New leaks of UN war crimes report: Shelling civilians, horrifying medical conditions and failure of the UN system in Sri Lanka?

The Island newspaper continues to publish leaks from the report produced by the Panel appointed by the UN Secretary General to look into allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka. Groundviews flagged key points and placed in context what is widely acknowledged to be the executive summary of the report, published in The Island newspaper on Saturday. On the 17th and 19th of April, the newspaper published two more excerpts from the body text of the report. Going by the newspaper’s introduction to Part 1, we can expect much more content in the future, which begs the question as to why the UN itself hasn’t yet officially released the report into the public domain.

As with our first story, we provide context and background information to frame these highlights.

Part 1 deals with civilian casualty figures. Highlights include,

“There is no authoritative figure for civilian deaths or injuries in the Vanni in the final phases of the war. Several actors make it very difficult to calculate a reliable casualty figure: (a) the number of persons in the conflict area remains uncertain, although it was likely to have been as many as 330,000; (b) the lack of an accurate count of the number of persons who emerged from the Vanni, due to the lack of transparency in the screening process; (c) lack of certainty on the numbers of LTTE combatants, complicated further by the increase in forced recruitment in the final phase; and (d) the fact that many civilians were buried where they fell, without their deaths being registered, in some cases, unobserved.”

“The United Nations Country Team is one source of information; in a document that was never released publicly, it estimated a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 injured from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, after which it became too difficult to count.”

“The number calculated by the United Nations Country Team provides a starting point, but is likely to be too low, for several reasons. First, it only accounts for the casualties that were actually observed by the networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas. Many casualties may not have been observed at all. Second, after the United Nations stopped counting on 13 May, the number of civilian casualties likely grew rapidly. Due to the intensity of the shelling, many civilians were left where they died and were never registered, brought to a hospital or even buried. This means that, in reality, the total numbers could easily be several times that of the United Nations figure.”

“It is worth noting that the United Nations raised casualty figures in private entreaties with the Government, but never publicized its specific estimates. Government officials strongly refuted the figures provided by the United Nations, stating that the numbers were fabricated and that this was not the business of the United Nations… Some have criticized the failure of the United Nations to present figures publicly as events were unfolding, citing it as excessively cautious in comparison with other conflict situations.”

“In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage.”

Part 2 deals with the shelling of civilians by the Sri Lankan Army. Highlights include,

“From as early as 6 February 2009, the SLA continuously shelled within the area that become the second NFZ, from all directions, including land, air and sea. It is estimated that there were between 300,000 and 330,000 civilians in that small area. The SLA assault employed aerial bombardment, long-range artillery, howitzers and MBRLs as well as small mortars, RPGs and small arms fire, some of it fired from a close range.”

“At the time, the Defence Secretary stated: “We are taking casualties to prevent civilians getting hurt. This is a factor we are very concerned about. Otherwise we could have used so much artillery and just moved on. The Government announced on 25 February, and again on 27 April, that the SLA was no longer using heavy weapons in the second and third No Fire Zones. But what was happening on the ground indicated the opposite. Intensive artillery fire had been a core tactic in the SLA’s military campaign from the outset. As victory neared, this tactic was not abandoned, but rather its use was intensified, even though the LTTE was now immobilized and surrounded in an area of high civilian density.”

“Putumattalan hospital was severely overcrowded with hundreds of newly injured civilians. As the Government did not allow basic medical supplies into the Vanni, conditions in Putumattalan hospital were so poor that a large number of amputations were performed without anesthetic, using butcher knives rather than scalpels. Sanitary pads and cotton cloths were used as bandages, and intravenous drips were hung from the trees, with the severely-injured patients lying on the ground under them. In spite of the significant efforts of the few available doctors, many patients died due to lack of access to proper medical care, and scores of bodies were deposited in front of the hospital each day”

“On 9 February 2009, shells fell on Putumattalan hospital, killing at least 16 patients. The shells came from SLA bases in Chalai, but subsequently shells were also fired from SLA positions across the lagoon (even though the hospital was clearly visible to the SLA based there).”

“ON 25th March, an MBRL attack on Ambalavanpokkanai killed around 140 people, including many children. On 8 April 2009, a large group of women and children, who were queued up at a milk powder distribution line organized by the RDHS, were shelled at Ambalavanpokkanai. Some of the dead mothers still clutched cards which entitled them to milk powder for their children.”

