A review of ‘The Cage: The Fight for Sri Lankan & The Last Days of the Tamil Tigers’

I was elated to take delivery of my copy of The Cage by Gordon Weiss yesterday. Having pre-ordered it off Amazon UK, I fully expected it to be held up by Customs officials in Sri Lanka, given the incendiary issues the book is anchored to and its author, an erstwhile employee of the United Nations (UN) in Sri Lanka. As a friend quipped, they probably thought it had something to do with the Dehiwela Zoo. This may be true for now, but it is highly unlikely, in a country that has repeatedly even blocked issues of The Economist with articles perceived to be against the incumbent government, that this tome will be freely sold in bookstores.

The publication and release of The Cage comes soon after the hugely controversial and deeply distressing report by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts, which found credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by both the LTTE and government armed forces in the final months and weeks of the war. Just today, no more than 24 hours after I first picked up this book, Kumaran Pathmanathan (alias KP), the former head of the LTTE’s arms procurement department, said in the media that the UN and West were prepared to send in a ship to rescue LTTE leaders towards the fag end of the war[1].  As I sit down to write this, the sonic booms of Kfir jets over Colombo, once a familiar sound, herald preparations for the second anniversary of the end of war. Last year, the President proclaimed that the armed forces did not kill a single civilian and that they “carried a gun in one hand and a copy of the human rights charter in the other”. It is a powerful fiction – simply told and sadly, simply believed. A few days hence, this compelling fiction will drive the proceedings of an international seminar, organised by the armed forces, aimed to share the government’s unique ‘mojo’ of defeating terrorism with the rest of the world[2].

The Cage is a page-turner. Gordon’s prose is lucid and compelling. This is not a book you can easily put down once picked up. There are around 60 pages of notes and background reference material – Weiss has clearly done his homework. The book is anchored to the final few weeks of war, but holds lessons more broadly applicable, and covers issues as diverse as geo-politics and international relations to international humanitarian law and its application in the Sri Lankan context. Weiss is also clearly well versed in the art of communication – for example, demonstrating a rare insight into how to humanise a large tragedy, he compares throughout the book the size of the sand spit where the war ended and tens of thousands of civilians were trapped in to the size of New York’s Central Park, London or Hampstead Heath. This is powerful writing, because it communicates far more effectively the cramped landmass than any figure in square kilometres or miles can.

As I read the book cover to cover in a matter of hours, it reminded me so much of another book – David Blacker’s A Cause Untrue, first published around 2005. As I noted in a review of A Cause Untrue,

“the strength of Blacker’s writing is that it is hugely believable. We know we are reading a work of fiction, but the familiar names, places, incidents – all serve to sharpen the illusion of reality. Intense, thrilling and intoxicating – the Schumacher pace of this book fuels the careening progress of its plot. The thrill, primarily, is in reading the fictional accounts of familiar actors– the Government of Sri Lanka, the Special Forces of the Army, the LTTE etc.”

Weiss does not intend his book to be perceived or judged as fiction. It invariably will be by many. The comparison between Blacker and Weiss is perhaps unfair, but with certain merits. Both books deal with Sri Lanka’s 30-year-old war that ended decisively in May 2009. Both portray, albeit very differently, the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), which at its zenith was one of the most ruthless terrorist groups in the world. Blacker’s fiction renders operatives of the Sri Lankan armed forces like Fleming’s Bond – as suave, raffish international operators. In contrast, many accounts of the armed forces in The Cage are ferociously barbaric, visceral. Just as much as I observed that Blacker’s work intersperses the real with the fictional, many sections of government, the armed forces and even the UN in Sri Lanka and New York will see Weiss as a talented but tainted author of a book that isn’t pegged to any evidence on the ground.

Sadly, some of the irresponsibly written and edited content in The Cage will support this response. Weiss notes that his first introduction to Gotabaya Rajapaksa – who is featured extensively in the book – was just after the suicide attack against him in December 2006[3], stating that it was a Mercedes that saved his life. It was in fact an armour plated BMW 7 Series that saved Gotabaya’s life and ironically, one that the former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge imported to Sri Lanka[4]. On page 6, Weiss notes that on the day Prabakaran’s death was announced through the media, “there was little of the air of celebration one might have expected at the end of such an epoch”. I do not know which part of the country Weiss was at this time but it was one big, riotous party in and around Colombo on the 18th of May[5] and extending for the most part of a week. On page 145, Weiss asserts that Sri Lanka’s current Foreign Minister, G.L. Peiris, was in May 2010 the Attorney General. He never was – Weiss confuses Mohan Peiris with G.L.  Peiris. There are other revealing ambiguities, over for example the portrayal of the Sri Lankan armed forces. On Page 180, quoting an article that appeared in the Hindustan Times by Suthirto Patranobis, Weiss avers that an ‘unnamed Indian doctor’ said the true death toll had been ‘brushed under the carpet’. Weiss could have researched this better. The Indian doctor does in fact have a name – he was Dr. Tathagata Bose, and before the Hindustan Times report, the first we heard of his observations treating those coming out of the war zone was on Groundviews, where he said “If an infant could not be protected, imagine the plight of older children and adults. The so-called ‘Sri Lankan Solution’ being touted as the panacea for dealing with terrorism worldwide needs a thorough relook.”[6] Page 186 is nearly entirely devoted to high praise of Sri Lankan doctors working in the front-lines during the end of war in horrific conditions and the kindness of front-line soldiers. As Weiss avers,

“During the course of research for this book, dozens of Tamils described the Sinhalese as inherently kind and gentle people. The front-line soldiers who received the first civilians as they escaped to government lines, those who guarded them in the camps and the civilian and military doctors who provided vital treatment distinguished themselves most commonly through their mercy and care.”

Further on in the book, Weiss gives examples of soldiers who tried their utmost to distinguish between LTTE combatants and civilians in incredibly confusing and stressful ground conditions, gave up their own rations to feed those who were dying of hunger in the internment camps established by the government just after the war and other incredible stories of compassion and mercy towards injured Tamil civilians – mothers, children, infants and men – in the hellish last weeks and days of war. This ostensibly echoes what for example Brigadier Prasanna de Silva from the 55th Division says in the film directed by Guy Guneratne The Truth That Wasn’t There[7]. However, Weiss also then unequivocally asserts that “this does not mean that soldiers did not directly kill thousands of civilians in the heat of combat” and notes that “… Survivors testify that advancing soldiers lobbed grenades methodically into bunkers that often held civilians.” Gordon’s attempt to portray the armed forces through a wide-angled lens of complex emotional, psychosomatic and combat responses to war is commendable, and indeed, more rounded than what most other writers, including those in civil society, have penned to date. It is sadly a leitmotif left abandoned in the book. Weiss offers no larger analysis of this tragic fragmentation between spontaneous compassion and calculated mass scale atrocity, and its affects on the civilians caught in direct or cross-fire.

Sections of The Cage therefore will be flagged as authentic by government, most other passages, violently derided as conspiratorial fiction. Unsurprisingly, given the reaction to the UN Secretary General’s report, the sections the government will be most upset by and why this book will never be openly sold in Sri Lanka will be those dealing with ground conditions in the Vanni from around January to May 2009 in particular, plus the content on page 225, dealing with the assassination of the LTTE’s leadership even after the conditions and path of surrender had been worked out with those in government.

