bodies, but the number must be taken as an impression from another traumatic event they had been through.
Evidence of shelling is on firm ground. The following testimony of a woman in this area appeared in the BBC report of 22nd April 2009 by Swaminathan Natarajan  :
“We were staying near Puttumatalan hospital. On the night of the 20th there was heavy shelling. I thought, I won’t survive. There was continuous shelling from midnight to the early morning. Many civilians have made a harrowing journey from the war zone
During that time we took shelter inside a bunker. At around 6am, when I came out of the bunker, I saw people running all around amid shelling. I also joined them. But soon I got injured in the legs and arms. My husband got injured in his head. Some shrapnel is still inside his head. Still, we came out of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)-controlled area along with our son. My mother and brother also started with us, but I don’t know what happened to them. I have lost all contact with them.”
The staff at Puthumathalan Hospital, confirmed that many shells hit the civilian area and the hospital compound. The hospital roof was hit by small arms fire.
3.2 Apocalyptic Times
for the Marooned
By early May the civilians had been pushed into the bottom half of the earlier NFZ with over 70 000 having escaped to army lines. The following message came from a witness in the NFZ.
29th April 2009: 9.00 AM, a shell exploded 150 m from my dwelling. AGA Mullaitivu confirmed there are really 165,000 people still inside. Saw yesterday 10.00 – 12.00 hours, 15 dead bodies beside the road to the Mullaivaikal hospital about 50 m from the hospital. They were civilians who died from shelling. There were four deaths in hospital. Explosions continue this morning, including firing from sea. The Government does not appear to be restrained in the use of heavy weapons. It is often too dangerous to go out of the house/bunker.
In the coming days, the shelling of civilians continued, but it became increasingly difficult to determine who was responsible. The hospital that had moved from Putumattalan to Mullivaykkal was hit on 2nd May killing scores of civilians. The safe zone, which had in effect been shrunk to half the former, was shrunk further to one square mile in the middle of the southern half of the original 8 sq. mile zone. Lakbima News of 10th May said that this contraction was done on account of senior LTTE leaders including Prabhakaran being domiciled there, and so that “Now we can carry out air attacks and use heavy weapons to the Vellamullivaikkal South targeting LTTE bunkers”.
In announcing the shrinking of the safe zone, the defence authorities assumed disingenuously that the people were free to relocate themselves and would do so in their interest. What happened on the night of 9th May 2009 was in some ways similar to that on the night of 19th April. Dr. Shanmugarajah who was at the hospital told the international media by sat phone, that the shell attack was massive killing 430 civilians of whom 106 were children, based on a partial count of bodies brought to hospital and deaths in hospital
Our checks with people who had been through the ordeal confirmed that the shelling was like in the northwest of the NFZ on 19th April, a prelude to the Army making a new advance into the NFZ from the south, which borders Mullaitivu town. The civilians also confirmed that the LTTE was firing into the Army from among them. The Army came in shelling, but once inside they helped to evacuate the civilians they had access to, including the injured. These civilians placed the number who died in that incident as 2000. That too is an impression gathered from seeing dead bodies, just as those who escaped on 20th April thought a thousand had been killed.
Speaking to private contacts off the record, Dr. Shanmugarajah confirmed that the casualties on 9th May were mainly from army shelling, but the LTTE had also been firing at the Army. The difference this time was that on 19th April, the shelling was towards the east coast of the NFZ, while two escape avenues had been made on the western shore of the NFZ. This time civilians trying to escape would have had to run through the shelling rather than away, whence comparatively few made it.
After 9th May shelling into the NFZ continued on a regular basis. Apart from aerial photographs, the shelling during this latter period was also confirmed by top officers in the Army and Navy. A source in the Navy said that they too were firing from the sea. Several officers are also angry with the Government because this firing into trapped civilians was going on even while the LTTE was asking for a cease fire, and they are worried about an international inquiry into war crimes that is being mooted by human rights organizations and backed by powerful nations.
3.3 Doctors in the NFZ
The Secretary to the Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition, Dr. H. A. P. Kahandaliyanage was quick to dispute Dr. Shanmugarajah’s claims of indiscriminate shelling on the night of 9th May, resulting in more than 300 civilian deaths, by merely pointing out that his official position in the health service as a doctor in Mullaitivu District has been in dispute since October 2008. The Secretary expressed the view that such statements are being made with the vested interest of bringing disrepute to the GOSL.
On 18th May, three days after they fled, Associated Press quoting a health ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity reported that, “The three Sri Lankan doctors who treated hundreds of badly wounded civilians in understaffed, makeshift hospitals in the country’s war zone were detained on accusations that they gave false information about the casualties to the media.”
A Daily Mirror report of 19th May ‘Controversial doctors detained’ quoting a Health Ministry official said curiously, ‘an investigation will be conducted as to who authorized them to leak false information to the media’. The doctors were controversial because their assessments of the local situation differed from that of the Government: For ‘stating that the children had been suffering from high levels of malnutrition and the situation amongst the civilians in the north was ‘cause for grave concern’. The doctors had also warned of severe food and medical shortages, allegations which the government continuously denied.’
A report four days later pointed to the Health Ministry’s actions becoming even more bizarre. The doctors were being suspended on the charge of making exaggerated statements to the international media. Ministry spokesman Mr. Wanninayaka confirmed that the doctors are being questioned by Military Intelligence. And in a depressing comment on the rights of the citizen and conscientious professional, especially one with the wrong ethnicity, Wanninayaka said that the ‘Health Secretary would take disciplinary action against the three doctors in keeping with the departmental inquiry recommendations as the Public Service Commission which was normally responsible for public servants’ disciplinary matters was not functional right now.’
How is the Heath Ministry to inquire into something they cannot verify objectively? The evidence is there before everyone in pictures of civilians coming out of the conflict zone in an emaciated state with various complications arising from injuries and the lack of timely medication. Even after they had arrived in IDP camps things are slow to improve because the Government is insensitive and is trying to run the show with Sinhalese officials to suit its agenda and keeping out experienced Tamil officials. Here is an authentic report on their situation in the camps upon arrival:
“The new arrivals at Zone Four are the ones who are, compared to all the previous arrivals, the most famished. For reasons that are self-evident they had been through the worst deprivation for the longest period. So, their condition on arrival was comparatively deplorable. This is not to take away the very real and unbearable levels of deprivation of the previous arrivals.
