Case against Sri Lanka based on fake figures
Posted on April 2nd, 2011
H. L. D. Mahindapala
Alan Keenan claims to be a Senior Analyst and Sri Lanka Project Director with the International Crisis Group (ICG). This means that he is paid to be an analyst to do his homework on the relevant facts and figures to substantiate whatever case he presents on Sri Lanka. Since he presented a paper titled “Accountability for Violations of IHL in Counterinsurgency: The Case of Sri Lanka” to the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict on February 24, 2011 let us consider how competent he is to be an analyst or the Director of the Sri Lanka Project based on his presentation to this forum.
Let us first take the figures he quotes. He says, among other things, that “the number of those likely killed in just four months – (is) anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 and possibly more…” The legitimacy of any action taken against Sri Lanka depends solely on building a case on reliable figures. But according to the leading analysts of the ICG, Keenan, he does not know whether the figure is 7,000 (UN), 20,000, 40,000 or more. This is also the plight of all those who accuse Sri Lanka of violating international humanitarian law. Not surprisingly they all opt for the higher figure which they can’t pin point. Despite this they keep on repeating vague figures even though no one has substantiated it – not even the analyst of ICG.
However, the tendency of Keenan and his ilk is to go for the higher figure obviously because they believe (based on the Gobbelsian methodology) that the bigger lie hits harder than the hard facts. So not satisfied with the figure of 40,000 he adds “possibly more”. How much more, does he know? The validity of his case depends entirely on the figures he quotes and if the figures do not stand up to scrutiny then he has no case. Furthermore, if the analyst of the ICG does not have the critical figures of casualties how can he draw definitive conclusions from inconclusive guesstimates?
Screaming his head off on “the extreme horror of those final months of combat” with “blatant disregard for core principles of international humanitarian law,” he says: “All the available evidence suggests the period of January to May 2009 in northern Sri Lanka saw some of the worst civilian suffering in recent history. It was clearly on a different scale than what took place in Gaza at the same time, and arguably worse than what seems to be taking place in Afghanistan….” But “all the available evidence” which he claims to possess is neither here nor there.
To begin with, no serious analyst is going to leave a huge margin (“anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000, or even more) to argue his case, particularly on a sensitive and critical issue like violations of human rights. In short, the figures he quotes leave a doubt as huge as the gap between the base figure of 20,000 and upper end figure of 40,000 and “possibly more”. How can he validate his case with such a huge gap? For all intents and purposes the huge blank between the base figure of 20,000 and 40,000 (about which he is not sure because he says it “possibly could be more”) indicates that his figures are rubbery and he is stretching them to the breaking point to back up a wobbly case. As an analyst his task is to eliminate doubts and narrow down the gaps to the barest minimum to present a concrete case. But he leaves a gap of 20,000 and more. Nor does he know where it will end. And we are supposed to accept his figures as proof of the violations of international humanitarian law. Is he serious?
This huge gap, which could have been plucked from the air by any mug in the underworld or humbug in the NGOs, questions the integrity and the capacity of Keenan to arrive at any fair analysis based on concrete statistics. But he dares to say that the situation in Sri Lanka is worse than even in Afghanistan based on figures which he can’t confirm. Going by his rubbery figures there seems to be no end to the casualties in the last stage of the Vadukoddai War. He sounds more like a gossip-monger and/or an anti-Sri Lankan propagandist than a serious analyst armed with credible figures.
Besides, he claims to be in possession of “(A)ll the available evidence (which) suggests the period of January to May 2009 in northern Sri Lanka…..to be the worst in recent history”. How did he come to this conclusion when he is not sure of his own figures? So isn’t it obvious that his crude figures do not validate his case against Sri Lanka and leave him up in the air with no leg to stand on?
These gaps, doubts and uncorroborated figures are inevitable because neither Keenan nor any other credible source had counted the bodies. Nor does he tell us the sources that led him to conclude that anything up to “40,000 and more” deaths occurred in the last four months. Besides, when tested against the comparative figures provided by others his arithmetic does not add up. Those who had followed this story will know that the UN figure is around 7,000 and the pro-Tiger lobby figure is 40,000 and more. So for the Director of the Sri Lanka Project of the ICG to state evasively that it could be “anywhere between 20,000 to 40,000″ is like saying that the ICG is somewhere between planet earth and the moon. With this kind of neither-here-nor-there figures does Keenan seriously expect us to believe him or take him seriously?
