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Extracts from the UN Panel of Experts Report on Sri Lanka

Leaked by The Island, Colombo, April 17-22, 2011

In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.

For extracts from the Executive Summary of this report, click here.

 

Extracts from the Ban-Ki-moon panel report (Part 1)

The question of civilian deaths

Leaked April 17, 2011

Following upon the exclusive reportage of the The Island on the Ban Ki Moon expert panel report last Saturday, we begin serializing today, verbatim excerpts from the panel report in relation to the various allegations made against Sri Lanka. Moon’s expert panel has made five major allegations against Sri Lanka, the first being civilian casualties. In the first installment of this serialization, we deal with the question of the number of civilians killed according to the calculations of Moon’s panel. The following is what the panel report has said in this regard:

E. The number of civilian deaths (Pages 39-41)

132. There is no authoritative figure for civilian deaths or injuries in the Vanni in the final phases of the war. Several actors make it very difficult to calculate a reliable casualty figure: (a) the number of persons in the conflict area remains uncertain, although it was likely to have been as many as 330,000; (b) the lack of an accurate count of the number of persons who emerged from the Vanni, due to the lack of transparency in the screening process; (c) lack of certainty on the numbers of LTTE combatants, complicated further by the increase in forced recruitment in the final phase; and (d) the fact that many civilians were buried where they fell, without their deaths being registered, in some cases, unobserved.

Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka with UNSC Ban Ki-moon April 2011 UN News Centre
Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka with UN SC Ban Ki-moon. Source: UN News Centre

133. Some have developed estimates based on the statistics of the injured and dead collected by the doctors, which were collated by the hospitals and the District Disaster Management Unit. One estimate is that there were approximately 40,000 surgical procedures and 5,000 amputations performed during the final phase. Depending on the ratio of injuries to deaths, estimated at various times to be 1:2 or 1:3, this could point to a much higher casualty figure. Others have put the estimate at 75,000, a figure obtained by subtracting the number of people who emerged from the conflict zone (approximately 290,000) from the estimate of the number thought to have been in the conflict zone (approximately 330,000 in the NFZ from January, plus approximately the 35,000, who emerged from the LTTE-held areas before that time).

134. The United Nations Country Team is one source of information; in a document that was never released publicly, it estimated a total figure of 7,721 killed and 18,479 injured from August 2008 up to 13 May 2009, after which it became too difficult to count. In early February 2009, the United Nations started a process of compiling casualty figures, although efforts were hindered by lack of access. An internal "Crisis Operations Group" was formed to collect reliable information regarding civilian casualties and other humanitarian concerns. In order to calculate a total casualty figure, the Group took figures from RDHS as the baseline, using reports from national staff of the United Nations and NGOs, inside the Vanni, the ICRC, religious authorities and other sources to cross-check and verify the baseline. The methodology was quite conservative: if an incident could not be verified by three sources or could have been double-counted, it was dismissed. Figures emanating from sources that could be perceived as biased, such as Tamil Net, were dismissed, as were Government sources outside the Vanni.

135. The number calculated by the United Nations Country Team provides a starting point, but is likely to be too low, for several reasons. First, it only accounts for the casualties that were actually observed by the networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas. Many casualties may not have been observed at all. Second, after the United Nations stopped counting on 13 May, the number of civilian casualties likely grew rapidly. Due to the intensity of the shelling, many civilians were left where they died and were never registered, brought to a hospital or even buried. This means that, in reality, the total numbers could easily be several times that of the United Nations figure.

136. It is worth noting that the United Nations raised casualty figures in private entreaties with the Government, but never publicized its specific estimates. Government officials strongly refuted the figures provided by the United Nations, stating that the numbers were fabricated and that this was not the business of the United Nations. Publicly the United Nations referred to the "heavy toll" of the fighting on civilians, or that the casualty figures were "unacceptably high", but that the actual figures were not verifiable. The decision not to provide specific figures made the issue of civilian casualties less newsworthy. However, this position was maintained by senior United Nations officials until 13 March 2009, when the High Commissioner for Human Rights publicly stated that 2,800 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,000 injured since 20 January, many of them inside the NFZs. Pressure from the Government of Sri Lanka and fears of losing access may have resulted in a general under-reporting of violations by United Nations agencies. Some have criticized the failure of the United Nations to present figures publicly as events were unfolding, citing it as excessively cautious in comparison with other conflict situations.

137. In the limited surveys that have been carried out in the aftermath of the conflict, the percentage of people reporting dead relatives is high. A number of credible sources have estimated that there could have been as many as 40,000 civilian deaths. Two years after the end of the war, there is still no reliable figure for civilian deaths, but multiple sources of information indicate that a range of up to 40,000 civilian deaths cannot be ruled out at this stage. Only a proper investigation can lead to the identification of all of the victims and to the formulation of an accurate figure for the total number of civilian deaths.

 

 

Extracts from the Ban Ki Moon panel report (Part 2)

Shelling civilian targets

Leaked April 18, 2011

We continue today, the serialization of verbatim extracts from the main body of the Ban Ki Moon expert panel report in relation to the various allegations made against Sri Lanka. Moon’s expert panel had made five major allegations against Sri Lanka, the first of them being the high incidence of civilian casualties. In the first installment of this serialization, published yesterday, we dealt with the question of the number of civilians killed according to the calculations of Moon’s panel. In this second installment we publish what the Moon panel said about the shelling of civilian targets which was a part of the first charge against Sri Lanka. The following extracts are from pages 28 to 32 of the report:

6. SLA shelling in the second No Fire Zone

100. From as early as 6 February 2009, the SLA continuously shelled within the area that become the second NFZ, from all directions, including land, air and sea. 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 as well as small mortars, RPGs and small arms fire, some of it fired from a close range. MBRLs are unguided missile systems designed to shell large areas, but if used in densely populated areas, are indiscriminate in their effect and likely to cause large number of casualties.

