Sri Lanka’s forgotten mass graves: Google Earth and remembering the dead in Nandikadal

The end of war in Sri Lanka, captured for posterity by Google Earth published last week by Groundviews was the first look at the end of the war in Sri Lanka through historical satellite imagery freely accessible via Google Earth. The article was an open invitation for those using Google Earth to scan for and alert others over areas and artefacts of interest, that in turn could strengthen discussions around the hellish final weeks of war in Sri Lanka. Given the nature of imagery from around this period and centred on Nandikadal, the article explicitly noted,

What Google Maps and Earth does NOT enable one to do, given (1) the quality of some of the historical imagery (which sometimes features extensive cloud cover of vast regions) and (2) the large gaps between the available historical imagery (mid March, late May, after the official end of the war and killing of the LTTE’s leader, then mid-June and early August) is any robust analysis on when shelling in a specific region took place, and importantly, by whom.

Shared widely on Facebook, Twitter and via email, the article clearly indicated that one of the best references today for the research and study of the end of war in Sri Lanka is Google Earth. Imagery accessible via Google’s servers simply isn’t available through other sources or archived elsewhere in the public domain.

Whereas the previous article studied the sheer scale and extent of the destruction and human displacement in Sri Lanka during the final phase of the war, between March and May 2009, the focus here is on mass graves in and around the so-called Civilian Safe Zones (CSZs). Our first article was anchored to two key UNOSAT reports. The present study is anchored to the High-Resolution Satellite Imagery and the Conflict in Sri Lanka report by the Scientific Responsibility, Human Rights and Law Programme of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), published in August 2009. As with the UNOSAT reports, the AAAS study – commissioned by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – was met with official condemnation and Ministry of Defence counter-analysis after its public release, largely anchored to the sections dealing with the removal of IDP structures within the CSZ between 6 and 10 May 2009, fresh indications of shelling and most controversially, ejecta patterns leading trajectory azimuth analysis of this shelling (i.e. where heavy artillery was purportedly fired from).

This article is NOT concerned with these highly emotive and deeply contested aspects.

Instead, it focusses on imagery available through a Google Earth layer released by AAAS to accompany its report, looking at Nandikadal on 6th and again on 10th May 2009. Google Earth itself features imagery from 5/24/2009, just days after the official end of the war, up until 10th August 2011. Through simple image difference analysis (using a programme called Kaleidoscope for the Mac), this study looks at how mass grave sites, first identified by AAAS, have changed over time.

For general orientation, the sliver of land sandwiched by lagoon and sea highlighted in grey below, between Puttumattalan in the North and Mullaitivu in the South, is the area of study.


View Larger Map

The AAAS Google Earth layer looks at this same region, and features a number of analytical artefacts superimposed to the base map layer. Note that of all the points of interest on the layer, the subject of study here are only the locations of the grave sites.


Click here for larger image.

The first grave site identified by AAAS is at 9 18′ 31.66″ N 80 47′ 09.42″ E, around 320m off the A35 from Mullaitivu to Puthukkudiyiruppu. As the AAAS report notes,

“By May 6 numerous probable IDP structures are present, along with a graveyard (outlined in red) containing an estimated 195 burials. By May 10 the graveyard has expanded substantially. By May 24, an area across the street has been cleared and is also being used for interments, bringing the total to 342 graves (estimated) at this location”.

In the video above, the expansion of the gravesite is evident in just four days – the darker layer is from 6 May, and the lighter layer from 10 May. The high resolution photos used for the analysis above can be downloaded from here (6 May) and here (10 May). What Google Earth affords us, with historical imagery leading up to August 2011, is an opportunity to see, and for the first time, how this grave site changed in the years after the end of the war.

Download the two high resolution images from Google Earth used in the video above from here (May 2009) and here (August 2011). The difference in the terrain is evident – three years after the end of the war, the mounds of earth for each grave have disappeared and there is scrub vegetation dotting the site. Without reference imagery from the past, it is impossible to determine that this is a grave site for hundreds looking at the imagery from 2011 alone.

The same is true of the second example in the AAAS Google Earth layer / report, located at 9 19′ 52.62″ N 80 45′ 40.13″ E. The AAAS report notes,

The second graveyard identified in this study was located approximately 3.6 kilometers northwest of the previously described location. The layout of graves was very similar to the previous site, consisting of evenly-spaced rows and columns. Its scale however, is far larger than the first, as illustrated in Figure Seven. First identified in imagery from May 6, this site consists of an estimated 960 graves on that date. Unlike the first site, this graveyard exhibits no signs of growth between May 6 and May 10, nor between May 10 and May 24. One noteworthy characteristic of this site is that it was identified in media reporting as belonging to the LTTE. While AAAS has no way to substantiate this statement, the similarities between this site and previous, southernmost graveyard may indicate a common origin.

