Original image courtesy PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images

A central challenge of curating content on Groundviews is that some of the most interesting discussions which occur on comment threads get obscured over time, and are less visible than the primary material published here. A case in point is the recent thrust and parry of wit over the establishment of the No Fire Zones towards the end of war in Sri Lanka. The debate was between two leading voices on this site and the Sri Lankan new media landscape, Aachcharya and David Blacker, in response to a review of The Cage, the explosive new book on the end of war by former UN spokesperson Gordon Weiss.

What follows are key excerpts from this comment thread. To read the exchange in full, click here and scroll down to see the nested comments. In all of the following excerpts, points in bold are by us and not in the original.

The debate began with a question posed by 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?

David Blacker responded by saying,

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.

Wijayapala responded to this and noted that “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.

Blacker disagreed, and averred

Actually it was a resounding success… A lot of SL Army casualties were saved… 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.

Blacker had made this point repeatedly in the past, and it is a point echoed by others as well. The difference this time was that Aachcharya, who we reliably know to be a Chevening Scholar with a background in law, joined the fray. This isn’t the first time Blacker, with military training and active combat experience, and Aarchcharya have debated a vexed issue. Three weeks before the end of the war in ’09, we posed a deliberately provocative question, whether killing 50,000 civilians to finish off the LTTE would bring peace. Aarchcharya’s interventions on that post, beginning with this one, along with Blacker’s own missives, provided much food for thought. Two years hence, their debate is anchored to a similarly explosive issue – the fate of thousands who found themselves trapped between government armed forces and the LTTE in so-called No Fire Zones (NFZs).

As Aachcharya first conceded to and then contested Blacker,

“David Black (sic) 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 inside and out.”

Blacker responded by saying that “To the contrary, declarations of a ceasefire, NFZs, etc, will hardly be done by a force intent on indiscriminate killing” and in response to a short interjection by Groundviews, stated that,

“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.

The resulting exchange between the two are worth quoting in full, and help us understand the key issues at play.

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.

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.

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.

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.

As it often happens, debates of an engaging, substantive nature on Groundviews and elsewhere on the web are very quickly taken over by bitter invective. This is a pity. As we noted in response to Cheelanka on this same comment thread,

“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?”

The unimaginably harrowing details of what befell civilians trapped in the No Fire Zone captured in The Cage by Weiss echo significant concerns in the report released by the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts. Both in turn reiterate that which has been flagged in a number of statements by the UN, foreign governments and reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Blacker and Aarchcharya aren’t just debating the finer points of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) as it can be applied to Sri Lanka, but in a larger sense, represent two very different ways of looking at war’s dénouement. One sees reason enough, in law as much as a moral compulsion, to pursue a robust process of truth-seeking. The other sees no reason to believe, and no evidence to prove that civilians in the NFZs were actively targeted by the Sri Lankan armed forces.

The review of The Cage has generated to date one other vital question, which we explore in Two years after war’s end in Sri Lanka: What can the Tamil and Sinhala diaspora do? Much like in that post, our interest is in taking this vital dialogue forward in the spirit of robust debate and discussion this site encourages.

  • Panabokke

    As long as there is no political will for good governance, these debates are going to go on:

    Provincilal Councils has been useless(i. Report by institute of Constitutional Studies and ii. LLRC submissions)- the Governor has a veto power over the elected members.

    http://www.lakbimanews.lk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1484%3Atwo-kinds-of-opposition&Itemid=56
    A few weeks ago the government offered ”a senate” as political solution.

  • Gehan

    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 still 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.

    • Gehan, my argument isn’t that military action is permissible in a NFZ (I assume by that you mean a generic no fire zone nad not the two NFZs in question). What I am saying is in regard to these two NFZs, and is based on the premise that said NFZs have no legal standing — ie they are not NFZs — because the MoD unilaterally declared them. I would see a similar declaration by the Tigers to also be similarly disregarded.

      The motive for the declaration of the NFZs are my opinion, and cannot be proven, so let’s set that aside for the moment, and assume that the MoD had the best intentions of the civilians in mind when declaring these.

      Therefore, military action within the NFZ, or directed at the NFZ, by the SL Army cannot be said to be prohibited simply because firstly the zones themselves are not legitimate ones. Secondly, even IF the zones were legit, isn’t the SL Army permitted to defend itself from attack within the NFZs or from enemy forces sheltering in the NFZs? In the second point, Rule 35 wouldn’t strictly have been broken because the military action can be argued to have been a defense and not an attack.

      If you agree that either of the above points are valid, then military action within the NFZs is itself not a war crime; and military action within it must be examined just as it would be in other areas of the battlefield, in regard to civilians.

      Of course, as I already said to Aacharya, none of this has any affect on what the overall law says about war crimes against civilians.

      • Gehan

        1. Rule 35 applies to the NFZs

        The first question is whether the unilateral declaration of the NFZ falls within the scope of Rule 35. Look at the wording of the rule. There is no mention of prior agreement. The only prerequisite relates to the purpose of establishing the zone. Reading the actual GoSL statement released prior to declaring the safety zone, it’s extremely difficult to attribute a purpose other than to ‘shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of hostilities.’ If you’re willing to concede that the MoD had ‘the best intentions of the civilians in mind’, then you’re effectively conceding the applicability of Rule 35. So Rule 35 applies to the NFZs whether or not the LTTE recognized them. This makes good intuitive sense, because the declaration of an area as a safety zone will encourage civilians to enter the zone or remain in it if they are already there. A state would be acting in bad faith if it declared such a zone and then proceeded to attack the zone. This explains the rational behind prohibiting the attack of any zone established for the purposes enumerated in Rule 35–whether or not the establishment was unilateral.

        2. Self defence

        You presume that the prohibition contained in Rule 35 is somehow conditional on the nature of the action. You say that if the action is defensive in nature, then it is not prohibited. The prohibition appears to be prima facie absolute, as the Rule itself offers no exception. But I concede that the Rule shouldn’t be read in isolation and other CIHL principles should be considered in answering hard questions. This is a hard question.

        In answering this question, I’m pretty confident that your absolute position that defensive military actions are exempt is incorrect. In fact, I think you already know defensive actions are subject to rules on intentionality and proportionality. So let’s assume you meant that these defensive actions in the NFZs were in fact proportionate and that the civilian effect was unintentional.

        This is where the issue of intention arises.

        3. Intention

        I doubt Aachcharya suggested that you refer basic material on criminal intent to offend you. The truth is, criminal intent is a pretty complex area of law and isn’t the same as a dictionary or common sense definition of intent. In fact, intent can be inferred from actions. In some instances, knowledge that some consequence would take place by virtue of some action is sufficient to establish criminal intent. In other instances, recklessness in carrying out some action may also be sufficient to establish criminal intent. I’m only scratching the surface here, but I’m sure you appreciate the complexity of the concept.

        To answer the question of whether the GoSL had a criminal intent when taking (presumably) defensive military action against the NFZs, we would have to examine the facts. I’m not comfortable with examining facts, because all we have are ‘credible allegations’.

        We can, however, consider hypotheticals. Assume the GoSL declared the zone to be safe, and then while having knowledge that civilians were present, attacked the zone in retaliation to the LTTE’s attacks from within the zone. If such an attack resulted in disproportionate civilian deaths, then the requisite criminal intent is established. This is due to the GoSL’s knowledge of civilian presence combined with the fact that the GoSL was aware that this was a zone it specifically declared to be safe thereby inviting civilian presence.

        Let’s take another hypothetical. Assume the zone was declared, and the GoSL used precision attacks to take out certain LTTE targets within the zone while inflicting minimum collateral damage. It could be argued that there was no criminal intent here, as despite knowledge of civilian presence, the GoSL’s actions, by nature, caused minimal casualties.

        As you might have guessed, criminal intent is linked to the nature of the action taken and the degree of knowledge of the consequences of the action. It doesn’t really matter if the action is ‘defensive’ or ‘offensive’. Hence if the attacks on the NFZ were, by nature, indiscriminate, criminal intent could be easily inferred.

      • Gehan, I think you’ve been pretty clear on how you see it. The only thing I’d like to point out is that I’m not making any absolute claims. You might have noted that many of my suggestions were made in the form of a query. I’ll clarify as we go on. Also, while the evidence of the GoSL’s motives in declaring the NFZs is in its statement on it (and I’m perfectly happy to accept that for the sake of argument), others — including DBS Jeyaraj, and it seems Gordon Weiss — agree that it was just an area denial tactic.

        If we are to take it that Rule 35 applies to the NFZs, and that the prohibition of military action is not an absolute rule, and that certain forms of military action, subject to proportionality, are permissible, it still validates my argument that military action within the NFZs are not war crimes per se; only certain military actions, if disproportionate, or with the intent of causing harm to civilians, would be considered war crimes. That is more or less how all military action conducted alongside civilians would be examined. Correct?

        While my comment on defensive action being permissible might seem absolute, it was only made under the assumption that Rule 35 was absolute, and that the wording was definitive — ie that it prohibited offensive military action. This however is a moot point as you’ve suggested that the rule is not absolute, and that not all military action would be criminal.

        Your explanation on intent is pretty much how I understand it, which was why Aacharya’s quip was rather amusing. But as we all know, establishing intent will be the hardest part for any prosecution, and the area most likely to be targeted by the defence. Presumably any defence worth its salt would attempt to show that all military action conducted by the GoSL was proportionate and not reckless, and possibly in defence of the civilians themselves.

        All of this would come into play regardless of whether the action undertaken by the SL Army was within the NFZs or not, which returns us to my point that the NFZs themselves do not have some sort of blanket status that would render all military action (by either side) criminal. It all comes don to the individual incidents in which civilians were killed or wounded, just as it would be in any area, in or outside the NFZ.

      • Gehan

        (Sorry I posted the last comment in the wrong place).

        I think we’re close to agreeing on a framework. Two caveats:

        1. You say ‘NFZs themselves do not have some sort of blanket status that would render all military action (by either side) criminal’. That’s technically correct. But of course inferences may be drawn if the party that declares a NFZ–which would encourage civilian occupation of that zone–then proceeds to attack the zone. The absolutely crucial distinction–though this is perhaps a nuanced distinction–is that unlike general attacks on dual-use objects, an attack on a zone which is declared to be safe by the attacking party would raise stronger presumptions in respect of intentionality. I’m certain you appreciate this subtle distinction.

        2. You say ‘military action within the NFZs are not war crimes per se; only certain military actions, if disproportionate, or with the intent of causing harm to civilians, would be considered war crimes. That is more or less how all military action conducted alongside civilians would be examined.’

        I think CIHL clearly affords special protection to safe zones established for the purposes enumerated in Rule 35. I won’t repeat the intuitive rational behind this. I’m certain that attacks on a zone contemplated by Rule 35 cannot be equated with an attack on other dual-use objects. This is why the applicability of Rule 35 is actually quite important. So I would be careful to simply conflate Rule 35 with the usual prohibitions found in CIHL.

        Now I’m curious as to how you would approach the hard question. Assume that my first hypothetical is factually correct (this is in fact the narrative that is presented in the UN Panel Report in the form of ‘credible allegations’).

        Do you think that the military action described in the hypothetical amounts to war crimes?