The vociferous support of the UN Secretary General’s report by many sections of the pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora is pegged to its repeated and deep consternation over instances where government armed forces actively targeted civilians. What the UN report also makes explicitly clear and Weiss in The Cage repeatedly underscores are the unimaginably barbaric actions of the LTTE “to fire artillery into their own people” based on “the terrible calculation that with enough dead Tamils, a toll would eventually be reached that would lead to international outrage and intervention.” Here’s the rub – with their leadership decimated, there’s no one in the LTTE to hold accountable.

Not so with the armed forces.

Chapter Five (Convoy 11) is a damning indictment of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Weiss quotes at length eye witness testimony and the experiences of two military men – retired colonel Harun Khan from Bangladesh and the UN’s security chief Chris Du Toit from South Africa, also a retired colonel. The chapter is based on their experience of accompanying the 11th WFP food convoy into the Vanni. It is a mind-numbingly harrowing account of violence that supports what the UN Panel of Experts says are credible allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Weiss takes pains to emphasise that the appalling details are based on reports by two men who each had significant experience in active combat. Throughout the chapter it is made very clear that the Sri Lankan armed forces were driven by the single-minded pursuit of decimating the LTTE. As Weiss notes regarding the establishment of the so-called No Fire Zones (NFZs), “The decision to unilaterally declare an NFZ in that particular location, hard up against an unpredictable and eroding front line had little to do with protecting civilian lives and everything to do with their removal as an obstacle to unrestrained firepower” and goes to say that “… it was reckless and dangerous strategy that had everything to do with political expediency and little to do with the duty of care owed by the government to civilians. It also said much about how the Sri Lankan leadership valued the lives of the ‘Tiger’ civilian population”. The Sri Lankan armed forces, in sum had towards the end of war become a mirror image of the terrorist group they were fighting against. Pages 116 – 120 are, simply put, difficult to digest even after reading the macabre details published in the UN’s own report and others from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Weiss speaks of photographic evidence of the carnage taken by Col. Khan, but there is none to be found in the book itself. Dismembered babies may have been too gruesome to include in the tome, but are photographic evidence of the deliberate targeting of civilians. Weiss does not say who has these photos, but we can assume, amongst others, the UN does. The Cage goes on to deal with what is now, sadly, the well-known shelling of the PTK hospital guided by what Weiss claims “to be the result of a frantic SLA push to seize the town before Sri Lanka’s annual independence celebrations on 4 February”. On page 133 Weiss calls out the mentality of the government and the armed forces towards the end of the war, which believed “that the failure of civilians to make the perilous crossing of the front lines in effect amounted to complicity with the tactics of the Tamil Tigers.”

The Cage then, though in form different to the UN Panel’s report, supports the same significant concerns over war crimes committed by the armed forces and the LTTE. There is however one other development that arises from this book’s publication when juxtaposed with the official version of the UN Panel’s report, released late April. The justifiable caution over and confidentiality of sources in the UN Panel’s report is ruined by the revelations in The Cage, attributed by Weiss to specific individuals.  Pages 23 to 24 of the UN Panel’s report, in particular sections 83 – 89, also deals with Convoy 11’s experience. No names of the sources however are given. After reading The Cage, it is a matter of simple extrapolation that the sources were in fact Col. Khan and Col. Du Toit. It is unclear how the UN itself will respond. Weiss makes it clear that those accounts that are attributed to individuals was done with explicit permission. The situation reports they would have submitted to WFP and other UN agencies would obviously have informed the Panel’s report. What Weiss has unwittingly done here is to add fuel to the government’s propaganda machine and its most vicious, voluble proponents. It also runs counter to the author’s own assertion (page xxix) that he has done his best “… to interpret and use publicly available information, and has not drawn on confidential correspondence or internal reports, discussions…”. I pride myself on being rather well informed about what is in the public domain dealing with the end of war, but cannot once recall or find any record of what Du Toit or Kahn refer to in The Cage outside of the book, or published anywhere before it.

Annoyingly, The Cage also features the off-handish inclusion of disturbing allegations. On Page 211, Weiss passingly mentions the use of phosphorus shells exploding amongst civilians. This is in fact an extremely serious allegation, and though it has also been reiterated in Tamil media in Sri Lanka, it is one that the government and the armed forces have vehemently denied[8].

That said, The Cage is much more than the narration of carnage so violent, that it defies easy comprehension. Weiss’s book is an attempt to contextualise this violence in the history and ethno-politics of Sri Lanka, and here he succeeds better than most. Weiss calls himself ‘an informed observer’ early on in the book. At the beginning he asks several questions – and vital ones at that – on whether the Sri Lankan government had any alternative to what they ended up doing to end the war. This book is a scathing critique of what the author sees, and those like Louse Arbour also agree as the UN’s “complicity with evil”, but no more so than the report by the UN Secretary General himself. Some soul-searching has been promised, but it is clear that it will take time and will involve problematic investigations into the culpability of highly placed officials in the Secretary General’s cabinet, the resident representative of the UN in Sri Lanka at the time and heads of other UN agencies. The strongest condemnation however is directed at the armed forces and government. Weiss on page 145 (and again on page 197) offers an alternative denouement to the war, though noting that it is now impossible to determine how the government would have reacted to a UN system more proactive in its condemnation of civilian deaths. The alternative proposed by Weiss is interesting reading, but utterly divorced from the (Sinhalese) mentality and sheer hatred of the LTTE that drove government and the armed forces, who having whiffed the decisive end to the war through the decimation of the group’s leadership, weren’t interested in anything or anyone that stood in their way.

Tellingly, the resulting gory and for example the unearthly conditions of Menik Farm remain, at best, of peripheral interest to the majority in Sri Lanka. They are issues and people out of sight, out of mind. The Cage will have about as much impact in Sri Lanka as banning issues of The Economist. Dozens of copies of the book will invariably make its way into Sri Lanka. Much like my own copy, they will be passed on from hand to hand to inform a few concerned about war crimes allegations and are in favour of robust, independent investigations into such allegations. Internationally, The Cage will guarantee it’s author a slot in the literary festivals circuit (sans the Galle Literary Festival) for the next year at least, coupled with media interviews, reviews such as this and op-eds to plug the book – all of which will keep the spotlight on Sri Lanka’s tryst with war crimes. Will this result in any demonstrable change in Sri Lanka? I think not.

If anything, The Cage is more than a disturbing scrutiny of the final phase of war.  Weiss also flags in some detail a corrupt, dysfunctional judiciary and the erosion of democratic governance, even before the 18th Amendment. In highlighting the murder of the fifteen aid workers in 2006, Weiss underscores what Amnesty International has also clearly flagged – no commission of inquiry or process of investigation into killings that have involved the State has brought the perpetrators to book. The Cage looks the significant role China played in the guarding Sri Lanka against UN condemnation and sanctions both in Geneva and at the Security Council in New York as well as supplying the armed forces with weapons. The author places Sri Lanka centre and forward in the new ‘Beijing Consensus’, and sees China’s complicity with the war’s end as the building block of deep and lasting economic partnerships over the coming years. The considered position of an informed observer gives Weiss a unique vantage to see how the systemic decay within Sri Lanka, coupled with the shift of geo-political advantage to the East in international fora played into the carnage in the Vanni.