101. At the time, the Defence Secretary stated: "We are taking casualties to prevent civilians getting hurt. This is a factor we are very concerned about. Otherwise we could have used so much artillery and just moved on. The Government announced on 25 February, and again on 27 April, that the SLA was no longer using heavy weapons in the second and third No Fire Zones. But what was happening on the ground indicated the opposite. Intensive artillery fire had been a core tactic in the SLA’s military campaign from the outset. As victory neared, this tactic was not abandoned, but rather its use was intensified, even though the LTTE was now immobilized and surrounded in an area of high civilian density. The intensive shelling also caused many civilians to attempt to flee the area, meeting another of the Government’s objectives, to put pressure on civilians to get out of the way. Despite Government pronouncements, satellite images in Annex 3 show that SLA artillery batteries were constantly adjusted to increasingly target the NFZs. The LTTE had fewer heavy weapons left and less space to fire them from.

102. The coastal strip became increasingly crowded, and liveable spaces were in short supply. Much of the land where IDPs set up shelters was beach territory, with sandy, waterlogged land unsuitable for human habitation, and it was difficult for IDPs to construct makeshift bunkers to protect themselves. Daily life for the IDPs at that time took place mostly inside the bunker, although some IDPs hoisted white flags over their shelters in an attempt to protect themselves. Fresh water was scarce and food was in such short supply that a few people died of starvation. When the seasonal rains came, many bunkers were flooded, adding to the general misery of the people.

7. Shelling of Putumattalan Hospital

103. When the PTK hospital relocated to Putumattalan, the Government stated that "there are now no hospitals functioning in uncleared areas in the Vanni". Nonetheless, the second NFZ had three makeshift hospitals, including Putumattalan, a small clinic at Valayanmadam and a hospital in Mullivaikkal. All of their coordinates were known to the Government, and they were clearly marked with emblems. Government doctors continued providing their services there. Putumattalan hospital was severely overcrowded with hundreds of newly injured civilians. As the Government did not allow basic medical supplies into the Vanni, conditions in Putumattalan hospital were so poor that a large number of amputations were performed without anesthetic, using butcher knives rather than scalpels. Sanitary pads and cotton cloths were used as bandages, and intravenous drips were hung from the trees, with the severely-injured patients lying on the ground under them. In spite of the significant efforts of the few available doctors, many patients died due to lack of access to proper medical care, and scores of bodies were deposited in front of the hospital each day.

104. On 9 February 2009, shells fell on Putumattalan hospital, killing at least 16 patients. The shells came from SLA bases in Chalai, but subsequently shells were also fired from SLA positions across the lagoon (even though the hospital was clearly visible to the SLA based there). While some wounded LTTE cadre were treated at Putumattalan hospital, they were few in number and were kept in a separate ward. Putumattalan hospital was shelled on several occasions after that, in February and March. RPGs were fired at the hospital around 27 March killing several civilians. In addition to civilian casualties, the operating theatre, makeshift ward and roof all sustained damage.

105. While individual incidents of shelling and shooting took place on a daily basis, destroying the lives of many individuals of families, the SLA also shelled large gatherings of civilians capable of being identified by UVAs. ON 25th March, an MBRL attack on Ambalavanpokkanai killed around 140 people, including many children. On 8 April 2009, a large group of women and children, who were queued up at a milk powder distribution line organized by the RDHS, were shelled at Ambalavanpokkanai. Some of the dead mothers still clutched cards which entitled them to milk powder for their children.

8. Hindrance of humanitarian assistance via the ICRC ships

106. The ICRC continued to play a leading role in alleviating the plight of the civilian population in the Vanni, by evacuating wounded civilians from the coastal strip by ship, starting on 10 February 2009. In total, 16 ICRC ships came to the conflict zone in the final months. The international ICRC staff that had remained the Putumattalan left on the first ship, but they returned and stayed onshore for a few hours each time the ships came back. The Government did not allow United Nations staff on the ships.

107. The LTTE issued passes for injured civilians and some of their dependents to leave the area on ICRC ships, but the wounded had to be ferried on small boats, as the ship was not allowed to come closer than a kilometer offshore. The wounded were lined up on the beach, but several times came under fire. Shells fired by the SLA sometimes fell in the sea near the ICRC ships. Around 22 April, shelling near a ship forced the captain to return to deeper waters.

108. The ICRC’s ships were also the only means for delivering food, but the supplies they were allowed to bring by the Government were inadequate. As conditions in the NFZ became more desperate, on 17 March, a large crowd of IDPs surrounded an international ICRC staff member who came ashore, begging him to save their lives by taking them out of the Vanni. The LTTE forcibly dispersed the crowd. The final ICRC ship came to the Vanni on 9 May 2009. ON 15 May 2009, a ship approached, but had to turn back due to the intensity of the fighting. In all, ICRC evacuated 14,000 wounded persons and their relatives from the second and third NFZs and delivered around 2,350 metric tons of food to Mullivaikkal. Those evacuated were all civilians, as the LTTE did not permit its cadre to leave the conflict area for treatment.