“Many feeding mothers are not producing milk for their babies. There is no effort by the government to provide the hungry babies with any milk foods. As a result many babies are in a very bad condition. Even those with relatives living close by are not allowed to visit them. Even after allowing visitors, once their security screening and registration is over they are not going to allow relatives to bring anything near sufficient. The government and certain organizations will be giving some items. Many aid workers report that the situation is desperate. The rulers are trying to make out that everything is fine in the camps.”
How could the doctors have exaggerated the condition of the civilians? The doctors would be denied the due process of a supposedly impartial inquiry by the Public Service Commission because the President continues to violate the 17th Amendment that provides for a Constitutional Council. The doctors would in effect be tried by a kangaroo court appointed in effect by the President of approved political colouring. There is a chance that the Supreme Court if it chooses could overturn these decisions.
Comparing what the doctors said with the impressions conveyed by civilians, the figures of dead and injured given by the doctors sound fairly realistic and the forensic evidence from buried bodies should still be possible unless the evidence has been destroyed. Why Dr. Shanmugarajah lost contact with the Ministry last October should have been expected from the large displacement in the Mullaitivu sector.
Sources close to him told us that he had tried to escape from the Vanni and was apprehended by the LTTE, and beaten and taken back to the NFZ. The LTTE kept all the doctors under close watch. An armed guard was placed near them even when they did surgical operations.
The polarization in the country has reached such a high level, that although these doctors did their duty with commendable courage and fortitude, few Sinhalese colleagues would back them up today. To quote the AP report, “With journalists and nearly all aid workers barred from the war zone, Thurairaja Varatharajah, Thangamuttu Sathyamurthi and V. Shanmugarajah became some of the few sources of information on the toll the war took on the tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the area.”
Information given by the doctors was found credible by the UN and media and generally tallied with what civilian escapees said, but usually much more conservative. We have no reason to doubt that the doctors’ statements were based on body counts reported to them by their staff. As against this we have the Government’s claims that they did not use heavy weapons at all in the NFZ and they did not kill a single civilian. They claimed that all civilian deaths were due to the LTTE and the fact that the LTTE was shooting at civilians who tried to escape.
The fact as we have verified is that nearly all injured patients shipped to Pulmoddai by the ICRC had burn and shrapnel injuries, but almost no gun shot injuries. While those who escaped overland to Vavuniya with help from the Army frequently had gun shot injuries, mainly from the LTTE firing at them. We know that the Indian doctors have photographic evidence from many patients treated by them at Pulmoddai. The detention of the doctors is a very disturbing sign of a state opening itself to ridicule by thinking and acting solely as a Sinhalese entity, dismissing everyone else as liars.
3.3.1 The Doctors face Justice
The Queen [of Hearts] had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small, “Off with his head!” [in this instance the Cheshire Cat’s], she said without even looking around…The moment Alice appeared, she was appealed to by all to settle the question…The executioner’s argument was that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from…The King’s argument was, that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense. The Queen’s argument was that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time, she’d have everybody executed all round. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland.
Since January 2006, Sri Lanka has attained some amazing feats of home grown justice. The exhibition massacre of five students on the Trincomalee sea front was witnessed by hundreds of holidaymakers. Yet the CID and the authorities created such an atmosphere of collective intimidation that the open and obvious has been suppressed. Two of the key protagonists have since been promoted to SSP and ASP. The door to justice has been closed locally. When getting away with this kind of thing repeatedly, those in the system actually come to believe themselves to be exemplars of virtue. This country has well-known mass killers in the defence establishment protected by a pliant system and flattered in the Press, enjoying total impunity.
Mass intimidation of witnesses has almost become an art. On the Government’s use of heavy weapons against civilians in the recent war, there are more than 200 000 witnesses confined to barbed wire enclosures, thousands of patients whose injuries have been witnessed and are on photographic record. Now the doctors who regularly informed the world what they saw of the war too have been effectively silenced. Their yeoman service in appalling conditions deserves respect and admiration. If they are allowed to talk freely they would also tell the other side of the story they were obliged to withhold, while telling the truth about the shelling.
It takes Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe , who claimed (17th May) that ‘soldiers saved all Tamil civilians trapped inside the war zone without shedding a drop of blood’ to inform us the doctors are being detained on ‘reasonable suspicion of collaboration with the LTTE’  (Time 5th June.09) . Merely branding someone an LTTE collaborator without any evidence suffices in Lanka for indefinite detention. The courts are so pliant that the term ‘reasonable suspicion’ has lost all meaning and become the tool of official thugs and bullies.
Going by Samarasinghe’s interview with the Time magazine, the Government appears to be trying to pin them with an AP interview published on 12th May 2009, leaving out the substance of what they have been saying over several months. Their communications speak of caution and integrity, focusing principally on the interest of the population that looked to them. We quote two excerpts from the AP report by Ravi Nessman:
“Two overnight artillery barrages (9th, 10th May) pounded the area over the weekend, with several shells landing inside newly demarcated ‘safe zone’, where the government had urged civilians to gather, according to Dr. V. Shanmugarajah, another doctor at the hospital. A total of 430 ethnic Tamil civilians, including 106 children, were either brought to the hospital for burial or died at the facility after those attacks, he said. But the death toll was likely closer to 1,000 because many of those killed would have been buried in the bunkers where they were slain, and many of the gravely wounded never made it to the hospital for treatment, he said.”
The next pertained to the same day, 12th May:
“Dr. Thurairajah Varatharajah, the top government health official in the war zone, said a single mortar shell hit the admissions ward in the makeshift hospital Tuesday morning. In addition to the 49 killed, scores of others were wounded, and he expected the death toll to rise, he said. Shells were still hitting the area hours later, including one that landed about 150 yards (meters) from the hospital, Varatharajah said.”
It is the second that seems the issue at stake. Minister Samarasinghe did not appear to be making an issue of the first, where eyewitnesses would be numerous.