What we can now see on Google Earth adds to this analysis by AAAS. For example, though there is no growth between May 6 and May 10, nor between May 10 and May 24, there is significant growth between 3/16/2009 and 5/24/2009.

Download the high resolution images here (March 2009) and here (May 2009). The greener image in the video above is from March, which shows a plot for the grave site far smaller than what is captured by imagery in late May 2009. In May, the plot measures (using Google Earth’s in built measurement tool) around 65m by 89m. In March, this was around 27m by 35m.

Today, this is what the grave site looks like.

Download high resolution image here. Compare this to what it looked like in May 2009.

Download high resolution image here. Again, it is impossible looking just at the imagery from 2011 to even guess there is a large grave site at 9 19′ 52.62″ N 80 45′ 40.13″ E.

The final example from the AAAS report is from 9 21′ 29.10″ N 80 43′ 59.18″ E. As the report notes,

“The final graveyard analyzed by this study was located 4.3 kilometers northwest of the second graveyard, and almost 8 kilometers northwest of the first gravesite described above. Identified in media reports as being a burial ground for civilians, this location differed substantially from the others in its organization and size. Unlike the rigid pattern of the previous two sites, the layout of this area was much less regular. As shown in Figure Seven, apparent burial mounds were scattered throughout the area. These mounds were also less regular in their individual shapes than those at previous sites, which rendered their identification difficult in the available imagery. In total, 44 burials were identified at this site on May 6, with no changes observed between May 6, May 10, and May 24. Again, the irregularity of this site made counting of the graves very difficult, and many graves are undoubtedly not visible in the imagery.”

This is what this grave site looked like in late May 2009.

Download high resolution image here.

This is what it looked like in August 2011.

Download high resolution image here. Note that the left side of this Google Earth image, which just about captures the grave site, is at a higher resolution than the right hand side of the image. This is on account of differences in Google Earth’s own base map data. It’s very clear however that nature has completely taken over the grave site.

There is another dimension to the analysis of these grave sites. Access to the areas where the final weeks of the war raged on in 2009 is now open to anyone from Sri Lanka, as well as tourists from abroad. Thousands of tour groups have visited these areas, as documented recently by the BBC’s Charles Haviland, and in this article which appeared in the Economist earlier this year. As the BBC report notes, many sites previously off limits have turned into must-see attractions.

Yet it is ironical that while the overt devastation of this area affords many photo opportunities, what’s literally now under grassy knolls, bracken and young trees is the true, hidden cost of war. This is evident in, for example, a site like Panoramio – a large photo hosting site that users can upload geo-tagged photos to. This is what Panoramio looks like for Nandikadal at the time of writing.

Click here for larger image, or go to the live site here. Reflected here, through the telegenics of war’s debris, is a pattern of sight-seeing. You see a higher concentration of photos around the remains of Farha III, a ship captured by the LTTE some years ago than any other location. Every photo captures above ground destruction. One, ironically, was taken a stone’s throw from a large grave site identified by AAAS. With nature taking its own course, as early as in 2011, the graves are hidden and underfoot to many who have walked around in this area.

The imagery from Google Earth is a unique and sombre reminder of war’s human toll. Google Earth already records nature’s embrace of grave sites over just three years. Five, ten, fifteen years hence, with new development in these areas and the clearing up of war debris, it is unclear what will become of these grave sites and skeletal remains. They are already erased from the public conscience. No media – local or international including the AAAS and the human rights organisations that commissioned the report – have focussed on them post-war. They are, literally, out of sight, out of mind.

How can and should we remember the dead and buried in Nandikadal? Whose graves are they, and does this matter? Do they deserve to be remembered? Will the Government, as it has done in the past, just build over these grave sites? Do these sites, with just basic respect for the dead, deserve protection from traipsing tourists and nature? Could remembering and respecting the dead in and around Nandikadal, as much as they are in the South, contribute to a more meaningful reconciliation and healing post-war? Should schools use this imagery from Google Earth in their teaching, so that those fortunately too young to remember a country at war, are shown its human toll and violence?