 


Extracts from the Ban Ki Moon panel report (Part 3)

Shelling hospitals

Leaked April 19, 2011

We continue today, the serialization of verbatim extracts from the main body of the Ban Ki Moon expert panel report in relation to the various allegations made against Sri Lanka. Moon’s expert panel had made five major allegations against Sri Lanka, the first of them being the high incidence of civilian casualties. In the first installment of this serialization, we dealt with the question of the number of civilians killed according to the calculations of Moon’s panel. In the second installment published yesterday, we dealt with the shelling of civilian targets which was a part of the first charge against Sri Lanka.

Shelling hospitals

The second specific charge was the shelling of hospitals. The following are extracts from the Ban Ki Moon report pertaining to instances where hospitals were allegedly shelled:

On or around 19 to 21 January, SLA shells hit Vallipuram hospital, located in the first NFZ killing patients. Throughout the final stages of the war, virtually every hospital in the Vanni, whether permanent or makeshift, was hit by artillery. Particularly those which contained wounded LTTE were hit repeatedly. (Pages 23-24)

87. Heavy shelling continued unabated. On 24 January, the Udayaarkaddu Hospital, also located in the NFZ and clearly marked with emblems, was hit by several shells. (Page 24)

4. SLA shelling of PTK (Puthukudiirippu) Hospital

90. Fighting in the area intensified as part of the expressed efforts by the 55th and 58 Divisions to capture PTK by 4 February, the day commemorating Sri Lanka’s independence. PTK hospital was the only permanent hospital left in the Vanni, and its neutrality was recognized by the Government and the LTTE. The medical staff, including five doctors, was stretched beyond its capacity, and medical supplies were very limited. The shelling in the first NFZ had marked a turning point in the conflict, and civilian casualties were rising. PTK hospital was packed with hundreds of injured civilians from the NFZ. More than 100 new patients were arriving each day, many from the NFZ. Many had severe or life-threatening injuries caused by artillery fire or burns. The casualties, many of them babies, young children and the elderly, were packed in every conceivable space – on beds, under tables, in hallways and outside in the driveway.

91. ON 29 January 2009, the two remaining United Nations international staff left for Vavuniya, without the national staff members, who were still not allowed to leave by the LTTE. The ICRC dispatched a separate convoy, which evacuated about 200 wounded patients. Immediately thereafter, in the week between 29 January and 4 February, PTK hospital was hit every day by MBRLs and other artillery, taking at least nine direct hits. A number of patients inside the hospital, most of them already injured, were killed, as were several staff members. Even the operating theatre was hit. Two ICRC international delegates were in the hospital when it was shelled on 4 February 2009. The shelling was coming from SLA positions.

92. The GPS coordinates of PTK hospital were well known to the SLA, and the hospital was clearly marked with emblems easily visible to UAVs. On 1 February 2009, the ICRC issued a public statement emphasizing that "wounded and sick people, medical personnel and medical facilities are all protected by international humanitarian law. Under no circumstance may they be directly attacked."

93. The Ministry of Human Rights and Disaster Management responded by accusing the ICRC of "either willful ignorance or naiveté." Initially, the Government denied shelling the hospital, but on 2 February 2009, the Defence Secretary gave the following statement in an interview on Skynews:

"If they (reports) are referring to the (PTK) hospital, now there shouldn’t be a hospital or anything because we withdrew that. We got all the patients to Vavuniya, out of there. So nothing should exist beyond the No Fire Zone… No hospital should operate in the area, nothing should operate. That is why we clearly gave these No Fire Zones… For the LTTE… to crush the terrorists, there is nothing called un-proportionate.

94. After the fall of Kilinochchi, PTK was a strategic stronghold in the LTTE’s fight against the SLA. As a result, the LTTE had a sizable presence in the PTK area and maintained a separate ward for wounded cadres in PTK hospital, but they were not armed. The frontline was nearby, and as the fighting in the PTK area increased, more LTTE wounded started to come into the hospital. The LTTE also fired mobile artillery from the vicinity of the hospital, but did not use the hospital for military purposes until after it was evacuated. Yet, in its eagerness to capture the area, the SLA repeatedly shelled the hospital and surrounding areas. Due to the incessant shelling, the Regional Directors of Health Services (RDHS), the United Nations, the AGA and the ICRC decided to evacuate some 300 patients in PTK hospital to Putumattalan, around 6 to 8 kilometres away, on the coastal strip next to the Nanthikadal lagoon. Ponnambalm Hospital, a private hospital used in part by the LTTE, was shelled on 6 February 2009, causing part of it to collapse. (Pages 25-26)

103. When the PTK hospital relocated to Putumattalan, the Government stated that "there are now no hospitals functioning in uncleared areas in the Vanni". Nonetheless, the second NFZ had three makeshift hospitals, including Putumattalan, a small clinic at Valayanmadam and a hospital in Mullivaikkal. All of their coordinates were known to the Government, and they were clearly marked with emblems. Government doctors continued providing their services there. Putumattalan hospital was severely overcrowded with hundreds of newly injured civilians. As the Government did not allow basic medical supplies into the Vanni, conditions in Putumattalan hospital were so poor that a large number of amputations were performed without anesthetic, using butcher knives rather than scalpels. Sanitary pads and cotton cloths were used as bandages, and intravenous drips were hung from the trees, with the severely-injured patients lying on the ground under them. In spite of the significant efforts of the few available doctors, many patients died due to lack of access to proper medical care, and scores of bodies were deposited in front of the hospital each day.