Dr. Shanmugarajah had told the Associated Press on Sunday (10th May) that artillery fire killed at least 378 civilians and wounded more than 1,100. He called it the bloodiest day he had seen and said many more civilians probably were killed but were buried where they fell. Civilians who came out gave figure around 2000 as the number of people killed as did TamilNet. Having accounted for 430 dead, Shanmugarajah’s estimate that the total is closer to 1000 was a cautious projection he was entitled to make as one with first hand knowledge of the ground situation. It would be arrogance for those who were not there to contest it offhand. This character shows through in all their communications.
The doctors communicated that Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital  had been shelled just before midnight on 1st February 2009 killing at least nine patients without naming the party. When the Putumattalan area was shelled on 19th April, the doctors reported that shells fell in the hospital compound and the roof had been hit by small arms fire. No party was named. They later said that 700 injured had been transferred to the new makeshift hospital at Mullivaykkal.
The doctors’ reports had been factual. There was one side of what was going on which they could not talk about publicly. No one could find fault with the doctors for this. Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital was hit on 1st February after some LTTE cadres fired their weapons into the sky from near the hospital. Even on the shelling of 9th April, Dr. Shanmugarajah had told friends privately that the LTTE had been firing at the Army from among civilians. Like the Tigers, the Government now wants them to tell the story the way it suits their propaganda.
The issue against the doctors mentioned by Minister Samarasinghe is the report that a single mortar shell hit the admissions ward killing initially 49 persons and shells were landing nearby even hours later. Those who first read the report were open to the possibility that the LTTE fired the first shell. If the Government thinks the cap fits them, the doctors cannot be blamed. Persecuting the doctors becomes burlesque against government spokesmen themselves tripping over their contradictions about shelling.
Defence Spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara told the Press on 22nd April that the Army was taking several casualties as they had to face all kinds of heavy weaponry used by the LTTE whilst the military used only small arms in the hostage rescue mission. On 28th April he repeated, “We have not used any shelling or mortaring, only small arms. We know how we are fighting.”
On 27th April an Associated Press dispatch carried the headlines, ‘Sri Lanka to stop air strikes, shelling of rebels’. This followed the visit of John Holmes, UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. President Rajapakese pledged that “combat operations have reached their conclusion,” and that the “use of heavy calibre guns, combat aircraft and aerial weapons which could cause civilian casualties” would stop.
In reponse to the HRW pointing out that the President’s claim contradicted the Government’s earlier pledges that it was not using heavy weapons, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe wrote on 28th April 2009 , “This was the delightfully dense [of HRW’s] Brad Adams, who does not understand that not only was the government using heavy weapons, it has indeed reported regularly on its achievements through such means. The point the government had been making was that it was not using heavy weapons on civilians, and indeed its recent magnificent achievement in breaching one of the walls the LTTE had built up, and thus ensuring that over 100,000 civilians could get to safety, was without the use of heavy weapons as pointed out at the time.”
The last claim is given the lie by civilians who were there, and now behind barbed wire. What Wijesinghe told the Guardian UK  (6th June 2009) marks further equivocation, “I asked the army and they said ‘we said we’re not using heavy weaponry’ but that does not preclude what they describe as 81mm mortars, an infantry weapon. They were using infantry operations, and never said they were not, in order to get the civilians free.”
Rajiva Wijesinghe, in his capacity of also permanent secretary in Sri Lanka’s ministry of disaster management and human rights, told the Guardian (ibid) rejecting higher figures of civilian death in the international media that he estimated it all together at 3000 to 5000. It comes from the same gentleman who excoriated ICG for saying that there were 150 000 people in the NFZ, insisting that there were only 70 000, when in fact there were close to 200 000.
Saying patronizingly that the doctors were victims of circumstances and they don’t hold what they did against them, Wijesinghe told the Guardian (4th June 2009), “They are being questioned to find out exactly what happened. I don’t think we need to let them out immediately just because the press wants to come and get them.” Despite their liberal education they have forgotten basic principles of humanity which would have made the two bosses of the Human Rights Ministry meet the doctors and make arrangements for them to be treated with dignity after their painful ordeal. Is the next generation in Lanka fated to learn the principles of the rule of law like someone reinventing the wheel?
And one might ask, who are these people who cannot agree on one version of things, and go on changing their story as it suits the moment, to act as judge and jury over the doctors, who would be remembered with honour and gratitude long after their tormentors are gone? The arbitrariness of the detention is seen from the fact Wijesinghe makes it sound like a mere debriefing (which does not require detention), while his chief drops vague hints that the doctors were part of a sinister conspiracy: “I can’t reveal all the details of the confessions [by the doctors], but you will see when they appear in court.”
The episode ranks as one that would tickle admirers of Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. It goes to show that the Government is trying to hide grim guilty secrets and its own irrational actions make the need for accountability all the more pressing.
3.4 Former LTTE cadres in IDP
A crying need for independent
Until late May when many former LTTE cadres joined IDP camps, their relatives felt no great anxiety on their behalf even when they were taken away to rehabilitation centres. What is worrying is that the Government has not permitted any independent monitoring of the process by some impartial body such as the ICRC that has now been here for nearly 20 years.
Pulmoddai had 9000 IDPs. One day the Police by loudspeaker announcement called all those with LTTE connections to come forward. About 100 went saying that they did services for the LTTE such as decorating the place for functions. They were taken away. Again the security forces came with the Karuna group and took away about 30 persons this group identified as involved with the LTTE. Such procedures leave the families at a loss as they don’t have any documented evidence that a person was taken away. This causes well founded fear given the Government’s obsession to finish off the LTTE and its well-known extra-judicial practices.
Many thousands of youngsters as well as married men with children have been taken out of camps with the announced intention of clearing and rehabilitating them. In the case of married people we are aware of some cases where they had told the wives that they are taking them to a particular camp and that they would be arranging for her to go and see him once a month. We are aware of one particular case where they had taken the wife once. But there are other cases of younger men where no record of their being taken away is with a neutral party. This has caused much fear and unease among IDPs and the minority community in general.
All those who have had an opportunity to speak to militants – even senior ones – who have come in with the civilians say that virtually none of them really has any appetite for fighting again for the Leader’s cause. They are all anxious about survival and want an opportunity for settling into normal life. Generally – as others in touch with the ground situation also concur – there are not any (with the odd exceptions of course) among the recruits of the past 10 years or so who retain the motivation to fight. The Leadership’s very arrogant handling of civilians and junior cadres in the recent war period has punctured whatever loyalty that remained.