For me, it was a single sentence in The Cage that captured the tragedy of war’s end, and how it has so violently defined our country. It wasn’t anything to do with the effects of shelling and shooting point blank children, lactating mothers or the elderly. It wasn’t about the entrails that adorned burning landscapes after the shelling ended. It wasn’t in fact anything to do with the violence rent by arms. Page 185 deals with how even in sheer destitution and despair, civilians in makeshift camps sandwiched between the armed forces and LTTE tried to make the most of their perilous condition. Weiss notes that ,

“There was a shortage of material for everything, and people were compelled to use their colourful, expensive wedding saris, which usually handed down from mother to daughter.”

For most Sri Lankans and especially for Tamils, this is an image extremely resonant and more than a little saddening. This tragic loss of dignity and identity to just survive through the night are not wounds that heal easily. This loss of what it means to be human is not regained by the year on year growth of GDP or the increasing influx of tourists. During the war, the government perceived all Tamils as LTTE, even in Colombo[9]. After the war, nothing – nothing at all – of what the government has done meaningfully addresses legitimate grievances that gave rise to the heinous entity that was the LTTE. From the violence of the 18th Amendment to that of government ministers in Jaffna[10], the treatment of those interned in Menik Farm, the wasteful and outrageously insensitive celebrations over the second term of the President[11], the millions of dollars the government spend son bids for the Commonwealth Games and entities like Bell Pottinger to whitewash its name[12] and yet can’t spend on those uplifting the livelihoods of those most affected by war, including families of armed forces personnel killed or MIA – these and so much more of what the Rajapaksa regime does suggests we are all hostage in a cage much larger than what Weiss flags in his book, and arguably harder to fight against and escape from. The necessary opiate to keep inconvenient questions and truths away from public scrutiny remains a language of hate and harm – viciously denying, decrying, defiling and denouncing anyone, in Sri Lanka or outside, who questions the President’s assertion, parroted by his brothers, government and unprincipled schmucks in the UNP that no war crimes were committed by our armed forces.

In January 2010, the discerning Sri Lankan voter faced a horrible choice in selecting a viable post-war President. Equally egotistical and megalomaniacal, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka represented the girders of this larger cage. One won, the other lost more than expected, but indirectly or directly, they are both responsible for allegations of war crimes and crimes of mass atrocity against our own people. These are allegations that will certainly not result in any quick regime change, but are as unlikely to ever fade away. They will keep coming back, again and again and again. Until and unless there is a meaningful process of truth-seeking and truth-telling, we risk losing out on the verdant democratic potential of our country post-war and a descent into what Weiss ominously notes in the final sentence of The Cage as a “tyranny where myth-making, identity whitewashing and political opportunism have defeated justice and individual dignity.”

 

The Cage is published by Bodley Head, Random House and available at the time of writing on Amazon UK.


[2] Seminar on defeating terrorism: Sharing Sri Lanka’s experience, http://groundviews.org/2011/05/16/seminar-on-defeating-terrorism-sharing-sri-lankas-experience/

[3] Defence Secy escapes LTTE assassination bid, http://www.dailynews.lk/2006/12/02/sec01.asp

[5] The celebrations in Colombo after Prabhakaran’s demise, http://groundviews.org/2009/05/19/the-celebrations-in-colombo-after-prabhakarans-demise/

[7] In 2009 three young filmmakers crossed the frontlines in the wake of civil war in Sri Lanka. In doing so they became the first independent journalists to visit the final battlegrounds. See https://www.facebook.com/tttwt

[8] On 20 September 2010, the Tamil newspaper Sudar Oli quoting the testimony given by N. Sundermurthi to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) also noted the use of phosphorous bombs. As noted by Sundermurthi, “The LTTE even attacked airplanes that were sent to attack the safe zones. When they counter-attacked, the Army used banned phosphorus and cluster bombs against the LTTE. There were many casualties on account of this. Around 400 – 600 died daily, and around 1,000 were injured. It was a grim situation. After this, amidst incredible hardship, we arrived in areas controlled by the Army.” See http://groundviews.org/2010/09/24/did-the-sri-lankan-army-use-cluster-bombs-and-phosphorus-bombs-against-civilians/ for a translation by Groundviews of this disturbing Tamil news report.

[9] Expulsion of non-resident Tamils from Colombo, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expulsion_of_non-resident_Tamils_from_Colombo

[12] Bell Pottinger and Sri Lanka: Millions spent for what?, http://groundviews.org/2010/03/24/bell-pottinger-and-sri-lanka-millions-spent-for-what/

  • ram kapoor

    thanks so much for writing this sanjana

  • niranjan

    Sanjana,

    Well said. Your article was a refreshing change from the usual. I have almost given up reading the local newspapers. They are all pretty one sided.

    • http://Correction............ yapa

      Dear niranjan;

      You seemed to cut your nose after getting angry with your face.

      Thanks!

  • wijayapala

    I did not understand the reason why the govt established the NFZ; as far as I can tell, it was an idiotic move that opened the way for criticism once the SLA violated it.

    Did Weiss mention anything at all about how all those civilians had wound up in Mullivaikkal ie the LTTE’s human shields strategy?

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

      The declaration of the NFZs was an area denial ploy by the SL military. When they needed to capture an area that was heavily defended and likely to cause heavy casualties to the Army, it was declared an NFZ. Once this was done, the Tigers were forced to withdraw from the area and allow the Army to walk in, or defend it and risk being accused of fighting from within the NFZ and causing civilian casualties.

      Legally, the NFZs have no standing as they were unilaterally declared by the MoD without the agreement of the Tigers. Safe areas, cease fires, truces, etc must be agreed upon by both warring parties to be legitimate. Therefore, neither attacking the NFZs nor defending them are war crimes per se.

      • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

        David, if / when you get your hands on The Cage, would be great to get a review of it incl. what Weiss notes about the strategic geo-location of the NFZs, the timing of their establishment and at the core of it, their raison d’etre. I would have given you my copy, but it’s already with someone else.

        SH

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

        I have been promised a copy of The Cage so hopefully I’ll get my hands on it soon.

      • wijayapala

        Once this was done, the Tigers were forced to withdraw from the area and allow the Army to walk in, or defend it and risk being accused of fighting from within the NFZ and causing civilian casualties.

        Apparently then this approach was an utter failure. The LTTE defended these areas and used civilians as human shields, but everyone is blaming the SLA for the outcome.

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

        Actually it was a resounding success. The Tigers at first withdrew (in the first NFZ) then reinfilterated when they realised they had been duped, by which time the SL Army had had time to occupy certain vital areas. A lot of SL Army casualties were saved. In the second NFZ the Tigers didn’t withdraw, and most of the footage of them defending these areas comes from this period. Either way, most of the criticism about attacks in the NFZ have been leveled against the Tigers; the criticism of the SL military is about targeting of civilians and hospitals, which are valid criticisms if true. Those making a big noise about SL Army attacks against the NFZ are far fewer in number, and made by people who willingly or unwittingly ignore the fact that the NFZs have no legal standing. If this ever goes to court, the only thing examined will be overall policy and specific incidents.

      • Dushy Ranetunge

        No fire zone has legal status as the allegation is that the GOSL deliberately targetted civilians. The evidence that can be presented is

        (1) that the GOSL declaration of a no fire zone had the effect of encouraging civilians into the area to seek sancuary.
        (2) the GOSL then fired artillery into this self declared no fire zone, inflicting civilian casualties.

        the GOSL defense would be that it was responding to LTTE artillery fire.

        But then a court could hold that the GOSL should have issued a warning first, that it was receiving artillery fire from the no fire zone and that it is withdrawing its unilateral declaration of a no fire zone. This would have given opportunity for civilians to move away.