104. On 9 February 2009, shells fell on Putumattalan hospital, killing at least 16 patients. The shells came from SLA bases in Chalai, but subsequently shells were also fired from SLA positions across the lagoon (even though the hospital was clearly visible to the SLA based there). While some wounded LTTE cadre were treated at Putumattalan hospital, they were few in number and were kept in a separate ward. Putumattalan hospital was shelled on several occasions after that, in February and March. RPGs were fired at the hospital around 27 March killing several civilians. In addition to civilian casualties, the operating theatre, makeshift ward and roof all sustained damage. (Pages 30-31)

106. The ICRC continued to play a leading role in alleviating the plight of the civilian population in the Vanni, by evacuating wounded civilians from the coastal strip by ship, starting on 10 February 2009. In total, 16 ICRC ships came to the conflict zone in the final months. The international ICRC staff that had remained in Putumattalan left on the first ship, but they returned and stayed onshore for a few hours each time the ships came back. The Government did not allow United Nations staff on the ships.

107. The LTTE issued passes for injured civilians and some of their dependents to leave the area on ICRC ships, but the wounded had to be ferried on small boats, as the ship was not allowed to come closer than a kilometer offshore. The wounded were lined up on the beach, but several times came under fire. Shells fired by the SLA sometimes fell in the sea near the ICRC ships. Around 22 April, shelling near a ship forced the captain to return to deeper waters. (Page 32)

110. After the SLA captured the north of the NFZ, Mullivaikkal Hospital was the only remaining hospital in the conflict zone. There were no LTTE cadre in uniform in the hospital, nor did anyone bring weapons inside. Conditions were extremely poor. The hospital had four doctors and ran two improvised operating theatres. Some of the patients, including those with serious head injuries and other obvious fatal injuries, were merely made comfortable, but no attempt could be made to save them. With few beds available, wounded patients often remained in front of the hospital, some on mats and others lying on dust and gravel, under sheets set up for shelter, cradled by their loved ones or alone. With a severe shortage of gauze or other sterile bandages, old clothes or saris were used as bandages. No gloves were available, and the conditions were grossly unhygienic, giving rise to a high risk of infections. In this hospital, amputations were also performed with butcher knives, due to the lack of surgical equipment, and amputated limbs were collected in piles. On many occasions amputations were performed to save the life of the patient, as there was simply no other way to treat wounds. Due to the severe shortage of anesthetics, the little that remained was mixed with distilled water, but many amputations were performed without anesthesia. In spite of widespread malnutrition, some people continued to donate blood, but a general shortage of blood meant that a patient’s own blood was often used, caught in a plastic bag, to be filtered through a cloth and re-transfused back into the same patient.

111. Due to the heavy shelling that hit the hospital on numerous occasions, the RDHS moved to a second location at Vellamullivaikkal. On 11 or 12 May, the second hospital was also hit by SLA shells, killing many people, although it, too, was prominently marked. The conditions in the second hospital were as poor as the first, and some of the hospital staff members were killed by SLA shelling. (Page 34)

119. In spite of many desperate telephone calls by the AGA and doctors to stop the shelling to allow them to attend to the wounded and dead, no reprieve was forthcoming from the SLA. After 14 May 2009, the doctors could no longer go to the hospital due to the intensity of the shelling, and it had to be closed. Dozens of patients who could not be moved were left behind. All survivors huddled together in rudimentary shelters. Cooking was impossible and leaving the shelter even for sanitary purposes meant risking one’s life. Some civilians tried to stage a mass breakout, but were shot at and shelled by the LTTE. Those who managed to escape were helped across by individual SLA soldiers. (Page 36)

 

 

Extracts from the Ban Ki Moon panel report (Part 4)

Understating the number of Tamil civilians

Leaked April 20, 2011

We continue today, the serialization of verbatim extracts from the main body of the Ban Ki Moon expert panel report in relation to the various allegations made against Sri Lanka. Moon’s expert panel had made five major allegations against Sri Lanka, the first of them being the high incidence of civilian casualties. In the first installment of this serialization, we dealt with the question of the number of civilians killed according to the calculations of Moon’s panel. In the second and third installments, we dealt with the shelling of civilian targets and hospitals which were the first and second charges against Sri Lanka. Today we publish the findings of the Moon panel with regard to the deliberate understatement of the number of Tamil civilians in LTTE control so as to deprive them of food and medicine – the third charge against Sri Lanka. (Pages 36-39 of the panel report )


D. Disputing IDP figures as a basis to deny humanitarian assistance

124. Throughout the final stages of the armed conflict, particularly from January to May 2009, the Government downplayed the number of civilians present in the LTTE controlled area, using the low estimates to restrict the amount of humanitarian assistance that could be provided, especially food and medicine.

125. At the outset of the final phase, on 13 January 2009, the Government website reported that, according to independent verifications, the number of civilians in the Vanni was between 150,000 and 250,000. The United Nations estimate at the time was 250,000 (although its subsequent estimates were higher). Later in January 2009, the Ministry of Defence said that the number of civilians present in the Vanni was between 75,000 and 100,000, "on a high estimate", However, the Government had more than sufficient information at its disposal during the final stages of the armed conflict to accurately estimate the actual number of civilians in the Vanni. Each month the GAs continued to collate data on IDPs in order to make requests for dry rations from WFP. Prior to September 2008, numbers compiled by the GAs of Mullaittivu and Kilinochchi indicated that there were around 420,000 people in the LTTE-controlled areas at that time. While these numbers may have been inflated, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates of school children registered in the Vanni were 70,000, which was approximately the same as to the Government’s estimate for the IDP population.