Writing about the destruction of grave sites belonging to the LTTE, columnist Vihanga Perera noted in July 2012,

… the demolition of the memorial stones and tombs was brought back to my mind in a recent visit to the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Kandy. This cemetery is a space provided for and maintained by the Commonwealth War Cemetery Council, based in Greenwich and has 200-odd memorial stones for those who had perished in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) during World War II. The significance of this arrangement is that the memorial graves belong to both those commissioned to the Allied as well as the Axis Forces. Of the latter, there are tombs dedicated to the memory of Italian as well as Japanese officers who had perished, most probably, during the unsuccessful twin aerial attack. More strikingly, the tomb stones do not state nationality, victory or defeat. The fallen are laid to rest and commemorated as one and equal. Those who fought against the other in opposite camps are commemorated in neighbourly plots.

The memorials are solemn as well as dignified. The well meditated layout without gaudy ceremony or flattering decor more than amply articulate the futility and pity which war, on the whole, resonates on both the victorious and the defeated. The commemoration, therefore, is neither an inhuman condemnation of the “loser;” nor a jingoist beat up of parochial nationalism. In that cemetery the one who lost the war is yet retained as a human being and in dignity too…

Post-war, many of us marvel at what is being constructed above ground, around SrI Lanka. Yet as journalist and psychologist Daniel Goleman notes, “societies can be sunk by the weight of buried ugliness”. How we choose to remember these graves of Tamils in the North of Sri Lanka can be a litmus test of reconciliation, or cinder for continued communal conflict.

  • shehal

    i fail to see how groundviews established that these sites are graves based on 2m per pixel resolution visible light imagery based remote sensing.

    if it’s a grave then there should be buried decaying biological matter which cannot be sensed from visible light imagery.

    also based on 2m per pixel resolution imagery 1 px could be a cow or a human. or even a cat. :S

    so to tag an extent as a grave-site would require better remote sensing.

    • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

      It’s not Groundviews that identified the grave sites, as is clearly noted in the article.

    • Lanka liar

      Yea Sehal you are right. There was no war nobody died how can there be graves. Looks like there is something wrong with the pictures or meta data or both, But nothing wrong with you ok.

    • Aruna

      Anything can be changed by photoshop.
      Also This is a ridiculous argument in this article.
      Otherside is these images confirm that events were exaggerated by media working agianst the Sri Lanka Govt.

  • Orion

    I wonder whether the content of the mass graves are still there. Until an International Investigation Commission sits in sessions on site and hears the accounts of those who survived reconciliation is eons away. The conflict will fester for years to come.

    Thank you Groundviews to bringing the pictures and credible analysis by specialists for the people to see and discuss. Can the pictures and the analaysis published in Tamil and Sinhala newspapers?

  • Real_peace

    Dear Groundviews,

    Brilliant work! The conscience has spoken!

    When I visited the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Museum I wondered if there will be a Memorial for our brothers/sisters who perished in this Genocide of 2009. This article will be part of the MEMORIAL. What hurt us spiritually (whether Sinhalese/Tamil) was:

    1. Denial of these killings
    2. Blocking Media (Remember Channel4’s Nick Patton Walsh being thrown out?)
    3. possible erasing of evidence since Feb 2009.

    One concern I have is you have to protect yourself/family since what happened to Lasantha Wickramatunga and the disappearance of the cartoonist?
    It is appalling when I read about Press-Freedom in Sri Lanka:
    http://www.srilankacampaign.org/pressfreedom.htm

  • http://srilankanquest.wordpress.com Celerati Editorial

    Excellent work!

    The real figures of the victims is mind-blowing; nonetheless the mere presence of a mass grave casts severe responsibilities on the Sri Lankan government, especially because the casualties are most likely to be civilians.
    If the Sri Lankan government is serious in its endevour towards reconciliation,must face this kind of investigations. I don’t refer to war crimes, but just to a fair,humane treatment that Sri Lankan citizens deserve when they die. The respect you pay to the dead ones reflects your level of civilization. I really hope that the Sri Lankan government will have the decency to give a proper burial to these unfortunate, sooner rather than later. Otherwise their memory will haunt any attempt of reconciliation.

  • Luxman Siriwardena

    Dear Groundview and its readers,

    Without even seeing the Google earth or any other evidence I can imagine some of these mass graves which are the result of military confrontation between the army and the LTTE cardies. When the Army cornered the 700 odd LTTE military leaders and killed them in the jungle the army could have only two options. First to leave the dead bodies rotting and go back to the base. Second to dig a mass grave using heavy equipment and burry them. While still fighting going on there wont be an opportunity to properly count them, identify them or bury them individually. Sometimes ago, when LTTE massacred the surrendered Policemen, again 700 of them, they would have done the same thing.

    Reservation of cemetery of British solders or Jewish prisoners killed by Nazis is very much understandable. But no country would like to see the relics of a brutal, ruthless murderer whether it is Hitler, Prabhakaran or any other terrorist . Just imagine why the Americans de-facto invaded Pakistan killed unarmed Bin Landan, to the body away and dump it in the Ocean.