If the government and the South tap this feeling sensitively, with justice and fair play, they would gain credibility and ensure that militancy does not arise again.
There are many militants in the refugee camps who have not identified themselves to the military out of fear. Many of those being treated for injuries in the local hospital who were casualties of the last phase of the war (post 19th April) are militants. There are many young boys and girls and many of them have been telling medical workers and visitors that they are militants. This kind of admission shows their pathetic vulnerability. Cannot something be done to ensure their protection and speedy reunion with their families.
3.5 A Note on Casualty figures
Almost any discussion of figures has been fraught with so much polemics that the truth lay buried. In the first place the Government failed to allow in international observers and severely underestimated population figures to justify harsh military action. The Government claimed the population in the No-Fire-Zone created on 12th February 2009 was 70 000. Most others agreed this was an underestimate, but in their own estimates tended to err on the side of caution. When the International Crisis Group in early March quoted the ICRC figure of 150 000, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe of the Government Peace Secretariat launched an acerbic attack on the ICG. When the Army breached the NFZ on 19th April resulting in about 100 000 civilians escaping from the LTTE, the Foreign Minister said that only 15 to 20 thousand people remained in the truncated NFZ. When this too was breached about 80 000 survivors came out. Against the 70 000 originally stated by the Government there must have been nearly 200 000.
Challenged by government obfuscation, anyone interested in what was going on had to take casualty figures given by the LTTE seriously as a first approximation knowing that its intention was to play up the charge of genocide. Apart from this there was a real problem with gauging civilian casualties because the LTTE figures or figures it influenced appeared to conflate civilians, conscripts and combatants. Following the end of the war, the Government claimed that nearly 23 000 ‘terrorists’ were killed. Taking this figure, along with how the LTTE was making up its fighters, it would not be wide off the mark to say that more than 13 000 of this number were made of recent conscripts who did not want to fight and family men forced to dig bunkers. This would account for a huge chunk of the total dead. (This is why we said that a responsible government should have relied primarily on political measures that have not even been tried.)
Thus although figures attributed to the UN have been considered authentic, there are many imponderables, such as who gave the figures from the ground and whether they adequately distinguished between civilians and (enforced) combatants. From the third week of January 2009 until the end of March civilian casualties were relatively high because there was constant fighting as the Army advanced and the LTTE fired from among civilians.
The ICG citing unofficial figures from the UN gave the number of civilian dead from late January to the first week of March as 2300. One did not find it easy to reconcile this with other indicators. During the same period the ICRC transferred 1500 surgical cases from the war zone to Trincomalee Hospital. This would suggest naively about 800 civilian dead during this period. For another indicator, TamilNet reported on 11th April that hospital records showed that 599 civilians died over nearly the past month (from 13th March) and went on to comment that the total may exceed 1500 taking into account deaths not reported to the Hospital. That gives a wide margin. This is why it is viciously stupid for the Government to impugn and detain the doctors who were giving fairly objective reports with conservative casualty figures.
The Timesonline  report of 29th May citing UN sources, which gave the total killed for the year as 20 000, with 13 000 of the dead in May, said ‘the numbers killed by shelling doubled from March to April, with an average of 129 every day.’ In contrast our Bulletin No.47 published on 17th April stated, “Persons in regular touch with those who have escaped confirm that an average of 15 to 20 people die each day; either killed by shells or shot by the LTTE attempting to drive fear into would-be escapees.” That huge discrepancy cannot be bridged even if one adds combatant deaths. Also averages are misleading. April was a relatively quiet month until the Army entered the NFZ on 19th April. TamilNet said its correspondent personally witnessed 300 bodies while fleeing the area and an email from one of the doctors said that 700 injured had been taken to the Mullivaykkal temporary hospital. TamilNet reported again on the 29th April and 2nd May that 300 were feared killed in the first instance and 64 in the second.
To get some idea of the casualties, after 19th April, the ICRC removed nearly 1000 patients and carers in two trips until 7th May and TamilNet reported that a further 500 injured were waiting for transportation. The next two major incidents involving civilian casualties from army action were on 9th and 15th May. On the 9th TamilNet estimated 2000 dead with 257 dead bodies and 814 injured brought to hospital. Dr. Shanmugarajah told AP that the dead and dying brought to hospital accounted for 430 deaths but the total was likely closer to 1000. He called it also the bloodiest day he had witnessed. On the 15th, a volunteer doctor reported seeing 800 bodies in the area where he moved. We quoted the TamilNet only as a useful indicator, although figures give by the doctors were, when available, significantly lower.
We may say that there was a fairly regular pattern until the end of March while the Army advanced and the LTTE and the people were pushed east. There was in the first 18 days of April a lower level of deaths due to army shelling, while the LTTE shooting at escapees continued. From 19th April there were as indicated above days on which deaths were high, 300 or more, notably on 9thand 10th May when it touched nearly 1000. On the 14th many escapees died due to LTTE shelling. On the 15th there was heavy fighting until about mid-day, resulting in heavy casualties among combatants, as well as civilians caught up in it. Allowing for some exaggeration by TamilNet, the civilian dead was probably below 1000. As discussed earlier, the heaviest civilian casualties were during the last battle from the 17th evening to the 18th morning. Wile many civilian casualties resulted from LTTE shelling, the Army too by its harsh approach on this occasion caused many deaths totalling 1000 to 4000.
In conclusion, the civilian casualties after 19th April need careful research. Speaking of averages is meaningless and of a hidden massacre is misleading. Such an expression immediately puts the government forces in mind. We know that on the May 14th and May 17th night, the LTTE was to a large extent responsible for civilian deaths. When an organisation fell apart in that manner, one section joined the civilians and escaped, another section feeling abandoned by the leadership and facing certain death from a Government that did not want to accept surrender, lost its balance and was angry with the others seeking to protect their life. We also pointed out that in giving casualty figures, the distinction between civilians, conscripts and cadres has not been clearly made.
