Usha S Sriskandarajah
The internal probe commissioned to examine the conduct of the United Nations during the final months of the war in Sri Lanka with a view to putting its house in order is to be commended for being forthright about UN’s own failures.
However it’s findings must also be seen as a scathing indictment on the Rajapaksa Government’s conduct of the war; the revelations contained in it conclusively making the case for the genocidal state to be put in the dock, indicating that the time has come for its senior political and military leaders and President Mahinda Rajapaksa to be hauled before the International Criminal Court and tried for genocide.
It isn’t enough to address the failure of the UN to prevent the killings, more crucially it’s finding the answers through independent means as to who was responsible for the genocidal mass slaughter of the Tamil people that need addressing.
Critical to investigate the Genocidal Mass Slaughter in Mullivaikaal:
An honest analysis of the report would reveal a “Government”, totally in command and intent on eliminating the ethnic Tamil population it had wily trapped into so called ’no fire zones’ capitalized on the breakdown of the UN system that was seemingly ill-equipped and faltering, to execute it’s plan; this it did with pre-meditation, blocking all humanitarian aid and ensuring there were no witnesses, using heavy weaponry and firing at civilians from land sea and air, killing tens of thousands, and issuing orders to its military that was in violation of international law.
The findings of the ‘UN Internal Review Panel’ (the Panel) headed by Charles Petrie in exposing the colossal failure of the UN to stop the killings have enough incriminating material on the conduct and actions of the Rajapaksa government, that should be investigated to establish beyond doubt whether or not what happened in Mullivaikaal was genocide. An international investigation has now become critically important for the truth to be revealed.
The Issue of “Government’s” Responsibility for Large Majority of Civilian Casualties Needs Scrutiny As Information Verified to “Good Standard”:
The Panel’s findings that a “large majority of civilian casualties,” was caused by “Government” fire,” and the “information” on violations was verified “to a good standard,” illustrate the need for the Rajapaksa government’s role to be scrutinised by an independent body. Further more any doubts as to the veracity of the allegations raised by GL Peiris as per his response to the report must be seen as coming from the alleged perpetrator’s corner and deemed to be irrelevant and of little value.
The Panel’s findings validate the “Government’s” responsibility for the mass killings in Mullivaikaal and expose the UN for omitting to mention this fact in its communications:
“Numerous UN communications said that civilians were being killed in artillery shelling, but they failed to mention that reports most often indicated the shelling in question was from Government forces. The UN condemned the use of heavy weapons appeared to believe that because such weapons were almost exclusively used by the Government that this was a sufficient means of raising Government responsibility.”
With respect to verification of facts on the ground of “Government” and LTTE violations the Panel was satisfied the information on violations had been verified to a good standard:
“In fact, information had been verified to a good standard; indeed UN statements on LTTE violations, including the killing of civilians and holding civilians hostage, were based on information verified in the same manner,” the Panel reported dismissing the reason senior UN officials had given not to single out “Government” killings for lack of verification.
This would discredit any attempt by the Rajapaksa government and Foreign Affairs Minister GL Peiris’ comments that suggest the Panel’s allegations against the “Government” were unsubstantiated and erroneous.
Use of Heavy Weapons by Rajapaksa Government:
The Panel drew attention to the heavy weapons the Rajapaksa government had used on civilians by quoting the Panel of Expert’s findings:
“According to the Panel of Experts report “From as early as 6 February 2009, the SLA [Sri Lanka Army] continuously shelled within the area that became the second NFZ, from all directions, including land, sea and air. It is estimated that there were between 300,000 and 330,000 civilians in that small area. The SLA assault employed aerial bombardment, long-range artillery, howitzers and MBRLs [unguided missile systems] as well as small mortars, RPGs [Rocket Propelled Grenades] and small arms fire …”
LTTE Violations Spelt Out by UN But Panel found UN Placed Greater Emphasis on LTTE Responsibility And failed to Mention “Government Violations”
The Panel’s findings now show senior UN officials chose to misrepresent the ground situation with respect to responsibility for violation against the considered opinion of some UN staff, “placing primary emphasis on LTTE responsibility when facts suggested otherwise.”
“The UN repeatedly condemned the LTTE for serious international human rights and humanitarian law violations but largely avoided mention of the Government’s responsibility…Some UN staff in Colombo expressed to the UNCT leadership their dismay that the UN was placing primary emphasis on LTTE responsibility when the facts suggested otherwise, and urged a more public stance.”
