By Michael Roberts –
Presented here is an “Introduction” and pointer to a significant visual and textual study entitled “Numbers Game: The Politics of Retributive Justice,” which scrutinizes both the data and other studies of what happened during the last five months of Eelam War IV. This was the period when a large body of people, almost exclusively Tamil in lineage, was corralled into an increasingly shrinking area by virtue of a strategic/tactical decision by the LTTE leadership. The Tamil Tigers who were now facing imminent defeat, were hoping to use the human mass to engineer a humanitarian catastrophe, thus forcing the international community to act by halting the conflict. This comprehensive survey has been assembled by a collective, the “Independent Diaspora Analysis Group.” The key hand is a person who wishes to remain anonymous and can be called “Citizen Silva.” Born to Sinhalese parents, raised and educated in the West, he has spent the entirety of his life outside the island. This foreign setting has enabled him to build close personal links with the island’s other ethnic diaspora groups, thus shielding him from the communalistic shadows that overwhelm many of his compatriots back home. As the analysis of the satellite imagery reveals, his engineering background allows him to bring to the examination a range of technical skills not usually associated with the average empirical scientist.
This study easily shades the report of the “UN Panel of Experts” appointed by Ban Ki-Moon (sometimes called the “Darusman Panel”). Comprised as it was of three lawyers, that particular team was suspect from the very outset because it did not contain any individuals with military or social science expertise; nor did it have any personnel with solid background knowledge of Sri Lanka and the terrain of the northern Vanni.
Ultimately, however, any report of this sort of issue must be assessed on its performance, namely, the outcome. The report provided by the UN Panel of Experts is so shoddy that it would not secure a pass grade as a M.A. thesis. A review of this report by a team assigned to this task by the think tank, Marga, in Colombo highlighted numerous shortcomings and a seriously flawed methodology. This team was guided by Godfrey Gunatilleke and included a former infantryman, David Blacker.
The unfortunate fact remains that this scathing commentary on the Darusman Panel’s work is little known in the West. The propaganda struggle around Sri Lanka from 2009 to the present moment is a wholly unequal contest. The LTTE network of the past in Western countries has been bolstered by new generations as well as older Tamils whose communitarian sentiments have been (a) aroused by the humiliation associated with the LTTE’s defeat and (b) the emotional reception of tales and rumours, inclusive of fabrications and exaggerations, about the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GSL) alleged atrocities buzzing around their circuits. They were joined in this process by human-rights lobbies as well as powerful media engines such as Channel Four, ABC and several news chains.
Pitted against such a combination, the GSL has simply been a minnow battling against a giant squid with many tentacles. Some of its efforts were piss-weak. But even some of GSL’s more competent media counter-attacks have had limited mileage. They have not been read or seen – and are simply dismissed by the world’s media chains. Such an outcome is partly of its own making. Compelling evidence indicates that the activities of some GSL agencies in the dirty war with the LTTE from 2006 onwards involved the intimidation, assault, abduction and/or killing of some local journalists. The assassination of a leading editor, Lasantha Wickramatunga, in January 2009 was the most outstanding instance of this a type of activity. Such an unpalatable record meant that the Fourth Estate in the West was alienated. From that point onwards, therefore, there has been a tendency in many media circles to simply reject statements from GSL spokespersons. Among some Western media personnel this has become entrenched as a dogmatic stance that refuses to address and evaluate the complexities of Eelam War IV in measured ways – especially where such evaluations call for a considerable allocation of time within their busy day-to-day pressures.
These circumstances, therefore, provide partial explanations of the failure of the Marga Review to make much headway or even come within the radar of media outlets which have focused on Sri Lanka’s war in its last phase. To this day, such individuals as Frances Harrison, Gordon Weiss and Niromi de Soyza are invited to speak at length to TV audiences; while poorly-equipped SL ambassadors are given a few seconds. Meanwhile competent commentators within reach of such TV chains in, say, Australia, languish unknown and unsung.
Whether the NUMBERS GAME suffers the same fate is an issue for the future. It is an intricate and exhaustive document of great import. With reference to the central question of the “civilian” death toll in the last five months of the war it supersedes, in my estimate, the separate work of three Tamil moderates, viz., Sarvananthan, Nadesan and Narendran, whose calculations were assembled by me in late 2011 as a corrective aimed at Rohan Gunaratna’s ridiculous argument that only 1,400 civilians had died.