        In the absence of these actions by the GOSL, it could be argued that the GOSL deliberately targetted civilians, by encouraging them into no fire zones and then firing artillery into the zone.

  • http://guruchetra.blogspot.com Aachcharya

    David Black is right about the legality of the NFZs. Article 15 of the 4th Geneva Convention says that there has to be mutual agreement for a NFZ to come into effect. The rule is recognised as a customary principle of IHL (Rule 35 of the ICRC study on Customary Principles of IHL). In fact the UNSG Panel recognises in para 80 that the LTTE did not recognise the NFZs as binding.

    But the fact that GOSL unilaterally declared these NFZs (their notice did not say that it will come into effect only if the LTTE recognises them) would help establish the intention to engage in ‘widespread’ and ‘indiscriminate’shelling. (See para 176 (a) and 193 of the report) Prof Steven Ratner knows his IHL in and out. His scholarship in IHL/ICL is impeccable.

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

      To the contrary, declarations of a ceasefire, NFZs, etc, will hardly be done by a force intent on indiscriminate killing.

      • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

        Which, interestingly David, is the reverse psychology that Weiss claims the GoSL used to its beneft. There’s also some strategising, as I note in my review, that GW notes was employed by the LTTE to kill their own, in order to lay the blame on the GoSL and pressure the international community to call a ceasefire. This too, it is suggested, ironically helped the GoSL’s assertion that any civilian deaths were on account of the LTTE’s shelling. Not by any stretch an IHL expert, and unlike you, have no battle ground experience outside of moderating comments here, so look forward to see what you make of what the book suggests were the motivations for the NFZs to be established.

        In the meanwhile, it’s good to see some robust input on the IHL side of this courtesy Aachcharya.

        SH

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

        I maintain that the motive behind declaring the NFZs was simply to deny the Tigers an area that was vital to the SL military offensive. However, that is about motive. My disagreement with Aacharya is that such declarations can be used to prove a policy of indiscriminate attack on civilians by the GoSL. Defence lawyers will argue that in fact it shows that GoSL policy was to discriminate between combatants and civilians and remove the latter to areas of safety; areas that the Tigers then endangered by defending. In the end, the true GoSL motive will be hard to prove, and the declaring of the NFZs will always look like an attempt to safeguard the civilians from harm.

      • http://guruchetra.blogspot.com Aachcharya

        David, The fact that they declared NFZs and killed so many people in the NFZs is evidence of intention to engage in widespread and systematic attacks against civilians. There is clear evidence that they did fire into the NFZs and there is also clear, documented evidence as to the express intention as to why the GOSL created NFZs. So when they fired they very clearly knew (the ‘knowledge’ requirement in law) that there were civilians in the NFZ. You may be right about the ‘strategic poly’ argument but the GOSL cant employ this argument in a court of law. That they were declared for the benefit of the people was the expressed intent for the creation of the NFZs by the GOSL. Further this strategic ploy argument only shows that they wanted to defeat the tigers at any cost. This is not allowed in IHL. It militates against the test of proportionality in IHL.

        Politically, David’s strategic ploy argument confirms the fact that we have argued for so long that the Government wanted the Vanni people to be converted as ‘human shields’. The GOSL have absolutely no moral high ground on this.

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

        Aacharya you’re confusing allegations with facts and then topping it off by applying an assumed intent. None of this will stand up before the law. Let’s take it step by step.

        1. The declaration of the NFZs by the GoSL. The latter cannot be faulted for declaring this unless the intent to deny the area to the Tigers can be proven as the sole intent (contrary to what you say, there is no evidence, but just opinions), or that the NFZs were created to draw in civilians so that they could be killed. The first will be hard to do, and the second impossible.

        2. The deaths of civilians within the NFZs. Firstly, it’ll have to be proven that the GoSL targeted civilians or that they inadvertently killed them because they callously ignored their presence. So far there has been no such evidence. Secondly, it will have to be proven that it was GoSL action within the NFZs, and not that of the Tigers, that created an environment of violence. Again, extremely difficult, as the declaration of the NFZs themselves will be seen as an act to prevent violence, and the fact that the Tigers fought on from within the NFZs will be seen as an act of aggression. If either option in point 1 had not been proven, then at best the whole NFZ issue becomes moot and individual actions within the area would have to be considered as they would be considered anywhere on the battlefield.

        3. Knowledge of civilian presence within the NFZs would be no different to civilian presence anywhere on the battlefield, since the NFZs have no special legal standing. So each situation would have to be considered individually as to motive, intent, precautions, discrimination, etc.

        Bottom line, any legal action based on the existence of the NFZs is doomed to failure. However, the act of creating the NFZs themselves (however flawed it might be) will give the GoSL a moral advantage because it will be seen as an attempt to protect civilians.

  • http://guruchetra.blogspot.com Aachcharya

    “Prof Steven Ratner knows his IHL in and out”. I meant to say ‘inside out’

  • Panabokke

    Internal colonialism from 1948 ->>>>> ” CAGE” in …. 2009 >>>> internal colonialism continues

    • Lanka Liar

      When the truth is told words like colonization Imperialism terrorism western ideas all mixed up in random and thrown at the reader. I don’t know how to call it. For the time being shall we call it Lanking

  • http://guruchetra.blogspot.com Aachcharya

    David, You are now talking about lack of evidence, that these are only ‘allegations’ – that’s an entirely different matter – a more fundamental objection. The UN report says there are credible allegations. So if you think they are nonsense lets try that out in a proper court of law.

    Otherwise you repeat what you have said and i am not going to repeat what i have said before. But let me draw your attention to Article 51(8) of Additional Protocol I (which deals with International Armed Conflicts but by analogy applied to Non International comflicts):

    “Any violation of these prohibitions [for example use of civilians as human shields] shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians”

    May i very gently and humbly suggest to you that before speaking so authoritatively about law to at least read up a little bit on the basics like criminal intent- express and implied intent etc. I will never ever comment on a professional subject so authoritatively unless i have been trained in that profession. But you have no qualms about this. Somebody warned me not to get into a debate with you as it generally turns out to be useless. I should have listened.

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

      Aacharya, do you think that last para of yours is part of a “useful” argument? Isn’t it more a case of you dropping in an ad hominem attack; which makes it look like you’re worried your argument can’t stand up for itself. It is when you resort to these tactics that arguments against me become “useless” as you were advised.

      I didn’t say that the allegations that the Ban report calls credible are nonsense; I said there was no evidence. If you wish to wait til this goes to court, by all means do so; but I assumed by your comments that you’d rather discuss it now! Your quote from Article 58 in no way contradicts what I have said; which is why I said intent on the part of the SL military will have to be proven and not assumed. The fact that you’re quoting a portion of the law that doesn’t cover what we’re discussing is perhaps indicative of your misunderstanding of the situation.

      Just to remind you, the question was whether military action within the NFZs was itself illegal. We all know what the law says in regard to civilians, and that is not in question.

      I am not trained in law, but believe me I have a good understanding of it. I assume you’ve also been trained in war, since you seem to believe training is necessary for understanding.

      • Gehan Gunatilleke

        David, if your position is that military action within ‘NFZs’ (regardless of the purpose for which the zone is established) is permissible, then you’re probably incorrect. I wouldn’t quote the Additional Protocol, as it has not been ratified by Sri Lanka. But customary international humanitarian law is binding. Certain rules of CIHL have been reproduced by the ICRC in its 2005 commentaries. Here’s what the relevant rules say:

        Rule 35. Directing an attack against a zone established to shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of hostilities is prohibited.