We do not wish to underplay numbers, but focusing on numbers may result in unnecessary polemics to the cost of the deeper issues. If we avoided a worse catastrophe, it was due to unplanned factors. For the Government to launch the operation in this way was wrong and utterly irresponsible. No one could think well of a government that bombs and shells its own civilians. That point need not be made by quoting high figures of casualties. The only accurate means of finding out casualties is to count and alternatively to have a clear idea of what was happening on the ground. In their absence, technology and statistical formulae may turn out to be very misleading. Another important indicator is that the people who escaped during the last week of the conflict blame largely the LTTE, towards which their anger is directed.
4. Coming to Terms with the History of Violence
There is no doubt that the LTTE was heavily guilty of crimes against the civilian population that have been documented also by us. At the same time the Government is guilty of a host of violations over the past 40 months, which contributed to the intensity of this tragedy in the NFZ. Its most public recent crimes, the killing of the five students in Trincomalee and the ACF case, are, after the President promised an international inquiry, being covered up by a commission of inquiry and witnesses have been shamelessly intimidated.
From early 2006, thousands of Tamil civilians have been killed by killer groups operating under the Defence Ministry for suspected LTTE sympathy. This resulted in a large number of civilians fleeing to the LTTE-controlled Vanni adding to the IDP population that underwent the recent ordeal.
The experience of violations by the State over the years contributed to giving the people a suicidal mentality, which the LTTE constantly cultivated by propaganda. It was reinforced by what they heard, making them feel that there was no hope in the State. The grandmother Mrs. Lillimalar Sellathurai who was a witness to the Allaipiddy massacre of May 2006 by the Navy and some EPDP goons, with her daughter Violet, felt the pressure of intimidation as court proceedings were deliberately stalled by delay, and had to flee to the Vanni. About that time, Mrs. Sangarapillai and her daughter who witnessed 74-year-old Sangarapillai being murdered by the Navy felt impelled to move to the Vanni. We may not know for sometime what became of them.
Such was the sense of fatalism that a large number of people tamely followed the LTTE into the NFZ that was in effect a death trap. A large number of Prabhakaran’s lieutenants and cadres stayed with him faithfully to the bitter end, following orders hardly thinking about alternatives. It is almost unbelievable. These are characteristics of fascist control. Such control was made possible by an absence of hope in anything outside that environment and an almost total distrust of the State that was known only for killing and bombing.
Some of the most potent elements of this distrust go back to communal violence as a means of control through fear that goes back to 1956. This was repeated in 1958, 1977, 1981 and most devastatingly in 1983, followed by continual killings of Tamil civilians in massacres, prisons, aerial bombing and shelling, totalling several tens of thousands dead. Almost never was there an honest inquiry and no one was punished. Several senior officers in the security forces continue or have gone into retirement with many skeletons in their cupboard. Celebration of the end of the LTTE as the defeat of terrorism gets us nowhere, if those who committed crimes of no less severity and behaved no less as ‘monsters’ get away scot-free in the name of patriotism and sovereignty.
If we are to move ahead as a nation and not repeat this history, there has to be accounting. Such accounting requires an international inquiry, not by other governments, but by persons whose commitment to humanity is beyond question. Experience shows that a local effort is grossly inadequate and even the recent commission of inquiry which looked at the Five Students and ACF cases, though it started well is now plainly a creature of the President’s office and an Attorney General’s office that is shameless in its obstruction of justice and complicity in crime.
Crimes committed in war by the United States and Britain are not the issues here. Our demand for accountability from our government is based on our right as citizens to know the truth and because without it there can be no nation building or reconciliation. It is separate from demands from other nations relating to Lanka’s obligations as part of the community of nations to respect international law. It does not help at all if Sri Lanka makes the sins of the West a pretext for condemning itself to disunity, anarchy and criminality. We will return to the subject of an investigation in the last section.
4.1 The Conduct of Operations:
More Troubling Questions
We begin with what is creditable. Soldiers who entered the No Fire Zone on 19th April 2009 and again on the 9th and 15th May acted with considerable credit when they reached the proximity of civilians. They took risks to protect civilians and helped across the elderly who could not walk. Those who escaped have readily acknowledged this.
Although the conditions in the so-called welfare centres where the displaced are housed amount to imprisonment without charges, as far as we could make out, allegations of sexual abuse of women refugees by the security forces does not represent the general atmosphere in the centres and cannot be substantiated. The bodies of dead persons, mainly elderly women, found abandoned near a bathing place were part of the confusion and neglect of the elderly at the initial stages and we are assured that such problems are being rectified.
Until mid May at least, girls and boys who had been in the LTTE were taken away. But this was after a public announcement for them to register, and it was done decently and the ex-cadres were taken to rehabilitation camps. Some who went to rehabilitation camps were told by inmates of some others in the camp who came to the rehabilitation camps because they had been involved in crimes like shooting parents who resisted the conscription of their children and are afraid to stay with the civilians. More recently there have been some disturbing trends.
4.2 Decision to Move the Army
into the NFZ
Consequences of the Government’s decision to move the Army into the safe zone were ominous from the start. It was clear that the area densely populated with IDPs would lead to large civilian casualties. With the LTTE equipped with a large collection of heavy guns, no army in the world would have gone in without the use of cannon, and going in involved fighting mainly children. The wisest course would have been to desist from going in and try diplomacy as part of a joint rather than a confrontational approach. But in deciding to resist international pressure and go in the Government kept constantly denying in the face of all evidence that it was using heavy weaponry.
The result was that the Government became paranoid and angry at all criticism and exposure. It is this that led to the arrest of the doctors whose service was heroic. From what has happened we cannot say that the purpose of bombing or shelling by the government forces was to kill civilians. As pointed out earlier, ground troops took care not to harm civilians. But the decision to go in and take the area meant that it had to counter the LTTE’s firepower with its own firepower, inevitably leading to large civilian casualties. Against the International Community calling for an inquiry, the corpses on the ground and the injured with prominent wounds became potential evidence of the kind of military action in the closing stages.