      • Gehan, on point 1, I agree that an unprovoked attack or a general offensive into the NFZs might be seen as a sign of intention, but I highly doubt that provocation or the well being of the civilians will be hard to establish as a reason for such attacks. When you say “attack”, I assume you don’t mean it in the military sense of being an offensive.

        On point 2, regarding whether military action within the NFZ would be treated as action outside, I didn’t mean that there was no difference, but that individual actions would be examined just as they would be examined if action was outside. The examination criterion might vary, but nevertheless one action might be permissible, depending on circumstances, while another would not be; just as it is outside an NFZ.

        On your hypothetical situations; yes, if the first situation were proven to be true, that would amount to a war crime. I have never been at odds as to what constitutes a war crime, I do believe that war crimes were committed, and I believe it is impossible to conduct a war without crimes. I believe that most HL lawyers understand the latter as well, and that is why there is selection as to which war crimes to actually prosecute.

      • Gehan

        You say: ‘On your hypothetical situations; yes, if the first situation were proven to be true, that would amount to a war crime.’

        That’s a heartening clarification. It’s what I believe too.

        You say: ‘I have never been at odds as to what constitutes a war crime, I do believe that war crimes were committed, and I believe it is impossible to conduct a war without crimes.’

        That’s a fairly bold statement to make. When you say ‘I do believe that war crimes were committed’, I assume you mean: by the GoSL during the final stages of the war in May 2009.

      • I believe there were war crimes committed throughout the war, just as they have been committed in every war you can name. It is the nature of war.

  • Colombo Sophist

    What is ‘debated’ here are ‘International Humanitarian Law’ principles and their application in relation to the war rimes committed.

    There is plenty of easy to understand material avialble on the web in relation to the application of IHL by well respected human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, International Crisis Group, various UN bodies themselves, Amnesty International etc.

    Particularly important to the issue at hand is whether NATO forces committed war crimes when they bombed Serbia/Kosovo where more than 500 civilians were killed as a result. NATO has been exonerated of war crimes in those investigations and there have been important recommendations by the above esteemed organisations as to how future actions must be carried out. Undoubtdly the UN sanctions bombings in Libya will feature in future reports perhaps with new jurisprudence edicted.

    I would appreciate if the contributing legal scholars, ex-military personnel and the Ground Views editors could enlighten the readers in light of the international experience of the application of IHL in similar situations elsewhere. From my little understanding of law, I would have hoped the precedents are important when it comes to adjudication.

  • K.Chandra

    Blacker,

    I Just want to share here…. the fact and history of Tamil-Sinhala conflicts in Sri Lanka…

    The Sinhala chauvinistic oppression against the Tamil nation began to unfold its ugly forms soon after national ‘indepen­dence’ in 1948 when the British handed over state power to the Sinhalese ruling elite.

    This oppression was not simply an expression of racial prejudice, but a well calculated genocidal plan aimed at the gradual and systematic destruction of the essential foundations of national -community. The oppres­sion, therefore assumed a multi-dimensional thrust, attacking simultaneously on the different structural levels of the national foundation, the levels of the conditions of existence of a nation, its language, education, culture, economy and ter­ritory. As part of this genocidal programme formed the state inspired communal riots, which led to the mass destruction of life and property of the Tamils.

    The racial riots that constantly plague the island should not be viewed as spontaneous outbursts of inter-communal hatred between the two communities. All major racial con­flagrations that erupted violently against the Tamil speaking people were inspired and master-minded by the Sinhala rul­ing regimes as a part of the grand genocidal programme„ Vio­lent anti-Tamil racial riots exploded in the island in 1956,1958, 1961, 1974, 1977, 1979 and in 1981. In these racial holocausts thousands of Tamils, including women and chil­dren were mercilessly massacred, millions worth of Tamil property destroyed and hundreds of thousands made refugees. The state and the armed forces colluded with hooli­gans in their barbaric acts of arson, rape and murder. Instead of containing the violence, the Sinhala Government leaders made inflammatory statements adding fuel to the fire. The violent riots of 1981 showed the genocidal character of this horrifying phenomenon. It was during these riots the Sinhala police went on a wild rampage burning down the Tamil city of Jaffna, destroying completely the public library with all its treasures of historical learning, set fire to a national news­paper office and burnt to ashes hundreds of shops. The alarming aspect of this state terrorism was that it aimed at the destruc­tion of the cultural foundations of the Tamil nation.

    The cumulative effect of this multi-dimensional oppression threatened the very survival of the Tamils.

    This is just a parts of Tamils decade old suffering under the GoSL ruling.
    NFZ was fired intentionally by GoSL to kill the civilians…(As one of their major objective of this genocidal war)
    Below is the part of the UN panel reports which is witnessed by UN and Red Cross, so if there is no evidence,we still have witnesses.

    The first no-fire zone was announced on January 20, 2009, covering an area several kilometres to the north of Mullaithivu. A UN hub and relief distribution centre was relocated there, but quickly came under attack.

    The panel report explained: “In the early morning hours of January 24, hundreds of shells were rained down in the NFZ. Those with access to the bunkers dove into it for protection, but most of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] did not have bunkers and nowhere to seek cover. People were screaming and crying for help.”

    A UN security official inside the zone telephoned Sri Lankan military chiefs, including the commander responsible for the operation, requesting that the shelling stop, but to no avail. When UN officers emerged from their bunker, “mangled bodies and body parts were strewn all around them, including those of many women and children”.

    UN staff who left the no-fire zone along with the Red Cross on January 25, described what they saw: “The scene inside the NFZ along the road to PTK, the A35, was one of great destruction, and even the vegetation was shredded. Dead or severely injured civilians lay along the roadsides, amidst shattered shelters, strewn belongings and dead animals. Hundreds of damaged vehicles also lay along the road.”

    Clearly marked hospitals were not spared. The Vallipunam hospital located in the no-fire zone was shelled on January 20, killing a number of patients. The Udayaarkaddu hospital in the same zone was hit on 24 January. The Puthukkudiyiruppu (PTK) hospital was bombarded every day between January 29 and February 4, and took at least nine direct hits that killed staff and patients.

    On February 12, the military declared a second no-fire zone covering a 12-kilometre coastal strip. The UN estimated that more than 300,000 civilians—men, women and children—were packed into the area, which had already been heavily bombarded from February 6.

    The barrage continued on a daily basis well after the announced no-fire zone. The UN report cited several examples: “On 25 March, an MBRL [multi-barrel rocket launcher] attack on Ambalavanpokkanai [village] 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 were shelled at Ambalavanpokkanai.”

    Makeshift hospitals at Putumattalan, Mullivaikkal and Vellamullivaikkal also came under fire. The conditions at the hospitals were appalling. At Putumattalan hospital, the report noted: “A large number of amputations were performed without anaesthetic, 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.”

    On April 27, the government declared a third, smaller no-fire zone. By that stage, about 170,000 people had fled to government-controlled areas. An estimated 100,000 civilians remained in the zone, crammed together in intolerable conditions without adequate food, water, shelter or medicine. The military deliberately restricted emergency supplies while the government falsely claimed that only 10,000 civilians remained.

    The UN report stated: “Due to lack of space in the third NFZ, civilians had nowhere to hide from shelling, which was coming from all sides… Many died and were buried under their bunkers without their deaths being recorded.” Doctors and the remaining chief administrative officer repeatedly called for a halt to the attacks to attend the wounded, but in vain. The final days of the war that ended on May 18 were an “unimaginable human catastrophe.”

    The shelling was so intense that Red Cross ships were unable to approach the no-fire zone to evacuate patients and drop emergency supplies. On May 14, the remaining doctors shut down the last makeshift hospital and moved to a government-controlled area where they were immediately arrested for previously informing the media about the military’s crimes.

    ”Will the world judiciary system accept the witnesses or ignore them by favouring to evil GoSL in the name of war against terrorism…”?

    • I am aware of all this, thanks. The first NFZ was northwest of Mullaitivu, not north of it. The second one was to the north.

      • Gehan

        I think we’re close to agreeing on a framework. Two caveats:

        1. You say ‘NFZs themselves do not have some sort of blanket status that would render all military action (by either side) criminal’. That’s technically correct. But of course inferences may be drawn if the party that declares a NFZ–which would encourage civilian occupation of that zone–then proceeds to attack the zone. The absolutely crucial distinction–though this is perhaps a nuanced distinction–is that unlike general attacks on dual-use objects, an attack on a zone which is declared to be safe by the attacking party would raise stronger presumptions in respect of intentionality. I’m certain you appreciate this subtle distinction.

        2. You say ‘military action within the NFZs are not war crimes per se; only certain military actions, if disproportionate, or with the intent of causing harm to civilians, would be considered war crimes. That is more or less how all military action conducted alongside civilians would be examined.’

        I think CIHL clearly affords special protection to safe zones established for the purposes enumerated in Rule 35. I won’t repeat the intuitive rational behind this. I’m certain that attacks on a zone contemplated by Rule 35 cannot be equated with an attack on other dual-use objects. This is why the applicability of Rule 35 is actually quite important. So I would be careful to simply conflate Rule 35 with the usual prohibitions found in CIHL.

        Now I’m curious as to how you would approach the hard question. Assume that my first hypothetical is factually correct (this is in fact the narrative that is presented in the UN Panel Report in the form of ‘credible allegations’).

        Do you think that the military action described in the hypothetical amounts to war crimes?

    • Thambi

      Source for riots in 1961, 1974, 1979 and 1981 (I know the Jaffna library was burned; but I would like some data on ‘riots’ on civilians in this year). Also provide some evidence that thousands were killed in these and the real riots in 1956, 1958 and 1977. You’ve left out 1983 I ascertain so the 3,000 deaths in that are not to be used in this toll.

    • ravana

      K Chandra,
      I am so sorry… I am not going to insult you by saying I understand. But as child of the same mother I would like to and am trying to understand. I can certainly feel the great pain.
      I hope justice being delivered right now to Mladic would be some comfort to you. As you are and have been greatly traumatised in the most unbelievable way over decades, those of us who are cursed by the label “Sinhala” but without blood on our hands have been shamed repeatedly.

      That shame was briefly lifted when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa attempted to evict Tamil citizens who had arrived in Colombo from the North back to the War afflicted north. Literally tens of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens took to the streets preventing such a heartless act!

      Where are these citizens now? So that we can have some semblance of pride again….

      Please note that until the “Sinhalas” of Sri Lanka take to the streets again standing up for the rights of the minorities they will not have the support of an ex-Sri Lankan like me. If I have brought you the tiniest comfort in my offer of empathy, I am grateful.

      • wijayapala

        Dear Ravana,

        You do know that Chandra cut-and-pasted the entire first part on “genocide” from an LTTE website, no?

        http://www.eelam.com/history/sri-lankan-oppression.jsp

        What right do people who supported the LTTE which used the civilians as human shields have to criticize anyone else for the deaths of those civilians?