126. The subsequent numbers given by the Ministry of Defence varied, but in general they were deliberately kept low, and some Government employees working in the zone were reprimanded, when they provided other figures or different calculations of need. For instance, on 2 February 2009, the AGA based in the second NFZ sent a situation report to the Ministry of Public Administration and Home Affairs stating that there were about 81,000 families present in Mullaitivu District at that time, totaling some 330,000 persons. However, on 18 March, the AGA received a response from the Secretary of the Ministry of National Building and Estate Infrastructure Development, stating that the figure of 330,000 was "arbitrary and baseless" and that the Government would be "reluctantly compelled" to take disciplinary action against him for providing "wrong information to any source especially in regard to IDP figures".

127. At the end of February 2009, the United Nations Country Team informed the Government that, in its view, there were 267,618 civilians present in the LTTE controlled area, basing the estimate, in part, on UNOSAT Quickbind and Worldview satellite images, used to count the number of IDP shelters. At the end of April, United Nations estimates were that 127,177 civilians still remained trapped, whereas the Government said there were only 10,000 persons left at the time. The number of IDPs who eventually emerged from the area and were housed at Menik Farm and in other camps was approximately 290,000. The discrepancy in these figures has not been adequately explained by the Government.

128. As a result of the Government’s low estimates, the food delivered by WFP to the Vanni was a fraction of what was actually needed, Resulting in widespread malnutrition, including cases of starvation. Similarly, the medical supplies allowed into the Vanni were grossly inadequate to treat the number of injuries incurred by the shelling. Given the types of injuries sustained in the second NFZ, the doctors requested medical supplies such as anaesthetics, blood bags for transfusion, antibiotic, surgical items, gloves and disinfectant. Only a small quantity of these items was allowed into the Vanni. Instead, they received items such as Panadol, allergy tablets and vitamins. As the casualty figures rose in March 2010, the absence of the needed medical supplies imposed enormous suffering and unnecessarily cost many lives. The RDHS doctors repeatedly spoke out about the inadequacy of medical supplies, in letters and televised interviews. They also compiled and communicated photographs and lists of the names of the injured and dead. They were warned by the Ministry of Health to stop speaking to the media and stop complaining, or be punished." Drs Sathyamoothy and Varatharajah forwarded a report, "Undue Deaths due to Non-Availability of Essential Drugs at Mullaittivu", to the Government on 16 March, stating:

"Most of the hospital deaths could have been prevented if basic infrastructure facilities and essentials medicines were made available. We have been supplied with no antibiotics. no anaesthetics and not even a single bottle of IV fluid, leaving us in a desperate situation of not being able to provide even lifesaving emergency surgery."

129. On 19 March 2009, the Secretary of the Ministry of Healthcare and Nutrition replied that only strong painkillers and intravenous fluids could be dispatched, since Mullivaikkal Hospital did not have trained anaesthesiologists. The letter also warned the doctors not to violate protocols, by addressing copies of their letters to the Indian High Commission or the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, or else disciplinary action would be taken "for violating procedures and embarrassing the Government".

130. When the doctors exited the conflict zone on 16 May, they were detained and interrogated for several months. In early July 2009, the doctors gave a press conference, in which they said that there were, in fact, very few civilian deaths and injuries during the war and that they had been forced to lie about it by the LTTE This retraction contradicts what they had said in interviews, e-mails and public statements while they were still in the Vanni. The Panel believes they were put under pressure by the Government, and that these retractions do not affect the veracity of their earlier statements.

130. Despite Its access to first-hand information regarding the size of the civilian population and its needs, the Government of Sri Lanka deliberately used greatly reduced estimates, as part of a strategy to limit the supplies going into the Vanni, thereby putting ever-greater pressure on the civilian population. A senior Government official subsequently admitted that the estimates were reduced to this end. The low numbers also indicate that the Government conflated civilian with LTTE in the final stages of the war.

 

Extracts from the Ban Ki Moon panel report (Part 5)

Detention, Executions, Rape and Disappearances

Leaked April 21, 2011

We continue today, the serialization of verbatim extracts from the main body of the Ban Ki Moon expert panel report in relation to the various allegations made against Sri Lanka. Moon’s expert panel had made five major allegations against Sri Lanka. Over the past several days we have serialized the findings of the panel report with regard to the first three allegations. Today, we publish their findings in relation to the fourth allegation – human rights violation of survivors after the conflict ended.(Pages 41-44)

F. Credible allegations relating to events outside the conflict zone and in the aftermath

138. The plight of civilians who had survived the conflict in the Vanni did not end when they entered Government-controlled areas. In spite of Government pronouncements that it was ready to receive a mass exodus of civilians from the Vanni as early as January 2009, the Government failed to prepare adequately for the time when large numbers did emerge and then had trouble coping. In general, the Government gave priority to security considerations over the humanitarian needs and well-being of the IDPs.