“The ICRC’s ships were also the only means for delivering food, but the supplies they were allowed to bring by the Government were inadequate. As conditions in the NFZ became more desperate, on 17 March, a large crowd of IDPs surrounded an international ICRC staff member who came ashore, begging him to save their lives by taking them out of the Vanni. The LTTE forcibly dispersed the crowd.”

  • Citizen

    “A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths”

    these credible sources of UN may be the Tamilnet and so called diaspora separatist!
    else they must have indicated their ‘credible’ sources!

    • Thambi

      The credible source is the LTTE who came up with the number of civilians under their control. SL government had no access to the Vanni and didn’t conduct a census there since 1983. :)

      This and our preening goldenboy Gordon Weiss.

      • veedhur

        Patent Nonsense! The number of people inside the Vanni were estimated and reported accurately by the Sri Lankan Government officials in the area – the military and ministers in Colombo decided to spin the number to meet military objective! They literally scared the UN into reducing its estimates to which UN succumbed and rightly stands blamed for complicity!

      • Thambi

        If the government was wrong about the numbers during the war why should we believe its numbers before the war?

  • sr

    ”diaspora separatist” ?

    http://www.groundviews.org/2010/06/18/celebrating-war-victory-and-banning-commemoration-of-dead-civilians-this-is-%e2%80%9chome-grown-indigenous%e2%80%9d-reconciliation-and-freedom-in-sri-lanka/#more-3587
    Celebrating war victory and banning commemoration of dead civilians: this is “home grown & indigenous” reconciliation and freedom in Sri Lanka? Ruki, 18 June:
    ‘’… A Catholic priest in Jaffna told me that he had got several threatening calls asking him to cancel a religious event he had organized in Jaffna to commemorate civilians killed in the war.
    … In Vanni, an army officer had told a villager that he will shoot a parish priest and drag him behind his jeep, because he (the priest) was organizing prayer services for those killed in the war. Another priest was prevented from celebrating a holy mass to pray for those killed in the war on 19th May in the Vanni.’’

    • Thambi

      sr/ward (you usually go by eureka): This is 2011 not 2010. And none of those sources say anything about 40,000 casualties. Stop deviating from the topic at hand.

  • ward

    ”separatist” ?!?!?!?!?!

    http://www.llrc.lk/images/stories/Chandra_Jayaratne_Speech.pdf
    Submission before Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Committee (LLRC) by Chandra Jayaratne, 23 September 2010: ‘’…… Years of inequitable allocation of national resources and consequential disparities in regional economic development, infrastructure development and public service delivery have sown the seeds of discontent and disillusionment leading to conflict, insurrections of the South and the North and even the armed struggle towards a separate administration.’’

    http://transcurrents.com/tc/2010/03/no_funds_to_meet_needs_of_near.html/
    No funds to meet needs of nearly 200,000 Northern IDPs due to govt refusal to endorse 2010 action plan, 13 March 2010: ”The funding crisis follows the government’s refusal to endorse the 2010 Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP)…. The UN and other humanitarian agencies are running out of resources to meet the urgent needs of internally displaced persons in the North. …”

    http://www.thestar.com/news/world/dalailama/article/880196–amid-sri-lanka-s-boom-life-for-tamils-remains-bleak
    Amid Sri Lanka’s boom, life for Tamils remains bleak, Rick Westhead, 23 October 2010:
    “They want us tied down,”

    • Thambi

      And nice selective quoting eureka; you missed this big chunk:

      “Even though Pathasri said some residents are struggling to cope following the end of the civil war, other locals insist they’re anxious to move on and rebuild, something they literally couldn’t afford to do for years. In L.T.T.E.-controlled swaths of the country, even renovating a modest home would bring a visit from L.T.T.E. brass demanding a contribution to the cause.

      “If you had money to fix the bullet holes in your house, they figured you had money to help the cause,” a restaurant owner in Batticaloa said with a sigh.

      But now, there are tangible signs of optimism in Sri Lanka’s beleaguered east, which until 2006 was controlled by the rebel group.