Throughout the report the Panel mentioning LTTE violations, made it known the UN laid less emphasis on the main perpetrator the Rajapaksa government a fact that can be drawn for example from the UN’s briefing to the diplomatic corps:
On 9 March, the RC and some UNCT members presented an estimate of casualties to the diplomatic corps in Colombo. They listed the “total minimum number of documented civilian casualties”, between 20 January and 2 March 2009 in Mullaithivu District, as 2,683 deaths and 7,241 injuries, two-thirds of which occurred within the latest 14 km² NFZ.
The briefing and accompanying documents were forthright in describing LTTE human rights and international humanitarian law violations – including “the forced recruitment of men and women … [and] children as young as 12, at least one mass execution of civilians, mass corporal punishments, … the blocking of corridors for civilians trying to leave the combat area … the forced movement of civilians, the placing of weapons in areas of civilian concentration, and the diversion and possible withholding of humanitarian aid to civilians.”
However, the briefing did not explicitly address Government responsibility for the situation or for shelling. The COG had prepared a casualty sheet which showed that a large majority of the civilian casualties recorded by the UN had reportedly been caused by Government fire, but the UN did not present this data.”
Mass Killings Need Addressing
In summing up UN failures, the report is a testament to UN’s actions and omissions that unwittingly served the Rajapaksa agenda, contributing to the escalation of violence against civilians, exacerbating the humanitarian catastrophe in the Vanni Region resulting in a hitherto unprecedented loss of innocent Tamil civilian lives:
“Seen together, the failure of the UN to adequately counter the Government’s under-estimation of population numbers in the Wanni, the failure to adequately confront the Government on its obstructions to humanitarian assistance, the unwillingness of the UN in UNHQ and Colombo to address Government responsibility for attacks that were killing civilians, and the tone and content of UN communications with the Government on these issues, collectively amounted to a failure by the UN to act within the scope of institutional mandates to meet protection responsibilities.”
It’s not enough to address UN’s paralysis in preventing the mass killings brought on by the fact that it unwittingly served the Rajapaksa Government’s agenda, more crucially it’s the mass killing of civilians that need addressing. It’s not only the UN’s mute response to “Government” violations and the litany of UN failure that have come out clearly in the report that are troubling, it’s also actions of the Rajapaksa governments that led to the genocidal mass slaughter of Tamil civilians precipitated no doubt by UN failures that should be most troubling.
It’s the fact that UN did little to stop the killings that is troubling; that it allowed the Rajapaksa government to dictate, manipulate and control events leaving the UN ineffective and incapable of discharging its mandate and unable to “confront” the Government” and protect Tamil civilians; one that led to some senior UN staff in Colombo ““to not perceive the prevention of killing of civilians as their responsibility,” a situation that had disastrous consequences. It’s imperative to address the killing of civilians by both sides as well as the serious implications of the Rajapaksa agenda that the UN served.
The findings make it obvious that the Rajapaksa Government made the UN look and feel powerless, helplessly inept and seemingly paralysed, failing in its mandate to protect civilians prompting the Panel to conclude that:
“…events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN.”
The International Community that looked away whilst a Terrorist State Starved Deprived Shelled and Killed People Must Now Call for its Scrutiny
If heads don’t roll, at least the verdict of the Panel must surely prick the conscience of those in high positions in the UN who had a moral and legal responsibility to protect civilian lives. The time has come for them to address the killings without a moments delay.
The report reads like a catalogue of errors amounting to incompetence and vacillation on the part of the UN leadership. The international community which was ready to demonize and label the LTTE as a terrorist organization literally looked away whilst a terrorist state starved, deprived, shelled and killed people. The report meticulous in its narrative of events in the final stages of the conflict, the lead up to it and the aftermath and its assessment of UN actions shows that UN bodies did not come up to task and some senior officials may have been complicit. The UN must now move from an internal probe to a criminal investigation to finding the killers.
Rajapaksa Government’s Continued Denial of Civilian Casualties and the Manner in which it Pitted One Official against Another:
The Rajapaksa government’s position that it maintained a policy of “zero civilian casualty” and that it rescued the Tamils trapped “without a drop of blood.” is now found to be utterly false. The Panel reported on the Government’s denial of casualty figures and its continued rejection of suggestions to civilian casualties occurring and the manner by which it publicly pitted one UN official against another to create doubts as to the veracity of UN’s casualty figures:
“The Government responded robustly to any UN suggestions that there were civilian casualties at all. Aware of disagreement among UN principals, the Government used correspondence and public statements by senior UN officials to refute the OHCHR public statement.