These three sets of calculation came up with figures that suggested a death toll of somewhere between 10,000 and 16,000 Tamil dead, a total embracing both Tiger personnel and civilians (in circumstances where these students of the war – unlike some other “experts” – understood that it was often difficult to differentiate between a Tiger cadre and a civilian).
The Numbers Game raises the bar somewhat, but does so in ways that supports facets of the readings provided by Sarvananthan et al. Thus, it supports Nadesan’s simple point: one must allow for natural deaths in any large body of people and in this instance it anticipates increased rates because of the restricted medical facilities available to the people. Thus, in guestimate 1,000 natural deaths are posited for this period on the foundations provided by the standard death rate in Sri Lanka. In an intelligent act of fine-tuning it also takes into account the testimonies that indicate that quite a number of people drowned in Nandikadal Lagoon when they fled from the Second NFZ
the “Last Redoubt” as I prefer to term it – on 19-23 April and subsequently. In surmising that some 2,000-3,000 died while trying to flee the conflict zone, its calculations encompass those who drowned as well as those shot and shelled, primarily by LTTE fire.
Such details indicate that the topic calls for: wide-ranging empirical detail that includes a careful study of data in Tamil web-circuits, government reportage, satellite imagery the reports of the UTHR collective as well as the output from reporters who were at the rear of the frontline on occasions. Pictorial evidence has been central to this work; and for that reason this introduction will be supplemented by some illustrative work of my own as a subsequent elaboration that complements Numbers Game.
SO, besides my PREAMBLE above there are two other segments in this INTRODUCTION:
II: how to locate Numbers Game on the internet;
III: The “conclusion” in Numbers Game presented here as a means of whetting your appetite for the whole meal rather than a substitute there for.
This introductory memorandum will be followed by a pictorial series illustrating the war situation from late 2008 to May 2009 and the difficulties that the Tamil people trapped in the war zone faced. Several of these images had been collected by me for a book entitled Tamil Person and State which is being processed by a publisher. That stock has now been supplemented by other photographs collected by Citizen Silva.
II. HOW TO ACCESS “NUMBERS GAME” on INTERNET
This comprehensive study of the last phase of Eelam War IV in the north east corner of Sri Lanka from January to mid-May 2009 is now posted in the MARGA Institute web site: see http://www.margasrilanka.org/………. SEE RIGHT PANEL TOP… THEN CLICK.
If there are technical hitches in using the MARGA site please go to the following scribd links:
The study is long and any review will be no mean enterprise. Note that THE NUMBERS GAME is cast in several web-references so that those who can cope with it on computer screen rather than hard manuscript can have the TEXT and relevant NOTES-with-citations and/or APPENDICES alongside each other in separate windows.
In order to whet your appetite “Conclusion” is presented here as a separate file document. It is not a substitute for the whole meal. The test is in the detail.
III. CONCLUSION of NUMBERS GAME
Nothing in this survey denies the probability and the evidence that some extra-judicial killings of high-ranking LTTE officers occurred during the last days of the war. These actions need to be impartially investigated by an independent body, and where possible criminal indictments pursued against the perpetrators. The current study however has concentrated on the following:
- The accusations of substantial fatalities caused by the shelling and other military actions of the Sri Lankan Security Forces;
- The sustained and ongoing international campaign on this front via an emphasis on “tens of thousands” killed;
- The links that exist between current political activities on the island with the war crimes initiative, and debating the actual merits of an investigation based on the specifics of the actions and events that occurred in 2009 – within a context permeated by the current drive by critics of the administration to use the war crimes issue to steer political developments within the island.
The literature is considerable and this survey is therefore of a complex and intricate character. It is not easy to distil such complexity. However, in an effort to cover the most salient points in the study for the benefit of reader, a numbered, point-form distillation has been composed. These are abbreviated notations and require amplification through reference to the relevant sections in the document. The summary distillation is not comprehensive and it is possible for assiduous readers to extract other meaningful contentions from within this document – indeed we encourage readers to extract their own conclusions based on the evidence presented; and to present corrections, challenges and embellishments.
- The LTTE leadership remained obdurate and, as most knowledgeable observers would have forecast, spurned (a) The Governments demands of an unconditional surrender on four separate occasions from October 11, 2008, January 2, February 3, till as late as April 5, 2009, as well as (b) subsequent mediations by the Norwegians that were premised on the laying down of arms (May 15, 2009). The Sri Lankan Government also declared two limited ceasefires in 2009 in the hope that the LTTE might release most of the civilians in its human shield – these attempts were also spurned.