        Rule 36. Directing an attack against a demilitarised zone agreed upon between the parties to the conflict is prohibited.

        If the GoSL established a zone IN ORDER TO shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of hostilities, any attack appears to be prohibited.

        This is what the GoSL said when it unilaterally declared the NFZ: “the Army Headquarters has demarcated this safe zone, as the Security Forces are fully committed to provide maximum safety to civilians trapped or forcibly kept by the LTTE in the un-cleared areas of Mullaittivu.” The purpose of the zone seems self-explanatory.

        Notice the difference in the language of the two rules. The question of an agreed demilitarized zone only arises under Rule 36. You will notice that the Panel does not refer to this rule, as the LTTE did not recognize the zone.

        However, the applicability of Rule 35 is not contingent on prior agreement. If a zone is established by either party to the conflict for the specific purposes listed above, any attack by either party appears to be prohibited. Needless to say, this prohibition is absolute in respect of the party declaring the zone. If, as you suggest, the real purpose for establishing the zone was to gain a military advantage, the stated purpose prevented the GoSL from directing any attacks against the zone.

        If we can agree on this framework, we can move on to the issue of intent. I think you might be incorrect there as well.

      • M. Arunan

        Was there really a “military Strategy” by Sri Lanka Army to defeat Tigers?

        Outnumbered by everything only blessing needed was disregard for civilian casualties, and that came by handily.

        If at all there is a “strategy” see how LTTE took Elephant pass etc.

        Now have a useless seminar, countries may turn up for what ever show that Gotta is putting. It does not mean anything of strategic importance or intellectually deemed to anyone.

  • Burning_Issue

    Dear Sanjana,

    I intend to obtain a copy of the book soon; after reading your review, I will be able to omit the mistakes that the book encompasses. I also thank you for your honest writing especially the below:

    “During the war, the government perceived all Tamils as LTTE, even in Colombo. After the war, nothing – nothing at all – of what the government has done meaningfully addresses legitimate grievances that gave rise to the heinous entity that was the LTTE. From the violence of the 18th Amendment to that of government ministers in Jaffna, the treatment of those interned in Menik Farm, the wasteful and outrageously insensitive celebrations over the second term of the President, the millions of dollars the government spend son bids for the Commonwealth Games and entities like Bell Pottinger to whitewash its name and yet can’t spend on those uplifting the livelihoods of those most affected by war, including families of armed forces personnel killed or MIA – these and so much more of what the Rajapaksa regime does suggests we are all hostage in a cage much larger than what Weiss flags in his book, and arguably harder to fight against and escape from.”

    I am an expat Sri Lankan Tamil living in the West; I know the majority of the Tamils never wanted a separate state, but prefer that the Tamils should be allowed to live with dignity and security. They need to be able exercise their right to Tamil language on par with the Sinhala. Obviously; given what you have written; the MR regime would not address the Tamil concerns. Against this backdrop, what would you suggest that the Tamil Diaspora should do? There is so much they can do in terms of monetary and technical assistances, but perceive the MR regime as insincere and untrustworthy. What is your advice to someone like me?

    • MV

      Burning_issue,

      Frankly, I doubt a regime change would fix Sri Lanka or bring relief to the oppressed people, be it Tamils or the working class. Sri Lanka is more or less feudalistic, entrenched in racial hegemonic rule, although it appears democratic. In fact, a regime change would most likely to only benefit some foreign powers like the US but not deal with issues at hand. Both the main political parties have drawn on ethnic chauvinism (which is built on existing racism in the society) as a diversionary tactic to deal with state authoritarianism as well as emerging discontent from the working class (JVP insurrection) in the post-independence era. Unforunately, many leftists groups (i.e JVP) with the exception of a few like the socialist party have fully backed war efforts rather than fighting for democracy and standing for the rights of people.

      I think the right to self-determination – that is, the ability to determine their own destiny – should be with the people. Although the territorial integrity has been regained, it would only be disillusionment to think that no boundaries exist between the people among ethnic lines. Simply put, Sri Lanka has long way to go if there is truly to be a unitary state – not only territorially.

      As far as the diaspora is concerned, they have only limited/little capacity to effect anything in Sri Lanka, that is if they utilize it.

      • Burning_Issue

        MV,

        I agree with you that regime change is futile. I for one believe that, it is MR who should set the things right; he is the only Sinhala leader who has the platform on which a just foundation can be instilled. Whether he has the metal to do it or not only time will tell.

        If the Tamil Language Act is sincerely implemented nation-wide, where would that leave the concept self determination? Would the regime have such a vision?

    • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

      Dear Burning_Issue, in response to your query, please read and engage with Two years after war’s end in Sri Lanka: What can the Tamil and Sinhala diaspora do?, http://groundviews.org/2011/05/26/two-years-after-wars-end-in-sri-lanka-what-can-the-tamil-and-sinhala-diaspora-do/

  • Asoka

    Elementary rules with the Sri Lankan blogosphere Acharaya, “never debate with david blacker” . It never stops and the man has plenty of time on his hands while the rest of us do our proper jobs.

    • Bahi Kandavel

      Amen to that.

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

        Oh boo hoo, have a little sob.

  • Thiyagu

    Dear Sanjana,

    If Sinhalese people were used as human shields instead of tamil people, whether sinhalese army will do same approach ( or killings) to eliminate the LTTE?

    • wijayapala

      Dear Thiyagu,

      This question has come up in another thread:

      http://groundviews.org/2011/05/18/buddhism-and-its-impact-on-governance/

      We have discussed that tens of thousands of Sinhala youth had been killed during the JVP insurrection, showing that the deaths of the Tamil civilians recently did not have a racial basis.

      • Thiyagu

        Dear Wijayapala,

        The number of deaths of the Tamil civilians including women and children caused by Sinhalese army in the process of eliminating LTTE compared to JVP case clearly shows there was a racial bias by the Sinhalese army.

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

        Really? Approximately 60,000 Sinhalese were killed in three years, the bulk of them in 1989. Approximately 75,000 Tamils were killed in 30 years. Could you point out the racial bias please? One thing the SL Army has proven is that it will cheerfully kill anyone of any race when asked to without any prejudice.

    • PAM

      Taking into account how the SL govt dealt with the JVP, yes, I believe that there would be no
      ethnic differentiation for the SL military.
      Terrorism is terrorism whether it comes from the Tamils or the Sinhalese.
      I for one believe that fire must be fought with fire.
      Whether anyone else agrees or disagrees with me is of no consequence to me.

      • Thiyagu

        yes,Fire should be fought with fire.
        But,people should not be fought with fire.

        yes,Terrorism is terrorism whether it comes from the Tamils or the Sinhalese.
        Killing Civilians to end terrorism, is another form of terrorism.

        Any people with heart will know what it is the difference between killing a terrorist and an innocent civilian.

      • KP

        @”Fire needs to be fought with fire”…

        One of my friends once wisely said, “but the fire department uses water”!