    Nevertheless, we firmly believe that intentional killing of Innocent civilians by the LTTE or any government apparatus should not be condoned. Of course Tamil Diaspora (while being in and enjoyed greener pastures and has ensured the material liberation of their children) and the local Tamil Elite (very well pampered by varies organisations) must and will suffer from an eternal guilt. Because the helpless poor Tamils were the victims of their encouragement.

    Instead of harping on an unrealizable dream why not set up a fund or a trust to help the affected and marginalised tamil families in the North an East.
    A fraction of the funds collected for arming those who died may help rehabilitation of their brothers and sisters.

    For few more years the Tamil Diaspora and the local Tamil Elite may campaign for persecution of Rajapaksha;s or Military leaders. It will also end up as a unrealized dream as the West itself will have different priority in dealing with the surfing state such as Sri Lanka.

  • Anpu
  • Panhinda

    Surely there is no need to do needle and haystack type excercise determine the dead count. Has anyone bothered to look at the electoral list? I understand govt collected census information from these areas as well. The numbers and methodology used was clearly shown by the department if Im not mistaken. The number is roughly 7,500 dead. This includes LTTE carders dead in fighting. If someone knows LTTE strength, then the actual civilian death count is the difference. Although I suspect this would be hard to find given male/female young old all were conscripted by LTTE as their fodder.

    • MV

      Panhinda,
      this is the same government which had earlier claimed zero civilian casualty in the humanitarian rescue mission. even after many years, the japanese still deny the atrocities/genocide committed on the chinese and the sinhalese are no different.

  • Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

    Reading the story on ‘Mass Graves” I was remembering the poem I wrote in October 2010 “Your Lost Credibility” addressed to the International Community where I poured my heart out for not saving “Tamil civilian lives”: Tamil civilians holding out,….to their last vestige of freedom and dignity,” whilst the whole world seemed indifferent, the UN included.

    2009 Tamil Holocaust and your lost credibility
    The Cry of a Freedom Activist:
    To the International Community

    Tamil civilian lives are in your hands the Diaspora pleaded in desperation;
    To Canada, US, Britain, EU, Norway and the UN; had you heeded with compassion;
    Twenty to forty thousand need not have perished in one sweep without identification;
    From a cruel regime’s and its ally’s fire power, chemical weaponry and ammunition.

    You have to act fast before it’s too late we wailed and protested;
    Lay down on highways, burnt our bodies, fasted, begged and prayed;
    In a tiny sliver of land our people are holding out, we cried,
    To their last vestige of freedom and dignity, still brave but petrified.

    You would have prevented a HOLOCAUST from happening;
    If you did what was right by your conscience, without failing;
    You should have used R2P: ‘Responsibility to Protect’ with urgency, without faltering;
    Canada’s initiative, mind you, to intervene to save lives, it was then certainly wanting.

    Tamils were falsely led to the ‘no fire zone’,
    Only to realize as soon as they had gone,
    They were going to be slaughtered, not spared but done;
    Under the very nose of the international community and the UN.

    It was a war without witness, no media to report the situation there;
    The people were left with no food, no water, and no real medical care.
    No humanitarian aid, not a soul to truly comfort and care;
    Such inaction on your part, a travesty of justice, that’s beyond compare.

    The attackers used their diplomatic machinations to raise the ‘human shield’ concept;
    You harped about it, not knowing, it was the perpetrators’ way to cleverly manipulate.
    The decision not to leave was a cry for freedom from enemy subjugation, you know it;
    Instead you fell prey; if you had a heart you should have surely and easily have known it.

    It’s a real shame under the pretext of fighting terrorism;
    You turned a blind eye to ruthless Sri Lankan state terrorism;
    You condoned the mass slaughter of a people who defied fascism;
    Women, children, babies and the elderly left to die from this unspeakable barbarism.

    To escape prolonged racism, marginalization, persecution and unending violence;
    To defend their territorial integrity, sovereignty and security and fend from occupation;
    People joined together, Tamil Eelam their thirst, their passion and their earnest aspiration;
    Forming a defacto Tamil State in Vanni to protect their nests and nurture their generation.

    They cultivated their fields, fished and traded, even ceased fire for a peaceful resolution;
    Self Rule, Nationhood, Homeland, three principles upon which they stood for liberation; Swearing allegiance to the State that had its own police, legal system and administration;
    Defending the land from enemy fire scores of freedom fighters died for the Tamil Nation.