      • K.Chandra

        ravana…

        Myself and all diaspora Tamils who waiting for justice in this matter are fully aware that not all sinhalese is anti-Tamil….(i really respect sinhalese support for humanity). We Tamils now wanted this culprits who committed war crimes on civillian be punished)
        Is not and insult for me if someone said he understand my post…he’s fully aware of the situations but can’t feel the great pain.. as you do. Don’t you see the clearly that the shelling on NFZ by SLA is not by mistake…. It was done intentionally as the reports say….. (“In the early morning hours of January 24, hundreds of shells were rained down in the NFZ. Those with access to the bunkers dove into it for protection, but most of the IDPs [internally displaced persons] did not have bunkers and nowhere to seek cover. People were screaming and crying for help.”
        A UN security official inside the zone telephoned Sri Lankan military chiefs, including the commander responsible for the operation, requesting that the shelling stop, but to no avail).

        And wijayawala…. yes i’ve cut n paste the article from LTTE website but can you denied the truth in the contents….everbody now the thruth behind this war and the sufferings of Tamil minorities
        (i’m not saying all sinhalese are racists and anti-Tamils)
        I’m also not a LTTE supporter,i strongly rejects LTTE,s actions on–suicide bombing on public places and killing innocents/forced labour/child recruitment/using civilians as a human shields and killing civillians who try to flee. LTTE must be punished for war crimes too….not only LTTE and GoSL, every forces that committed war crimes on civillians elsewhere in this world must be punished.

  • Frankgibson

    Why no fire zones? “.. J Craddock, the NATO commander who is also chief of US forces in Europe, said troops in Afghanistan would fire on individuals responsible for supplying heroin refining laboratories with opium without need for evidence.” – they just need any excuse to go in and kill anyone and anything.

  • sabbe laban

    This too must have happened in the no-fire zone in the final hour. The three LTTE leaders who apparently negotiated a surrender through UN and other known parties hoist white flags and walked towards the Sri Lankan Forces along with their families. They were shot dead. This is a black mark in indelible ink on the image of Sri Lanka. We allegedly have killed prisoners of war in cold blood-if it ever happened.

    True they were terrorists, and they must have condoned every brutal decision of their leadership to kill civilians. Their families must have given tacit approval too. But in the end they were prisoners who had surrendered.

    It is said that late Gunadasa Kapuge’s song “Sinhala sindu kiyana..” was written about Nadesan’s wife Sunethra, who was a Sinhalese woman from Matara. Her family members have reportedly said after her demise that they considered her dead for long, after marrying a “kotiya” and they themselves would have done it if she ever visited them.

    Civilians getting killed in a war is inevitable, but this incident if it ever happened cuts deeply into the conscience of every Sinhalese. (who has one!)

    • ravana

      Sabbe (Saban too!),

      I’m with you brother!

  • Agnos

    That there were war crimes committed by the current regime in SL is a foregone conclusion; it is not something that needs to be debated. These debates about the NFZ at this stage are pointless.

    There is no need for any evidence because the sum total of GoSL actions in lying that there were only 70,000 civilians, in imposing a total blackout on the war zone, and in the expulsion of the UN and ICRC, has made it a moral imperative, in the face of what is already known about the GoSL’s indscriminate shellings, stretching as far back as in the 1987 Operation Liberation, to declare that “the GoSL is guilty of war crimes unless proven otherwise.”

    The Europeans are saying today that the arrest of Ratko Mladic by his own country, to face war crimes tribunal in the Hague for crimes committed 15 years ago, ranks equal to the killing of Osama bin laden by the US. It is only a question of when Sri Lanka’s Milosevics, Karadzics and Mladics (especially the Rajapaksa brothers and Fonseka) will face justice. Just because it took 15 years in Europe doesn’t mean it has to take so long in SL.

    It is up to the voters that elected these war criminals to change their minds so that the criminals can be prosecuted. If Serbia, dominated by notoriously brutal ethnic nationalists can do it, Sri Lanka–South Asia’s Serbia–can do it as well. Just as the arrest of Mladic will allow Serbia to eventually join EU and burnish its image, only by a clean break with the war criminal regime currently in power can SL hope to start on a path toward genuine reconciliation and eventually regain its standing internationally.

  • 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.

    • If highly trained and technologically advanced militaries such as that of the US and Israel can make mistakes and kill civilians, why do you find it hard to believe that a Third World army could make similar mistakes?

      • ravana

        Because:
        Sites of Hospitals would be well known. You do not need satellite technology to accurately calculate the grid location of an intended target. You only need “Newtons Laws of motion”. Artillery guys have been using such methods for a century or more.
        If one assumes that the UN had also given the position of its camps, these sites should be known.
        I acknowledge that there would be a measurable error in directing artillery. If such error was such that civilian casualties would be certain, then one can argue that the military had a duty to reconsider options.

        Thus either way, the military had a duty of care. This cannot be shirked. Whilst I do not really believe that there were intentional crimes committed at command level (perhaps not until the last week…) the onus to demonstrate that may be with the military. I would accept the possibility of secrets of war tactics being revealed during such explanations.

        However, tactics in artillery fire would be common knowledge.
        A satisfactory answer from the military would be that they were fired on from those positions and had no choice but to retaliate. Whilst this would be a good legal argument, it does not let them escape the mark of the cynic.

        What is clear is that the time of blind adoration of the military is over.

      • ravana

        Wijayapala,

        Yes, it was evident that there were Tiger taints in the statement. But more importantly my reply was an expression of genuine empathy aimed not at Tigers (except as a side-swipe).
        Perhaps, psyops guys in the military should study a response such as mine. Some times being genuine wins hearts and minds better than cynicism.
        Try it. It brings rewards. (That was not meant to be sarcastic!)

      • ravana

        David Blacker,
        Following my previous comment about artillery technique, my apologies for not reading one of your other comments. I believe you have given a very illustrative example of how mistakes can occur in a war, even with good technology.
        I will use your example in a lecture/speech to be given soon and thank you in advance. I have also taken another look at a Times video showing arial photographs of the NFZ showing Tiger positions and mass graves of LTTE (massive numbers and orderly) and that of civilians (much smaller numbers and obviously hurriedly done and disordered, on the beech itself. My heart goes out to them). Tiger artillery positions are clearly placed smack bang in the middle of the poor civilians.

        Given what you have illustrated and what I have seen, it is clear who the criminals were.
        I think it is pretty certain that the Armed Forces did not commit crimes also given the firm assurances of General Fonseka who was in charge and given his training in International Laws on Armed Conflict.

        I find it incredulous that GoSL continues to be defensive on this matter. It suggests either that they have something to hide (in terms of those outside the Defence Forces hierarchy committing crimes) or are using this stupidly as a political football. The way they carry on (especially MR and GR) I suspect the former.

  • aadhavan

    Gehan, that’s a good point, but I think this debate too much into the report. The panel isn’t saying that the attacks on civilians in the NFZ were criminal because the civilians were in a NFZ – instead the framework they adopt is to treat the attacks as criminal per se – NFZ or otherwise. They use the govt’s own declaration of the two NFZs together with it’s avowal not to use heavy weapons on the NFZ only as additional evidence of the govt’s awareness of the disporportionate nature of their attacks. The argument is that if the government themselves declared that the use of heavy weapons was unnecessary, then the attacks could certainly not have been “proportionate to the military advantage anticipated.” But that’s the argument regarding proportionality, which the panel doesn’t stop with. If you read the panel’s findings, you’d notice that the declaration of the NFZ doesn’t really feature too prominently as a legally relevant fact, although it is used to tighten the screws on the govt. In effect, the panel is using the govt’s own rhetoric in a case against them. The report actually says the govt knowingly and directly attacked civilians. It talks about the govt’s use of UAV’s and it’s ability to know precisely what it was targetting. It says the govt knew the precise coordinates of hospitals, UN hubs etc that are clearly protected by IHL and attacks on which are clearly war-crimes. So while I commend Gehan for patiently leading Blacker through this hard-case as he calls it, it’s on a very peripheral point that even the Panel didn’t seem to consider very important. The Panel’s focus and the focus on any court that will potentially hear this case will be on the evidence supporting the allegation of direct attacks on the civilian population.

    • Gehan

      Aadhavan, you’re absolutely correct. I was attempting to limit the scope of the discussion to the issue raised.

      Blacker says: “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.”

      So yes, this is a narrow and perhaps tangential debate in the context of what is alleged.

      Having said that, I believe (for the reasons stated above) that the declaration of a NFZ is important to the question of whether the civilian effects were intentional. You correctly point out that it’s also important to the question of proportionality. So I’m sure it will feature in some limited way if there is a future prosecution.

      But I agree, the Panel does not dwell on the actual declaration of the NFZ as much as it discusses the alleged violations against civilians within it.

      • aadhavan

        It will help nail the case on intention, but is hardly necessary. The Panel correctly cites ICTY jurisprudence for the proposition that recklessness is sufficient to prove intention in the case of attacking civilians. There are several routes leading to the finding of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the route you’re discussing is one of the most tortuous. Which is not to say that it’s not convincing. It looks open and shut to me. I think the point you raise is interesting insofar as it’s a demonstration that the Panel didn’t even discuss all the possible routes to a war crimes finding, focusing instead on the blatantly obvious ones.

      • Gehan

        Granted. I have previously argued (elsewhere) that humanitarian law doesn’t focus on ‘areas’ as much as it focuses on ‘objects’/’objectives’. I think Rule 35 is one of two rare exceptions. Just wanted to point out that there is, perhaps, a war crime to be spotted even if we limit the scope of discussion to this rule.

    • Aren’t you guys getting a bit ahead of yourselves? First of all, you’re assuming that the allegations are true and can be proven, and that it’s a done game. You’re also assuming that war is a linear subject and that if a situation is declared to be one thing, it will always be that one thing (as in the case of the GoSL announcement that heavy weapons were unnecessary). One of the most distinctive things about war is its fluidity, the resultant confusion, and its unpredictability.

      While one of you may argue that the GoSL announcement about heavy weapons indicates that its subsequent use was disproportionate, another might argue that the announcement in fact proves the GoSL’s penchant for proportionate action whenever possible, and that the subsequent use of these weapons was because of a change in the situation or a simple failure to predict the true situation.

      I know neither of you have been to war, and believe me it’s nothing like you imagine it to be. What sacred me the most when I was up there wasn’t that I could die, but that there was nothing I could do to control anything. When you skydive or drive racing cars, there’s a fear of death, but war is like being in the middle of a tsunami or a tornado. And in that situation, a lot of unpredictable things happen.

      Let me give you a scenario that actually happened during the offensive in the East. It’s a bit lengthy, but bear with me. An SL Army infantry unit was in heavy contact with a Tiger unit at dusk. The Tigers were pulling back and the Army was advancing to maintain contact so that the Tigers could be pinned in place for artillery and airstrikes. Both units were moving too fast for map grid coordinates to be used to direct air and arty. So a UAV was sent up to direct arty using a known location on a map. In this case a knoll by a river. To explain, map grids are numbered squares on a map into which strikes will be called regardless of what the terrain is. This system couldn’t be used because the Army unit was pressing the Tigers too hard and moving into grid squares just vacated by the Tigers. Using a known location, the range to which is known, the UAV could call in arty by telling the battery to drop a thousand metres from the knoll or whatever. OK so far?

