ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY PT 20 C2
Posted on June 16th, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

There was much speculation as to the number of civilians killed in the last phase of the Eelam War IV, which ended in May 2009. In the absence of reliable statistics,   the Security Council and the Office of Secretary General had begun to rely on reports from Human Rights Watch and other international NGOs during the last phase of the war.

Persons who had some association with the war, either as a UN worker or a journalist assigned to cover the war or some such capacity put forward their estimates of civilians killed. The numbers they provided ranged from 147,000 estimated by the journalist, Frances Harrison    to 70,000 and 60,000. Finally the Eelamists decided to settle on 40,000 as the figure for civilian deaths in the last phase of the war. The Darusman Report quoted this figure. This became the accepted number.

 Eelamists tried to find proof for these many deaths.  They looked for satellite photographs that indicated 40,000 bodies, but could not find any such satellite photos. 40,000 remained an arbitrary figure, with no documents to support it.

The estimate of 40,000 civilian deaths at the end of the war was howled down by anti-Eelamists.  Criminal lawyers wanted to know where are the bodies”. Any assertion that there were 40,000 deaths must be matched by bodies, they said.

Others pointed out that it was impossible to hide piles of skeletons or mountains of ashes derived   from 40,000 bodies in an open area like Nandikadal, which was not heavily forested. Also, if these bodies had indeed existed, then they would have been unearthed by the teams involved in mine clearing operations in the North.

UN Crisis Operations Group (COG) based in Colombo, had designed a rigorous methodology for collecting and verifying information on civilian casualties, using multiple independent sources for each reported death or injury, leading to a conservative list of civilian casualties. But as time went on, UN found it increasingly difficult to obtain corroboration from the required three independent sources.

The UN placed the number of dead and the wounded, including LTTE combatants at 7,721 and 18,479, respectively. The report dealt with the period August 2008 to May 13, 2009. The war ended a week after the UN stopped collecting data. This UN report was not shown to the government of Sri Lanka, but was given to the Darusman committee.

Lt. Col.  Anton Gash was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office defense attaché at the British Commission in Colombo during the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Gash estimated the number of deaths at 7,000 to 8,000.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had   told Lord Naseby when he asked for the Gash dispatches that Lt. Col. Gash was the FCO’s defense attaché at the British Commission in Colombo during the closing stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Many of his dispatches contain information provided directly to him by his contacts in the Sri Lankan government, the Sri Lankan Army or other military sources. His reports indicate, he had access to reports on troop movements, Sri Lankan military strategic thinking, and the movements of the LTTE and assessments of casualty figures.

However, after Gash’s departure, the UK discontinued having a resident Defence Advisor in Colombo. Instead, New Delhi-based Defence Advisor looked after matters pertaining to Sri Lanka,  for nearly a decade.

During the 46th session of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In  March 2021,  Sri Lanka belatedly, asked UK for the wartime dispatches by Gash. UK   rejected the request, saying that such a disclosure would impede their relations with Sri Lanka.

 Responding to Sri Lanka’s request, for the full disclosure of dispatches, the UK played down the importance of Gash reports. Gash reports couldn’t be taken seriously, UK said,  as he merely reported irregular information obtained from various parties at different times. The reports had not been based on properly examined evidence and information. They lacked independent confirmation.

Lord Naseby, who took strong action on this matter some years ago, had continued his interest in the matter. He had earlier estimated that the civilian deaths were in the range of 7,000 to 8,000 deaths.   In 2020, Lord Naseby put forward another number. He stated, I have spent 10 years looking at the reports by Gash, The University Teachers for Human Rights Jaffna, the census and all other coverage I could find. The net result is about 6,000 people killed, of which a quarter is Tamil Tigers.

Lt. Col. Anil Ameresekera stated that the government conducted a very through Census after the end of the war using Tamil enumerators and arrived at a figure of approximately 7000 deaths during the last few months of the war. This figure included LTTE cadres killed as well as the civilians killed by the LTTE (sic).

 Not everybody was pleased     about the reduced numbers. There is nothing for Sri Lanka to crow about with regard to the figure of 5,000, as against the figure of 40,000 in the Darusman report said Javid Yusuf. Five thousand is a large enough figure to be concerned about. But the more important point is to determine what happened to each and every civilian unaccounted for, however big or small the numbers are. This can be done only after a proper inquiry.

Are we seriously saying that 7000 to 8000 is acceptable even though this number includes combatants. The Gash report covers  a very small period of the 30 year war, what about the rest of the war, asked Tony Witham.  ( Continued)

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