The statistics of the dead in the last stages of the Vadukoddai War had jumped up and down like Alice in Wonderland: one minute it is down below and the next minute it is going through the roof. For instance, The Times of London jacked up the UN figure of 7,000 to 20,000 just by taking a ride in a plane, flying over Mullativu and Killinochchi. The Times hasn’t yet found another Lewis Carol to reveal its extraordinary powers of calculating 20,000 bodies on the ground from a height at least a mile up in the sky..
This count goes to the heart of the issue canvassed by the UN, ICG and other I/NGOS demanding an international inquiry. Those pressing for an international inquiry know that their chances of getting an international inquiry depend on the number of casualties. The bigger the number the better the chances of pressing for an international inquiry. But the figures presented by Keenan, the Analyst of the ICG, are as elastic as the strap in a bra: the heavier the fake stuff in the cups the more you have to stretch the elasticity to hold them together.
He also knows that the figure in last phase in Sri Lanka is miniscule compared to the last phase of World War II (60 million) which ended with Hiroshima (140,000 civilians in one hit) Nagasaki (80,000 civilians in one hit) and Dresden (300,000 German civilians between April-May, 1945). I am not saying that this should be an excuse for Sri Lankans to kill each other. No. What I’m saying is that Keenan has no right to point a finger at Sri Lanka when he selectively targets a nation that had saved 300,000 Tamil civilians used as a human shield by “the latest Pol Pot of Asia” (The New York Times – June 26, 1995).
Invariably, like in any other war there would have been what the Americans call “collateral damage” – probably around 1,500 the most. But he cannot point to the Sri Lankan situation as another case of Rwanda (800,000 in 100 days), mass scale violations of IHL in Afghanistan (2700 last year rising by 10%) , Cambodia, Russian gulag,Pakistan, Kosovo, North Korea, Tibet, Gaza etc. Churchill’s policy in fire-bombing and flattening Dresden was a deliberate decision to end the war swiftly and bring the boys back home early. With all the acts of commission and omission in the Vadukoddai War the Sri Lankan government never pursued a policy of targeting civilians. On the contrary, it went out of its way to give protection to civilians as seen in the case of rescuing 300,000 Tamils when Velupillai Prabhakaran was shooting Tamil escapees running into the arms of the Sri Lankan government. To focus on a rubbery figure of “20,000 to 40,000” and to ignore hard statistics of saving 300,000 confirms that Keenan is incapable of distinguishing between the reality hitting his eyes and the fictitious figures tickling his fancy.
Besides, Keenan focuses exclusively on the last phase of the longest running war in Asia which ran from the time the Jaffna Tamils declared it on May 14, 1976 to May 16, 2009 – 33 years give or take a few days. This is a clear ploy to exonerate the others and blame only the Sri Lankan government. This is unfair because (to quote him) “(T)he history of atrocities on all sides needs to be investigated.”
If he is insisting that atrocities on all sides needs to be investigated why hasn’t he raised the identical charge against the IPKF of India? According to available statistics 1100 Indian soldiers and 5,000 Sri Lankan civilians died. Shouldn’t Keenan also insist on an international inquiry into the raping, torturing and killings of Tamil civilians by the Indian Forces? As Project Director of Sri Lanka he can’t be choosy in dealing with human rights. It must be comprehensive including all players. Why is he picking only on Sri Lanka and not India? What kind of perverse morality guides Keenan, the high priest of IHL in the ICG, to ignore the killings and raping of Tamil civilians by the Indian forces and pick only on Sri Lanka?
Apart from that The Janes Weekly has documented that the Tamil expatriates led by the likes of V. Rudrakumaran, the bogus Prime Minister of a non-existent Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam had, in violation of Security Resolution 1373, financed the killing machine of Prabhakaran and, in the process, knowingly aided and abetted the recruitment of child soldiers. As Director of Sri Lankan Project he should also know that the leading Tamil expatriates financed the killing of “more Tamils than any other force put together” (S. Chandrahasan, son of S. J. V. Chelvanayakam, father of Tamil separatism). The human rights violations in Sri Lanka could not have escalated if India and the Tamil expatriates did not finance, direct, and provided military and diplomatic assistance. So why has the ICG exempted India and the Tamil expatriates from accountability to the deaths of Tamil children and Tamil civilians?