      As the UAV arrived in the area, the Tiger unit managed to break contact with the Army unit. The latter was not on the same radio frequency as the UAV and could not inform the aircraft commander that they’d lost contact with the Tigers. Meantime, a separate Army special forces team sprang an ambush on the Tiger unit from the side opposite the original infantry unit. In the dark, the UAV could only see the gunfire between the Tigers and the SF unit because by now there was no fire between the Tigers and the infantry unit. The UAV pilot assumes the fighting is between the infantry unit and the Tigers and calls in artillery on the Tigers.

      The artillery battery opens fire while the UAV observes the fall of shot and adjusts by talking to the battery commander. The shells are going in directly over the infantry and into the Tigers. By some mishap, there have been two different propellant charges issued to the battery, one for the high explosive shells they have, and the other for a lighter shell. Obviously the propellant for the lighter shells whenever it was used, dropped the heavier HE shell several thousand metres short — on the SL Army infantry unit. The latter called the battery telling them there rounds were short and to cease fire or raise their aim. However, the UAV was maintaining that there was no SL Army unit in tht area and that he was observing the fall of shot as well as the exchange of fire between the Tigers and the infantry unit. In reality what the UAV pilot was seeing was the SF unit. So the battery commander continued to fire, believing the UAV pilot who had eyes on the target, killing more infantrymen, in spite of the fact that the latter were begging him to stop.

      Now, do you really think that a call from someone claiming to be a UN worker under fire would necessarily make a battery commander cease fire when he wouldn’t stop for an Army officer? If you exchange the battery for an airstrike in which seconds count for thousands of metres and tons of high explosive, how certain can you be that civilian deaths were deliberate?

      This is just one scenario, and there are many like it in war. To arrogantly and authoritatively decide that you know the intentions and motives is just plain dumb.

      • Most of the unprosecuted war crimes in modern military history were a result of long range weapons — artillery, airstrikes, etc. The Milosvics and Karadzics and Eichmanns all killed their victims close up with small arms and gas, where there was no doubt as to intent. There’s a saying in the US military that you can get away with anything if you do it at long range. Good luck to you folks if you really think this will go to trial. I guess optimism in the face of certain failure must hold a certain something. Can’t think what though.

      • Gehan

        I suspect you have a more fundamental objection to this whole business of war crimes. Correct me if I’m wrong, because I’m reading into what you’re saying. Your anecdote about confusion during war–which I appreciated–reveals your contempt for inferring criminal intention when personnel merely carry out duties in unimaginably complex and demanding circumstances.

        Make no mistake, I think if there is a mistake–and the law recognizes ‘mistake’ as an absolving or mitigating factor–then it would be wrong to infer criminal intention.

        But that’s not what you’re saying, is it? What you’re really saying is that we all need to cut the military some slack, give them a margin to work with, and any civilian deaths that occur within that margin should be considered as collateral damage. You’re disguising this position by claiming that actual intention is impossible to attribute to anyone during the heat of battle.

      • aadhavan

        Oh dear, that sounds like a massive cock-up. I don’t know what it has to do with war crimes, but what a mess! If civilians were actually hit, there’s a really good case for a war crime (failure to take precautions], but mercifully in this case only military men got hit.

        Blacker, have a look at the list of ICTY convictions. Many have been for shelling and aerial bombardment related crimes. The only variable determining whether this ends up at the ICC is the political will of the US. If the US really wants it, there’s very little chance anyone else will stand in their way. Which is why the government’s response to the report is so unbelievably idiotic.

      • The way of the Dodo

        aadhavan, one thing is absolutely certain. GoSL has made a mockery of itself because of this. It’s been two months and the government hasn’t made a single cohesive substantiative response. I fear in times like these our so called ‘allies’ can do more harm to us that our so called ‘enemies’. For example it seems india has gotten tacit permission from our government to fish in our waters. Who knows what else has happened in the background.

      • Gehan, I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be rules. Nor am I saying that warring parties should be given a more generous margin of error. I’m quite OK with the law. However, as you know, there has to be good judgement and common sense in the application of the law; and I believe those qualities exist in the prosecution of war crimes; which is why I believe none of this will go to court.

        Application of the law requires an understanding of the situation and circumstances where the alleged incidents took place. I believe that understanding too exists. The problem I have is with the debaters online and off, many of whom clearly haven’t a clue or just don’t wanna know. Aadhavan is a good example: where you see a simple mistake in the incident I describe, he sees a war crime if civilians had been involved. This is not surprising as the bitterness and sense of loss the Tamils feel must overwhelm all reason, and I can’t blame him for it. But you can’t win a case by allowing your emotions to dictate strategy and tactics anymore than you can win a war with it.

        The situation I described isn’t an uncommon one. The scale of chaos in battle is unbelievable to anyone who hasn’t fought in it. It’s sort of a barely controlled plane crash at most times.

        War crimes are committed every day in war. Every single day. Soldiers are tired or scared or just careless. Sometimes they don’t give a shit because people are trying to kill them all the time. You can’t imagine what that is like for a 19-year-old or even a 30-year-old. So what do you do? Prosecute them all? We know that doesn’t happen.

        Here’s another real incident. WW2. The ground invasion of Germany. A British tank column is moving along a country road in southern Germany and there are open fields on both sides which are mined. Beyond the fields are woods. The column has been taking panzerfaust and panzerschreck fire from the woods for several hours and have lost men and tanks. The commander of the lead tank is 23 years old and hasn’t slept for 48 hours. He sees movement in the woods ahead and to the right and orders his gunner to fire. One round of HE is fired. Immediately after two little children come running out of the woods and cross the minefield to the road. It is an 8-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister. They come up to the lead tank and the boy looks up at the tank commander and says “You have just killed my father”. The tank commander is shattered and sixty years later can’t even describe the incident without breaking down. War crime? Oh yes, according to the law. But what do you do?

        Aadhavan, if you can’t or don’t wanna see a connection between how war is conducted and the war crimes themselves, I suggest you stay out of the debate for now. I didn’t say that war crimes that are committed at long range are not prosecuted, just that most are harder to prove. When people have been machine-gunned into ditches or gassed it’s a bit easier to establish intent. Case in point, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden. Instead we have Mai Lai.

        Finally, the US was fully aware of what was going on here in 2009. Really think they’ll push this through? Dream on.

      • Gehan

        I suspect you’re categorizing crimes committed during war as ‘war crimes’. That would appeal to common sense, but unfortunately the term ‘war crimes’ has a very specific meaning in IHL. If you haven’t already seen it, I’d invite you to look at Article 8 of the Rome Statute. This provides a fairly clear definition of war crimes.

        You may also notice the language used in Art.8(1): ‘…war crimes in particular when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.’

        Even if what you say is correct i.e. war crimes were committed by the GoSL every single day, I think IHL is essentially concerned with crimes that take place as part of a plan or policy or as part of a series of similar crimes. So, the incident in Germany will most likely be treated under the internal disciplinary framework of that country’s military and those responsible for the killing, if it is found to be willful (though the anecdote suggests it was a mistake, which raises doubts over its relevance), will be convicted via court martial or under the domestic criminal law regime. This happens in Sri Lanka too. Soliders have been prosecuted and convicted for murder, rape, abduction etc.

        IHL will not concern itself with those isolated crimes or the incidents of incompetency or negligence you’ve highlighted. The scale of the war crimes certainly plays a part in prioritizing who to go after.

      • Cmon, Gehan, you’re being patronising now, just as Aacharya and Aadhavan are. I’m quite aware of the literature and have read extensively on the subject. I may not be able to quote passages verbatim or face an exam on it since I’ve not been trained in the subject; but it is unnecessary for you to suggest I go off and read something. If you were to simply refer to it you can take it that I’m familiar with it.

        Now, I am not suggesting that all crimes committed in the course of war are war crimes. Soldiers robbing banks are criminals but not war criminals. Soldiers who execute POWs are. The Rome statutes might only refer to war crimes at the policy level such as crimes against humanity, genocide, etc, but the debate on SL goes down to individual incidents such as the one published by Channel 4. It remains to be seen whether such incidents are individual ones or part of a policy. If you wish to leave these out of the discussion that’s upto you, but I think at some point you’ll have to decide where the shelling of a hospital or the killing of an aid worker falls. Ill leave it to you.

        For the moment, I will clarify that the comment I made about believing war crimes were committed is in regard to these individual war crimes. I do not believe, and I’ve not seen any evidence to indicate, that crimes against humanity or genocide were committed.

      • Just as a point of clarification, Gehan; do you consider the Malmedy Massacre (Kampfgruppe Peiper, a unit of the 2nd SS Das Reich executed US POWs), the Kokkadicholai Massacre (a Gemunu Watch platoon executed Tamil villagers), and the Channel 4 incident as NOT being war crimes in the context of our debate? In the first two incidents, the commanders of the units in concern were tried by military court martial. Also, in those same incidents, it was established that the crimes were not committed in obedience to policy, but by decision of the officers on the ground.

        As an aside, your friend Aadhavan seems to think that if, in the artillery incident I described, civilians had been killed instead of soldiers, it would be a war crime; in spite of the fact that you agree it was simply a mistake. He seems to suggest that even in a case of mistaken identity, proportionality can be used to infer motive and thereby guilt.
        If that were so, wouldn’t that apply to the British tank commander who used an HE shell against what he perceived to be an infantry anti-tank team when the tank’s mounted heavy machine-gun might have been more proportional; and may not have resulted in the death of the children’s father.

        Care to clarify your POV on these points?

      • Gehan

        Sorry, if I sounded condescending, it was not intentional. It’s just that some of the things you say suggests that you might not be aware of what the law states.

        Like this: ‘The Rome statutes might only refer to war crimes at the policy level such as crimes against humanity, genocide, etc.’ Actually, Article 8 only deals with war crimes and lists out the crimes. I invited you to read it only because it would be cumbersome to reproduce the entire Article here. War crimes don’t have to be part of a policy to be prioritized under IHL. As mentioned before, they could also be ‘part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.’

        Also, you now say: ‘I will clarify that the comment I made about believing war crimes were committed is in regard to these individual war crimes.’

        Here’s what I asked you: ‘When you say ‘I do believe that war crimes were committed’, I assume you mean: by the GoSL during the final stages of the war in May 2009.’

        Your response: ‘I believe there were war crimes committed throughout the war, just as they have been committed in every war you can name. It is the nature of war.’

        Your position is obviously this: There have been many many individual war crimes throughout the war; there’s been a large-scale commission of such crimes. Responsibility for such crimes may be attributed to the GoSL.

        I think you can connect the dots.

      • aadhavan

        I don’t know if you’ve been following the thread carefully Blacker, but when it comes to the killing of civilians in ICL, recklessness = intent. Any discussion about intent in ICL is pointless until there is agreement on this fundamental premise. Failure to take precautions = recklessness, especially where you’ve been given reason to believe the attack is harming civilians. I know it offends your sensibilities, but that’s just the way it is. If you claim to know more about ICL lawyers and their ways than I do, I absolutely will not contest the claim. I can introduce you to a few to boost your gravitas as well. Your pedigree relative to people who actually study this area of law at school and get paid to do this sort of work professionally has never been in doubt 🙂

      • No, Gehan, my meaning wasn’t that there had been large scale war crimes; just that there had been war crimes prior to May ’09.