By Friday May 15th afternoon the LTTE had permitted the civilian population to leave the area. The open questions, and very grave ones, pertain to what happened after Saturday 16th May until the 20th when the war was officially ended. One thing it involved was troops having to enter and fight in an area where the LTTE showed no inhibition against fighting from civilian bunkers. Any countermeasures would have led to considerable civilian loss. Was there no other way to deal with this? Why was diplomacy entirely rejected at every stage by abusing all such efforts as conspiracies to salvage the LTTE? Attempts by the LTTE to surrender too were rejected, forcing a murderous battle to the end.
4.3 Exit the LTTE and the Birth
Pangs of another Tiger
One pondering the rise of the LTTE from half a dozen cadres in 1975 to the conventional army that routed the far better equipped Sri Lankan Army with far greater manpower at Elephant Pass in 2000, and went on to extinguish itself in 2009 in an amazing piece of hubris, is also struck by the folly of thousands within and without the Tamil community that permitted its rise. Elephant Pass was a case of paralysis in the Defence Establishment awed by the blows it sustained in November 1999. That was a domino effect resulting from panic. The Elephant Pass debacle was made possible by a series of limited attacks where the Army withdrew from small strategic pieces of territory. A sense of fatalism had prevented the Army from retaking these.
The LTTE’s rise owed to a series of bluffs, where its opponents were awed by its seemingly ubiquitous power and bowed to what seemed inevitable. Its barbaric attack on the TELO in 1986 succeeded partly because hardly anyone expected one Tamil militant group to deal with another in this cunningly brutal manner, when after all they were notionally brothers in a common cause against a notoriously brutal state. Once it did that a large section of the elite abandoned all moral reservations and fell at its feet, even more so those who were advisors to other groups. The common saying among the Tamils was ‘If you get into the LTTE’s bad books there is no escape. They will kill you’. Then life itself became a nightmare leading to a breakdown.
Opinions about Prabhakaran himself differed widely. Some thought he was a genius. Others thought he was a cad, coward and bully, and allowed to thrive he would destroy the Tamil nation. Many a former militant felt that unless they assassinate him, there was no future for the Tamils. Fearing such an eventuality, the LTTE went into overdrive destroying every suspected opponent. When its politics brought about social trauma, disillusionment and a sharp decline in the combined militant manpower from its peak in 1985, it made a virtue of relying on women and children.
The LTTE’s decline was steady but sure. No nation could be built on slogans, sheer militarism, uniforms, propaganda and pageantry, when there is emptiness within the core. A society needs, democracy, intellectual freedom, an environment for creative activity and mutual tolerance to build cohesion. In trying to make people cogs in its military machine and reducing motherhood to bearing child fighters, the end was inevitable.
It was an end where the LTTE leaders held on to the civilians in the hope of a humanitarian intervention, kept themselves and their families safe leaving the civilians to face the brunt of shelling, hoping against hope that they could hold on to their booty and lethal toys. They sacrificed their suicide cadres and fighters to keep themselves and their treasures safe and finally cited the whole textbook on the rules of war and humanitarian restraint in an attempt to save themselves – rights they never conceded to their victims over decades. Rights they did not accord their own people, the hundreds of Sinhalese and Muslim policemen who surrendered to them in 1990 whom they killed and the Sinhalese they killed by the hundreds to provoke a new round of war – Kallara fisher folk in April 1995 and hundreds in October 1987.
The LTTE was destroyed by the Sri Lankan state learning all the tricks of its trade, congenial no doubt to the Sinhalese supremacist mind. The killing of the five students on the Trincomalee sea front in January 2006 was a piece of theatre by the Defence Ministry to shock and awe into submission.
The end of the LTTE has striking similarities to the way it acted against other militant groups in 1986. It made agreements of convenience to put opponents off their guard and ultimately to leave them at its mercy. When it went for another group, there was no question of surrender or clemency for its leaders. If they surrendered, they were killed in secret. If any escaped agents were sent after them to do the job even if it took years.
The LTTE’s gaining control of the media in Jaffna during 1986 resembles the manner in which the present government has secured conformity in the media. It used pliant journalists to form a union, got papers to dismiss journalists it did not like. Shanmugalingam whom the Eelanadu dismissed on LTTE orders, disappeared in 1989 after being arrested by the LTTE. How much so like what the Rajapakse government is doing? Journalists are in prison on charges that would be found ludicrous in any decent law court. Some have been killed.
Soon after Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed on 8th January 2009, many journalists working in Colombo were convinced that the killing by masked motorcycle riders involved a killer group under the Defence Secretary and the Army Commander. Articles written by two spokesmen for the Government, Dayan Jayatilleke and Rajiva Wijesinghe did not go beyond being at pains to exonerate the President from personal responsibility. The Army is also the key suspect in the May 2008 grievous assault on Keith Noyahr, deputy editor of the Nation after a piece critical of the Army Commander. Journalists today are terrified of making even the mildest criticism against the two gentlemen above. The former made in 2007 a crude threat against the woman editor and a woman journalist in the Daily Mirror for writing about the plight of IDPs in the East.
What kind of society the present rulers contemplate could be gleaned from the President’s speech on Independence Day (4th February 2009) where he said, “We are today a nation that has defeated a powerful enemy (the LTTE) that stood before us. Similarly we should have the ability to defeat all internal enemies that are found in our midst.”
Even after convincingly defeating the LTTE, the Army Commander’s speech on ITN on 25th May lays down a vision for future Lanka that is going to be based on a notional obsession with separatism. He spoke of a long term plan enjoying the President’s blessing to ‘completely neutralise groups demanding a separate, Eelam, and forces of treachery to the nation’. To advance these measures he would increase the Army’s strength from the present 200 000 to 300 000.
These signals are indicative of a vision for Lanka as a military state with a sentry box at every street junction in the North-East, to hunt imaginary enemies and where development issues are secondary.
In any society where the Army is advanced as a holy institution that could do no wrong, the people are left pondering in disbelief at a series of bizarre exhibitions too afraid to contemplate what is behind them. January 23rd 2009, just 15 days after the Sunday Leader editor Wickrematunge was killed, Upali Tennekoon an editor of Rivira, was attacked and injured by masked gun men on a motor cycle in a very similar modus operandi. The state owned Daily News the next day made the point that Rivira was supportive of the Government’s war measures, and that the opposition UNP leader, a friend of Wickrematunge’s, had recently criticised Tennekoon vehemently.
