Photography courtesy Worldvision

Dear Sandra Beidas and OISL Team 

As a Sri Lankan Australian and academic I have been collecting and analysing the material on the last phase of the war in Sri Lanka for six years now. I come across new evidence regularly in the midst of misinformation and dis-information that is a facet of the propaganda war that has been sharpening since the LTTE began to retreat in 2008. Since the volume of data is huge, a thorough investigation calls for assiduous work by a team which includes those who are culturally competent and able to discern manipulation. They must transcend the clever tactics of misinformation and fabrication from both sides, with the additional awareness that the Tamil migrant networks outdo the government (GSL) on this front by a proverbial mile.

Tamil Civilians as Shield: One of the striking features of reports from international agencies, including the US embassy, in the period late 2008-end 2009 was their criticism of both the LTTE and GSL for the infliction of injury/death on the civilians trapped in the battle theatre. Because criticism was directed at the LTTE for holding the civilians as a shield, these agencies apparently considered their position balanced.

Yes, the mass of Tamil civilians — now known to be around 300-320,000 thousand — was used as so many sandbags. However, a further refinement is required in this evaluation: from mid-February 2009 the civilian mass were moved to the coastline so that they constituted a defensive formation designed to prevent a potential amphibious operation that would box the LTTE forces in.

Even with such a refinement, this assessment is inadequate. The civilian mass as shield and defensive ‘embankment’ was just one of two pillars in the grand LTTE strategy.

Main Strategy: Picture of “Calamity” so as to produce Intervention: The second pillar was the most important one. From mid-2008, as they saw potential defeat staring them in the face, the LTTE and its foreign associates began to cultivate the spectre of “an impending humanitarian disaster.” The civilians corralled as so many sandbags were not only a military barrier; they were meant to encourage international outcries and/or intervention which would enforce a CEASEFIRE.  As Puleedevan, a senior LTTE political officer, told his friends in Europe, “just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died… the world would be forced to step in.” From 1990 to 2006 ceasefires & peace talks resulting from initiatives from Colombo in the face of spectacular onslaughts (for example the LTTE attack on Bandaranaike Airport in July 2001) had helped the LTTE recuperate and rebuild. Now, in 2008/09, it was to serve as lifeline. Nay more: as the situation deteriorated further in 2009 the strategy was intended to encourage international intervention to save the Tiger leadership.

To repeat: the “impending humanitarian disaster” became a central line of LTTE policy. To this end the greater “the evidence” of casualties and death the better. Fragmentary evidence indicates that on occasions the LTTE shelled its own populace, but I have no capacity to trace the extent of such activity. What I do know is that the LTTE cleverly disseminated (1) stories of hospitals being shelled and (2) evidence of harrowing casualties through pictorial data as well as reports sent by the medical personnel and the Tamil INGO functionaries in their midst. It is striking that in 2009 the US ambassador and major foreign media networks accepted the casualty figures peddled by the medical men without any scepticism. Seated in Colombo in January-May 2009, Reddy, the correspondent for The Hindu, marvelled at the fact that few in this Western circuit wondered how all the medicos had satellite phones and were so accessible. Clearly, they were acting on Tiger orders as Dr. Shanmugarajah’s subsequent (2013) affidavit attests.

In mid-May 2009 Reddy and Kanchan Prasad checked out one of the makeshift hospitals within the Last Redoubt (the Second NFZ) which media outlets in the West had highlighted as subject to severe damage (Prasad 2009); but this pictorial disconfirmation remains little known. The gullibility that Reddy is alluding to has since been compounded by the fact that subsequent investigators have not sought testimonies from Drs Shanmugarajah and Sathiyamoorthy in Sri Lanka, while the former’s affidavit on the topic of casualties, medical supplies and continuing operations in trying circumstances is rarely tapped as evidence.

In falling prey to the spectre of a calamity because of their genuine humanitarian concerns, the Western media and Western governments became powerful allies in the Tiger cause. They were now cat’s-paws dancing to the tune of the LTTE’s grand strategy.

Tamilness, Emotion and the Impact of Tales of Woe: A powerful ingredient in the effectiveness of this strategy was the body of tales and woes conveyed to journalists and others in the West by Tamil friends and acquaintances. Not all such tales were lies or exaggerations. The war took its toll (as the LTTE intended by corralling the population in ever decreasing space). But the magnitude of casualties was bloated by the figures/images retailed by Tamilnet and other Tamil media circuits.