- Encouraged in part by their ‘alliance’ with the objectives of Human Rights agencies abroad and the power of their migrant agitation-propaganda arms, the LTTE policy was geared towards sustained resistance and the use of their own civilian population as a bargaining tool that would draw Western interventions and provide them with an escape–hatch.
- The civilian mass was not only a hostage-shield, but a looming IMAGE of humanitarian disaster.
- Thus as early as December 2008, as noted by the veteran journalist D.B.S. Jeyaraj, the LTTE deliberately forced a body of some 10,000 – 20,000 civilians into the coastal stretch extending between Ambalavanpokkanai in the north to Vattavaakallu in the South in order to block the north-south advance of the 55th Brigade and 59th Brigade. (see page 10 for more details)
- Following the continuing west–east advance of the SL Army and the loss of Kilinochchi by early January, the civilian shield was corralled into decreasing land space. Indeed, by the end of February 2009 virtually the whole body of some 298,000 people were encamped on what became known as the “second No–Fire–Zone”, some 14 square kilometres of space on the coast between Nanthikadal lagoon and the sea
- The concept of a No–Fire–Zone was an unworkable one. Since it was a unilateral declaration from the Sri Lankan Government it also had no legal status in terms of the conventions governing war. The enforceability of “no–fire” was also contravened regularly by the LTTE’s deliberate and regular policy of situating their mortar or artillery firepower within such precincts and / or close to civilian encampments.
- Indeed, the LTTE chose to base its operations within or alongside civilian areas because of the likelihood of harm to civilians. Thus, as Jacques de Maio of ICRC noted in a little–known cable, the LTTE manipulated its civilian peoples as “a protective asset”. (see page 6 for more details)
- As indicated by testimonies collected by the UTHR(J) and other evidence, the LTTE went beyond the use of civilians as cover to the actual shelling of their own people on some occasions in order to cry “humanitarian disaster” – thereby inviting foreign intervention. (see pages 34, 35, 73 for more details)
- There is little doubt that the advance of the various Sri Lankan Army regiments was restrained by these tactics. The overwhelming firepower and manpower resources of the Sri Lankan Army were such that a victory would have been achieved in a couple of months in 2009 if the LTTE had not utilized their people as a human deterrent.
- High resolution satellite imagery reveals that shells fired by the Sri Lankan Army, whether artillery, rocket or mortar during the months of February to May, mostly avoided the crowded concentrations of civilians in the second and third No–Fire–Zone, and that towards the final weeks there was hardly any artillery use (as distinct from mortars).
- Aerial photographs taken by international camera crews support the conclusions reached from studying the satellite images; that the second and third No-Fire-Zones do not display the visual markers of having been indiscriminately bombarded with heavy artillery or rockets from MBRL’s.
- The ‘tent city’ visible in the second and third No-Fire-Zones is a vast camp area. Despite all the reports of wanton bombing and shelling, the sea of tents and huts still standing stretch for several hundreds of meters, as far as the eye can see. They are so densely packed together that if these areas were indeed attacked with artillery and rockets, the resulting fires would have destroyed vast swathes of the tent city. Although there a few stray blackened patches visible here and there from possible mortar strikes, these are few and far between as clearly indicated in the satellite imagery. There is next to no visible evidence to show the vast swathes of devastation which have been talked of in the Panel report or the other documents produced by other international bodies.
- Nevertheless, that civilian deaths and injuries from Government Forces firing did occur is indubitable, but one has to be cautious in concluding intentionality from such a result without having studied each incident in detail and taken into account issues like: (a) the conditions ruling at the time of the attacks; (b) whether the commander ordering the attack believed his actions would cause clearly excessive levels of civilian harm in relation to the anticipated military advantage gained; (c) the reasons behind the choice of weapon used in a vast majority of the attacks – mortar as against artillery, rockets and airstrikes; (d) considered the military advantage gained as being part of the overall military objective of which the attack was a part.
- Any such conclusions are further complicated by the fact that the LTTE killed civilians on several occasions when they sought flight.
- Again, computing statistics on fatalities caused by Sri Lankan Army action is complicated by the fact that many LTTE fighters did not wear fatigues and thus deliberately contravened the protocols of war that enjoined the principal of distinction. This in turn makes the identification of a civilian corpse into a questionable issue in a significant number of instances.