The Rivira group, which also owned the Nation had been taken over by Prasanna Wickramasuriya (51%) and Nilanka Rajapakse (49%). The takeover in March 2008, as described by D.B.S. Jeyaraj, a former writer for the Nation, was ‘in mafia jargon “an offer that could not be refused”’. Colonel Prasanna Wickramasuriya, a nephew of Rajapakse’s is in the inner circle of the ruling clique, Chairman of the Ports Authority, brother of the Ambassador to the US and a long time buddy of Defence Secretary Rajapakse and the Army Commander. The President ordered an urgent investigation into the attack on Tennekoon, but as usual to no effect.
We cannot say what exactly is going on when the Police are supine, except that it is very ugly. These are hall marks of the society that the President and Army Commander want to establish under the cover of religion and patriotism. Certainly the rank and file of the soldiers made heavy sacrifices. But those in the elite who try to erect citadels of glory and power for themselves on the ashes of the subaltern dead are dangerous hypocrites.
The question must continue to be asked if so many Sinhalese and Tamil youths need have died, but for the Sinhalese hegemonist political outlook that constantly alienated the minorities and denied for 60 years the necessity for a political settlement. Even when the LTTE was in control of the North-East, was it not the refusal to grant a political settlement that enabled the LTTE to cultivate the suicidal mentality and make the people come to terms with huge sacrifices for a doomed cause?
Instead the Government has been taking people into bunker politics as the LTTE did. The Sunday papers following the end of Prabhakaran were an exhibition of Sinhalese triumphalism. The official fiction of 6700 soldiers dead as against 23 000 LTTE dead (most of them conscripts and civilians forced to dig bunkers) seems to make it a bargain. Little was said about bereaved families and the misery of IDPs in search of missing family members. Will this country ever be united under such leadership?
More than what Prabhakaran did to this country; it must be asked what the country is doing to itself even as it celebrates victory. Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleke wrote in response to Lasantha Wickrematunge’s killing:
“One of the finest acts of humane, civilized conduct I am aware of was by one of the bravest, most daring soldiers we have amongst us, General Gamini Hettiaarachchi…His brother, a planter, was decapitated by the JVP, but when he apprehended JVP leader Rohana Wijeweera at gunpoint, he did not even deal the latter a blow, and ensured the safety of Wijeweera’s family.”
We should feel very troubled if similar standards have not been observed for the family of Prabhakaran, his wife and 12-year-old son, families of his lieutenants and all who surrendered.
The bunker politics of the South is evident in the abuse spewed at the West and international agencies collectively. They were branded patrons of the LTTE because of their demand for a humanitarian ceasefire once over 150 000 civilians had to face the brunt of the fighting from a tiny strip of land. That demand was correct, leave alone what the US and Britain did elsewhere.
As everywhere in the real world, we would find hypocrisy and naiveté among several INGOs and Western countries, but that by no means justifies our own brutality and cowardice. In a situation where ironies abound, we find both the supporters of the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government tuning their voices in unison on one issue – to excoriate the international community. Neither is ready to look within. The LTTE was defeated and the Leader was covering behind the people hoping for a Congress defeat in India.
5. Meeting the Challenge of the Future
There is a grave problem of impunity and denial of rights in Lanka that could turn the victory against the LTTE into a nightmare of violence as time moves on. These problems have been building up over a long time. Making the conduct of the war the major issue, might lead to the Government finding an escape route to sweep away a long list of crimes that had already attracted international attention.
This war also turned the focus on the broader issues related to International Humanitarian Norms and International Human Rights Law in today’s internal and international conflicts. The purpose of international systems is to encourage states to honour obligations towards their own citizens. In this respect the limitations of the various structures in the UN have been brought to the fore in the era of internal and international conflicts where non state forces not only have become powerful, but also operate in a legal vacuum where they choose not to be encumbered by norms. Besides powerful nations too disregard norms when it suits them and try to use the UN as a creature of national interest. In that process the multilateral body becomes impotent.
The Rajapakse government cleverly exploited the disaffection felt by most governments outside the West towards the West’s hypocrisy when fighting their own wars, as a cover to betray its obligations towards a section of its own citizenry. The Government’s getting a resolution in its favour and the UN Human Rights Council is a victory for an ideologically blinded clique and not for the people of Lanka. It also underscores the loss of direction in Indian policy.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay’s call for an international inquiry to determine if Sri Lankan government forces and Tamil rebels committed war crimes in the last burst of their conflict was rejected by the Council on 27th May by an alternative resolution praising the Government for its victory over the Tigers and deeming the conflict an internal matter. Mrs. Pillay renewed her call for an international inquiry on 4th June 2009. She reiterated her belief that accountability is a prerequisite for the attainment of justice and reconciliation for all Lankans and a foundation for lasting peace.
The second call received a sharp rejoinder from the Indian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Gopinathan Achamkulangare, who said, “It would be extremely unfortunate, if the inter-governmental decisions adopted by the human rights council, were to be ignored or set aside [by] the High Commissioner and/or her office… according to their convenience or in accordance with the agenda of some states, or unrepresentative or unaccountable organizations, or to pursue their own agenda.”
The Indian Amabassador’s emphasis on inter-governmental decisions brings to the fore the dilemmas of a meaningful and autonomous international human rights regime. Navaneetham Pillay’s principled stand on accountability for victims in Lanka being a necessary foundation of lasting peace, came from her grass roots experience of fighting the apartheid regime in South Africa. Such experiences fortify the conviction that there are absolute rights of which no people could be divested by the whims of transient governments. That is what many of us believe and should fight for.
Irritation of concerned governments and institutions with the Rajapakse government has been in evidence for a long time. They have been stumped by its LTTE-style bunker diplomacy. On major issues the Government has been consistent in meaning the opposite of what it says. India and other countries have been pressing for a political settlement, and the Government fervently agreed. The result has been a semantic game like the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, who offers Alice jam every other day, “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” After several major violations, the President promised an earnest investigation, sometimes by two police teams. The result was always a cover up. Pressure over the ACF killings and the killing of five students led to the President promising an international investigation.