      Travellers who brave the jarring nine-hour train ride from Colombo see roads lined with cement bags and sheets of steel. Repairs to the road linking Batticaloa and Trincomalee should be completed in months, cutting the driving time to two hours from the current eight.

      Businesses, meantime, like the Indian cellphone company Airtel are gradually moving into the east and helping spur the local economy.

      In a riverfront hotel in Batticaloa on a recent evening, executives with Unilever held a celebratory party for 20 local distributors.

      The consumer-goods giant sells about $500,000 worth of products in the city each month, said Basil Fernando, a Unilever territory manager. When he arrived here two years ago, monthly sales were about $280,000.

      As his customers munched on chicken wings and sipped arak, a local spirit made from fermented coconuts, a young woman wearing a green dress and ankle bangles danced to traditional Tamil music. Signboards taped on the walls promoted Unilever’s 10 rupee Astra margarine — you don’t need to put it in a cooler” — and its new Lux soap brand, which Fernando was sure would be a fast seller. “It’s an expensive party but it’s worth it,” he said, smiling. “The market is booming.”

      There is similarly positive news further north up the coast in Trincomalee, a city of 350,000 where cement and flour factories and a flurry of fishing trawlers are the largest local employers.

      While soldiers still patrol city streets, locals say they are relieved to be rid of the military checkpoints that until recently dotted the roads like 10-yard lines on a football field. Local fishermen are now allowed to take their boats out at night, something that was impossible to do during the war.

      The military also seems to be trying to repair its image with locals. In coming weeks, a new reality TV show will debut in Sri Lanka that will be styled after America’s Got Talent. Members of the military will compete against one another in competitions of dancing, singing and juggling. The show’s underlying message: soldiers are people, too.”

      Not so bleak it seems. :)

    • sabbe laban

      If the LLRC is a mere eyewash why are you quoting from the LLRC deliberations when it suits your whims? Hypocricy of the diaspora?

  • Rajdhani

    Thank you United Nations for your tireless effort !!

    Your kind and valiant work has restored my believe in humanity.

    I was worried… I thought all innocent Tamil victims will be forgotten

    • Thambi

      You’ve done your best to forget all the guilty Tamil “victims” though.

    • sabbe laban

      Are the people who were killed by the Super Powers animals? Do you have ‘saban’ in your brain?

    • yapa

      Dear Rajdhani;

      “I was worried… I thought all innocent Tamil victims will be forgotten”

      Now remembered, now go and do some productive work. Don’t waste time weeping forever for “spilt milk” wasted due to your follies and blunders of your swollen heads inflated by fake theories and “heroic acts of LTTE”.

      Thanks!

  • Velu Balendran

    When a criminal is caught the kneejerk reaction by him and his partners in crime is to lie, deny and/or give excuses. Most comments here and elsewhere reflect this. Given the gravity of the allegations, I am wondering what happened to the voice of the decent non-Tamils; or isn’t there such a grouping?

    This UN expert’s report and this moment in time is going to be etched in the history of SL. It will no doubt also record how the Sri Lankan people reacted and judge whether it was only the ruling clique (that kept its citizens from knowing the crimes it was committing) or whether the triumphalist nation as a whole was uncivilised and barbaric.

    It is time to say which side one is on; on the one clearly going forward or the other one?

    • wijayapala

      Dear Velu Balendran,

      I am wondering what happened to the voice of the decent non-Tamils; or isn’t there such a grouping?

      We had wondered during the war what happened to the voice of the decent Tamils; or isn’t there such a grouping?

      • Colombo

        The voices of the decent Tamils were all silenced by the LTTE wijayapala…

      • Velu Balendran

        Dear Wijayapala,

        Don’t you think that only decent people would have the courage of their conviction to fight against odds, and that against a brutal tyrannical and chauvinistic govt, in a bid to uphold the high ideals of freedom and justice for their own people? Practically all Tamils remain subscribed to that even today.

        No doubt some excesses were committed; but they pale into insignificance compared to what the world knows now – which the Tamils knew all along – about the SLA’s warfare story. (A couple of hours of killing done in a day by SLA would perhaps equate to all the killings the LTTE ever did during their existence!)