    Tamils needed understanding, sensitivity and empathy;
    To the people crying for freedom Sri Lanka is their enemy;
    To ask them to go with an army, not friendly, with whom they did not identify;
    To be disappeared, incarcerated, tortured, raped and massacred; it does defy,
    Logic and reason; was proved right with hindsight; alas too late to rectify.

    The strategy of the enemy was to deny sustenance and wear Tamils out;
    Weaken their resolve and virtually force them from their hold out;
    It was not a ‘hostage rescue operation’ but a ‘hostage taking operation’, with no time out;
    Even with Tamil fighters’ guns silenced, the bombing and the shelling ended not;
    The carnage leaving dead bodies, people butchered with limbs missing and organs out;
    To stop chemical weapons and multi barrel rockets from being fired on the innocent;
    In the end with white flags, the political heads, their families surrendering came out;
    Only to be killed at point blank range, as soon as the order from the top was given out.

    These helpless people had a right to life,
    A fundamental human right, even in strife.
    With a will to protect, it was for you to strive,
    To act expeditiously, to save innocent life.

    Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Crisis Group have said categorically,
    It will not appear before SL’s LLRC, as it has no mandate to probe war crimes explicitly;
    They said the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission will not act independently;
    Without witness protection it falls short of international minimum standards quite clearly.

    Let the UN’s Panel of Experts of accountability speak through its spokesperson directly;
    Not let UN’s Secretary General’s personal connection with the Rajapakses even faintly,
    Impinge upon and tarnish UN’s image as an organization with impeccable integrity;
    Affecting Ban Ki Moon’s ability to take action on the experts’ advice impartially.

    The perpetrators have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity;
    The question is who will bring the members of the Sri Lankan family dynasty,
    Those who allegedly gave the orders, to the International Criminal Court to answer flatly;
    To the charge of Genocide of the Tamil People. If you the International Community,
    Don’t listen to image building consultants hired by Rajapakses to counteract skillfully,
    The growing evidence against them; those who come knocking on your doors ostensibly;
    If you believe in the truth, and nothing but the truth and conduct a fair inquiry,
    And see that ‘justice is done and manifestly seen to be done’ only then considerably,
    Could you redeem your reputation in our eyes ever again and restore your lost credibility.

    Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah
    2010

  • justitia

    The “hostage taking operation” in the bogus “no fire zones”,was very successful,and so was the massacre of ‘hostages’ – just like the series of massacres of civilians – both sinhalese and tamil – from soon after independence, by successive governments.
    The LLRC has been/seen a massive ‘whitewash’ with many provisions watered down, and prolonged without reason,and now sought to be postponed indefinitely with the “Parliamentary Select Committe” which will ‘deliberate’ until the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
    Noone is fooled – not even the state’s die-hard ‘patriotic’ supporters.

  • Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    I have to thank GV for bringing to our attention the satelite imagery of the war zone around Nanthikadal in the 2009-2010 period. This should be the occasion for those who are experts in the field of satelite imagery to present their interpretations to enable others to learn.

    Only Vichara (12th Sep’12) has done so in response to an earlier posting of satelite imagery in GV titled ‘The end of war in Sri Lanka, captured for posterity by Google Earth (12th Sept,2012)’. Vichara has pointed out referencing the following link,

    http://shr.aaas.org/geotech/srilanka/srilanka.shtml

    that,
    “4. In all three gravesites reviewed, a total of 1,346 likely graves are estimated to be in the imagery by May 24, 2009. The majority of the graves were present by May 6, with little change after that except in the southernmost graveyard. The southernmost site grew an estimated 28% between May 6 and May 10, and grew another 20% between May 10 and May 24.”

    Does anyone dispute this? Are there any other scientific interpretations that lead to different conclusions?

    I have been told by many who were in the area during the last days of the war that many of the dead were buried in shallow graves by the living who had the time, will and strength to do so, while many others were just dropped into bunkers that were ubiquitous. Many abandoned bodies also remained scattered to decay in the hot summer and become prey to carnivores. The grave sites that appear to be regular and well laid out, were very likely those commisioned by the LTTE, in a period preceding intense war. Would the satellite imagery able to point out the exact number who died in the Nanthikadal area, under the above circumstances, during the last stages of war? How could one differentiate among the dead, between those affiliated in one form or other with the LTTE and those who were civilians unaffiliated with the LTTE in any way?

    I welcome the entry of Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah, the newly appointed Senator of TGTE as a commentator in GV. I am also glad that she has come forward to express her opinion under her real name. While, I disagree with much of what she says in her poem, I welcome her input, as it represents a view point that has to be heard, accepted if acceptable or countered if unacceptable.