Several countries expended money and effort in sending an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons. The latter became targets of abuse by patriotic elements and justice was thwarted. The West became angry. India simply surrendered. Recently the President repeatedly promised that bombing and shelling would not be used against civilians and acted in breach without a twinge of regret.
Here the real question as pointed out is whether the Government should have sent the Army into the NFZ at all. Now that it is over, a country which suffered three decades of war needs time to reflect on what happened in the final days. Immediate issues are about the plight of many who are in the IDP camps and thousands who have lost limb and livelihood. We see no qualitative shifts in political outlook that would lay the foundation for a dignified peace. We must continue to be concerned about the many emblematic human rights issues. If they are not addressed, the culture of impunity that had its advent in 1971 would live on.
As things turned out taking the Government before the UNHRC was an ill-thought-out move. It underestimated the Sri Lankan government’s lobbying efforts and the appalling weakness of the HRC. On principle, wherever a war is being fought, we must call for accountability and, we believe, requesting an investigation of allegations of war crimes was appropriate…and remains appropriate. The UN’s paralysis on Lanka, when it proved unacceptably dangerous for the civilians has lessons for everyone going far beyond Lanka.
What gives ground for satisfaction is that international pressure had a benign effect in protecting civilians. In the context of present war which took a heavy toll on the lives of soldiers, these ordinary men have shown remarkable restraint towards civilians when they come to contact with them. The civilians are uniformly scathing about the LTTE, and frequently found the Army helpful and considerate. So far we know of no major discrepancy in the civilian population before the fall of Killinochchi and after the war’s end. The population before was estimated at 300 to 350 thousand. Presently nearly 300 000 are accounted for in IDP camps. It would be some time before all are registered and detailed checks could be made. There is no evidence of genocide. It is hard to identify any other Army that would have endured the provocations of the LTTE, which was angling for genocide, and caused proportionately little harm.
The result is remarkable because the present Army Commander’s operations in Akkaraipattu and Kalmunai in1990 led to grave massacres. The same year the present Army Commander and Defence Secretary took part in the operation in the islands off Jaffna, which too resulted in significant massacres of civilians. Foreign pressure and scrutiny apparently forced the Government to be extremely careful this time.
Any action now must concentrate on the resettlement and rights of the displaced and a compilation of the dead and missing in order to raise specific questions about what has not been accounted for. The military action should be examined in a wider context of how many governments deal with insurgencies and how the US and British armies have conducted themselves in current theatres of war. That would help towards strengthening humanitarian norms so that they would not remain a dead letter for the victims.
The right thing to do now is to keep up the pressure for the rights of IDPs, make detailed documentation on the experience of war victims and to keep challenging the Government on issues already on the table, such as the Five Students and ACF cases and a credible investigation into the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge.
5.1 A New Direction for Tamil
For the expatriate Tamil community, there is both a challenge and a moral obligation. From the time of the 1977 communal violence expatriate Tamils have rightly been increasingly active and concerned about the plight of Tamils at home. Groups were formed abroad. Some linked up with Amirthalingam’s TULF and concentrated on lobbying. Some linked up with K. Kanthasamy’s Tamil Relief and Rehabilitation Organisation (TRRO, the LTTE started the TRO in the mid-1980s with a view to supplanting the TRRO) and others with the Gandhiyam of Dr. Rajasundaram and Arulanantham David. Despite differences, they were largely days of cooperative endeavour. Whether one favoured violence or not, the atmosphere at the Standing Committee of Tamils (SCOT) inLondon was gentlemanly and without rancour.
Things went very wrong from about 1988 when the LTTE began its monopoly of Tamil organisations with either the innocent or not so innocent complicity of some leading Tamil names. Those who were friends were divided by fear – fear for one’s life. Perhaps we are past that nightmare now. It is time to go back to 1977 and figure out where we went wrong and once more direct our energies towards the poor, the helpless and the IDPs at home as the first priority. It was in that spirit that Kanthasamy directed all his energies to the TRRO, the Sansoni Commission and initiatives like theSaturday Review, and Dr. and Dr. (Mrs.) Rajasundaram got together with David. It was in that spirit that a group within the SCOT including P. Rajanayagam and J. Thamotheram founded theTamil Times.
It is time to rediscover that spirit. In our opinion this is best achieved by forming solidarity groups with Muslims and Sinhalese abroad and to focus on the political rights of the minority communities as part of the revival of accountable and democratic government in Lanka.
6. Matters of Urgent Concern
6.1 Issues for Immediate
- Engaging with the Government on resettling IDPs expeditiously and monitoring measures to ensure that all security screening is done according to the law.
- Free access to camps to compile the experience of the IDPs and prepare lists of dead and missing.
- Free access to NGOs to improve living conditions and take action to trace and unite families.
- Reunite all minors who have been cadres with their families.
- The government should be inclusive in forming task forces and other mechanisms to address the concerns of IDPs. Tamil government officers and prominent members of Tamil civil society should be given a prominent role to avoid the alienation of the Tamil community through the general insensitivity of the administration and the frustrations with the bureaucracy for a community traumatized by the war.
- The priority now is a transitional process bringing together different segments of society to focus on resettlement of the IDPs, broader humanitarian concerns and normalization.
- The government should not rush into elections, as the communities in the North need to time to recover from this costly war and address the issues of normalization first.
6.2 Longer term issues
- Demand for accountability on all issues pertaining to the war including civilian deaths and displacement, including in suitable national and international fora.
- The Government must seek suitable international assistance to provide an objective record of how the war was fought and the role of the different actors in the war in order to address the concerns of the civilians. Such an honest record is important to win the confidence of the Tamil community.
- Demilitarisation of the North-East, including the disarmament of all armed groups. The Army to be confined to barracks except in areas where there is a credible security threat.
- Return all lands acquired as high security zones and reopen schools and public institutions in these areas. Those displaced from Sampoor in 2006 to be resettled immediately.
- Remove the state of Emergency and repeal the PTA .
- Address the culture of impunity relating to all violations and especially the emblematic cases like the ACF case, the Five Students’ case, the killing of the Editor of the Sunday Leader and the disappearance of Fr. Jim Brown.
- Allow foreign investigators and lawyers under the auspices of the UN to assist in cases where national efforts have failed.
Copyright © UTHR 2001