        I am aware that the Rome rules aren’t just about formal policy, but that a series of individual events can be seen to prove a trend or habit if not quite a formal criminal policy. My request for clarification isn’t on the Rome rules but on your POV, particularly since Aadhavan seems to disagree, and also because you earlier said “I think IHL is essentially concerned with crimes that take place as part of a plan or policy or as part of a series of similar crimes,” after which you dismissed the German incident as being an individual incident despite the fact that such incidents were widespread and quite common, and the fact that your pal Aadhavan would categorise it a war crime under the proportionality/recklessness argument.

        Perhaps to a lawyer the distinction about whether a crime falls under IHL or not is important, but to the victims and their families I hardly think that they care if the murderer of their son is guilty under the Rome regulations or some other.

        Aadhavan, recklessness is a subjective issue, and would take an understanding of the ground realities to decide the degree of it. So far I haven’t seen you display an iota of understanding about the battlefield realities that would indicate an ability to make such a judgement. It’s a pity that you don’t seem to have anything to add to this debate beyond personal attack. I suggested therefore that you wait it out, but it seems your ego will not allow that. My apologies if I didn’t understand that this debate was about whose penis is larger in regard to knowledge of the law; I was under the impression SH wanted us to discuss the NFZs. Perhaps the difference is that Gehan went to a better law school than you, as you admitted on indi.ca, and you feel you have something to prove here, but really your obnoxious attitude is getting in the way of the discussion. This isn’t a courtroom and perhaps you should consider that your bad Shark impression is quite unnecessary.

      • Gehan

        Yeah Blacker, you tell him. If I was taught by José Alvarez, Philip Alston and Ryan Goodman, and worked for the prosecutor of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, I’d have a pretty serious inferiority complex too. 😀

      • Oh gee, thanks, Gehan for clearing that all up. Now that you’ve confirmed that Aadhavan’s [Edited out.] is larger than it looks, am I supposed to bow down before his credentials instead of his non-existent argument? Perhaps José Alvarez, Philip Alston and Ryan Goodman taught him that [Edited out.] is a good way to make a case; or did he learn that while working for the prosecutor of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia?

        Now since you seem reluctant to clarify your position on the points I have put to you, and since you and Aadhavan seem more keen to discuss your credentials and how much respect you deserve, shall we take it that my original premise that military action within the NFZs is itself not a war crime per se, and that the nature of the actions would have to be examined individually before criminality can be judged. If we are in agreement on that, I’ll be happy to leave the debate and allow you and Aadhavan to continue [Edited out.]

      • Gehan

        A couple of points to clarify things:

        1. The three incidents you described appear to be war crimes. The German incident appears to be a mistake because the personnel had no knowledge of civilian presence. Even recklessness has to be in relation to prior knowledge of civilian presence in the vicinity. I think Aadhavan was prepared to call your first anecdote a war crime if the victims of incompetence happened to be civilians and the personnel carrying out the action were informed of their presence, but failed to take necessary precautions.

        These subtleties escape the best of us.

        2. I said IHL prioritizes war crimes that are part of a policy, plan or a part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.’ There are a couple sources I’d like to mention.

        First, Art.8(1) of the Rome State says: ‘The Court [ICC] shall have jurisdiction in respect of war crimes in particular when committed as part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes.’

        So there are war crimes (like the two court martial incidents you mentioned) that are not prioritized under IHL. The ICC jurisdiction clause suggests this.

        Second, Art.99 of the UN Charter says: ‘The Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.’

        Let’s remind ourselves of what we’re debating on. Individual war crimes in isolation will hardly threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. The UN Panel report (which is meant to advise the SG) has to be analyzed within this framework.

        So, to answer your question directly–i.e. whether your examples were war crimes in the context of our debate–I think they are war crimes, but certainly not the type that IHL or the UN should be caring about. Your point about the victims is well received. However, I’m certain you understand that limited international time and resources must be expended only when it comes to war crimes that are ‘part of a plan or policy or as part of a large-scale commission of such crimes’, which may ‘threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.’

      • Gehan

        Just for the record, I responded to you before seeing your last tirade. I think Groundviews might have taken some time to edit out the Tourette’s.

      • aadhavan

        Gehan, now that Blacker has given us his kind consent, albeit in truncated form, are you up for a bit of editing out? If not, in light of Blacker’s comments, I’ll dishonourably discharge myself from this debate.

      • [Edited out.]

        Anyway, Gehan, you seem to have reversed your previous POV that the two examples I provided were NOT war crimes; and now claim that they are. You’re suggesting that incompetence in the case of the artillery mishap indicates guilt. Where do you see the incompetence in that incident? While the SL infantry unit’s presence was known to the arty gunners as well as the UAV pilot, the exact location of the unit was known only to the gunners because of the rapidly changing situation. The UAV pilot certainly failed to identify the location of the infantry unit, mistaking the SF unit for it, but this is hardly incompetence given the fact that it was almost full darkness, and there were multiple radio frequencies in use. The UAV pilot was an Israeli and extremely experienced and competent. The arty gunners were aware of the infantry unit’s location, but chose to believe the UAV pilot because he was actually observing the battlefield. Soldiers under fire often make mistakes in identifying their own map coordinates, and the arty gunners might have felt this was the case. The SNAFU was finally unfucked when the infantry unit fired flares into the air and the UAV pilot was then informed by the gunners that that was a friendly unit. If it had been civilians, it is unlikely that they would have been able to ID their coordinates or fire flares, and if they had been a refugee column or encampment and not a village, their presence might have been unknown. Add to this the fact that the Tigers often came up on Army radio frequencies and claimed to be friendly units, and you sort of get an idea of all the moving parts in this machine. If there was any incompetence it is possibly on the part of the infantry unit commander himself who should have fired flares immediately he realised that his location was unclear to the UAV and the gunners; but I guess having your arse blown up by 105-mm shells might make it a bit hard to do. He paid for it with his legs, and the flares were fired by his company sergeant major.

        War isn’t a basketball game where you can call time-out til you ascertain what’s going on. I hope this gives you an idea of how difficult it is to authoritatively declare incompetence or recklessness without a detailed look at all the factors.

        In the case of the tank commander and the kids, I assume you reversed your initial decision because I pointed out the fact that the use of an HE round might have been disproportionate, in spite of the fact that you’re assuming the officer was unaware of civilians in the area. I think when you’re tanking across a populated country, you can take it as a given there are going to be civilians in the area. So perhaps that justifies your current view that it was a war crime. Now, what if I told you that some of the anti-tank fire the column had been taking was often coming from fortified positions that were immune to machine-gun fire, and that this probably was why the tanker used an HE round? That would make the HE round proportionate. Still a war crime? Or would you reverse your decision again?

        In the case of the Malmedy Massacre, it was judged that Joachim Peiper (commander of Kampfgruppe Peiper) and his men were solely culpable for the executions and were not following higher orders. Peiper’s sentence was later commuted as subsequent evidence turned up that he was not initially aware of the executions. However, many of the trials of high ranking Nazi officials at Nuremberg, courts martial of officers like Sepp Dietrich (commander of the 1st SS Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler), and analysis of the 2nd SS Das Reich‘s drive across France to the D-Day beaches shows that Kampfgruppe Peiper’s attitude to POWs was a direct result of Waffen-SS policies and habits. So then wouldn’t this then elevate Malmedy from a “mere” war crime to part of a crime against humanity or whatever, and therefore in the area of IHL?

        For instance, in his book War Without Frontiers: the USA in Vietnam, Prof Bernd Greiner suggests that incidents like Mai Lai, which were treated as isolated and dealt with by military courts martial or the US judicial system, were in fact simply a manifestation of a US policy of general callousness and brutality towards Vietnamese civilians. Again, wouldn’t this fall into the IHL area, and could a case for crimes against humanity be mounted if such a trend could be shown? In the Vietnam War, such a trend is definitely provable.

        All of this obviously has nothing to do with the NFZ issue which, since you’ve not taken further, I’ll assume is now done; but it’s still a fascinating discussion.

        Finally, I am prepared to accept your claim that IHL is uninterested in justice but only with the maintenance of international peace and security; but can you clarify where the threat to international peace and security is seen in the context of possible war crimes committed in SL? Also, could you explain why there seems to be (in the humble view of a layman) no similar interest in the policies of the US which have a direct correlation to the breakdown of international peace and security?

      • Gehan

        I’m really sorry for not being clear. When I said ‘The three incidents you described appear to be war crimes.’ I meant these three incidents (not the anecdotes):

        1. Malmedy Massacre (Kampfgruppe Peiper, a unit of the 2nd SS Das Reich executed US POWs),
        2. the Kokkadicholai Massacre (a Gemunu Watch platoon executed Tamil villagers),
        3. The Channel 4 incident.

        You asked me whether they are war crimes. My answer is the same as before. They are war crimes. But unless they are part of a policy, plan or large-scale commission of similar crimes, IHL and the UN should not be prioritizing them. So perhaps they are not the type of war crimes contemplated in this debate.

        I maintain that the two examples you provided i.e. the SL artillery mishap and the German incident with the kids, appear to be mistakes. I didn’t change my POV.

        You ask: ‘where the threat to international peace and security is seen in the context of possible war crimes committed in SL?’

        I think we’ve moved beyond that question. War crimes (when part of a policy, plan or large-scale commission), crimes against humanity and genocide are all considered to be matters that deeply affect humanity, shock the conscience, adversely affect regions (due to spilling over of conflicts, refugee flows and displacement) etc etc. There are theoretical as well as empirical bases for this view. I can’t be bothered going into this now. I could send you some links. 🙂

        You ask: ‘could you explain why there seems to be (in the humble view of a layman) no similar interest in the policies of the US which have a direct correlation to the breakdown of international peace and security?’

        You raise a valid point and I think there should be scrutiny of US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. I think the fact that there is no overt interest in the UN can be politically explained. It’s pretty unfortunate. But trust me, I know many people within the US who are still very interested in prosecuting the Bush Administration. I guess Sri Lanka is an easy target. No argument there.

      • [Edited out]

        Gehan, thanks for the clarification. The Malmedy Massacre would certainly fall into the IHL area today, I believe, if it was scrutinised as part of the larger trend of Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht war crimes. The same goes for Mai Lai.

        I am aware of some of the points of view on how genocide, etc, can affect international peace, etc. I was hoping for your own take on it. But no worries.

        Aadhavan, you and Gehan seem to have differing points of view on whether the two incidents I described (the friendly fire incident in the East and the tank column in Germany) are war crimes or not. Care to clarify?

      • Gehan

        Yes, David. If the Malmedy Massacre was part of a larger trend of Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht war crimes, it may have been prioritized by IHL today. I made the mistake of looking at it in isolation because that’s the way you initially presented it, and because my knowledge of military history is not as good as yours. I have no problem in admitting that. Mai Lai was a horrific mess and there was evidence of a definite plan to wipe out everyone including women and children. Fits the criteria in my opinion. I also think Hiroshima was a war crime and a crime against humanity. Certainly the bombing of Dresden appears to be part of a plan to target civilians. The list goes on… I forgot what your point was.

        But I think we both agree that there are war crimes, and there are war crimes that IHL and the UN take notice of. This debate is about the latter.