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

    • Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran
      Thank you, I respect your statesman like response to my poem – it’s appreciated.
      Usha

    • Dev

      RN, are you saying that there were civilians killed during the last few weeks of the war? Is that not in direct contradiction of what his excellency Mahinda Rajapakse said to the “The Times” of London newspaper ?

      Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such: Rajapaksa
      Ref 2nd December 2010

      • Dr.Rajasinglham Narendran

        Dev,

        YES. However, not in the numbers conjured. I cannot answer for what the president said. The LTTE deliberately and as a major part of its war and political strategy exposed these Tamils to death. An unpardonable crime against humanity ,morality and dharma. It is a worse crime to deny this and defend it.

        Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

      • Dev

        I doubt anyone who has lived under the LTTE will deny their crimes against our people or try and defend it, I certainly won’t !
        Having lived under them esp the 90 -95 period in Jaffna.
        This is one reason I am skeptical of groups like TGTE, are they really facade to continue to the LTTE’s antics, honestly I don’t know but I guess time will tell.

        In terms of numbers of actual dead, it is akin to you arguing that the number of innocent Jews that were killed is 5 million on 6 million as claimed by the Jewish people —it does not matter, life is life !

        As for my comment, it is to highlight your misplaced faith in Mahinda Rajapakse since you wax eloquently at every turn of him , here is a man that is not even willing to acknowledge there were civilians killed (a single one), is he going to care for the well being of us that are lucky to be alive?

      • Dev

        Also wish to highlight that the said interview in the Times of London was given on his ill fated trip to the Oxford union.
        On his return and immediately so I might add, he removed the Tamil version of the national anthem out of spite !

        This is the same man who did not allow the picture of Chanidrika Kumaratunga to be displayed along with the other former leaders (who happen to be her parents) to be displayed on a banner at SLFP party conventions, again out of spite.

        Is anyone else noticing a trend and the thinking that goes on in the head of the president here?

      • Dr.Rajasinglham Narendran

        Dev,

        I appreciate the positives unfolding and the trends that portend the evolution of the nation- a Sri
        Lanka united as people’s and in her aspirations. These are beginning to happen under the present government. The end of the war is opening up the space for democratic debate, while also encouraging communalism to re-assert in the name of democracy. There are many things wrong with this country, including its genre of politicians. Our post-independence history, full of misplaced idealism, political chicanery,violence and tribalism, have created this situation. Our grandparents and parents permitted these to happen. We have the opportunity now-probably a once in a life time opportunity-to make amends. Mahinda Rajapakse, is seeding this process, out of either compulsion, circumstances, a vision or a combination of all these factors. There are many to condemn him and find fault with him in everything he says and does. He is neither a saint nor an irredeemable sinner. He is an astute politician who is wielding power at a critical point of transformation-a process that can go either forward or backwards yet- in our history. I can see the many substantive positives in what he is doing. I feel this trend should be encouraged, without us continuously barking at his heals, on the basis of an irredeemable and sometimes deliberately falsified history. He is a victim of history and it’s loathsome baggage as much as we are. My hope is that he will help us unload at least a part of this baggage during his tenure as president. I am convinced he should be encouraged to do what he is doing right, while pointing out what he doing wrong. Pointing out what is wrong, can also be done by presenting what we think is right. We have to weed out the rancour an venom out of our political discourse.

        Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

      • Navin

        Dev,

        Some here hate MR because he decimated LTTE. Some hate him just because he is not from their social class. Some hate him because he doesn’t speak English fluently. My point being, there are enough people who dislike MR for reasons which are inconsequential to the majority of people.

        If you hate MR because he doesn’t acknowledge civilian deaths, then that is wrong. “Zero casualty” is a policy. It doesn’t mean the government’s official position is that there were no civilians killed. It means that the government did its level best to prevent civilian casualties. Now if what you really care about is a reason to hate MR and discredit this government then you can certainly take this out of context against him. Like many others that is what you have done. However, it is not something that matters to majority of people. You also have the complete freedom to hate him all the way to your grave and also write about it on the web however far fetch that may be from the truth.

