Posted on June 14th, 2021


The main charge against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC is that they deliberately killed thousands of civilians in the last phase of Eelam War IV. Rajiva Wijesinha was Secretary-General of the Sri Lankan Government Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) from 2007–2009. In that capacity Rajiva had access to war data.

Rajiva found that very few allegations of civilian deaths were made to the Peace Secretariat until the end of January 2009, when for the first time there was allegations of hundreds killed. In 2008 when forces took Kilinochchi, the total civilian deaths according to Tamilnet was only 78.  It was only on Jan 26th 2009 that a massive number of civilian deaths were announced, just after the first No Fire Zone was declared.  UN Resident Coordinator Neil Buhne said he thought most of the firing in the NFZ came from LTTE, said Rajiva. 

Analysts observed that the government’s offensive in the Eastern   Province had succeeded without civilian casualties.  The army would have followed a similar policy in the North. Analysts noted that the international community has been closely watching the conduct of the war. Had there been any loss of civilian lives the     international    community would have definitely tried to stop the offensive.

The intelligentsia in Sri Lanka took a similar position. If the army had targeted civilians outside the conflict area, then we would have known, said Lalith de Mel, former head of Reckitt and Colman. There would have been some information.  But there was none. There can be no truth in this story. (Lalith” p 151-2)

Rajiva commented on the paucity of civilian casualties in the war. The reports of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission   indicated that there were hardly any civilian casualties. This is almost unique in the history of this type of military operation. Western nations are much less cautious, Rajiva observed. In Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, the US army completely destroyed homes, schools, hospitals and killed civilians in droves, said analysts.

I have been able to establish that the armed forces have been concerned only with military targets. There certainly had not been wanton attacks on civilians, said Rajiva.  Air Force gave me full accounts of whatever they had targeted, and their record was impressive. In the period preceding the last phase there has been allegations of just 76 civilian deaths arising from over  air force 500 sorties     Air force had refused to take certain targets saying it would lead to civilian casualties. 

We took our targets in the air force when we were 100 percent certain   that they were solely LTTE targets, Air Force said. We abandoned over 150 targets where we could inflict massive destruction on LTTE as they were close to civilians. LTTE lasted two years and ten months only because the Air Force had gone out of their way to avoid civilian casualties. 

IDAG-S [1] in its book The Numbers Game”  , stated that high resolution satellite imagery  of the second and third No Fire Zones, showed that shells fired by the army, during the months of February to May, 2009  avoided  civilian settlements.

IDAG-S found that the aerial photographs of the   zone confirmed this. The Tamil civilian camp, their ‘tent city’, was vast and stretched for several hundreds of miles. The tents were so densely packed together that if the area had been attacked by army mortars, the resulting fires would have destroyed vast swathes of tents.  But the photographs show the tents practically untouched. The majority of the permanent structures in this zone were also intact.

The majority of the disappeared are those of combat age. There were very few children or adults over 40. A very high percentage is in 20-30 age group.  This suggests that deaths were due to combat, said Rajiva. Statistics of the Census Department also showed that hardly any children or old people were missing. Numbers were highest at the age when they would have been with the LTTE.

Speaking of the rescue operation, Army Commander Daya Ratnayake said, those working for the UN and several other international agencies involved in humanitarian work, and also those who were used as human shields during the final stages of the war, came safely to us. Hundreds of clerics from all religions came out safely. There was not even a scratch on them. Some 4,000 government employees came out. The families of terrorist leaders too came out safely. So what are these allegations, asked the Army Commander.

Hardly any public servants, school teachers or principals were killed In Eelam War IV, observed Rajiva. Hardly any public servants were missing either.  Most had got to government side with family intact during the war. Rajiva had wanted an audit done of all the public servants in LTTE areas before 2009 and after.

The fact that all UN workers got out safe and sound   makes it clear that the army did not engage in indiscriminate attack on civilians.   All the local employees of NGOs too, had   come through safely after the war.   This included the ones the LTTE had kept back. There were no casualties at all among the aid workers whom the LTTE held back when the UN and NCOs left the Wanni in 2008. The only injury to UN local staff was from a LTTE landmine, said Rajiva.