The Tamil migrants who had settled in Western lands are attached to their people and entity. Given their experience of discrimination and pogroms in the past, they are also embittered. Such sentiments cannot be criticised. But such natural feelings served as the foundation for emotion-laden responses to the tales of woe and impending calamity artfully generated by the LTTE network in 2008/09. As the LTTE slid to defeat the distress in migrant circles developed to fever pitch. Anxiety compounded their susceptibility to tales of government bombing and the horrific deaths that were said to be occurring. In their turn these tales influenced British, Canadian and other friends to whom they retailed the plight of their community back home.

The impact and force of countless tales purveyed by individual Tamil migrants in their adopted lands must be clinically assessed in any evaluation of the processes surrounding the war. Moving tangentially, let me highlight the force of orally-conveyed rumour among Sinhalese people in inciting communal assaults on Muslim Moors in 1915 and Tamils in 1958, 1977 and 1983. When Citizen Y heard an atrocity tale (a Tamil killing a Sinhalese) from different Sinhalese acquaintances and believed it wholly, thereafter s/he became a powerful medium of “fact.” There is no better inciter than a “True Believer” conveying “an atrocity tale” in emotion-laden voice. From my studies I aver that the impact and ramifications of a true believer’s tale of “atrocity” is deadly. It helped spark pogroms in 1915, 1958, 1977 and 1983.

Mutatis mutandis, this is what occurred in many parts of the Western world in late 2008/09/. Tamils who were not necessarily Tiger supporters were drawn into the circuits of rumour and became one cog in the currents of “atrocity tale,” shelling of hospitals and mounting deaths. Second and third generation Tamils in London and elsewhere were drawn into frenetic protest activity as the LTTE slid to defeat. One motif in their campaigning THEN was the cry of “genocide.”

That cry is still reiterated, cleverly reiterated … now bolstered by statistics and the support of fellow-travellers in the LTTE cause (for e. g, Frances Harrison, Yasmin Sooka, Gordon Weiss, Trevor Grant, Bruce Haigh, David Feith, Lee Scott, Siobhain McDonagh).

International Complicity in the LTTE Strategy: The powerful cocktail mounted by the Tamil networks and the many tales of individual Tamil migrants were compounded by the degree to which HR agencies on the one hand and the mainstream Western media networks (e.g. Times in UK, Guardian, New York Times) took up the agitation. These currents of advocacy may have been informed by liberal-radical sympathies for the underdog.

With Marie Colvin, a senior hand in The Times of London, the alignment with the LTTE was deeper and etched unto her body via the loss of one eye from an injury sustained from SL Army fire in Sri Lanka as she tried to slip past the internal border in 2001. Seated in London in 2009, she regurgitated the TamilNet propaganda pitch regularly. Take the report she presented in the Sunday Times of 22 March 2009 headlined Artillery pounds wounded Tamils trapped on beach.” Here, Colvin cites UN and ICRC agencies at different moments and goes on to assert that “the last hospital in the area was forced to close after twice being bombed by the Sri Lankan army. This hospital was at Puthukkudiyirruppu (PTK). It so happens that an established British-trained historian was embedded with the SL Army’s 58th Regiment from 19-21 March as it consolidated its capture of PTK. He immediately challenged this account by posting images of the hospital and describing the arena. His news report, however, was buried within a Pakistan newspaper and had no bearing on the powerful realms tapped by the Times network.

Inequality: This little account underlines the degree to which power inequalities in both the media world and institutional world politics have shaped evaluations of the war in Sri Lanka. The more substantive issue that any present investigation has to address is the degree to which many international agencies and individuals became mouthpieces of clever Tamil nationalist tactics in 2008/09 because they accepted a tapestry composed of half-truths and colossal fabrications interwoven among the indisputable fact of civilian casualties, casualties desired by the LTTE as integral to its grand strategy. In other words, the suggestion here is that their readiness to accept the propaganda pitch of the LTTE and/or Tamil networks from 2008 onwards actually aggravated the situation in the Vanni.

What IF: The question that has to be asked is this: if the Western governments and such agencies as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had pooled their voices and told the Tamil spokespersons in the West in late 2008 or early 2009 in adamantine voice that the LTTE had to lay down arms and release the corralled civilians and that they would on no account intervene or demand a ceasefire, THEN what would have happened? Would fewer people have died? Why didn’t USA and others demand unconditional surrender from the LTTE? Why did they not support the Sri Lankan Government’s regular call to the LTTE in 2009 to surrender?

This outstanding failure renders all these agencies into accomplices in support of an unprecedented act of blackmail by the Tamil Tigers. 