      • Well, I initially brought up Malmedy, Mai Lai, Kokkadicholai, and the Channel 4 incident as talking points to see how you viewed them since you seemed to suggest that your evaluation of my two anecdotes as not being war crimes were at least partly based on the fact that they were isolated (particularly the German incident). But also to see how you viewed them once it became apparent that both Malmedy and Mai Lai weren’t as isolated as they look at first glance; particularly since direct parallels between Malmedy and the Channel 4 incident, and between Mai Lai and Kokkadicholai can be drawn. I brought up Hiroshima and Dresden as examples to Aadhavan about long-range crimes receiving less criticism than the up-close ones.

        I was also under the impression (mistakenly it seems) that Malmedy, Ordur-sur-Glane (Das Reich wiped out this French town during their drive to Normandy), and other pioneering efforts to prosecute atrocities in modern warfare would feature in any training on the subject. They don’t really feature much in military history studies, I assure you, though Das Reich‘s drive is often examined when studying counter-insurgency warfare.

      • aadhavan

        Gehan, I didn’t think we had a disagreement on the East artillery cock up, so just for the record it’s perhaps worth clarifying. In a hypothetical where you take Blacker’s anecdote and place civilians where the military blokes were, and you have evidence that the civilians under attack specifically drew attention to the attackers that they were civilians and that they were coming under attack; and despite this notification the officers concerned refused to ascertain the veracity of that information and continued their attack unabated, it seems to me that the failure to take precautions constitutes a war crime. In my opinion, the information provided about civilian casualties coupled with the refusal to hold fire in the face of information that civilians were being attacked provide the basis for the (recklessness) mental element. It’s the notice that civilians were coming under attack that converts what would otherwise be a mistake into a war crime. If there was no such notification, unless the officers concerned had prior information that civilians were in the vicinity of the area under attack, then you probably don’t have a case. No? Yes?

      • Gehan

        Yes, Aadhavan. I speculated in an earlier reply to David: ‘I think Aadhavan was prepared to call your first anecdote a war crime if the victims of incompetence happened to be civilians and the personnel carrying out the action were informed of their presence, but failed to take necessary precautions.’ I don’t think there is any inconsistency in our respective positions.

        David, my assessment that your two anecdotes (i.e. the SL and German artillery mishaps) were not war crimes had nothing to do with the fact that they were isolated. I don’t think you’re paying attention. I said they were mistakes and hence lacked the requisite mental element.

        I considered your three incidents (i.e. Malmedy, Kokkadicholai and Channel 4) to be war crimes regardless of whether they were isolated or not. Don’t confuse the two assessments.

        The question of whether IHL and the UN will take notice is a separate assessment, which is based on whether the war crimes are isolated or not. I hope that clarifies things.

      • Gehan, I am paying attention; partly because I’m actually interested in the debate, and partly because I anticipated such an accusation from you as Aadhavan has done in the past. I didn’t say that isolation was your only criteria in judging that there was no culpability in the incident, but that it was partly so in judging that the incident wasn’t a crime under IHL.

        If there had been civilians in the arty scenario instead of infantrymen, I still can’t see guilt being proven. Even if the civilians had managed to get through to the right soldiers to indicate their presence, it is unlikely that they would have been able to identify their map positions sufficiently, or in time to convince the soldiers of the situation. It took something like ten minutes from the first short rounds hitting to the infantry unit firing flares, but that was sufficient for over a dozen casualties to be inflicted.

        Here’s another incident from my personal experience. I was on a night recce patrol and observing the results of harassment fire by an Army heavy machine-gun on a road intersection. The MG crew was firing blind on a fixed track and range that had been established in daylight. They would fire a couple of short bursts every minute to discourage the Tigers using the intersection. For some reason (perhaps the continued recoil had shifted the MG tripod) the fire was high and going into an abandoned village beyond the intersection. My team boss was occupied and told me to adjust the MG fire via our radio. I tried to do so, but my accented Sinhalese was seen as suspicious by the guys at the other end, and they asked for a callsign. This was given, but they were still not convinced I wasn’t a Tiger and kept firing. It took a few minutes before my team boss could get on the radio himself and adjust the fire. If there had been civilians in that village, they might have been killed, but do you think you could have proved culpability?

        Anyway, my point is mostly that the devil is in the details, and it takes a close examination before such broad claims on guilt can be made, regardless of what the law’s technicalities are. Which is why I didn’t point out the inconsistency between your definitive claim (on Indi.ca) that the law doesn’t recognise areas, when you yourself now point out that in the case of the NFZs, it does.

        Many things are technically war crimes (IHL ones or lesser ones), but I think the understanding of the circumstances is also why all but the most blatant ones go unprosecuted, and even then not all — case in point Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dresden, etc. Even Mai Lai, fancied to be the worst of the Vietnam War’s war crimes resulted in just one junior officer serving six months house arrest before being pardoned.

      • Gehan

        What on earth gave you the impression that I used an isolation criteria to determine that your two anecdotes were not war crimes? I think you understand my point:
        1. There are war crimes which may or may not be isolated; and
        2. Then there are war crimes that IHL and the UN system take notice of.
        3. Isolation doesn’t determine whether something is a war crime or not. It only becomes important to the question of whether the international community would take notice.

        I said your two anecdotes didn’t appear to be war crimes at all because they didn’t appear to have the requisite mental element. Am I really that inarticulate?

        ‘If there had been civilians in the arty scenario instead of infantrymen, I still can’t see guilt being proven.’

        As I said, this depends on prior knowledge. If the military was informed of civilians in the area, they should’ve taken further precautions. This obligation is found in CIHL. If it can be established that there was no way to know that civilians were there, I think a defence of mistake could be established. I don’t think we disagree on this point.

        Your anecdote about your accent also sounds like a unfortunate mishap rather than a war crime. I don’t know how this would amount to a war crime unless those that fired knew that civilians were in the area and failed to take precautions.

        ‘…why I didn’t point out the inconsistency between your definitive claim (on Indi.ca) that the law doesn’t recognise areas, when you yourself now point out that in the case of the NFZs, it does.

        My point in that unfortunate episode was this: the law doesn’t care about ‘areas’ per se, only the civilians or civilian ‘objects’ found within them. Leaving aside my point on intentionality, an attack on a NFZ becomes crime only when civilians or civilian objects within the area are harmed/damaged. If coconut trees located in a NFZ devoid of civilians is attacked, no one is going to get prosecuted for war crimes. But I can see how this can be perceived as an inconsistency, so my apologies.

      • Oh c’mon, Gehan. This is what I said: “I didn’t say that isolation was your only criteria in judging that there was no culpability in the incident, but that it was partly so in judging that the incident wasn’t a crime under IHL.”” Earlier you said “So there are war crimes (like the two court martial incidents you mentioned) that are not prioritized under IHL,” in reference to Malmedy and Kokkadicholai. Your reasoning was that I had presented Malmedy as an individual incident instead of one that might have been part of a policy. Once I pointed out the trends and policies of the Waffen-SS, your view on Malmedy changed. Before that, in reference to the German incident you said “I suspect you’re categorizing crimes committed during war as ‘war crimes’. That would appeal to common sense, but unfortunately the term ‘war crimes’ has a very specific meaning in IHL.”

        Now I’m not really sure what your actual point is at this juncture, but what I understood you earlier to mean is that isolated or individual incidents are not within the interest of IHL, which is more interested in the policies and habits that lead to such incidents.

    • Gehan

      Now I’m super curious about how you’re managing to stay confused.

      1. I said: ‘So there are war crimes (like the two court martial incidents you mentioned) that are not prioritized under IHL.’ This was indeed a reference to Malmedy and Kokkadicholai.

      OK.

      2. You said: ‘Your reasoning was that I had presented Malmedy as an individual incident instead of one that might have been part of a policy. Once I pointed out the trends and policies of the Waffen-SS, your view on Malmedy changed.’

      OK again. Because I didn’t contest that these were war crimes. I just said IF they were isolated, IHL and the UN wouldn’t care.

      3. ‘Before that, in reference to the German incident you said ”I suspect you’re categorizing crimes committed during war as ‘war crimes’. That would appeal to common sense, but unfortunately the term ‘war crimes’ has a very specific meaning in IHL.”

      Yes, I said that, because it occurred to me that the German incident (i.e. the artillery incident with the kids) was not a war crime due to the lack of intention/recklessness, but that you felt it was a war crime because you applied some common sense definition. If you had looked at Art.8 like I suggested you do, you would have seen a very specific list of crimes that are captured by the definition, none of which captures the German incident. E.g. willful killing by definition contemplates a mental component.

      Did I at any point say that the German incident is not a war crime due to its isolated nature? I don’t think so.

      4. ‘I understood you earlier to mean is that isolated or individual incidents are not within the interest of IHL, which is more interested in the policies and habits that lead to such incidents.’

      OK again. That’s what I’ve been saying all along.

      This is really painful. If you have something to really disagree on, let me know. Doing this ‘you said’, ‘I said’, ‘didn’t you say’ rigmarole just for the sake of it is a bit tedious.

      • Lol, Gehan, it’s you maintaining that there’s some confusion on my part. Everything you’ve said above is what I understood you to be saying. Where is the confusion between that and what I’ve said? My quoting of our previous comments was just to clear up the fact that there was no confusion. Why so prickly?

        The only thing left to clarify is that I was talking about Malmedy when I mentioned the point about an incident being isolated. Did I give the impression I was talking about the German incident? That and the fact that there might be some debate on whether in the German incident there was disproportionality of action, and if there was, whether it was reckless.

  • veedhur

    I think what is implicit in some of the arguments is that

    a) One does not believe thousands of civilians were killed and
    b) One believes that Sri Lanka security forces didn’t want to kill civilians and only wanted to kill LTTE.

    While the first is a question of fact that needs to be established (while the perpetrators/intention and the evidentiary requirements etc can be debated later on, the reluctance to objectively count the numbers that were killed is not defensible for too long. Particularly if it is something that can be easily done given a bit of political will)

    On the second one may be right but the problem is that the Sri Lankan Security forces
    a) couldn’t distinguish the difference at times (for genuine reasons as well as not so genuine reasons)

    And provided with a clear direction and cover by the political leadership
    b) didn’t want to know the difference at times

    And more criminally pursuing an ‘at any cost’ agenda
    c) did not mind at times.

  • wijayapala

    Ravana,

    Yes, it was evident that there were Tiger taints in the statement.

    I don’t know how you define psyops, but I doubt that it involves agreeing with the enemy’s propaganda!

    given the firm assurances of General Fonseka who was in charge and given his training in International Laws on Armed Conflict.

    Why do you believe him, and how do you know what training he received?

    • ravana

      [I don’t know how you define psyops, but I doubt that it involves agreeing with the enemy’s propaganda!]

      If you can’t work it out I am not going to teach you in a public forum ; )

      [Why do you believe him, and how do you know what training he received?]

      International Law on Armed Conflict would be basic part of qualification exams. Additionally…

      “In January 1997, a Department of Humanitarian Law was set up at army headquarters. The Working Group was informed that since its creation, a total of 231 training courses on international humanitarian law were given to 3,036 officers and 9,521 soldiers, with the assistance of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). International humanitarian law is currently a subject in promotion examinations for officers.”