Diplomats who had attended the UNCT’s 9 March briefing and wanted the UN to take a public stand on casualties leaked the briefing materials to the media.37 On 24 March the RC was summoned to meet with the Minister of Foreign Affairs; and on 25 March, the Government released a statement saying “[the RC] has stated that he is unable to confirm the veracity of the figures of civilian casualties ….”, and describing the numbers as having “not been attributed to any reliable or independent source” and the assertion that two-thirds of casualties had occurred in the NFZ as “patently false” and “unsubstantiated”. A second Government statement dated March said “The UN system has been exposed for using figures that it cannot verified (sic) …The figures of 2,800 civilians killed and more than 7,000 injured as claimed by the [USG-Human Rights] are not supported by the [UN] as verifiable figures.” The UN in Sri Lanka published a statement on its website saying the USG-Humanitarian Affairs “has clarified since that these figures were drawn from an internal working document which is based on information that cannot be fully, reliably, and independently assessed, because of limits on access to civilians in the combat zone.”
Government’s Denials Not Rebutted and Would Have highlighted Government Actions Illegal:
The panel found that the UN did not elaborate on the “specifics of the humanitarian law provisions that were violated if otherwise would have highlighted the “Government’s actions as possibly illegal including with regard to the vital concepts of ‘distinction’, ‘proportionality’ and ‘precautionary measures’:
“On the rare instances when UN letters to the Government and UN statements associated Government fire with civilian deaths they did not elaborate on the specific humanitarian law provisions that were being violated and that would have highlighted Government actions as possibly illegal, including with regard to the vital concepts of ‘distinction’, ‘proportionality’ and ‘precautionary measures’.
When the UN received implausible Government denials, these were not effectively rebutted. After the events, several senior UNHQ and UNCT actors recalled that the UN repeatedly raised concerns over “thousands of civilian deaths”, and argued that referring to specific casualty numbers would have made little difference. However, the UN62 greatly weakened the impact of its statements by not identifying the Government as the perpetrator of individual attacks associated with these casualties.”
Demand for International Independent Investigation must be addressed:
As the world contemplates both Ban Ki-moon’s next move and the response of the Security Council, General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council to this damning report, the answer to the question of “who killed Tamil civilians” would definitely continue to haunt it until it responds positively to the heightening demand for an international independent mechanism to fully investigate the actions of the combatants, the ‘mass atrocity crimes’ committed and apportion responsibility; culminating in identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators. Another ‘mute response” from UN bodies to the report would be absolutely appalling and shameful and would further raise questions of UN’s continuing complicity.
Inaction on the Part of UN Bodies to Prevent Killings Requires it to Address Killings:
Security Council Now Obliged to Investigate Killings:
Whilst a bloodbath of epic proportions was taking place the “Security Council was unable to agree on placing Sri Lanka on its agenda,” and at the Human Rights Council “member states could not gather 16 Council members,” the minimum required for a special session. “Throughout the final stages of the conflict, member states did not hold a single formal meeting on Sri Lanka, whether at the Security Council, the Human Rights Council or the General Assembly,” the Panel found, recording the fact that “without clear Security Council support,” the UN felt it could not play a lead role and made no attempt to implement a comprehensive strategy.”
Finally, after remaining silent until three days before the end of the conflict and after tens of thousands of civilians had perished, “a large majority of casualties the UN confirming caused by Sri Lankan government fire,” the Security Council issues a press statement read out by Council President Vitaly Churkin (Russian Federation) in direct contrast to the facts on the ground, expressing the Security Council’s full support for Sri Lanka’s so called “humanitarian rescue operation,” strongly condemning the LTTE “for its acts of terrorism over many years, and for its continued use of civilians as human shields,” and acknowledging the “legitimate right of the Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism,” and demanding that the LTTE “lay down its arms and allow the tens of thousands of civilians still in the conflict zone to leave.”
The Security Council must examine its collective conscience; the chances that it will are slim considering the nature of the dynamics between the powers:
“The tone, content and objectives of UNHQ’s engagement with Member States regarding Sri Lanka were heavily influenced by what it perceived Member States wanted to hear, rather than by what Member States needed to know if they were to respond,” and the Security Council’s inability to, “gather sufficient consensus” as being a problem even as “the travel to Sri Lanka of two Foreign Ministers from members of the Security Council in late April 2009 and subsequent call, on 12 May in New York,” which came too late to change the course of events.”