Compounding the International Failure: The international complicity in the Tamil nationalist enterprise has been sustained by several agencies after the LTTE was overcome. The emphasis on “merciless shelling” by the GSL forces has been underlined by a resort to statistical estimates of large numbers of Tamil civilian dead. The UN Panel of Experts appointed by Ban Ki-Moon and Navy Pillai presented a guesstimate of 40,000 civilian dead as a “credible allegation.” This qualified statement was converted into “credible evidence” by Amnesty International, ICG and high profile media spokespersons (e. g. Kerry O’Brien of ABC) in what appears to be a prima facie instance of massaging and dishonesty. 

Furthermore, other commentators hit the headlines with estimates of 70,000 and 146,000. The range in these figures has an insidiously powerful effect: a cautious non-partisan listener will discount the last figure as a likely exaggeration and settle on the lesser figure (40,000) as probable fact.

It is not a fact. It is a lie that the UN panel of experts has given credence to with its irresponsible speculation regarding civilian casualties.

Apart from the failure to address the difficulty of differentiating Tamil civilians from Tiger personnel, none of the analysts touting such figures have attended to the figures of the wounded. In the type of battlefield situation that enveloped all the Tamils trapped in the Vanni Pocket — fighters, other LTTE functionaries and civilians alike — injuries would have occurred widely and the number of those injured would have been greater than those killed. A study in the British Medical Journal showed that in war the “number of people wounded is at least twice the number killed and could be 13 times as high” depending on the conflict type, weapons used, and other factors. If 40,000 civilians died in the Vanni Pocket, there would have been at least 60,000 or, more probably, about 80,000, injured.

As it is, in an innovative measure during May-June 2009 the UN agencies in Sri Lanka, marshalled it seems by Gordon Weiss, meticulously compiled figures of the injured IDP Tamils in the hospitals and clinics of the island. They found 18,479 wounded (and estimated 7,721 to have been killed). These statistics are of critical import for any survey of the death toll during the last phase of the war. But, in an act of amnesia, Gordon Weiss has not dwelt on its implications in his subsequent writings on the alleged death toll.

Glaring Omissions: Weiss was also on the team assembled by the Public Interest Advocacy Group in Sydney which produced the International Crimes Evidence Report entitled Island of Impunity? The sins of omission committed by this august body are even more startling than Weiss’s amnesia. While utilising a range of material as well as witness testimony, this investigation relies heavily on the report of the UN Panel of Experts (2011). It studiously ignores the damning study of the UN Panel report by a team from the Marga think-tank (2011) which pinpointed its slipshod methodology and the glaring gaps between the body of the study and its own “Executive Summary.”

When those espousing a moral line of investigation and accusation do not encompass bodies of data that challenge the direction in which they are heading, there then the peoples’ court of justice raises serious questions. In academia it would be considered dishonesty if an intellectual pontificated on a raging debate between Professors A and B after reading material that was mostly aligned with B. In academic debates the outcomes are less serious than the issues being addressed now by the UN organisations in Geneva. Those with righteousness stamped on their brows cannot be blatantly one-sided in the manner ICEP.

Pictorial and Cartographic Dimensions: Most analysts debating the intricacies of the war in its last phase have been, like this author, “armchair office personnel” with no battlefield experience. For this reason cartographic and pictorial evidence becomes especially important. While such perspectives have, indeed, been incorporated into the studies undertaken by the UN Panel of Experts and that of the ICEP, I insist that more detailed and thorough-going pictorial surveys are of central importance. My book, Tamil Person and State: Pictorial, is only one step in this direction. Video evidence is of even greater pertinence. That is why backroom investigators need to absorb the documentaries produced by Al-Jazeera as well as the propaganda videos peddled by Tamil outlets and the government (GSL). These media have to be carefully calibrated with the graphic map work produced by the International Crisis Group, the Daily Mirror and the Ministry of Defence.

The video scenarios produced by GSL and its handmaidens, obviously, will not display the type of scenes uncovered by Gordon Weiss where a Tiger officer Ramesh is executed after torture. However, for those who have been totally enmeshed in the incessant propaganda of the Tamil circuits it is educative to dwell on the You-Tube scenes depicting hordes of civilians crossing lagoon, sand and bare land in late April 2009, and again in May 2009. The interaction between SL Army personnel and these exhausted and suffering people was not simply manufactured for the benefit of the cameramen. This does not mean that individuals may not have been taken away and killed; or that individual instances of rape did not occur. Such possibilities have to be siphoned out via testimonies. However the video scenes documenting the exodus of people from the Last Redoubt during 19-23 April suggest that the particular description of this set of events by “The Journalist” identified as Lokeesan in Harrison’s book Still Counting the Dead is mostly fabrication and one facet of the continuing agit-prop activity of ardent Tamil nationalists.

