How many died & who shot whom in the Final phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka
Posted on November 2nd, 2017

Shenali D Waduge

There is no denying that people died in the final phase of the conflict. That both LTTE and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces were both armed is also true. They were both not sending each other roses. That there were a significant number of people were also true. They were the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Troops, the ICRC, embedded journalists who were the armed forces and civilians who the LTTE had carted to be used as hostages and human shields. Whoever is supposed to have died has to be from these categories of people. We know that no ICRC or foreign journalists died. We know the figures of dead given by the army but what we do not know is who were the LTTE who died and number of civilians who died. There too there is an issue because LTTE had a civilian army trained in armed combat so we need to establish civilian deaths who did not take part in any hostilities on behalf of the LTTE. So far no one has come up with this demarcation. However, to accuse the Sri Lankan Army of being killers and murderers going so far as to accuse them of genocide, those making the accusations must be able to give at least estimate numbers of the dead by category.

Issues in determining the LTTE dead

LTTE cadres fought in uniform as well as in civilian clothing. There are also accusations that they removed dead soldier uniforms and fought wearing these. Taking these facts to consideration we need to know

  • How many LTTE cadres died in combat wearing LTTE uniforms?
  • How many LTTE cadres died in combat wearing civilian clothing?
  • How many LTTE cadres died in combat wearing uniforms of Sri Lankan soldiers?
  • How many LTTE cadres especially the injured were shot dead by LTTE on orders of LTTE hierarchy as they did not wish to have them interrogated once caught.

Let’s also not forget that 12,000 LTTE cadres surrendered and they were ALL in civilian clothing. How come they remained alive and were not killed by the Sri Lankan Army?

In the case of civilian deaths the questions that need to be asked are

  • How many civilians died without engaging in any hostilities (how ‘civilian’ were the civilians)?
  • How many civilians died while voluntarily engaged in hostilities (LTTE had a trained civilian armed force)
  • How many civilians died involuntarily forced to engage in hostilities (LTTE had during the last days forced civilians to shoot giving them basic training)
  • How many civilians died due to LTTE shooting them (enough of accounts even by UN/US State Dept report/ NGO reports prevail of LTTE shooting fleeing civilians. So how many died from LTTE fire?)
  • How many civilians died due to fatigue / old age / natural causes?
  • How many civilians died in cross-fire (which cannot determine who fired)
  • How many civilians died from LTTE gun fire
  • How many civilians died because the Sri Lankan Army shot at them by accident or intentionally.


Do these ‘civilians’ exist to be claimed dead

  • What are the names and details of the dead, has any relations come forward to provide ID details (at least to show evidence that the people supposed to be dead were even born – birth certificate, school records, employment records etc)
  • Have families filed entries with the police?
  • An opportunity was afforded to present missing to the Presidential Missing Persons Commission (mandated to investigate between 1983-2009) but upto 9 April 2015 there were only 16,179 cases filed of which 5000 were missing Sri Lankan Army soldiers. If the 5000 missing soldiers details can be logged in both the Commission and with the UNHRC why cannot the names of the supposed missing or dead be filed too!

Where are the dead?

The next question is to be qualified as dead there has to be a dead body at least a skeleton(s). The military operations ended on 18th May 2009. The UN Secretary General arrived 3 days later and made a helicopter tour of the war terrain accompanied by UN officials and foreign media. They did not report any graves or seeing newly dug areas where bodies could have been dumped. To dump 40,000 or even 200,000 dead bodies the Sri Lankan soldiers needed to dig massive graves and stuff them. Lets not forget that any graves had to be dug while in the thick of fighting. It is impossible for bodies to decompose to skeleton status in 3 days! When buried six feet down, without a coffin, in ordinary soil, an unembalmed adult normally takes eight to twelve years to decompose to a skeleton. Even if all 40,000 or 200,000 were thrown into the sea or the lagoon, these bodies would have to emerge!

The next question is how or why should the Sri Lankan soldiers kill 40,000 or 200,000 people while sacrificing soldier lives to save 295,000 people? What is the rationale?

The other interesting question is Channel 4 that is screening edited videos all over the world have not captured any witness screening Sri Lankan soldiers digging graves and dumping these supposed dead bodies. Why is there no footage of this as surely it takes quite a while to be digging 4ft deep graves and dumping minimum 40,000 dead bodies! Digging graves to dump such a number of bodies is no joke and cannot be done in a few minutes especially while fighting. A standard grave is 2 ½ ft wide and 8ft in length and 4ft deep.