139. When they emerged from the conflict zone, many civilians were fearful of the reception they would receive. They were severely traumatized and exhausted as a consequence of their recent experience. Many of them were newly widowed, orphaned or disabled. Tens of thousands of IDPs had conflict-related injuries with at least 2,000 amputees among them. The situation, as large numbers exited was chaotic and many family members were separated from each other. In the process, many families were divided and placed in separate camps; provision for family tracing and reunification was inadequate, and the ICRC was not authorised to play a role in this regard.

140. Family separation left many women on their own and vulnerable to  sexual violence. Pregnant or lactating women had suffered from lack of adequate nutrition, medical care, and enormous psychological strain while in the conflict zone. Forced recruitment of children also took a heavy toll on mothers.

141. The conflict took a particular toll on the young. Children as young as 14 had been the target of forced recruitment by the LTTE. Measures to avoid recruitment, including early marriages, had a detrimental impact on the health of young girls. In addition, thousands of children suffered violations such as killing and maiming due to the shelling. Some were killed because they had ventured out of the bunker to play. Children were particularly vulnerable to horrific injuries as shrapnel ripped at their small limbs. A Rapid Nutrition Assessment showed that around 25 per cent of children suffered from acute malnutrition.

142. Many children suffered from the adverse psychological impact of multiple displacements. Many had lost their parents, emerging  unaccompanied and were not registered. Most children were malnourished, and many babies suffered from dehydration or diarrhea.

143. Likewise, the elderly were particularly affected by the conflict. In the multiple displacements, the elderly and others who could no longer walk, were often left behind. Some were abandoned when their relatives fled. Others had nobody to care for them in the IDP camps and died of neglect, exhaustion and preventable diseases.

1. Violations during the screening process

144. On leaving the Vanni and arriving in the Government-controlled areas at Vadduvahal Bridge and other locations, survivors of the armed conflict surrendered to the SLA. Incoming civilians were separated into different groups. First, the SLA generally strip-searched and checked them for weapons and explosives. Laptops and cameras (for the few that had them) were confiscated by security forces, leading to the loss of valuable information. People were then transferred, often by foot, to initial screening sites set up in places such as Kilinochchi Pulmoddai and Padaviya. At these sites, the SLA called those who had been associated with the LTTE, even for a day, to identify themselves and surrender, and promised vocational training and employment abroad for those who did. Instead, those identified as LTTE were taken to separate camps. A significant number of suspected LTTE were women and children.

145. In addition, the Government used former LTTE cadres from the Karuna faction or People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to identify suspected LTTE cadre who were separated and taken to other locations. The Government purposefully prevented international humanitarian agencies from accessing the initial screenings sites.

146. After this initial screening, surviving civilians were transported to a further screening site at Omanthai. Although men and women were screened separately, as part of the screening process, people were generally forced to strip naked causing humiliation and increased vulnerability, particularly among women and girls. Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and ICRC had some access to Omanthai, but were not allowed to interview people in private. After July 2009, the ICRC was excluded altogether.

147. Civilians in need of medical attention were transferred to hospitals in Vavuniya or the clinic staffed by Indian doctors at Pulmoddai. Vavuniya Hospital was overflowing with patients, leading to early discharges, and all patients were closely guarded by the SLA and subject to interrogation by police investigators (Criminal Investigation Department, CID, or Terrorist Investigation Department, TID). Some patients disappeared from the hospitals.

148. In particular, the screening process resulted in cases of executions, disappearances, and rape and sexual violence.

(a) Execution

149. Authenticated footage and numerous photographs indicate that certain LTTE cadres were executed after being taken into custody by the SLA. Photographs available to the Panel show many dead bodies of cadres (or possibly civilians), some with their hands tied behind their back. On 25 August 2009, the UK-based Channel 4 News released video footage, which showed the summary execution by Sri Lankan soldiers of several prisoners with their hands tied behind their backs. The prisoners in the footage are naked and blindfolded. They are kicked and forced to cower in the mud before being shot in the head at close range. The film shows several other prisoners who appear to have been killed earlier. A second film of the same scene, also released by Channel 4, on 2 December 2010. pans out over the landscape, showing the bodies of a number of other naked and executed prisoners, male and female. Among them are a young boy and a woman, the woman has been identified as a well-known LTTE- media anchor known as "Isaipriya". Notably, lsaipriya is listed on the Defence Ministry website as killed on 18 May 2009 in a "hostile operation" by the 53rd Division. The extended video shows the faces of some of the soldiers and shows persons filming the scene with cell phones.

150. Photographs that appear to be taken before the executions show what appears to be the boy, sitting in a group of prisoners, who were alive, with their hands tied behind their back. The persons in the photograph are clearly terrified. When first detained by the SLA, some suspected LTTE cadre were also tortured. Photographs show bodies with signs of torture; a video shows a young man who has been tied to a tree and is covered in blood. He later appears dead, lying in a grave covered by a Tiger flag.

(b) Disappearances

151. The Government has not provided a public registration of persons at screening sites or Omanthai, neither did it allow international organisations to monitor the process. This makes it difficult to trace persons. During hearings by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a number of women gave accounts of how their husbands or relatives were taken from them when they first entered the Government-controlled area and that they have not been seen since and to date, the Government has not confirmed their whereabouts.

At least 32 submissions made to the Panel alleged disappearances in May 2009, some of them dealing with groups of persons rather than individuals. Many of these were persons who had surrendered to the SLA.

(c) Rape and sexual violence

152. Rape and sexual violence against Tamil women during the final stages of the armed conflict and, in its aftermath, are greatly under-reported. Cultural sensitivities and associated stigma often prevented victims from reporting such crimes, even to their relatives.