        It is not a secret that civilians got killed in the final push against LTTE. Though not published as much, LTTE also killed civilians and on purpose. LTTE was also a huge opportunity cost to the country. MR as a leader had to evaluate the cost of war (civilians deaths, deaths of soldiers, etc. etc.) against its benefits and he took a decision. It is not a decision that could be so easily justified one way or another. For an LTTE supporter or a human rights activist living in a far away land or to an idealist to whom the cost of LTTE to the country and its citizenry are of no consequence the decision is straightforward. But not for majority of people.


        is he going to care for the well being of us that are lucky to be alive

        Again, if you do not want to see the evidence, then nobody can make
        you see it. GoSL cannot provide SL Tamils with the luxuries that they would enjoy should they seek asylum in Australia for instance. We are a poor country and displaced Tamils aren’t the only issue before the government. The government has done so much. Like what Dr. RN has done, credit must be given to what it has done and where it has failed, it must be pointed out. Constructive criticism is the need of the hour. Outright condemnation will not fly beyond TGTE, BTF, types…

        MR’s private battles with CBK are their own and there is no reason
        to bring them up here nor believe one is any worst than the other.

        As for the Tamil version of National Anthem, I don’t know whether it
        was MR who wanted it scrapped but what I do know is that, there were
        several ministers who were against it and the cabinet decided to differ
        the decision.

      • Dev

        http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article2735656.ece

        http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/24/sri-lanka-counts-civilian-war-dead

        NO the government initially insisted that there were ZERO casualties but when it found that it was not being beleived it changed it to “policy”

        In addition to the above links also refer to Rajapakse’s statement to the Times of London

        Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such: Rajapaksa
        2nd December 2010

      • Hikz

        “Most of the civilians were killed by the LTTE. The terrorists used them as human shields. They killed the people trying to cross over to the government-controlled areas.”
        “Sri Lanka never killed any civilians as such. Our instructions were, ‘You must not touch any civilians. This is a humanitarian operation’.” “one or two civilians might have got caught in the crossfire. We will look into this too.”

        Yep, no civilians were killed, that’s exactly what Rajapakse was saying. You should probably get into the habit of reading past the headline, Dev.

      • Dev

        March 2nd 2012 from the Island newspaper:

        The “zero” casualties position was totally untenable to the point of being silly. It has naturally led us to a kind of “auction” where it has to be progressively admitted to be “a few hundred” and later “a few thousands”!

  • http://----- A Concerned Citizen

    The attention of readers should be drawn to the following article from groundviews given under the category of related posts at the bottom of this article –
    Mass Graves: Nothing new to Sri Lanka – Jun ’10 MCM Iqbal 29

    Having read that article which refers to a large number of mass graves mentioned in Reports of Disappearances Commissions, where bodies of a large number of Sinhala youth had been buried in the South during the time of the infamous ‘bheesana samaya’ between 1988 and 1995, one cannot see how any government would wish the mass graves referred to in the current article to be accepted or ever investigated into. Just as the surviving members of the families of those killed during the war are grieving over their lost dear ones and praying for justice, the family members of the large number that went missing during the ‘bheesana samaya’ are still grieving, though not visibly now. The conscience of none of the reasonable citizens of Sri Lanka will ever be at peace until all these killings are one day investigated and the truth brought to light.
    History will record these brutish events in the history of this country with hugh black marks with the blame being squarely placed on the rulers of the time who by blocking proper investigations, are deliberately protecting the perpetrators of all these incidents.

  • Anpu
  • Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

    I mentioned both groundviews articles in my own article in the link below entitled: “Has the Commonwealth Lost Its Moral Compass – Has the World Forgotten the Horror of Mullivaikaal” about the Commonwealth all set to holding the 2013 CHOGM in Sri Lanka?

    “There are some serious issues the brazen attitude of the Commonwealth raises. Against a backdrop of a plethora of evidence already out in the public domain that “war crimes” were allegedly committed, coming from credible sources such as the UN Panel of Experts, that could lead to possible charges of genocide being levelled against the hire echelons of the government including the Sri Lankan President and his brother Gotabaya, the Commonwealth has decided to carry on with Sri Lanka as venue for 2013 CHOGM.”

    Has the Commonwealth lost its Moral Compass?
    ——

    http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2012/09/has-commonwealth-lost-its-moral-compass.html

    Images, of “the end of war in Sri Lanka, captured for posterity by Google Earth” and analysed recently on ‘Groundviews’ and of an added sequel titled Sri Lanka’s forgotten mass graves: Google Earth and remembering the dead in Nandikadal show the sheer decimation of a habitat and its people – providing indisputable evidence of heavy shelling and the use of heavy weaponry – that could stand as solid proof along with other authentic documentary evidence one day, IF, a credible independent investigation comes to pass, with the support of countries and organizations that have a moral compass. The images in Google Earth bring the horror of Mullivaikkal and how in the end “in a tiny sliver of land a people were holding out….to their last vestige of freedom and dignity” and how they were left to perish by an indifferent world in a chapter, hopefully, the final chapter in the Tamil holocaust.