      • TT

        Velu,

        Most Tamils didn’t have any courage to stand up to terrorist, barbaric, racist, undemocratic, inhuman and brutal LTTE leadership. They justified it, some even worshiped it calling it sungod! They poured in US$ 200 million every year to the LTTE. They glorify LTTE terrorism.

        They still do.

        But there were exceptions.

        e.g. Kadirgamar, Kathigesu, Karuna, Douglas

        LTTE killed the entire Tamil leadership with a backbone and you never raised a voice. I did.

        The number of LTTE killings is much higher and wider than the army, etc. SL army, etc. killed only terrorists in SL but LTTE killed Sri Lankans and even Indians in thousands!

        Most LTTE casualties were child soldiers. It is a well accepted truth that children cannot fight in war. They are extremely vulnerable in war. But tens of thousands of them were pushed to war and you didn’t raise a voice! I did. You approved the killing of Tamil children in war for Tamil Elam.

        LTTE also converted Tamil children into suicide bombers. You never had the courage to condemdn it. I had. LTTE carried out more suicide attacks than Al Qaeda and Hamas combined. Please note that in a suicde attack, the suicide bomber dies first. You were only concerned of taking the target.

        LTTE killed more Tamils than the Sri Lankan and Indian armies combined and you NEVER objected. If I knew your relatives were among them I would not have objected to it either.

      • Velu Balendran

        Dear TT,

        Sorry to say this, but all what you write is stale propaganda. Talk about the rights the Tamils should have. Talk about how a govt should protect its civilians. Talk about a just way forward. Then we can engage.

        Once the heat is off we can discuss the issue of suicide bombers etc. But I personally look at them as the poor man’s equivalent to the sophisticated stealth bomber. They are both designed to kill people in the most unjust way of not providing a chance to defend, in what is essentially an unequal battle. (Even the West is giving a nod for its use in Libya against Qaddafi!)

      • TT

        Velu,

        That is an unwise reply. It does not matter it is state propaganda or not. What matters is the reality.

        Anyway by now I’m not against LTTE using suicide bombers and child soldiers. It punished a spineless society that provided senile support to terrorism. They deserved to be punished by snatching their children and making them walking bombs. I’m pretty sure MOST LTTE suicide bombers perished even without going to their missions when SLAF bombs landed in their bunkers.

        A total of 376 suicide bombers carried out their missions but the total inventory was much larger. Video footage of just one instance of Adel Balasingham awarding the legendary cyanide capsule to suicide bombers had hundreds lined up. That was just one instance. LTTE would have had thousands of them.

        And you didn’t raise a voice.

        The Tamil national struggle must have the cyanide capsule as its next symbol/flag.

        On child soldiers…

        You may not know that by recruiting children into war, LTTE killed 2 generations in one go. Hope you understand how it works. And that was the APT punishment for a society made of people like you who were silent about it. By the time they went to the battle filed, they had already killed one Tamil generation! The enemy had already won. :)

        Another form of collective suicide.

        The 3rd collective suicide is killing Tamil leaders. Amirthalingam, Thiruchelvam, scores of EPDP/TMVP cadres were killed not to mention Uma Maheswaran, Mahttaya, etc. The enemy was laughing looking at this (me too). :)

        The 4th instance was fighting the Indians just 4 years after getting Indian financial help and weapons. Then they even killed Indira Gandhi’s son! (I’m still laughing.)

        Not just suicide bombers, the ENTIRE Tamil national struggle is about SUICIDE.

        As humble TT always says, “Only the dead have seen Tamil Elam”.

    • TT

      USA triumphs over the winning of WW2 in Japan which killed millions hundreds of thousands of which died from the 2 A bombs.

      UK, France, Russia and many other nations join in that triumphalism.

      Their triumphalism continues to this date!!

      If human rights was big business in 1945 as it is now, no triumphalism would have been allowed.

      The UN is a living example of WW2 triumphalism which was officially established 50 days after the WW2 victory (V-day).

      So it is ABSURD when the UN tells us triumphalism is bad when the UN itself is a product of triumphalism!! :)

      So much about “decent” non-Nazis!!

    • Thambi

      Velu, you can take a mock moral high ground all you want — as far as the Sinhalese are concerned the end of the war was a good thing and those deaths at the end of the war are justified in bringing to a conclusion the war.