Furthermore “Senior Secretariat officials” the Panel said, did not adequately keep members states informed of civilian deaths:
“The UN did not give full information on the deaths of civilians to member states …. And did not emphasize the responsibilities of the Government… in a 27 February briefing, the USG-Humanitarian Affairs said “dozens of people per day at least are being killed and many more wounded” but did not provide the COG casualty figures or mention that most casualties appeared to be the result of Government fire and were occurring in the No Fire Zone (NFZ).”
Sadly, the Security Council and the General Assembly, the only bodies that has the power under the principle of ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) and could have intervened through military means to save lives on humanitarian grounds, did not, although R2P is designed to prevent ‘mass atrocity crimes’ that include the crime of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing:
“The concept of a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ was raised occasionally during the final stages of the conflict, but to no useful result. Differing perceptions among Member States and Secretariat of the concept’s meaning and use had become so contentious as to nullify its potential value. Indeed, making references to the Responsibility to Protect was seen as more likely to weaken rather than strengthen UN action”
UNHRC has Work to do Towards Making a Specific Call for an International Independent Investigation:
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has a lot of work to do with respect to the Panel’s finding in the upcoming 21st session in March 2013 when its diluted resolution will be studied, discussions centering on the progress made by the Rajapaksa Government’s on establishing a domestic investigation as recommended by the LLRC. It would be a crying shame if HRC does not respond to this report more constructively towards seriously finding answers to the panel’s findings. The UNHRC’s past history on Sri Lanka has shown it has done little to find the truth; it did not convene a special session at the time the war was raging and later congratulated the government approving the Ragapaksa government’s own text in a special session, failing to acknowledge the violations and more recently in the 19th session passed a resolution that gave the Rajapaksa government time to establish its own domestic investigation.
Ban Ki-moon Failed to use his Powers Under Article 99 Ban Ki-moon must Spur UN into Action to Find Killers:
The Panel discussed the Secretary General’s options citing Article 99 as one option that was considered although there was a difference of opinion on whether he should “actively seek Security Council involvement,” some feeling, ”they needed to protect the Secretary-General from taking sharper positions on the situation because there was no consensus from Member States..”
If Ban Ki-moon’s words, in response to the Panel’s findings are to be taken seriously that “transparency and accountability are critical to the legitimacy of the UN,” and his admission to UN’s failure to protect civilians are to mean something, he has got to draw upon the powers he has under Article 99 of the Charter to do more to spur the UN into action. His refusal to call for a cease-fire to stop the killings when the casualties were far greater in number compared to Gaza, Sudan and the Congo and later in Libya and Syria where he expressed condemnation and outrage calling for a cease-fire in many cases and his reluctance in raising the matter with the Security Council again under Article 99 on the excuses that he had no mandate and that the matter was not in the Security Council agenda are issues that raised eyebrows then and are questions that still remain unanswered. Also the Panel reported that some members “regretted” that Ban Ki-moon when sending the UN Panels of Experts report to the UNHRC did not “transmit it for their possible action.”
Worry that Report May be Shelved:
Undoubtedly everything rests on the Security Council not to shelve the report but to examine its own conduct and take the most constructive, proper and predictable next step to creating an independent mechanism to finding those accountable for the 40,000 civilians possibly much more who perished in Mullivaikaal.
Palitha Kohona – “Report Won’t Affect Sri Lanka”:
Whilst the Panel was categorical about the UN’s failure to exert its mandate the Rajapaksa Government in total contrast “rubbishing” the report through its spokesman Palitha Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations was defiant that the report “would not affect Sri Lanka,” with no authority to speak on UN’s mandate, insisted “the UN acted within its mandate under the Charter.”
He told ‘Newsfirst Sri Lanka’ that as a lawyer he is prepared to “challenge” the findings, implying the UN is “not a supranational body”, claiming the Rajapaksa Government worked with senior UN officials through out.
Kohona’s impudence and lack of remorse revealed the Government’s confidence in its allies among the member states, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. He laid out everyone’s responsibilities and indirectly warned against any form of interference, typical of the stance the Rajapaksa Government has taken to effectively escape accountability, continuing a culture of impunity where it refuses to accept any culpability for its actions in the war.