- Though those levelling allegations at the Sri Lankan Government sometimes refer to the confusion between LTTE personnel and civilians, they consistently gloss over the implications of this blurred zone when they compile their statistical count of “civilian deaths” in ways that imply that the vast majority was due to Sri Lankan military action.
- The claim that “tens of thousands” were killed arose from one source – the UTHR(J) report No. 34 presented on 13 December 2009; but those who have seized on this claim have simply bypassed two significant caveats which the UTHR(J) attached to this contention. (see page 19 for more details)
- The UTHR computation in its turn is centrally influenced by AGA Parthipan’s flawed computation that 330,000 people were present in the Vanni Pocket on 28 February 2009.
- AGA Parthipan’s data was derived from gross figures provided by pro–Tiger grama sevakas over the course of the month – figures that seem to be based on household and tent sites; and a statistic which is rendered problematic by the fact that more than 31,000 people escaped from the LTTE’s clutches in the course of February as the count was being compiled. So the total remaining in the Second NFZ on 28 February could be even, say, 298,000.
- AGA Parthipan’s subsequent statistics for the end of March and April reveal the implausibility of his February estimate.
- While the serial TamilNet figures of dead and injured must be viewed with suspicion, it is significant that for the period 1 January to mid–May the number of fatalities add up to 13,800. This sum must be treated as an outer limit and qualified further by attention to the fusion of civilian / LTTE cadres.
- Located against this complicated background, the computations of fatalities by the UTHR(J) as well as the UN Panel of Experts, COG, ICG, Gordon Weiss and Frances Harrison are seriously flawed and undermined by slipshod methodology in varying degrees of poverty.
- With the ICG and Frances Harrison one witnesses a move into the realms of statistical fantasy in ways that raise questions about their integrity / morality.
- It would seem that such spokespersons are motivated by moral rage and retributive justice. They seek regime change in Sri Lanka – a form of 21st century evangelism that is imperialist in character and effect.
- With Bishop Joseph Rayappu on the other hand one has a case of clerical extremism that matches that of extremist bhikkhus on the Sinhala Right. His figure of 429,056 people in the Vanni for October 2008 has been influential in leading to the figure of 147,676 people unaccounted for in some tales, including that of the Journalists for Democracy and Channel 4. (see page 63 – 64 for more details)
- This statistical figure is simply absurd: when placed beside AGA Parthipan’s overcooked figure of 330,000 at the end of February 2009 it means that some 63,000 people died or disappeared in the course of five months October, November, December, January and February – defying all the information one has, including those from TamilNet, on casualties in that period.
- In all these instances, whether the voices of Tamil extremists in Lanka, Tamil and Tiger migrants or other Lankan intellectuals forced to flee abroad, one sees the work of vengeance politics fuelled by emotion.
- All wars result in soldiers missing in action (MIA) and often embrace a number of civilians. In this war the numbers of those unaccounted for would be particularly significant because of (a) the LTTE’s mostly unrecorded ‘blitz’ conscription of combatants and auxiliaries during the last five months; (b) the unknown number of Tigers and civilians who slipped through the Navy cordon in 2009 and reached India; (c) those who drowned when fleeing across Nanthikadal lagoon; (d) those corpses – from whatever cause – buried without a record being kept (then or subsequently in testimony); (e) those corpses in the jungle that simply decomposed or became food for monitor lizards, jackals and termites; and finally (f) the considerable number of Tigers and civilians who survived but slipped out of the detention centre’s before being formally registered.
- The computations here indicate that the number of those who escaped from the conflict zone or detention centres would have ranged between 3,000 and 6,000.
- One must also allow for death by natural causes (old age, disease, heart attacks, snake bite, etc). Taking Sri Lankan averages and allowing for a higher rate because of the abnormal conditions suffered by the populace, this figure would be at least 1,000 over five months.
- The computations here suggest that at least 10,000 LTTE combatants and auxiliaries were killed in this period.
- The computations also suggest that a range up to 15,000 truly civilian people were potentially killed in the conflict zone during the last five months, with an additional 2,000–3,000 having died by either being shot, shelled or having drowned whilst trying to flee the battle zone.
- The respective proportion of civilians killed by the LTTE and the government forces is difficult to work out. Though it is probable that more were hit by government fire than by the LTTE, the latter’s ‘work’ in this sphere was not small.
- In such a set of circumstances there is no way that one can refer to “tens of thousands” of civilian deaths.