      You may say the LTTE killed less people but the people they killed affect the Sinhala more than any person killed by the SL army. People killed by SL army have consistently rejected being part of the Sri Lankan nation and are of no value to us.

  • TT

    The jump of 32,279 deaths from may 13 to may 18 is astonishing! There was Tamil Nadu elections during this time and war was temporarily halted. That leaves only 3 days to kill 32,279. 10,760 persons a day!

    Now that clearly is a BS number.

    “Unpublished UN report”. It was not published because the number given therein (7,721) is too low for interested parties.

    From August 2008 to May 2009, LTTE lost its de facto capital Kilinochchi, Poonaryn, Elephant Pass, Chalai, Paranthan, Mulaitivu and many more. How on earth did the LTTE cadres escape death in all those battles? Are they invisible?

    UN never said the 7,721 figure EXCLUDES LTTE cadres. I’m sure all of it was LTTE cadres which is fair game (though not enough to bring peace). Obviously they should have lost thousads when their de facto capital was over run. LTTE leader boasted capturing Kilinochchi was Rajapaksha’s day dream which means he deployed a very large number of LTTE cadres to save it. B Raman even called it the Stalingrad of SLA! All these are evidence to say there was a massive LTTE deployment to defend Kilinochchi and most were killed in the battle.

  • TT

    So men, women and children were killed in large numbers?

    This is a big joke especially considering the fact that there are 89,000 Tamil war widows in north and east alone!

    Widow means a living woman whose husband has died. AND ALMOST ALL of them have children too, a LOT of children!

    How did SLA artillery, small arms fire, aerial bombardment, etc. killed ONLY their husbands and not their wives and their childeren?

    :) :)

    What would have happened is these 89,000 husbands (assuming they didn’t have more than 1 wife) were LTTE cadres who went to war and died. Their wives and children survived as they were never attacked.

    If indiscriminate aerial, MBRL and other attacks were launched, there is NO WAY 89,000 widows would have survived. They and their children would have perished along with their husbands in that case. But it didn’t happen as only their husbands died because they went to war.

    • Velu Balendran

      Probably no one bothered to count the widowers! By the laws of probability there should be an equal number, bringing the total to 150,000 – tallying with the deficit proposed by those analysing the demographics before and after the war!

      • TT

        Very unlikely.

        If there is a large number of widowers, the 900+ NGOs would not have missed them!

      • TT

        If the husbands survived and wives died that too prove my point that they were not civilians. Husbands stayed with family while LTTE female cadres went to war and died.

        Our beautiful MBRL rockets don’t differentiate between men and women. They just wiped out all LTTE terrorists irrespective of gender. Those who went to war died and those who remained civilians, survived!

        That was how widows and widowers came into existence.

        IF MBRL fire was aimed at civilians, NO WIDOWS would be walking the face of the earth in the north and the east today! :)

        89,000 war widows is a clear indication that civilians were spared AND fighters were killed.

        Sadly some war widows wish they too died with their husbands. But we were selective in killing combatants and saving their families that they survived.

      • http://www.blacklightarrow.wordpress.com David Blacker

        Really, TT? So are you suggesting that 89,000 Tigers were killed? Or do you think that maybe some of those 89,000 husbands were civilians?

  • wijayapala

    Dear Velu Balendran

    Don’t you think that only decent people would have the courage of their conviction to fight against odds, and that against a brutal tyrannical and chauvinistic govt, in a bid to uphold the high ideals of freedom and justice for their own people?

    But Mr Colombo above is saying that the decent people had been silenced by the LTTE. Is that what you call “freedom and justice?”

  • Gamini Gunasekera Mendis

    The recent history in Sri Lanka, reflects in black and white all sort of proven crimes committed including suicide attacks on innocent mass by the LTTE Terrorism to carve its own state called the Eelam. The responsibility of these acts made by the LTTE are for a legitimate cause while the island nation should be punished of crimes that has been done by the unscrupulous LTTE. This is the most ridiculous accusation Sri Lanka gets from the world body as not only the G7 politicians of all levels are politically motivated to obtain those decisive votes from the diaspora of pro LTTE also the corrupted inner circle of some of G7 Nations backed UN henchmen want to convince the whole world that the LTTE s credibility of being as a sole Tamil representation in Sri Lanka in order to resuscitate the division of the North and the South.