  • CheeLanka

    It would be useful to remember that David Blacker was, for several years, employed by Sri Lanka Army [edited out]. It seems, from everything he says even now, that he has emotionally never left. Consider all his comments as being defensive of his former paymasters. [Edited out]

    ###

    Eds note: Sorry CheeLanka. The nature of the work you submit DB did for the Army, unless you can back it up, is conjecture. We are keen to see, to the extent possible, a debate on the merits of the NFZ in relation to IHL and not on the individuals concerned. Aarchcharya made his point about Blacker, Blacker responded, Aachcharya can take this forward if she / he pleases, Blacker is free to respond on substantive matters. If you have something to add to the debate, please do. Else this just descends into mindless name calling. You’ll agree that it’s too interesting and too important a debate to be wasted thus?

  • Dagobert

    Burning issue…. Do not start the fire.
    Lets leave the Nandikadal matter that ended (02) years ago to REST.

    There are people who are not interested in either Sri Lanka or to live there appear to be stoking the fire.
    From the Villager to the Metropolis man are quite knowledgeable with issues & have their own opinion.

    People like GW there is no concern other than taling a side and making money follow hidden agendas.
    For the Sri Lankans living in Sri Lanka this issue matters.

    Therefore, we need to get these people living in Sri lanka to move on with life. There is much progress to be made & to improve livelihoods of the less well off.

    Therefore, kindly refrain from stoking the fire as there are lot of people in Sri lanka looking forward to a better life away from hardships.
    Focus your attention to alleviate people from these day to day problems.

    GF will be in a pub enjpying but people in SL need to move on.

  • P.Riyad

    To quote from the groundviews’ introduction: ‘As a friend quipped, they probably thought it had something to do with the Dehiwela Zoo’..this says it all. A comment as frivolous as the books under discussion! Definitely not worth banning!
    When Rajapakse was elected President, an educated Tamil said that Prabakaran was smart enough to ensure the dangerous Ranil W who had created ‘a security net with the western powers’ lost the election and the ‘simple villager’ Rajapakse was elected. Regrettably, this thinking still goes on. When will they ever learn?

  • ravana

    Enjoyed Blacker and Achcharya’s discussion to the extent that it clarifies certain realities in the War. Even though Blacker says he was postulating the strategy of declaring the NFZ, I think it was most probably an ingenious strategy innovated on the fly by none other than General Sarath Fonseka who would be very familiar with IHL, more than most people. The strategy appeared to have paid off in the first NFZ, as I recall that a large number of very best LTTE operatives got trapped and died.
    The second NFZ is another matter. If SF intended firing on that zone and that intent can be demonstrated then he could be guilty. Blacker claims that this would be difficult to prove. However, when SF left Sri Lanka 11-17 May 2009, if any orders were given to fire in to the NFZ, and this can be proven, then according to Achcharya’s argument, there could be a case to answer.

    In the absence of SF, ( if he can demonstrate that he left explicit orders to protect civilians, and to take due care in dealing with Tiger violence) if some sources with less familiarity than him on IHL, changed the tactics, it can be said that there could be individual culpability (as in any theatre of War according to Blacker). Unless, the decision to change tactics came as an order countermanding SF….

  • vis8

    Wonder if Weiss, the self-proclaimed “informed”-observer was “informed” of this:

    February 14, 2009 the ICRC Geneva office sent the Sri Lanka Navy Commander a letter in which Head of Delegation of ICRC, An excerpt of the letter is reproduced here.

    In ICRC letterhead

    Colombo 14 February, 2009

    COL 09/485/PCA

    Dear Sir,

    Following the successful medical evacuations by sea that took place on 10 and 12 February, on behalf of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) I wish to express my sincere thanks to you and to the Navy for your valuable and effective collaboration, which helped to save many people’s lives.

    I know that it was a complex operation, which proved to be extremely demanding for all. Your men, either at sea or on land, succeeded in an exemplary manner to carry out their essential task to protect the State and its citizens and simultaneously care for the sick and the wounded. They displayed a strict discipline and respect of rules of engagement and at the same time a very respectful and kind attitude to help those in need.

    In that regard in addition to all others who contributed to this medical evacuation, we wish to express our special thanks to the Director General for Operations, at the Navy HQ, the Officiating Commander Eastern Navel Command, in Trincomalee, and to the Deputy Area Commander North, in Jaffna. They spent many sleepless hours coordinating the operation and played a crucial role to make it a success.

    These days demonstrated that soldiering is a noble profession.

    Yours sincerely,

    (signed)

    Paul Castella

    Head of Delegation

  • Frankiesweetmusic

    Fact and fiction….. with the Tamil diaspora hell-bent on saving their “refugee status” by trying their best to show that Sri Lanka is racist and dangerous to live, who can believe whom? Was Weiss at the no-fire-zone? No. Were the diaspora in the no-fire-zone? No. Weiss claims himself as an “informed observer”. Due to some disagreements with the govt, Weiss began to favor the ltte.

    Wonder if Weiss had been placed in Afganistan as a “UN-Spokesman”: would he dare to question his western masters, let alone write a book damning their murders of hundreds of thousands of civilians?? No, no… the west is, and always will be correct in mr. Weiss’s book.

    “Gordon Weiss can have his 15 minutes of fame, but not by demeaning the victims of Srebrenica genocide by comparing it to what happened in Sri Lanka to save civilians” – this is from someone who saw, with his own eyes, boys and men lined up and shot in Serbia.

  • ravana

    Dear Groundviews,
    I have taken the trouble to read the “Convoy 11 incident” associated with the first NFZ on the POE report (i.e. Darusman report to the UNSG). Having read that I am certainly alarmed that independent observers have reported shelling of the NFZ resulting in deaths of innocent civilians. I find it hard to believe that the Army did not have enough expertise to avoid such deaths.
    In this context, I have to withdraw my earlier comment acknowledging “ingenious strategy” by General Fonseka. If the deaths of Sri Lankan civilians under these circumstances was a regrettable mistake then there should be an immediate apology and expression of regret by Sarath Fonseka if has not already done so.

    If, the Army continued to shell UN positions (I would expect that civilians should be able to expect UN positions to be safe especially in a declared NFZ). If my memory serves me, there was widespread announcement of the establishment of the NFZ to the Vanni population.

    We are also very aware of the deplorable tactic used by LTTE in firing missiles from high-density civilian locations. Furthermore, there is considerable loss of credibility by UN coordinators during this war (for example, not conveying information about the LTTE taking UN personnel hostage) in terms of possible collusion with the LTTE and thus raising the possibility of their own complicity in placing civilians at risk.
    If that was the case there would be a legal defence for the Sri Lankan Military with the exception of one consideration. As one other commentator has said, if there were attempts at targeted attacks on Tiger positions then the military could be forgiven, even regarding “collateral damage”. I think the onus is on the Military and General Fonseka in particular to prove this. He has indicated that he can do this.

    Until this is done, I have to say that I would reserve any loyalty I feel for him.

  • B S Perera

    I feel if the SL Government or the Army were not concerned about the civilian (death)s, we could have won the battle long time before 2009. LTTE’s main strength was being with the civilians – it always (from the inception) used civilians as a shield.

    My personal view is (may be little inhuman)that even if civilians (thousands) got killed, it paved way to safety of all future generations (millions) of the country.

    • Lanka Liar

      I see your point. According to your argument if you wipe out all the population there will be perfect peace even for the future generation. That is why Sinhalese called this slaughter a humanitarian operation. Do you see any thing humanitarian in this. As JR said “I saw the beast in man”. This is not even beast I don’t know how to call it. A rare species which can not only kill but will celebrate the killing and even destroy the graves ceremoniously and blame any body who saw it or who spoke about it as terrorist. It is only found in Sri Lanka. It is not beast or monster. It is a culture that is well enshrined in this evil island

      • Thambi

        Who’s celebrateing killing? Tamils who build memorials for suicide bombers or those who destroy them?