“The UN is not a supranational body, it’s an organisation of members state… with clearly defined roles to play; when the UN operates in a country it operates within its mandate provided by the Charter… it is not an autonomous body, it has to be very sensitive to what the member states think, how the member states guide it and how the host country looks at it… (the Panel) totally ignored the fact the government has conducted a census in the North. Which gave a clearer picture of the casualties; it hardly paid any attention to the fact the LTTE fought in civilian clothes… when a combatant fights in civilian clothes and dies, it doesn’t convert him to a civilian; so many things like that have escaped the compilers of the report.”
Demand for International Independent Investigation Heightens:
The report has naturally evoked a heightened demand for an international independent investigation from International NGOs, human rights defenders and journalists, and from the Tamil Diaspora including the Global Tamil Forum (GTF), the United State Tamil Political Action Council (USTPAC), the Canadian Tamil Congress (CTC) and the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE among other.
TGTE’s Response to the Report:
Deluxon Morris, TGTE Minister for Investigation of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes, issued a call for a “commission of investigation on Sri Lanka” and asked that: “the prosecutions should not be limited to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity and must include Genocide”; that the “Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide must make public the report on Tamil Genocide”; that “given the constraint on the mandate of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) coupled with the ‘lack of an enabling environment for a judicial follow up’ as stated… in the report, the Secretary-General need not wait till the exhaustion of the domestic remedies” and urged Ban Ki-moon to use his powers, “Under Article 99 of the UN Charter to appoint an International Commission of Inquiry as recommended by his own advisers.”
One of TGTE’s main demands was to call for the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide to release the report on his predecessor’s concerns’ which “he raised” with the (Rajapaka) Government and Secretary-General over the situation initially but later decided not to disclose, telling the Government he would “not speak out,” favouring instead, in his words “quiet diplomacy”.
However the panel also recorded the fact that “when his office later tried to issue a public statement this was not supported by UNHQ,” a matter that must investigated.
M A Sumanthiran speaking for the Tamil National Alliance, “demanding a probe’ told NDTV that “There should be an international inquiry. The government as the main accused party cannot be involved in the investigation. Now that the UN has come with this report we want action,” the MP said.
Three Reports Plus the Dublin Report Combined Make a Compelling Case – UN Cannot Ignore the Elephant in the Room:
The UN can no longer pretend to ignore the elephant in the room, it’s time it addresses the issue of accountability head on. The need to find out who was responsible for civilian deaths and who should face prosecution should now be a priority for senior UN officials and all UN bodies.
Additionally the two combined UN sponsored reports, this as well as the ‘UN Panel of Experts’ report together with another Independent Report containing testimonies from UN workers and the findings of the Dublin Tribunal, (The same Dublin Tribunal preparing at this time to hear the case for genocide in Mullivaikaal), now in the public domain all providing irrefutable evidence, make it more compelling for the UN to start the wheels of justice moving. The UN Panel of Experts on accountability found “most civilian casualties was caused by Government shelling” and held what took place was “a very different version of the final stages of the war than that maintained to this day by the Government of Sri Lanka.”
Another report titled ‘Independent Report on Sri Lanka and United Nations Human Rights Violations’ authored by Julian Vigo who interviewing UN workers who testified to genocidal act occurring, raised the need for addressing the issue of UN complicity and the question of whether “UN failure to act made it an accomplice in the Sri Lankan government’s human rights abuses and possibly various acts of genocide.”
Government Obstruction to the Delivery of Humanitarian Assistance:
The UN’s failure to correctly “present data” on casualties caused by the Rajapaksa Government at the crucial time the war was in progress and its failure to “explain that the most immediate causes for the severe shortfall (in food and medicines) had been Government obstruction to the delivery of assistance, including its artillery shelling,” have been recorded by the Panel:
“….And when describing the lack of food and medicines, the briefing did not explain that the most immediate causes for the severe shortfall had been Government obstruction to the delivery of assistance, including its artillery shelling…..The expectation that the UN would not confront it on the issue may, in turn, have influenced Government action. There location had a severe impact on the delivery of humanitarian assistance and reduced the potential for monitoring the protection of civilians. It removed the most significant protection layers, even as thousands of civilians sought protection by remaining close to UN premises. There action of the UN system as a whole to the Government’s withdrawal of security assurances represented a serious failure.” And when describing the lack of food and medicines, the briefing did not explain that the most immediate causes for the severe shortfall had been Government obstruction to the delivery of assistance, including its artillery shelling.”