      I’ll let you find the source; if you wish to insult the most qualified officer of the Sri Lankan Army by doubting his training then you have some deep issues to resolve (now that is meant to be sarcastic).

      • wijayapala

        Dear ravana,

        I’ll let you find the source; if you wish to insult the most qualified officer of the Sri Lankan Army

        Nowhere did you show Fonseka’s human rights training.

  • sambar

    Everyone seems to have missed a very interesting point!

    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.

    I.e: the Tigers were sincere about protecting civilians (so they first withdrew), but the GOSL was actually cynically/calculatingly using the civilan issues to gain ground from the LTTE. The LTTE (since they naively believed that the GOSL too was genuinely concerned for Tamil civilians) were thus duped by the GOSL that exploited the LTTE’s sense of genuineness and fair play!
    And

    • wijayapala

      Sambar, what about the 2nd NFZ?

  • wijayapala

    Dear K Chandra

    I’m also not a LTTE supporter,i strongly rejects LTTE,s actions on–suicide bombing on public places and killing innocents/forced labour/child recruitment/using civilians as a human shields and killing civillians who try to flee.

    Then why are you cut-and-pasting from an LTTE website? Are you only disassociating yourself from the LTTE now because it no longer exists?

    LTTE must be punished for war crimes too….

    You should have called for this 10 years ago.

  • 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

  • georgethebushpig

    Dear Gehan, David and aadhavan,

    Thank you very much for an excellent discussion (leaving aside the bitch slapping) and an examination of some key issues relating to the NFZs and wider IHL implications. It certainly enlightened me on the subject. What I would like to know more is with regard to the chain-of-command. Isn’t there a distinction to be made between a traumatized soldier in the field reacting irrationally and decisions made by a commander sitting in an air conditioned office in Colombo?

    Something that struck me when I watched Errol Morris’ documentary film “The Fog of War” about Robert McNamara (Secretary of Defense, under President John F. Kennedy among a whole host of other things) was his acknowledgement of his complicity in war crimes. McNamara and General Curtis LeMay authorized the fire-bombing of Tokyo during World War II full well knowing that houses in Japan were built with wood and paper. 100 000 civilians died in one night.

    In the documentary, McNamara says the following: “LeMay said, ‘If we’d lost the war, we’d all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he’s right. He, and, I’d say, I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?”

    Maybe in about 20 years down the road we too might hear a similar comment from a repentant defense secretary as tears well up in his beady eyes and snot dribbles down his limp moustache. However, we simply cannot wait for that moment; let the war crimes investigations begin now! 

    • sabbe laban

      Good piece of writing,……pig, but why do you talk about Sri Lankan defence secretary only?

      As McNamara says the US and the allies didn’t face war crimes probes as they won!

      “Maybe in about 20 years down the road we too might hear a similar comment from a repentant ex-US President and his Chief Staff of Defence, as tears well up in their beady eyes and snot dribbles down their clean shaven faces. However, we simply cannot wait for that moment; let the war crimes investigations begin now!”

      Or, will we????

      • georgethebushpig

        Oh no! Sabbe Laban not that tired argument again!

        I talk about the Sri Lanka defense secretary because I’m Sri Lankan…. I’ll leave it to the progressive Americans to talk about their own little delightful war criminals.

    • Gehan

      ‘Isn’t there a distinction to be made between a traumatized soldier in the field reacting irrationally and decisions made by a commander sitting in an air conditioned office in Colombo?’

      I think there is a very important distinction here. Like I said before, international resources will be expended only when it thought that responsibility for the crimes could be traced back to the air conditioned office.

      I’m quite aware of the anxiety someone like David would have when these matters are discussed by folks without battlefield experience. I don’t presume to know what it’s like out there. But I think the law on the subject applies without exception. Our human frailty shouldn’t excuse us from answering to the law when we commit atrocities. I’m prepared to accept the outcome of a clash between the exigencies of a situation and the standards set by the law. I would probably adopt an uncompromising position in defence of the law, while someone like David would insist that we grant a margin in favour of those grappling with such exigencies. Hopefully, a clash between the two positions (whether in the international political arena or in a court room) will produce something close to justice.

      • aadhavan

        I tend to disagree. There’s no real tension between the exigencies of war and IHL because IHL is designed to provide for exigencies in war. The central tension underpinning IHL itself is that of military necessity versus the protection of civilians. If you want to plead a defence, demonstrate the difficulty you were in, claim that your attack was a mistake etc etc, IHL and ICL provide you with an exhaustive set of tools to do so. Remember, most IHL has been created using the expertise of military experts. One of the primary sources in the ICRC’s work on CIL are military manuals.

        Having said that, international criminal law is designed to target those most responsible for atrocities, which means it’s constantly seeking to climb the ladder of command. The doctrines of command responsibility and the advent of JCE liability push the law in that direction as well. Further, if you look at the mandates of most international tribunals, their are explicit references to targeting those most responsible. The Cambodian tribunal’s mandate for instance is limited to senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge most responsible for the atrocities committed between 75 and 79. The ICTY and the ICTR have a similar mandate as well if I recall correctly. The prosecutor of the ICC has repeatedly stated that he is interested only in prosecuting those ‘most responsible’ for the atrocities under scrutiny. This doesn’t mean you don’t recognise a war crime when it’s committed by a lowly private – it means you try to pin responsibility for that crime on someone higher up the pecking order. In most cases that do get prosecuted, the guy in the air conditioned room would have been responsible for numerous individual crimes by those under his command – either by directly ordering their commission, or through command responsibility or JCE. Either way, Gehan is right. International criminal law has neither the time nor the inclination to go after a petty private. It aims for the bigger fish. And if the ICC’s recent work is anything to go by, it tends to aim for the biggest fish in the pond.

      • “Hopefully, a clash between the two positions (whether in the international political arena or in a court room) will produce something close to justice.”

        Gehan, I think this is mostly the case. Which is why I said that I have no problem with the laws themselves. I appreciate that you and Aadhavan are looking at these incidents from the POVs of prosecutors and therefore must of necessity take an uncompromising stand in regard to the letter of the law. I am confident a tribunal or judge would also take into account the extenuating circumstances. I also think that is partly the reason why we don’t see large scale prosecutions of such incidents.

        George, one way of looking at the statements of McNamara and LeMay in regard to being prosecuted if they had lost the war, is that victory often applies a moral advantage to a cause. Regardless of what we may argue, there is a human perception that good will always win out, and therefore we’re more ready to accept that the victors are in fact good, and that since their cause was just, their crimes are more forgivable.

        Certainly, when going after the guys in the AC offices, it’s easier to show motive since their actions are not dictated by immediate physical dangers or the rapidly changing tactical scenarios. Policy is set at a strategic level, and strategy often is fixed well in advance of events.

        In WW2, ‘Bomber’ Harris, the commander of the RAF’s Bomber Command notified Churchill that night bombing of German factories in cities like Hamburg and Cologne were largely ineffective because the RAF was missing the targets. He said that one option was to switch to daylight bombing, but that the risk of casualties amongst bomber crews would be prohibitive as the British bombers weren’t as heavily armed as the USAAF ones. Ceasing RAF bombing raids altogether was also out of the question as the RAF needed to be seen to be “doing its bit”. He therefore requested Churchill authorise that the targets would now encompass not just the factories themselves but the residential neighbourhoods around the factories that housed the industrial workers and their families. Churchill approved the request and hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed as a result.

        Admiral Donitz, who was charged at Nuremberg and sentenced to ten years, requested that US Admiral Chester Nimitz defend him in court. Donitz knew that one of the charges against him was that of ordering unrestricted submarine warfare — ie he ordered Kriegsmarin u-boats to attack all shipping in certain areas, military or civilian, enemy or neutral. He knew that Nimitz had given the same orders to the US subs in the Pacific, and that the Royal Navy had done the same in the Skagerrak. His request for Nimitz was denied and he was found guilty of engaging in unrestricted submarine warfare, but in light of the fact that both the US and Royal navies had done the same, he wasn’t sentenced to any additional time.

        Justice and war crime prosecution couldn’t be in fact further from each other.

      • Gehan

        Aadhavan, I responded to you on a fresh thread (by accident).

    • wijayapala

      However, we simply cannot wait for that moment

      Why not?

      • georgethebushpig

        Justice delayed is justice denied!

  • sabbe laban

    georgethebushpig

    Now I understand! Do you know that all the Nazi and former Yugoslavian war criminals who were tried were non-repentant? Even the latest Nazi war criminal sat motionless in his wheel chair with a blank face! Even Pinochet maintained that what he did was in good faith to quell communism-Jack Straw never allowed a trial.

    So,my friend, the chances are that all your enemies will die of natural causes in their old age-like Pol Pot and Idi Ameen. Don’t trust the so called “natural justice” too much! Cos it could well be another man made lie!

    • ravana

      Sabbe,
      Pol Pot was executed by one of his own lieutenants if my memory serves me right. Sadam Hussain, Prabhakaran, Bin Laden….

      GR resembles one of the above guys a lot more than McNamara. In fact he looks positively panicky. Even Pol Pot, Prabhakaran and Bin Laden were calm when fearsome words emerged from their mouths.

      McNamara did not have to constantly look behind for knife-wielding Americans.
      Believe me, GR has nightmares. He will never confess. His fate may not be in a court of law.

      I am more interested in Sarath Fonseka, whom I would compare to someone like McNamara. I think the debate here is very much in favour of the unlikelihood of command responsibility for War Crimes. However, what will be indelibly etched in our memories will be the reference to “dismembered bodies of infants”.

      This may not be War Crime. However, these were Sri Lankan infants. The LTTE cannon fodder were Sri Lankan children. Don’t deny we did not know this when the war was going on. SF cannot be brought on War Crimes charges based on such knowledge as he had a duty to fight a most despicable enemy and will have a very good defence on using appropriate force.

      However, I sincerely hope that he would have the courage to express his deep regret about the sacrifice of Sri Lankan children and civilians in the effort to liberate a larger population and the country. He has already expressed such regret about the deaths of youth of 88-89. So I hope he displays the same character when it comes to the Tamil innocents. I suspect that perhaps he is the only person involved in the War who could bring closure and healing to the Tamil population. Let’s hope…

      Now as far as “individual responsibility for War Crimes” goes, that’s an entirely different matter. Such criminals must be pursued. Just the other week an Australian soldier was acquitted of a War Crime charge. There was no shirking by the Australian hierarchy of carrying out an immediate investigation. Credible or not, such an investigation carried out immediately means justice is seen to be done (at least).
      No such action has been taken in Sri Lanka. Not even cynically. This leaves the door open for International mechanism. I don’t mean UN. I mean diaspora (not necessarily Tamil).

      Now, there was one window of opportunity for command responsibility for War Crimes during the War. This was the last week when the Army Commander was out of the country. There were only two men in the country who could have countermanded the Army Commander’s standing orders….

      Well, may be we can glimpse the reasons why there is reluctance to investigate possible/alleged war crimes. We will continue to imagine various scenarios and we will put them to test whenever we can. The diaspora demands a closure to some unanswered questions and we will continue to speculate.

      A fire which could have been put out with a bucket (by sacrificing one or two men) may yet engulf a whole nation.