      • B S Perera

        Lanka Liar has turned my comment completely up side down. That is the whole problem, some try to always ignore the facts.

  • RajasH

    I also got a copy of the book and reading it.
    I would say that the entire Sri Lanka is now a cage not just for Tamils but for Sinhala people as well time will tell

  • Saro

    An independent investigation will answer the questions raised above by the viewers and the claims and counter claims of the Sri Lankan government, LTTE supporters, UN Panel of Experts in their report and Gordon Weiss.

    As in other allegations of war crimes in Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Sudan, Ruwanda, Gaza and Libya only independent probe will reveal the truth once and for all.

  • wijayapala

    Dear M. Arunan,

    If at all there is a “strategy” see how LTTE took Elephant pass etc.

    Then how come LTTE could not do another Elephant Pass trick this time? Instead following a strategy of hiding behind civilians?

  • Candidly

    I haven’t read Gordon Weiss’s book, but I have read a number of articles & interviews with him that deal with the book and are available on the internet.

    The first thing I noticed about was these was what he says about Sri Lanka’s separatist war and its ending varies depending on whom he is addressing. His interview with Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader, for example, struck me as being reasonably balanced & thoughtful. But an article he wrote for “The Australian” is the exact opposite. That article is headlined “Sri Lanka’s Srebrenica Moment” & the first half of it consists of details of the well-established & authenticated, but totally unrelated, execution of thousands of male civilians at Srebrenica in 1995 in the Balkans in Europe.

    But why should someone claiming to be telling his audience about Sri Lanka give so much emphasis to a completely unrelated incident thousands of miles away and well over a decade earlier? In fact this is strongly reminiscent of the well-known witch-hunting technique of ‘smearing’ by manipulating emotions that aroused by one incident to colour perceptions of a completely unrelated incident.

    Such methods are used by all half-competent spin-masters, which of course was Mr Weiss’s previous role with the UN. First the smearer excites people’s emotions by recounting details of some other well-established, stomach churning atrocity, then suddenly switches the focus to a completely different set of people but where there may be some superficial & circumstantial similarities. The insinuation is “and the same thing happened here, so what more proof do you need?” Although in this case I suspect the second half of the message is “but you’ll have to buy my book to read the details.”

    On a different point, those who claim that a so-called independent probe will discover the truth should remember what has happened to the Goldstone Report where, two years after it was introduced, Goldstone has himself repudiated the principal findings of that ‘independent’ report.

    • Agnos

      “But why should someone claiming to be telling his audience about Sri Lanka give so much emphasis to a completely unrelated incident thousands of miles away and well over a decade earlier?”

      Because it is obvious that Sri Lanka shares many of the characteristics of Serbia–SL is the Serbia of South Asia, as I say elsewhere in these forums–and, therefore, the comparison of the mass murder of 40,000 civilians in the Vanni to the Srebrenica massacre is apt. Moreover, the UN failed to prevent both massacres, so as a former UN spokesman, Weiss is right to draw attention to it.

      • Candidly

        With respect, I think you have proved my point about smear tactics. What you claim is “obvious” has to be proven, not assumed, as in “It’s obvious she’s a witch because she has the same characteristics as that witch we burned at the stake last year!”

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

        Agnos, you might find it interesting that Weiss, to whom is attributed the original estimate of 40,000 deaths, and which now has gained the currency of fact simply by regular repetition, seems to back down from this claim in the preface of his book by saying “I have not dealt in close detail with the matter of figures of dead and wounded, how they are calculated and how reliable those sources might be. I make the point in the text that it is for others to get closer to that particular particle of truth.”

      • Agnos

        Candidly, 

        Go back and read the history of the conflict starting at least in the early 1980’s.  If you don’t know what is obvious, it is for you to educate yourself. But I don’t expect Serbian nationalists themselves to acknowledge they committed grave war crimes; the same is true of the Serbs of Soth Asia.

        Blacker,

        I don’t have time to waste with you, but let me quote from the last available UTHR report (December 2009). I don’t know why they haven’t come out with anything after that.

        “5.7. The Task

        We have at present little to go on, but there are also other indications of a high level of distress. A resident of a block in Manik farm having 214 families told us that there are 56 widows. Finally we go back to the SGO’s figure of 330 000, which may represent something higher as people were moving out during the compilation. On 9th February 2009 there were already nearly 15 000 in IDP camps, which rose to 36 000 by 25th February. The highest number recorded in IDP camps is 290 000 on 25th May. This leaves a minimum of 40 000 to be reconciled as dead or missing.   

        Anything that deserves to be called a government should leave no stone unturned to measure the scale of a distress affecting its own people in its various aspects; such as the numbers dead, disabled, widowed, psychiatrically affected and children impaired or handicapped in a variety of ways. This is key to rehabilitation. This so-called government has been sitting on the problem, jailing the IDPs, tying the hands and sealing the lips of government officers who served in the Vanni, and keeping out foreigners and INGOs purely to suppress.”   

        See, that 40,000 number is a minimum and didn’t come from Weiss. The actual number could be much higher than 40,000; it could also be somewhat less, but given the history of GoSL’s lies, and given that 2 years have passed and the regime still hasn’t allowed any independent parties to verify what happened during the war, the government and its supporters have zero credibility; the only logical way forward for me is to take everything they tell me as a lie.

      • Thambi

        [cit]SGO’s figure of 330 000[/cit]

        If the government was erroneous about the number of civilians in the war zone why should we believe the number they projected before the war? And what access did they have to Vanni to produce this oh so exact number while the LTTE controlled the area?

        [cit]Because it is obvious that Sri Lanka shares many of the characteristics of Serbia–SL is the Serbia of South Asia[/cit]

        What are these shared characteristics?

        [cit]as I say elsewhere in these forums–and, therefore, the comparison of the mass murder of 40,000 civilians in the Vanni to the Srebrenica massacre is apt.[/cit]

        Srebrencia involved the shooting death of males. In the Vanni civilians were hit by bombs. This is apt?

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

        Yes, Agnos, why waste time on facts and debate when rhetoric is so much easier. And perhaps you’ve answered your own question as to why the UTHR(J) hasn’t said anything further on the 40,000 figure in over one and a half years.

      • Agnos

        “And perhaps you’ve answered your own question as to why the UTHR(J) hasn’t said anything further on the 40,000 figure in over one and a half years.”

        Twaddle.  The UTHR has simply not published any report since December 2009; there could be a number of reasons for that, including lack of access, lack of funds, the need to focus on their own livelihood, etc.

        You ignore the GoSL’s frantic efforts to suppress all evidence of war crimes by preventing access to the war zone by any independent party, and their blatant lies throughout the years. And then you, an ex-SLA solider who took orders from the GoSL, have the gall to think you have “facts.”    

        Even if it is ultimately shown that the number of dead is, say 20,000, does it make it any less of a war crime?   

        The fact is that the SLA (of which you were a part) and the GoSL have murdered hundreds of thousands over the years (including the JVP insurrection) that you all came to feel there was nothing wrong in taking another innocent life.

        Agnos’ law of diminishing marginal guilt:  When a serial killer has somehow justified the murders of thousands of innocents in his own mind, even the little guilt the killer has in the back of his mind, diminishes exponentially with each successive killing.