    At about the same time that the images appeared on Groundviews, Sri Lanka was hosting the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) meeting and getting set to host the Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) scheduled for November 2013, External Affairs Minister, G L Peiris just now calling the 2013 CHOGM “a historic opportunity to showcase Sri Lanka.”

    read more….

    • Real_Peace

      Dear Groundviews/Readers,

      Couple of questions:
      1. What books can you recommend for a reasonably unbiased view of what happened in Sri Lanka?

      2. What independent DOCUMENTARIES on the Sri Lankan civil war can you recommend for humanity to learn?
      couple that was suggested are:
      – the Award winning Channel4 documentaries(2). Sri Lanka Killing fields.
      – Award winning film: “Silenced Voices” by the Norwegian director Beatte Arnstead.
      http://www.moviesthatmatter.nl/english_index/festival/programma_en/film_en/1206

      Thank you for documenting an INDEPENDENT analysis so that Humanity can continue to learn.

  • walter

    These forgotten people who were asked to flee into the NO FIRE ZONE guaranteed by the UNITED NATIONS and THE SRI LANKAN GOVERNMENT were made to believe that an INTERNATIONAL LAW was in force. LEAFLETS WERE DROPPED.

    These people barely with anything in their hands excepting their toddlers and old folks trudged to this NO MANS LAND for safety.

    During this period, the Sri Lankan government which was intoxicated with power decided to take any and all risks, either with India or the U N, and shelled all and sundry. They claimed that the L T T E used all these people as human shields.
    They had no right under any law to execute anyone, even if some were armed.

  • Hikz

    So the AAAS actually gathered some real evidence. 1,346 individual graves, probably, according to them, of LTTE terrorists. What’s the latest death toll up to according to the LTTE propagandists? 200,000 and increasing? Maybe 198,654 of those were just vaporized. No wonder this report didn’t get any publicity from the born again human rights champions.

  • http://Eexplorer marugus

    Do you know what these grave yards are LTTE carders & the civilian who tried to escape from LTTE capture that they killed By LTTE and dump in ground finally LTTE has killed all captured SL army.
    At last final decision By LTTE leader Prabhkaran we all die no one will be saved from my terrorist activities.

  • http://www.groundviews.org Groundviews

    Mass graves surface along bunkers in Mu’l’livaaykkaal – http://tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=35617

    PDF of this story (the site is blocked in Sri Lanka) here – http://cl.ly/0x3Q0b3o052R

    The inaccessibility of the region makes the verification of these reports very hard.

  • http://www.groundviews.org/ Groundviews

    Senior Sri Lankan government officials and military officers may bear criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during an offensive near the end of the island’s civil war, according to a new investigation that backs calls for an international inquiry into those events.

    The investigation, released on Tuesday by the Public Interest Advocacy Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group in Australia, in consultation with prominent international jurists, went beyond other nonpartisan inquiries into the well-documented violence that punctuated the final days of that conflict, Asia’s longest civil war.

    Although the Australian group’s investigation draws partly on earlier documented reporting, the group’s inquiry took testimony from new witnesses and submitted its findings to forensic and legal analysis to provide a possible basis for prosecution.

    Via http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/05/world/asia/new-inquiry-on-sri-lanka-points-to-possible-war-crimes.html?emc=edit_tnt_20140204&tntemail0=y&_r=0

    ###

    Excerpt from Page 190 of the report (http://www.piac.asn.au/projects/node/6069/information)

    C. Destruction of mass grave sites

    14.21 Shortly before this report was finalised, ICEP obtained new eye-witness information in respect
    of the registration and burial of the civilian dead in the former conflict zone in Sri Lanka during
    the final five months of the war, and the alleged systematic destruction of civilian mass burial
    sites in the post-conflict period.

    14.22 According to this witness, these burial sites contained human remains from hundreds, and in
    some instances, thousands of men, women and children who died during the conflict. The
    precise location of these, and other, burial sites, has been provided to ICEP.

    14.23 This witness has alleged that scores of civilian mass burial sites were systematically
    destroyed after the conflict. According to this witness, the SFs, and specifically members of
    the Sri Lankan Police and Sri Lankan Army, are directly implicated in this conduct. This
    witness believes that senior SFs officials knew that graves were being identified for the
    purpose of exhumation, and permanent destruction, over a period of more than a year. Self-
    evidently, these allegations are very serious and there is an urgent need for further
    investigation to determine their veracity.

    • Real_Peace

      Dear Groundviews,
      Thank you for posting this update.

      BTW, the NYtimes link you posted works.

      For the second link (piac) – You may want to remove the parenthesis at the end for the hyperlink to work.