      • sabbe laban

        ravana

        You seem to have a little bit of a contradiction in what you say,great mythical King, because I don’t think you can exonerate Sarath Fonseka the way you do, to suit your whims! According to his own statement in courts, he returned from China on the 16th May 2009 at 10.30p.m. and resumed commanding of the operations at 2.30a.m. on the 17th. until its conclusion on the 19th. The controversial events highlighted now did happen during this time period too.

        Moreover you are seeking to bring “justice” to the Tamil people of Sri Lanka through a person who publicly stated the Sri Lanka belongs to Sinhalese and the other minorities can’t ask for too much and should be satisfied with what is given to them.

        Do you think an apology or an expression of regret would make him a different person? It will be a naive blunder to think so- that’s why you lost the war with Rama;you didn’t bomb them using your flying machine!!!!
        By the way Pol Pol died of a heart attack according to this CNN report:

        http://articles.cnn.com/1998-04-15/world/9804_15_pol.pot.915pm_1_anlong-veng-cambodian-forces-thai-border?_s=PM:WORLD

    • ravana

      David and Gehan,
      I haven’t read through much of your discussion beyond the initial points of debate. I think it was enough. It’s a tie:

      1) David is right. There appear to be no indictable War crimes for which command responsibility can be brought (unless the line of command was subverted in some way- we know that this happened in 88-89). Individual war crimes are not denied in this stance.

      2) Gehan is right. Sri Lankan innocents have been killed. It has not just been under cross fire. There is a need for acknowledgement of this horrific cost to the country. Some one (preferably with command responsibility) has to acknowledge this. Such an act and a memorial for the War dead, will open a door for reconciliation.

      David is concerned about Law. Gehan is concerned about natural justice. Both are great guys and love Sri Lanka. Both perspectives are important.

      • Gehan

        Appreciate the sentiments, Ravana. But I think you’ve misidentified our respective positions. Mine was about applying the law without compromise, while David’s concern (as I understood it) was with regard to exigencies that make intentionality and proportionality difficult to assess. As I said before, I’m prepared to accept the outcome of a clash between these two positions. Also, it’s too early to say there are no indictable offences.

  • Gehan

    ‘There’s no real tension between the exigencies of war and IHL because IHL is designed to provide for exigencies in war.’

    While I essentially agree with you (because, as I said, I adopt an uncompromising postion in defence of the law) I’m not sure we can say there is absolutely no tension. Take the issue of dual-use objects. We know what the standard under CIHL is, but there’s a lot of debate on how to apply that standard. I found this quote to be very interesting, albeit it refers to protocol I (Ironically, I fed the quote to Blacker during a previous debate in the hope he would pick the point up, but that particular debate ended up in disaster, perhaps due to my impatience):

    ‘When a certain object is used for both military and civilian purposes, it may be held that even a secondary military use turns it into a military objective. However, if the effects on the civilian use of the object imply excessive damages to civilians, an attack on such a dual-use object may nevertheless be unlawful under the proportionality rule. In practice, it may admittedly be extremely difficult to determine the importance of the military use and of the military advantage in destroying the object, in particular if the military has priority access to all remaining infrastructure. Under the wording of Protocol I, an attack on a dual-use object is in any event unlawful if the effect on the civilian aspect is intended, but the respect of that particular rule is impossible to assess in the heat of the battle.’ – Marco Sassòli, Legitimate Targets of Attacks Under International Humanitarian Law (2003).

    • I did note your point at the time, Gehan, though it seemed a bit irrelevant to that debate in which you seemed more concerned wit pointing out to me that there was no such thing as an “area” under IHL.

      • Gehan

        Ok, I’ll take your word for it. Yeah, a NFZ can be described as an area. But my point in that debate was not about the existence of areas under IHL, but that an attack on an area becomes an issue under IHL only when civilians and civilian objects are harmed. You seem to agree with this position now. I recall you mentioning that you don’t care about IHL but only about the laws of war. I’m glad to see you’ve reconsidered.

      • I didn’t disagree with the point on civilians being killed or injured being the object of IHL interest. My point then, as it is now, is that attacks into civilian areas (be they NFZs or a city or an airport) are themselves not war crimes. Nor are such attacks forbidden. What is forbidden is the deliberate harming of civilians, or their endangerment through neglect of proper precautions. It is only when civilians become casualties that IHL interest is focused to determine if a war crime has been committed; and even then these casualties themselves don’t indicate a war crime until the circumstances have been determined.

        The popular view seems to be that certain acts are war crimes regardless of whether civilians were harmed and regardless of what the intent of the attacker was. It is my opposition to that view that sparked my original comments on indi.ca as well as in the post reviewing The Cage.

        So my views are unchanged, though perhaps your understanding of them have.

  • Gehan

    Of course, if you’re willing to make all those clarifications, I don’t think anyone who has debated you thus far will really disagree with you. Yes, my understanding of your views has changed dramatically. I understand that your approach is to say something provocative, contrarian and subject to gross misinterpretation, and then over time to adjust your position by incorporating all kinds of exceptions and conditions already known to the law. It’s almost as if you want us to debate you just figure out what you’re actually saying.

    Your essential position, as re-articulated now, seems fine (perhaps a little bit of tinkering on the point about ‘circumstances’ would be ideal). It took a long and arduous journey to get there.

    • Lol yes, one way to explain a misunderstanding is to blame the inarticulateness of the speaker; the other is to blame the lack of comprehension of the listener. Instead of bickering over who is which, let me just say that your view of me is more or less identical to my view of you. Though I must add that your assumption that I have added or “tinkered with” the clarifications is rather unfair.

      Your view of our debate and my opinion also reinforces what I was just saying; basically that as the details (or clarifications, as you call them) become apparent, one’s perception of the picture changes. This is particularly so of the battlefield; and unfortunately some details are never clear, and some are often lost forever, making sure that we’ll never know the full truth.

      • Gehan

        I’ll say it’s a combination of the mischievous inarticulateness of the speaker and the substandard deciphering skills of the listener…or should I say listeners, as you seem to invoke the ire of many in the legal fraternity. Good fun though, so keep it coming.

  • ravana

    Sabbe,
    I haven’t necessarily exonerated Sarath Fonseka but am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. This is because he has very clearly accepted responsibility for conducting the war and assured that no War crimes took place under his command. Furthermore he states that if individuals have committed war crimes whether it is the president or secretary it is our duty to reveal this.

    I think he’s trying to tell us something.
    Expressions of regret works. It has to be said in the right way. Ask Kevin Rudd of Australia. Also, JVP has forgiven.Fonseka has a history of demonstrating such courage, unlike others we know.

    WRT to the report by the Canadian journalist, quoting him, Fonseka later qualified it and clarified it. The fact that it has been taken out of context by the Tiger rump for their own purposes does not make them right. It is ironic that you go with the Tiger interpretation on this. Just because Fonseka is not well trained in “diplomatic-speak for military men” does not mean he is not useful for Sri Lanka.

    I am willing to wait and see if he can exonerate himself.

    However the guy who made the following statements is unlikely to be exonerated:

    “There will not be any war crimes investigations in this country, we will not, I will not allow it… take it from me I am the Defence Secretary” Feb 2010

    On hearing from a journalist the willingness of SF to give evidence in a War Crimes inquiry (few months on):

    “.. that is one reason… that’s a treason.. we’ll hang him!…. take it from me That’s a treason!!”

    So… when did giving evidence by someone who has declared his confidence that no War Crimes were committed under his command, become treason? Unless we’re not talking about a democracy, but a Kingdom where the King has committed such a crime.

    • sabbe laban

      ravana

      About the second guy:That’s what you call senseless arrogance! If there was nothing to hide how can it be treason? Why aren’t the majority outraged by all these? The answers may lie somewhere in the dark crevices in our thinking process.

      First and foremost, don’t think that this amounts to a criticism;this is rather a matter of fact account as I see things. It could be wrong too!

      Sri Lankan people still live in a semi-feudal world psychologically. We want a strong leader i.e. a King, who would exercise his powers unreservedly. Our king was taken away prematurely by the British, wasn’t he? Ever since then the Sinhalese were looking for someone to show their obedience. We were waiting for the Great King Diyasena to unite the country, weren’t we? Ever heard this poem written by Kunkunawe Thero:

      Oh! Ants

      Even you have a king!
      We don’t have…
      If we get a King..

      We will have a “perahera”
      and worship him with echos of “saadhu”..

      So we accept in our minds through our upbringing, that traitors are to be dealt with in this way(like Fonseka); the defeated terrorists should be punished with death. Though they took away our king(a Tamil king) in 1815, they(the British) couldn’t take that concept out of our minds. They fast-forwarded our political evolution by introducing democracy. So we didn’t have a chance to evolve naturally from a feudal to a capitalist society. And as a result most of us are trapped between two sets of values. The half-baked Western values which are still alien to our inner self and our yearning to be obedient to the authority; to show respect!Apart from the city dwellers who have apparently lost their touch with the mainstream psyche of rural Sri Lankans, and the expatriates, the majority Sinhalese still approve of the current Sri Lankan ruling family.

      Many can’t understand this dilemma and call it ‘ignorance’! This is due to the utter failure to comprehend the mainstream Sri Lankan mentality. We wanted this ‘strong leader'(this King) to show our allegience…..to echo our “saadhu”s. We still respect the feudal families and their descendents; a commom phenomenon to other Asian countries as well.

      That’s why people still vote for the ruling party in Sr Lanka. It’s not their fault; it comes from within the dark abysses of our minds, quite subconsciously!

      And I’m sure they will continue to protect their leaders against any foreign intervention until they become sooo very bad!

      • yapa

        Dear Saban;

        I tend to agree with you.

        Going a bit further, Sinhalese as a community looking for a KING, Tamils are looking for a GOD. They thought Prabakaran as the SUN GOD who came to save them from all evils. They didn’t believe he could be killed.

        So is the mentality of the (feudal?)Asian people. Really we need somebody to pay our respect for ruling us.

        Our concepts,

        * king is the agent of gods
        * Rajakariya = Devakariya

        Thanks!

  • Candidly

    There’s another very important aspect to the ending of the LTTE’s war against the Sri Lankan government that needs to be considered. It is highlighted by comments made by the eminent British QC Sir Desmond de Silva at the Defeating Terrorism symposium in Colombo. According to the account in the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror of 2nd June, Sir Desmond points out that the taking of 300,000 Tamil civilians as hostages & human shields by the LTTE and the murder of those who tried to escape “would amount to one of the biggest war crimes to have been committed ever. The blame lies squarely at the door of the LTTE… The crime therefore is not committed by the forces of law and order [trying to overcome the criminals and rescue the hostages] but by the hostage takers, in this case the LTTE.” (My insertion in brackets).

    In other words, as with the siege of the Branch Davidian cult at Waco, USA, in 1993, the primary crime is the gigantic hostage and human shield actions of the LTTE, not any errors, accidents, misjudgements or even alleged acts of brutality by individuals or small groups on the government side.

    My guess is that the Sri Lankan government is well aware of the over-riding importance of the bigger picture and has the royal flush still in its hand ready play if necessary.

  • 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

    • sabbe laban

      Groundviews

      “Ane mage kata!” I think you can differentiate between a popular uprising and a terrorist movement!