In brief, then, scepticism, caution and thoroughness must be the investigative watchwords.

So, too, must proportionality. The rough estimates of dead Tamil personnel (Tigers and civilians together) must be set against the figure of 295,873 who survived — a considerable figure in the circumstances; while notice must be taken of the massive relief effort from February 2009 which catered to the needs of the survivors in the detention centres where military men, civilian GSL functionaries and selected local NGOs and several INGOs worked tirelessly in what I consider a remarkable security-cum-welfare operation which stretched over the months 2009 into years.  Likewise, studies and debates on the death toll as well as the topic of “disappearances” in the twenty-four months of 2008-09 must proceed pragmatically and also embrace (a) computations of the natural death toll (inclusive of snake bite deaths) in any large population and (b) the fact that the bodies of a considerable number of people who succumbed in the jungles or were buried in their safety-holes would have been subject to irretrievable decomposition or become fodder for carrion and termites.

These may be distressing issues, but the topic demands a disciplined, culturally-attuned and comprehensive study, one that is attentive to the possibility of manipulation from all sides. It is as distressing as puzzling to me that serious lacunae have bedevilled the previous UN surveys. This conclusion can be gleaned from the most thorough-going study of the war in hand, namely, The Numbers Game, which is largely the work of an aeronautical engineer educated in the West, a gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons of security. This study (see IDAG 2012) is bulky and replete with Appendices. For that reason it is as imposing as difficult to comprehend. However, Noble and Colman have provided useful summaries. I urge the OHCHR to consult these works.

My own submission here has a “select bibliography” referring to items cited, while supplementing its foundations through hyperlinks. Because the HR world has been deliberately selective in its surveys I conclude by itemizing essential bibliographical readings that have not usually been used in investigations and are not identified in my text or bibliography.

Al-Jazeera 2008 SL Army closes in on Tamil Tigers,” 7 October 2008, https://thuppahi.

Al-Jazeera 2009a “SL army claims control of rebel territory, 26 Jan 2009,”

Al-Jazeera 2009b “SL army closes in on Tamil Tigers,” 1 February 2009.

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009a “Cornered Tigers. The Sri Lanka Army takes control of the administrative and political capital of the LTTE,Frontline, 26/2, 17-30 Jan 2009.

Jeyaraj, DBS 2009 “Wretched of the Wanni Earth break Free of Bondage,” and Daily Mirror, 25 April 2009. 

Govt Film Unit [SL] 2014 “Last Days at Nandikadal,” OR

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014 “Crossing the Lines: Tamils Escapees from the Last Redoubt meet the Army,” 21 September 2014, php?post=13751&action  =edit&message=6&postpost=v2

Times 2011 “TIMES Aerial Images, NFZ Last Redoubt, 23 May 2009,” photos/thuppahi/sets/72157626922360092/

{LTTE] 2014 “LTTE War Video recovered by the Government–Revealing Episode,”

Roberts, M. 2014 “Generating Calamity, 2008-2014: An Overview of Tamil Nationalist Operations and Their Marvels,” 10 April 2014,

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009b “The Battle for the Vanni Pocket,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, March 2009, Vol. 35/2, pp. 17-19. 2009157395/156554.html

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009d “Sri Lanka’s Experience in Counter-Insurgency Warfare,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, Oct. 2009, Vol. 35/8, pp. 40-46.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2009e “Good Education. Sri Lankan Military learns Counter Insurgency Lessons,” Jane’s Intelligence Review Dec. 2009, pp. 3-7.

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Information Warfare and the Endgame of the Civil War,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, May 2010 30/4: 35-37. articles/40/Sri-Lanka.

Gray, David 2009 “A Day at the Front Line in Sri Lanka (Photographer’s Blog),” 27 April 2009,

Roberts, M. 2013a “BBC-Blind: Misreading the Tamil Tiger Strategy of International Blackmail, 2008-13,”


Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009c “End Game,” Frontline 26/10, 9-22May 2009

Reddy, B. Muralidhar 2009d “An Escape from Hellhole,” 2009/04/25/stories/2009042558390100.html.