In the final days of the ‘war’, the Government took steps to make the fighting, a war without witnesses. The UN Agencies, international and local NGOs were ordered to leave the area, in preparation for the final assault by the Armed Forces.

This shortsighted policy provided the opportunity for those who wanted to give a slant to figures of civilian casualties and Armed Forces’ atrocities, the platform to do so. The absence of independent observers like the UN agencies, NGOs and the media, prevented accurate and truthful narratives to filter through, of what was happening on the battlefields, said analysts.

In many wars fought in different parts of the world, the media and other independent observers provide accounts of the fighting and suffering of the people in the battlefield, enabling the public to form a balanced opinion of what was going on. By removing all third parties from the scene of action, the story of civilian casualties could be falsified or exaggerated.

Such a scenario has also helped the pro LTTE sections of the Diaspora keep the issue alive, by feeding the international community with figures of civilian casualties that may not reflect the actual ground situation. Information from independent observers and media would have helped counter the situation in no small measure, said analysts. .

Though the western media said that the last days of Eelam War IV was a war without witnesses, commentators such as Rajiva Wijesinha, pointed out that ICRC had remained in the conflict zone throughout the entire duration of the war,   taking away those in need of medical assistance until almost the last week of the war. ICRC brought several shiploads of injured form conflict zone from February to May, 2009. The vast majority of the wounded civilians were evacuated by the ICRC, starting on 10 February 2009.

According to Navy Headquarters, the ICRC ship carried out the last evacuations on May 09, 2009, just 10 days before the successful conclusion of the war. The ICRC evacuated 14,000 wounded and their relatives from Puthumattalan and also delivered 2,350metric tons of food to Mullivaikkal between Feb 10, 2009 to May 09, 2009.

In total, 16 ICRC ships came to the conflict zone in the final months. The international ICRC staff that had remained in Puthumattalan 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.”

‘Sri Lanka Humanitarian Effort’ published by the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province  (2011) gave the number of people evacuated from Puthumattalan during Feb-May 2009  as 12,820. Of them only 4,740 were wounded.

An Indian medical team was deployed at Pulmoddai, to receive the wounded, transferred from Puthumathalan, by the ICRC in via sea. This Indian team received several thousand wounded civilians during February-May, 2009. The Indian team remained there until the conclusion of the war, said Shamindra Ferdinando.

Shamindrawas among a small group of journalists taken by the Navy in late April 2009 to the Chalai-Mullaitivu waters to observe the ICRC operation and later to Pulmoddai, where the Indian medical team was at work.

However, it appears that the media were allowed in during the last phase of the war. Muralidhar Reddy and Kanchan Prasad had been embedded in the Sri Lanka battlefront since late 2008. They were taken to the battlefront (Last Redoubt”) every day from the 14th-18th May, 2009, returning to the SL Army HQ area by evening-night so that they could file their reports to their respective Indian offices.

Reddy has told the world that [t]here were no conditions spelled out on the coverage from the war zone.  We were allowed unfettered and unhindered movement up to 400 meters from the zone, where pitched battles were fought between the military and the remaining cadre and leaders of the LTTE . We sent our news dispatches to our headquarters.  No questions were asked” (Reddy, An eye-witness account of the last 70 hours of Eelam War IV,” Frontline, Volume 26-Issue 12:  June 6-19, 2009).

Michael Roberts observed that While Prasad and Reddy may have been given a privileged place among reporters in mid-May, they were among a number of other foreign journalists airlifted to the front on other occasions in the months January-April 2009. The full list is available at

 The media agencies allowed into the war zone in from 2nd to 16th May 2009, included *Aften posten (Norway) *All India Radio *BBC *BBC New Delhi *Christian Science Monitor *Daily Telegraph * Danish Broadcasting *Financial times, Mumbai *France 24 *Hindu *Kayodo News Agency, Japan*Liberation Paris *News X, India * Reuters * Russian Information Agency *ZDF/TV Berlin. ( continued)

[1] Independent  Diaspora Analyst Group, Sri Lanka . IDAG-S is a think tank of academics, professionals and analysts from  the Sri Lankan diaspora in Europe, North America and Australia. The lead author is an aerospace engineer who was able to bring a wide range of multidisciplinary skills to the task.

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