There seems to be no difference between the defeated agents of Prabhakaran and analysts like Keenan: they target only Sri Lanka and exempt all others who have been the key agents aiding and abetting violations of IHL in Sri Lanka. If the Sri Lankan government is to be put on trial why should others get away scot free?
Coming back to the issue of figures, all the evidence prove that there is neither unanimity nor certainty about the figures in the last phase of the war. Take the case of the Times of London. The Guardian openly contested the stance taken by The Times which came up with a figure of 20,000 just by flying over Mullativu area. Though the Times admitted that some of the killings were made by the Tamil Tigers also it put the blame on the Sri Lankan government. The Guardian, on the other hand, quoting a UN official, said that the Times’ figures were “a dangerous extrapolation.”
The Guardian went further and said: “This (the Times report) is at odds with the accounts of doctors who were working inside the no-fire zone and have since been detained by the Sri Lankan authorities, allegedly for exaggerating the number of casualties.
The report of Gethin Chamberlain to The Guardian on May 29, 2009 is significant because this report would have been available to a researcher/analyst like Keenan, unless he delibierately did not want facts to come in the way of his fanciful story. Chamberlain’s report states: “On 11 May, for example, Dr V Shanmugarajah …told The Guardian he believed that up to 1,400 people had died in two days of heavy air and artillery attacks, in by far the bloodiest days up to that point.
The basis for that figure was that a total of 436 bodies had so far arrived at the hospital, while he estimated that another 1,000 may have died and not been brought in because of the intensity of the attacks.
The doctors noted that some days when there were lulls in the fighting, there were relatively few deaths. In the final few days of the military campaign, however, the intensity of the fighting drove the doctors from the hospital and they were no longer able to keep records. It is possible that large numbers of people did die during this period, although there is currently no way of reaching an accurate figure for the toll.
Questions remain about what happened to the wounded who were still in the makeshift hospital when the medical staff left. Neither the UN nor the International Committee of the Red Cross could account for them today; some reports have suggested they were carried to safety by other fleeing civilians.
On 19 May, The Guardian quoted a health worker who said 15,000 people might have died in the last four months of the fighting, although that was based on his own estimates.
Officially, the UN spokesman in Colombo, Gordon Weiss, would say only that “we have always said many thousands of people died during the conflict”. But privately, UN staff admitted they were puzzled by the methodology used to achieve the new death toll.
“Someone has made an imaginative leap and that is at odds with what we have been saying before,” one official said. “It is a very dangerous thing to do to start making extrapolations.”
The doctors kept detailed records until the last few days of fighting. In interviews from inside the no-fire zone in April and May they provided regular updates on the death toll. Although they did say that many bodies were being buried where they fell, they suggested the ratio was lower than that now reported by the Times.”
Besides, the doctors T. Sivapalan, V. Shanmugaraja, Thurairaja Vartharaja, G. Sathyamoorthy and S. Ilancheliyan who were quoted on Tamil civilian casualties in the final phase of the civil war recanted and admitted, after the war, that the casualty figures they released were doctored by the Tamil Tigers who forced them to broadcast the concocted numbers. According to their final statement only around 600–700.civilians were killed between January 2009 and the end of the war in May 2009. (Please note the reasonable margin of error quoted as opposed to that of Keenan, the highly paid research analyst.). The doctors also denied that a hospital had been shelled on 2 February, 2009 which Keenan takes for granted.
Unlike Keenan’s vague and questionable figures the documented evidence of the witnesses in the theatre of war are available to any researcher/analyst. So why did Keenan fail to take these facts and figures into consideration? Is this a case of Keenan singing for his supper or blatantly playing politics to suit his political agenda?
Is Keenan paid to critically and objectively analyze the figures? Or is he drawing his fat cheque to obscenely anal-lyze the figures for his own private pleasure?