Nonetheless, there are many indirect accounts reported by women of sexual violence and rape by members of Government forces and their Tamil-surrogate forces, during and in the aftermath of the final phases of the armed conflict.

153. Many photos and video footage, in particular the footage provided by Channel 4, depict dead female cadre. In these, women are reportedly shown naked or with underwear withdrawn to expose breasts and genitalia. The Channel 4 images, with accompanying commentary in Sinhala by SLA soldiers, raise a strong inference that rape or sexual violence may have occurred, either prior to or after execution. One video shows SLA soldiers loading the naked bodies of dead (or nearly dead) women onto a truck in a highly disrespectful manner, in one case, stomping on the leg of a woman who appears to be moving. Rapes of suspected LTTE cadre are also reported to have occurred, when they were in the custody of the Sri Lankan police (CID and TID) or the SLA.

International agencies also recorded instances of rape in the IDP camps, but the military warned IDPs not to report cases of rape to the police or to humanitarian actors.


Extracts from the Ban Ki Moon panel report (Part 6)

The ‘white flag’ incident and other matters

Leaked April 22, 2011

We continue today, the serialization of verbatim extracts from the main body of the Ban Ki Moon expert panel report in relation to the five allegations made against Sri Lanka. Over the past few days we have serialized the findings of the panel report with regard to the first three allegations. Today, we continue from yesterday, their findings in relation to the fourth allegation – human rights violations after the conflict ended.(Pages 44-48) The fifth and final allegation against the government in the Moon report goes as as follows – "Human rights violations outside the conflict zone – The government sought to intimidate and silence the media and other critics through a variety of threats, including the use of white vans to abduct and make people disappear" This last issue will be taken up by us on a later date.

2. Violations in the IDP ramps

(a) Arbitrary detention of IDPs in closed camps

154. Civilians emerging from the conflicts zone were initially housed in a network of 21 IDP sites spread across Jaffna, Mannar, Trincomalee and Vavuniya districts. Most were eventually sent to Menik Farm near Vavuniya, which at its peak, housed around 250,000 IDPs, making it one of the largest IDP sites in the world and one of the largest population centres in Sri Lanka.

155. Menik Farm and other IDP sites were closed camps, guarded by the military and surrounded by barbed wire. Essentially, the entire Vanni IDP population was detained and not allowed to leave. The Government held that the detention of the entire IDP population was necessary until the screening could be completed  and the Vanni sufficiently cleared of landmines. Screening continued inside Menik Farm. Paramilitaries from former Tamil militant groups often wearing balaclavas, roamed around, often at night, outside the scrutiny of humanitarian organizations, to select and remove people they claimed had links to the LTTE.

156. At Menik Farm, severe restrictions prevented international organizations from doing protection work or speaking to the IDPs in private. ICRC initially had access to Menik Farm for a short period, but was soon excluded. The restrictions suggest an attempt by the Government to prevent those who came out of the conflict zone from relaying their experiences to international agencies and NGOs. The absence of external and independent monitoring also increased the vulnerability of IDPs to violations in the camp, including exposure of women without male relatives and unaccompanied children to sexual and other forms of violence.

157. Prior to the establishment of Menik Farm, international agencies, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM), UNHCR, UNICEF and others, debated amongst themselves about conditioning their provision of humanitarian assistance on the Government’s meeting international standards with regard to the camps. Several communications on the applicable standards were sent to the Sri Lankan Government by agencies, such as UNHCR, and by NGOs. However, when IDPs came out in larger numbers, the international agencies failed to take a common position on the pre-conditions. Many international agencies continued to provide assistance, in spite of the dramatically substandard conditions that prevailed at Menik Farm.

158. The detention of the IDP population lasted for months or in some cases, years. By December 2009, around 149,000 IDPs had been released, with another 135,000 remaining in the camps. By September 2010, the Government said it had released 242,741 IDPs, with 25,795 still waiting to be released.

(b) Inhumane camp conditions

159. While the Government referred to Menik Farm as a "welfare village" for IDPs, it was located in the middle of the jungle, without its own water source. After the large influx of IDPs in April and May 2009, conditions in Menik Farm were far below international standards. These conditions imposed additional unnecessary suffering and humiliation on civilians. New arrivals often had not eaten for days. While many persons suffered from depression, psychological support was not allowed by the Ministry of Social Services, and some IDPs committed suicide. Some died while awaiting passes to get basic medical treatment or died from preventable diseases.

160. Extreme overcrowding in the camps forced some people into unsafe living conditions. Provision for food, water, shelter and sanitation at Menik Farm was highly inadequate to cope with the large numbers of people who arrived in April and May. The shelters consisted of tarpaulins, which became very hot under the blazing sun. People had to wait many hours or sometimes an entire day for food and water. Food was of very poor quality and sometimes was served into bare hands, without plates.

161. Families were often grouped into tents with other families, to whom they were not related. In cases of families headed by women whose husbands were missing or dead, such practice made them vulnerable to abuse by unrelated men living in the same tent. The poor conditions provoked violence by IDPs against other IDPs, including sexual violence and exploitation, particularly considering the high number of women without male relatives and unaccompanied children. Women were not given sufficient privacy, and soldiers infringed on their privacy and dignity by watching them while they used the toilet or bathed. Some women were forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for food, shelter or assistance in camps.