While everybody is accusing the Sri Lankan Army of killing ‘civilians’ they seem to be forgetting that the LTTE had a trained civilian armed unit. This then raises the most important question of who qualifies to be a ‘civilian’ and also needs to question how many among the 295,000 that the Sri Lankan Army saved were also ‘civilians’. How many among this 295,000 civilians that the Sri Lankan soldiers saved were civilians who had training in armed combat by the LTTE at some or the other or how many LTTE cadres were posing as civilians? If so they don’t qualify as refugees or IDPs & spouses of LTTE cadres cannot be called war widows either and women whose husbands are ‘missing’ cannot be called war widows either without ascertaining whether their husbands were LTTE cadres or not. No one has answered these questions.

When LTTE had a trained civilian armed force it is impossible to tell how many of the dead were part-time LTTE civilian cadres even among the 7000 figure that the Government quoted as dead.

The UN, US, UK, Canada, EU or any other foreign government has yet to come clean on

  • How many civilians took part in hostilities (voluntarily or by force) and died (how many died from LTTE fire or Sri Lankan Army fire or natural causes)
  • If civilians took part in hostilities and died as a result that makes distinction complicated and the fault cannot lie with the Sri Lankan soldier
  • How many of the ‘civilians’ even among the 295,000 saved will ever admit to taking part at some time or the other in hostilities – if so they too don’t qualify as ‘civilians’ and it is unfair to be referring to them as IDPs, refugees, ‘war widows’ without ascertaining their true status. This should also question giving them ‘witness protection status’ or even other handouts too.

Rule 1/Rule 6 of the ICRC distinguishes between civilian and combatant.

Parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants.

LTTE had a civilian force, trained to kill – therefore these LTTE trained ‘civilians’ do not qualify as civilian under ICRC Rule 1.

Rule 6 declares civilians are protected against attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. So the question is how many LTTE trained civilians took part in combat and how many LTTE cadres in civilian clothing took part in combat and died. Both are not entitled to protection under both Rule 1 and Rule 6.

Principle of Distinction

Distinction is blurred when LTTE has a civilian combatant force and LTTE attacks in civilian clothing. How can you expect Sri Lankan soldiers to differentiate? They are not clairvoyants.

Attacks must not be directed against civilians. However, LTTE was shooting among civilians.

Sri Lanka Army has every right to return fire because LTTE should not have been keeping civilians and firing from among them. The Army didn’t fire keeping civilians among them so LTTE are expected to do the same.

Customary International law in Non-International Armed Conflicts

LTTE are armed fighters and as such do not enjoy protection against attack accorded to civilians.

Moreover, LTTE is a designated terrorist outfit and as such is denied right to combatant status or prisoner of war status.

The numbers game

  • Darusman Panel in its 2011 report 40,000 ‘may have been killed’
  • US former envoy Robert Blakequoted 40,000 dead to the US Congressional Hearing
  • LTTE supporter Siobhain McDonagh(UK Labor MP for Mitcham and Morden) declared 100,000 dead and 40,000 as civilians. (she must have counted the dead from England!)
  • Amnesty International in 2011 quoted 10,000 civilian deaths
  • Gordon Weiss former UN official originally quoted 7000 dead, then when he found money was to be made selling books he adjusted the dead figure to 40,000
  • Tamilnetthe LTTE propaganda channel reported 7398 deaths
  • UN country team in Sri Lanka placed the dead as 7721
  • Survey by the Government in the Northat the end of the conflict done by Tamils placed the number of dead and missing at 7400 dead (included LTTE killed in combat)
  • In July 2011 Tamil teachers of the Northdid a population survey of the North covering migration, deaths, untraceable persons from 2005 to 2009 – their report revealed 7896 dead including LTTE
  • The University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna placed the dead between 20,000-40,000
  • Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph – claims 147,000 as missing
  • The Institute of Conflict Management, Delhi – 11,111

Additionally, what needs to be highlighted is that the UN, US, UK, Canada, EU and other foreign countries are going behind ‘civilian’ deaths in the last 3 months completely ignoring 30 years (since 1980s) wherein LTTE pointed their guns on innocent villages, killing innocent villagers, women and children in slumber, bombing passenger buses and trains, attacking unarmed civilians who were nowhere near any combat zones. Is it not strange that these same entities now screaming their heads over civilian deaths did absolutely nothing when LTTE was on a killing spree? Why were these civilians treated differently? Where’s the equal treatment? Why didn’t they go after LTTE for war crimes and killings? Why are they only going after the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and that too without being able to satisfactorily answer any of the above questions.

We have every right to demand answers for to press for any war crimes tribunals against Sri Lankan Armed Forces those accusing must be able to answer who killed whom and how and numbers with at least the basic evidence to prove the people they claim as being killed existed or were born! 

Shenali D Waduge

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