        That law applied to both the GoSL and the LTTE.

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

        Well, none of the above ever prevented the UTHR(J) from publishing what they had to say, so it’s unlikely that it has now. As I said, you’ve already figured out the real reason.

        No, 20,000 wouldn’t be any less of a crime than 40,000? But you must admit that the larger figure sounds better at a protest, no? Why else is it necessary to inflate the figures?

        Refusal to allow in investigators is not a sign of guilt. If the cops turn up at your house to search it without a warrant, you are under no obligation to let them in; and your refusal cannot be used to argue your guilt.

        Could you also enlighten us on how you figure that the dead are “innocent”? Also, could you explain why you never protested the fact that the Tigers were using these “innocents” as shields? And finally, could you tell us why when the Tigers were assassinating GoSL officials and otherwise breaking the CFA in an attempt to drag the country back to war and risk the lives of these “innocents”, you didn’t protest it?

      • Agnos

        “If the cops turn up at your house to search it without a warrant, you are under no obligation to let them in; and your refusal cannot be used to argue your guilt.”

        Your analogy is totally bogus. The war zone is not the private property of the government. SL Citizens have a right to know what happened to their homes, their kith and kin. Moreover, if there are credible complaints that you are a serious killer who has corpses stashed in your basement, the cops have the right to break open the door and investigate.  Except, in this case, the cops (GoSL) are the ones who are accused of being responsible for the mass graves; so it is up to independent third parties or the international community,  to break  it open and investigate. If they fail to take action, if judicial means fail, citizens will take matters into their own hands and resort to extra judicial means. Then the consequences will be unpredictable. This is my last post in this thread.

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

        “Your analogy is totally bogus.”

        Yes, that’s what the GoSL says about the Darusman report, the Ch4 clip, etc. When you have no counter argument, pooh-poohing the argument out of hand can sometimes work.

        “The war zone is not the private property of the government.”

        No, it is the sovereign territory of the state of SL, and in the analogy, private property; ie not owned by the UN or the international community.

        “SL Citizens have a right to know what happened to their homes, their kith and kin.”

        Darusman, Ban, and Weiss are not SL citizens. Actual SL citizens don’t seem that concerned about these issues as has been evidenced by the regime’s immense popularity. Where is the evidence of this desire?

        “Moreover, if there are credible complaints that you are a serious killer who has corpses stashed in your basement, the cops have the right to break open the door and investigate.”

        Nope, they don’t. If there were such credible complaints, the cops would obtain a search warrant. Breaking down the door might work on NYPD Blue or Starsky & Hutch or whichever TV show you get your info from, but it doesn’t work that way in the real world.

        “Except, in this case, the cops (GoSL) are the ones who are accused of being responsible for the mass graves; so it is up to independent third parties or the international community, to break it open and investigate.”

        Nope, the cops are the UN, independent as they should be, but required to follow legal procedures.

        “If they fail to take action, if judicial means fail, citizens will take matters into their own hands and resort to extra judicial means. Then the consequences will be unpredictable.”

        We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

        “This is my last post in this thread.”

        I thought it might be.

  • sambar

    The book is also perhaps Gordon Weiss’s attempted catharsis … but is this offering enough?
    The UN itself might possibly be seen as having colluded with the GOSL’s massacre of Tamil civilians — Gordon Weiss was the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka at the time!

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    UN expert: Video proves Sri Lanka war crimes, 27 May 2010

    The U.N.’s independent investigator on extrajudicial killings says the five-minute video obtained by Britain’s Channel 4 corroborates an earlier, shorter video showing blindfolded, naked men being shot dead at close range.

    “What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order — definitive war crimes,” the U.N. investigator, South African law professor Christof Heyns, said in a report released Monday to the global body’s Human Rights Council.

    Heyns said he reviewed the footage showing the apparent execution of unarmed men and women with technical and forensic experts. “The overall conclusion reached by the experts is that the video is authentic and the events reflected in the video footage occurred as depicted,” he told the council.

    From http://www.newsvine.com/_news/2011/05/30/6747089-un-expert-video-proves-sri-lanka-war-crimes

    Relevant sections of the report available here – http://www.scribd.com/doc/56634992/UN-forensics-report-on-execution-video

  • wijayapala

    Dear Agnos,

    That law applied to both the GoSL and the LTTE.

    Does it also apply to those who had bankrolled the LTTE?

  • Candidly

    Agnos wrote:
    “If you don’t know what is obvious, it’s for you to educate yourself.”

    Agnos, I think you’ll find that most adults will not accept as a valid argument the claim that something is “obvious” and anyone who thinks otherwise is uneducated. As with: “It’s obvious the sun goes round the earth, and anyone who thinks otherwise is uneducated.” In fact such claims are just superficial impressions unless supported by deeper verifiable investigation.

    And I have to add that attempts to argue by insulting one’s opponent are singularly unconvincing to any neutral third party.

  • Agnos

    Wijayapala,

    “Does it also apply to those who had bankrolled the LTTE?”

    Yes, if they did so after it became abundantly clear the LTTE leadership had targeted civilians of all ethnic groups as well as Tamil dissidents. The same should apply to those who support the MR regime.

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

      Wasn’t it abundantly clear around 1985? It’s 2011 now.

      The MR regime is just the latest in a line of administrations from JRJ through Premadasa, CBK, and RW, to fight the Tigers, and they were all legitimate, elected governments. In many ways, SL citizens don’t have the choice not to support the state — if you pay taxes, you are in fact supporting. There was no such obligation for the Tamil diaspora to support the Tigers; and yet they did.

      • Diaspora Chick

        David Blacker said that “In many ways, SL citizens don’t have the choice not to support the state — if you pay taxes, you are in fact supporting. There was no such obligation for the Tamil diaspora to support the Tigers; and yet they did.”

        True, as International Crisis Group also said last year in their report http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/186%20The%20Sri%20Lankan%20Tamil%20Diaspora%20after%20the%20LTTE.ashx.

        But not everyone who gave money had a choice, as this Human Rights Watch report says http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2006/03/14/funding-final-war-2 I guess the situation was like this in other countries as well.

        The ‘Tamil diaspora’ isn’t this monolithic entity, and has always contained strong Tamil nationalist voices opposed to the LTTE as much as it has been often defined by the flag waving, card carrying supporters of the LTTE.

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

        Diaspora Chick, you’re right. I myself have family in the Tamil (and other) diaspora. But in this case, we were specifically talking about supporters of the Tigers.

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    It is my hope that the leaders of Sri Lanka and Syria will not be granted immunity for the crimes they are alleged to have committed against innocent civilians in their countries.

    The arrest in the past few days of Gen Mladic must cause added discomfort for others alleged to have committed serious war crimes.

    They must be concerned that eventually they will be brought to account before relevant domestic or international courts and will have to answer to many tens of thousands of victims for the crimes alleged to have been committed by them.

    By Judge Richard Goldstone, Viewpoint: Hague tribunal justice ‘works’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13618967

  • Padraig Colman

    I bought The Cage in Colombo. It seems to be freely available in Sri Lanka now.

    • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

      Contrary to the fear at the time, don’t think there was any issue with the import and sale of the book. Was told by Vijitha Yapa branch at Crescat that pursuant to this review, several embassies had block booked 20 – 30 copies of the book, which resulted in higher than planned demand. This may have given rise to the perception at the time the book was hard to get, which it was, but not because of heavy handed Govt censorship. SH.

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