162. While basic conditions at Menik Farm were inhumane, a Western Union (money transfer facility) soon opened, and thousands of people, many of them LTTE with connections among the Diaspora, were able to buy their way out of the camps by bribing the military. Conditions in Menik Farm did improve over time after much protest from the international community and threats from donors to cut off funding.

(c) Torture in detention

163. The CID and TID maintained units inside the camps in Menik Farm and conducted regular interrogations. Other individuals were also detained and interrogated for potential links to the LTTE, including the doctors, the AGA and two United Nations staff members. Some of them were tortured as well. The sounds of beating and screams could be heard from the interrogation tents. The UNHCR recorded at least nine cases of torture in detention. Some detainees were taken away and not returned.

3. Arbitrary detention of suspected LTTE

164. During the screening process, the SLA removed those suspected of being LTTE members to separate detention facilities at Boossa and Omanthai, generally under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or the Emergency Regulations. In many cases the SLA did not provide family members with notification for the detention of their relatives; neither did it identify the criteria by which it was identifying suspected LTTE. According to Government figures provided to the Panel, as of September 2010, a total of 11,696 persons who "initially surrendered… are accounted for and are being processed", although this number cannot be independently verified, as the Government has refused to allow independent oversight by the United Nations, ICRC or the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission. The tally includes people who did not take part in fighting or who were only recruited in the final weeks or days. Among them, according to the Government’s figures, were 594 children. Initially children were housed with the adults, but were registered by UNICEF; later they were moved to separate child rehabilitation centres. However, many of these were in the south of Sri Lanka, which made family visits difficult.

165. Detainees would be questioned in detail about their links with the LTTE. Some would then be transferred to "Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres" (PARCs), under the authority of the Commissioner-General for Rehabilitation. This office, established in 2006 under Emergency Regulations, exercises power to detain a "surrendee" upon order of the Defence Secretary for up to two years, for the purpose of "rehabilitation". The Commissioner-General decides the nature of the rehabilitation in individual cases, and the programme does not comply with international frameworks for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration. While it is known to include vocational training (as selected by the Government), official rehabilitation also includes a psychological component where "surrendees" are "reformed". According to the September 2010 figures provided to the Panel by the Government, "approximately 6,500" alleged ex-combatants were undergoing "short term" rehabilitation, "around 3,500" were undergoing term rehabilitation", and "less than 1,500" were identified as "hard core" LTTE and designated for prosecution.

166. The Government submitted documents to the Panel which stated that 5,809 "rehabilitees" had been "reintegrated", that is, released as of 8 February 2011, with a further 4,581 undergoing "rehabilitation" under the authority of the Commissioner-General for Rehabilitation in nine different PARC detention facilities. This suggests 1,306 alleged LTTE suspects are still retained in closed detention facilities for criminal investigation and prosecution.

167. There is virtually no information about the conditions at these separate LTTE "surrendee" sites, due to a deliberate lack of transparency by the Government. The fact that interrogations and investigations as well as "rehabilitation" activities have been ongoing, without any external scrutiny for almost two years, rendered alleged LTTE cadre highly vulnerable to violations such as rape, torture or disappearance, which could be committed with impunity.

G. Other allegations

168. In addition to the credible allegations discussed above, the Panel has been presented with a number of other allegations, about which it was unable to reach a conclusion regarding their credibility. Due to their potentially serious nature, these allegations should also be investigated.

1. Allegations of the use of cluster munitions or white phosphorus

169. There are allegations that the SLA used cluster bomb munitions or white phosphorus or other chemical substances against civilians, particularly around PTK and in the second NFZ. Accounts refer to large explosions, followed by numerous smaller explosions consistent with the sound of a cluster bomb. Some wounds in the various hospitals are alleged to have been caused by cluster munitions or white phosphorus. The Government of Sri Lanka denies the use of these weapons and, instead, accuses the LTTE of using white phosphorus.

2. The "White Flag" incident

170. Various reports have alleged that the political leadership of the LTTE and their dependents were executed when they surrendered to the SLA. In the very final days of the war, the head of the LTTE political wing, Nadesan, and the head of the Tiger Peace Secretariat Pulidevan, were in regular communication with various interlocutors to negotiate surrender. They were reportedly with a group of around 300 civilians. The LTTE political leadership was initially reluctant to agree to an unconditional surrender, but as the SLA closed in on the group in their final hideout, Nadesan and Pulidevan, and possibly Colonel Ramesh, were prepared to surrender unconditionally. This intention was communicated to officials of the United Nations and of the Governments of Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as to representatives of the ICRC and others. It was also conveyed through intermediaries to Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa, former Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona and senior officers in the SLA.

171. Both President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Basil Rajapaksa provided assurances that their surrender would be accepted. These were conveyed by intermediaries to the LTTE leaders, who were advised to raise a white flag and walk slowly towards the army, following a particular route indicated by Basil Rajapaksa. Requests by the LTTE for a third party to be present at the point of surrender were not granted. Around 6.30 a.m. on 18 May 2009. Nadesan and Pulidevan left their hide-out to walk towards the area held by the 58th Division, accompanied by a large group, including their families. Colonel Ramesh followed behind them, with another group. Shortly afterwards, the BBC and other television stations reported that Nadesan and Pulidevan had been shot dead. Subsequently, the Government gave several different accounts of the incident. While there is little information on the circumstances of their death, the Panel believes that the LTTE leadership intended to surrender.