Senior UN Officials Concealed Casualty Figures:
It’s clear that some officials behaved as though they were under the spell of the Rajapaksa Government, choosing to conceal “casualty figures” and “violations of international law, afraid publication would “provoke criticism” from the Rajapaksa government. To this end senior UN officials went as far as trying to block Navi Pillai’s office (OHCHR – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) from releasing the only statement the UN issued which the Rajapaksa Government capitalizing on dissention in the UN refuted:
“Government used dissenting opinions by senior UN staff to discredit the statement, diluting its potential preventive impact…The Government responded robustly to any UN suggestions that there were civilian casualties at all. Aware of disagreement among UN principals, the Government used correspondence and public statements by senior UN officials to refute the OHCHR public statement.”
UN downplayed Government responsibility and magnified LTTE violations:
It’s clear that there was a concerted effort by the UN particularly some officials to down play the mass atrocities committed by the Rajapaksa government and magnify those committed by the LTTE, the UN officials justifying its mute criticism of the Government’s conduct:
“Throughout the final stages, the UN issued many public statements and reports accusing the LTTE of committing human rights and international humanitarian law violations, and mentioning thousands of civilians killed… UN almost completely omitted to explicitly mention Government responsibility for violations of international law. UN officials said they did not want to prejudice humanitarian access by criticizing the Government – and maintained this position even when access within the Wanni was almost non-existent.
Officials also said that by March they were trying to ensure access to IDPs who had already left the Wanni and that they were negotiating a humanitarian pause to allow more civilians to escape. According to these officials, both factors justified the UN’s mute criticism of the Government’s conduct. However despite UN advocacy and its relative withholding of criticism, access to IDPs in camps outside the Wanni remained strictly limited by the Government and the UN never obtained the kind of humanitarian pause that would have allowed civilians to be moved to safe ground…”
“Who was killing civilians” and “how many civilians were killed” are Questions Political not Humanitarian – Not UN’s Purview:
It’s clear that the UN was indecisive and dragged its feet, unable to act independently to protect people and save lives. It is unimaginable but true the UN failed to exert its mandate over a government which was killing civilians, choosing to be silent than speak out about “who was killing civilians” and “how many civilians were killed”:
“Throughout the conflict, some UNCT and UNHQ actors sought to separate the humanitarian response from what they termed “political” issues. Issues appear to have been defined as political not because they had a political aspect but rather because UN action to address them would have provoked criticism from the Government. Thus, raising concern over who was killing civilians, how many civilians were being killed, or how many civilians were actually in the Wanni were all, at various times, described as political issues. The distinction was used by some senior UN staff as an argument against additional UN action or full reporting on these issues, and even to exclude them from the purview of UN monitoring or response.”
Scale of Government Inaccuracies on Population Numbers Staggering:
The Panel’s findings now legitimize the Bishop of Mannar’s concerns on the number of missing people which he estimated to be 146, 679. In terms of the number of people trapped, the Panel was unequivocal in pointing out the scale of inaccuracy in the National Government’s figures of numbers and that “the determination of the numbers of people in the Wanni was central to all humanitarian action.”:
“A Wanni local government official testified to the LLRC that during the final stages there had been 360,000 IDPs in her district alone. Others who submitted testimony to the Commission quoted estimates of local Government authorities that placed the total population number in October 2008 at 429,000. Yet national Government authorities in Colombo insisted that there were no more than about 70,000 people.
The UN believed there were up to 350,000 civilians, but in its internal and public statements made references which oscillated between 150,000 and 350,000, and used an assistance-planning figure of 200,000. The reception and registration of almost 280,000 people in IDP internment camps when they left the Wanni is an indication of the scale of inaccuracy in the national Government’s figures. The Government’s denial of the real numbers buttressed arguments against increasing humanitarian convoys and was later used to rebut reports of high civilian casualties.”
UN Chef de Cabinet’s Offer to be Present at LTTE Surrender Refused”
According to Credible Sources the Panels said Surrendering LTTE Leaders were Executed:
The Panel reported that “by 18 May most of the remaining LTTE leadership was reportedly killed” and although the Government claimed they died in armed engagements, possibly at the hands of other LTTE, Other credible sources said many were executed, including some who on the morning of 18 May had crossed into Government-held territory unarmed and with white flags.”