- In any event the LTTE was responsible for creating the parameters of the CRUCIBLE in the conflict zone known as the Vanni Pocket in an attempt to generate international intervention and to prolong the war till the Indian General Elections hopefully swayed the wider context in their favour.
- That the figure of 40,000 has been firmly established in media circles and that Gordon Weiss himself has abandoned his initial range of “15,000 to 40,000” to assert such a singular statistic in definitive terms reveals (a) the power of a single number (b) that is repeated and repeated incessantly; (c) and pressed by powerful media and propaganda machinery of a worldwide character; and (d) lapped up by an emotional audience of Tamils who have been through a turbulent period of politics from the 1970s; while being (e) disseminated by 21st century evangelists blinded by ideological commitment; and (f) stoked by major government agencies in powerful counties who see Sri Lanka as an instrument in a ball game that has China in its frame.
- To all such players empirical validity does not seem to matter. What works for their cause is what must be pressed… and repeated incessantly. Empirical groundings, careful evaluations and honesty are pushed to the backstage.
What these points clearly demonstrate is that these controversial figures, whether in the ICG report or the UN Panel report, were introduced not as irrefutable facts, but a “means” – circumstantial evidence – to act as a “smoking gun” to lay the foundation for greater external introspection – an international investigation.
This “strategy” is best elucidated by one of the Marga Institute Panellists’ (David Blacker) who studied the UN Panel report in detail. He observed that:
“Now, one would expect lawyers of the capacity of Darusman to be capable of interpreting the evidence, the law, and the legal precedents in order to make an accurate assessment in the report. And that expectation would be a fair one if we looked at the panel report as an actual indictment or charge sheet of some kind; it is neither. The closest analogy in legal terms, is that of a police detective applying for a search warrant. Unlike in a court of law, he doesn’t need to present actual evidence; all he need do is show sufficient suspicion of guilt in order to obtain the necessary permission to violate privacy and investigate more closely. That is exactly what the Darusman report is trying to do. Set up by Ban Ki-Moon after initial attempts at an investigation failed, its sole purpose is to create sufficient suspicion that the GoSL is guilty of war crimes. It is the GoSL that is resisting calls for an investigation, and it is this resistance that must be overcome. The Tigers and their war crimes are irrelevant.
At the moment, the Tiger remnants in the Diaspora, certain UN departments, and the Human Rights advocacy groups want the same thing – investigations. To therefore acknowledge that the only actual available evidence shows war crimes to have been committed by the Tigers would be counter-productive.
The Darusman report isn’t about getting at the truth; it’s about overcoming GoSL resistance to a UN investigation. The only way to do that is to show the GoSL to be guilty. For that, the truth must be ignored for what is convenient, and the Darusman report does just that.
Regardless of evidence, it makes the GoSL look guilty.”
 Godfrey Gunatilleke worked or the Ministry of Planning in the 1950s and 1960s and was associated with the civil society initiative which produced the journal Community in the 1960s; and thereafter initiated the founding of the Marga Research Institute. In retirement now he is still intellectually engaged albeit unable to devote only a limited span of time for such endeavor because of carer- duties.
 Contrary to the claim that this was “a war without witnesses,” several foreign journalists, both Western and Asian were taken to the battlefield rear by the SL Army on several occasions in 2009; for instance on 4 January, 24 Janaury27 Jan, 26 March19 April 24 april2 May16 May. Among the reporters on some of these occasions were Roland Buerk (BBC)., Alex Crawford (sky news), Ravi N, Bryson Hull (Reuters) Ravi Nessman (AFP), Stewart Bell (National Post), Victor Randel (SMH). The list takes up seven pages.
 One was for three days from February 1 to 3, the other was for two days on April 13 and 14. The purpose was to facilitate civilians moving out from the war zone. But the LTTE imposed further restrictions and the number of civilians coming out dropped during ceasefire days. The LTTE also exploited the ceasefire in February to mount a very effective counter strike on February 4 that led to the death of several hundred Sri Lankan Army troops and the loss of some territory. The April ceasefire was used to construct several new “trench cum bund” defences.
 The Marga Institute is an independent non-profit centre for Development Studies established in 1972 under the Companies Act of Sri Lanka – the first of its kind in Sri Lanka. From its inception it has conducted a sustained and wide-ranging programme of multi-disciplinary research on issues and problems of development. It has drawn on the three main disciplines in social science, Economics, Sociology and Political science, and has developed a framework of analysis incorporating all the important criteria of human development.; See:LINK; See: LINK; See: LINK