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009g “Multiple Displacements, Total Loss of Identity.” The Hindu, 27 May 2009,

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009e “Final Assault. A first-hand account of the war and the civilians’ plight as Eelam War almost comes to a close,” Frontline, 26/11, May 23-June 5, 2009,

Reddy, Muralidhar 2009f “Final Hours. An eye-witness account of the last 70 hours of Eelam War IV,” Frontline, 26/12, 6-19 June 2009,

Roberts, M. 2013b “Congestion in the “Vanni Pocket” January-May 2009: Appendix IV for “BBC Blind,” appendix-iv-for-bbc-blind/

Roberts, M. 2012 “Blackmail during the Endgame in Eelam War IV,” 12 April 2012,

Roberts, M. 2012 “Longitudinal UNICEF Survey of Nutrition in the IDP amps,” 12 December 2012,

Video Image [GSL] 2014 “A balanced insight into the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict – “Common Differences” (HD),”

Michael Roberts, 15 October 2014



Coupland, R. M and D. Meddings 1999 “Mortality associated with use of weapons in armed conflicts, wartime atrocities, and civilian mass shootings: literature review,” British Medical Journal,

Colman, Padraig 2013 “Deadly Accountancy. Part II,”

De Silva-Ranasinghe, Sergei 2010b “Information Warfare and the Endgame of the Civil War,” Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, May 2010 30/4: 35-37.

Harshula 2011a “When allegations becomes evidence,” 6 June 2011, 2011/06/06/when-allegations-become-evidence/

Harshula 2011b “Australia’s Tamil Eelam Lobby and CHOGM,”

Harrison, Frances 2012 Still Counting the Dead, London: Portobello.

IDAG [i.e. Citizen Silva] 2013 “The Numbers Game: Politics of Retributive Justice,” OR

Jeyaraj, DBS 2011 “KP” Speaks Out, Vavuniya: NERDO.

Mango 2014 “Sri Lanka’s War In Its Last Phase: Where WIA Figures Defeat The Gross KIA Estimates,” 14 February 2014,

Marga 2011 An Analysis and Evaluation of The Report of the Advisory Panel to the UNSG nn the Final Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,

Marga 2014 Issues of Truth and Accountability. The Last Stages of the War in Sri Lanka,

Narendran, Rajasingham 2014 Harsh Ground Realities in War: Decomposing Bodies and Missing Persons and Soldiers,” 28 January 2014,

Noble, Kath 2013b “Numbers Game reviewed by Kath Noble: The Full Monty,” 14 July 2013,

Prasad, Kanchan [2009] “Mullivaikkal Hospital in NFZ Last Redoubt,”

Roberts, M. 1981 “Hobgoblins, Low-Country Sinhalese Plotters or Local Elite Chauvinists?: Directions and Patterns in the 1915 Communal Riots,” Sri Lanka Journal of the Social Sciences, 4: 83-126.

Roberts, M. 1994 “Mentalities: Ideologues, Assailants, Historians and the Pogrom against the Moors in 1915,” in Roberts, Exploring confrontation, Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers, pp. 183-212.

Roberts, M. 2003c “The Agony and Ecstasy of a Pogrom: Southern Lanka, July 1983,” Nēthra, April-Sept 2003, 6: 199-213.

Roberts, M. 2014a “Dedicated Medical Work Amidst the Heat of War, Death and Propaganda: In the Vanni Pocket, 2009,”

Roberts, M. 2014a Tamil Person and State. Essays, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

Roberts, M. 2014b Tamil Person and State. Pictorial, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publishers.

Shanmugarajah, V. 2014 Dr. Veerakanthipillai Shanmugarajah’s Affidavit Description of Conditions in the Vanni Pocket in Refutation of Channel Four,” 5 January 2014,

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2009 “Sri Lanka: The Last Phase in Eelam War IV. From Chundikulam to Pudukulam,” New Delhi: Centre for Land Warfare, Manekshaw Paper No. 13,

Tammita-Delgoda, S. 2014 “Reading Between the Lines in April 2009: Tammita-Delgoda takes apart Marie Colvin’s jaundiced propaganda article in British newspaper,” 26 September 2014,

UN PoE 2011 Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts report on Accountability in Sri Lanka, March 2011…. POE_Report_Full.pdf.

UTHR 2009 A Marred Victory and a Defeat Pregnant with Meaning, Special Report No. 32.

UTHR 2009 Let Them Speak: Truth about Sri Lanka’s Victims of War. Special Report No. 34,

Weiss, Gordon 2011a The Cage, Sydney: Picador..

Weiss, Gordon 2012 New Evidence — The Death of Colonel Ramesh,” 21 March 2012,