The Panel revealed the dilemma facing the UN on the issue of LTTE surrender, the UN concluding it did not have the means to guarantee safe passage to the LTTE leadership:
“The UN did not have the means to guarantee safe passage to the LTTE leadership…The Chef de Cabinet could not circumvent the Government’s rejection of a UN presence during the surrender. UN officials said that in transmitting the LTTE request to the Government and in firmly expressing to the Government the UN’s wish to be present at a surrender they did the best they could, and had no other options.
Given the UN’s approach toward the Government regarding its conduct of the conflict over the previous few months, and given the lack of clear support for UN action from Member States, the war’s final days the UN was not well positioned to exercise leverage with the Government on this issue.”
Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Order to Kill Surrendering LTTE Leadership and Sarath Fonseka’s Retraction:
The facts about fate of the surrendering political leaders of the LTTE and Sarath Fonseka’s shocking disclosure of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s “instructions to kill all surrendering LTTE leaders” is borne out by the Panel’s findings:
“…. the Chef de Cabinet…was willing to travel to the Wanni and be present at the surrender. His offer was refused. The Chef de Cabinet said he was nevertheless assured by senior Government officials that LTTE leaders bearing a white flag could surrender. General Fonseka, commander of the Sri Lankan Army, declared victory against the LTTE on 16 May. By 17 May, according to the Army, the LTTE was confined to an area of 400m by 400m. On 18 May, Government representatives were announcing that Prabhakaran and other LTTE leaders were dead, as was subsequently confirmed in videos and photographs.
The Government stated that the LTTE leadership had been killed while trying to escape, or possibly in intra-LTTE fighting. Pointed questions were raised later by NGOs and in the international media regarding the possibility that the deaths were in fact the result of executions. And there were questions regarding the UN’s role in an interview months later, General Fonseka, who had subsequently launched his candidacy for President in opposition to President Rajapaksa, stated that the Defence Secretary had instructed a commander in the north to kill all surrendering LTTE leaders.
General Fonseka was later arrested and retracted his statement. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions wrote to the Government requesting clarification.”
International Independent Mechanism now Necessary, Obligatory and Incumbent upon the UN:
In view of the Panel’s report which reads like a damning indictment on the Rajapaksa Government it is now patently clear the creation of an independent international mechanism has become necessary, obligatory and incumbent upon the UN. Although the Panel focused its recommendations “on how the UN approached similar situations in the future,” yet under the heading “Sri Lanka’s way forward”, it was unequivocal in saying that “the UN cannot fulfil its post-conflict and development responsibilities in Sri Lanka without addressing (certain) fundamental concerns”:
“It is nevertheless clear that there can be no lasting peace and stability without dealing with the most serious past violations and without a political response to the aspirations of Sri Lanka’s communities. The UN cannot fulfil its post-conflict and development responsibilities in Sri Lanka without addressing these fundamental concerns; and the UN should continue to support implementation of the recommendations of the Panel of Experts on Accountability.”
The Report’s Findings Persuasive Case for International Independent Investigation – UN cannot Fail Victims of the Genocidal Mass Slaughter:
As the Rajapaksa Government moves to impeach the Chief Justice for not conforming to its agenda, it continues unabated with its primary focus of maintaining the North and East as a heavily militarized zone and of altering forcibly the demography of the area as it seeks to destroy the historical habitats and national identity of the Tamils. In a climate of fear and autocratic rule where the fundamental principle of separations of powers has no meaning, and the Tamil people are looking to the international community and the UN for a ‘protection mechanism’ to stop the ‘structural genocide’ of the Tamil Nation one which the TGTE is strongly advocating, the probability of justice being served and for the truth to be finally revealed through a “Government” appointed commission is nil.
Both the continued denial by the Rajapaksa government of any wrongdoing and its refusal to accept responsibility for any civilian casualties must justifiably underscore the urgency and need for a credible international investigation. not withstanding the fact the LLRC, the government’s own ‘Lessons Learned Reconciliation Commission had exonerated it from any responsibility for civilian deaths, The allegations of the genocidal mass slaughter of Tamils in Mullivaikaal need addressing; the Tamils deserving justice just as much as the Bosnians of the Srebrenica and the Tootsies of Rwanda.
The UN must not and cannot fail the victims of the genocidal mass slaughter that took place in Sri Lanka.
( Usha S Sriskandarajah is the chair of Transnational Govt of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) Senate)