[Continued from 12 Dec. 2017]
“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” ― Mark Twain
Lord Nasby had relied on UTHR (J) Reports as one of his source materials in support of his ‘guesstimate’ on civilian casualties in the war. Apparently, he had selectively ignored such information as would debunk his own figures ,found in the same Reports. It is, therefore, apt to peruse the relevant portions.
The war reached its more destructive phase, in January 2009. Government gave monstrously low figures on the number of people marooned in the NFZ. It was a deliberate distortion and the UTHR(J) reveals the atrocious purpose behind: “…There was no consistency or any genuine information behind the Government’s figures. These were just pulled out of the hat, and on the basis of these food and medicines to the IDPs were curtailed to ridiculously low quantities, irregularly delivered, causing starvation and extreme hardship…….. In a more sinister vein, by deliberately understating the IDP numbers the Government was preparing for the eventuality where it could dismiss any later suggestion of high civilian casualties by pointing out that, according to its statistics, the dead person s never existed. It was as though they had been disappeared on paper in preparation for their extinction by cannon fire……” (UTHR (J), Special Report No.34, 13 Dec. 2009 – vide 5.1. “Strategic Numbers” )
“The Government had in a way turned the discourse to suit its aims, where the international agencies, if they wanted to avoid confrontation that would be fatal to their operations, were best advised to moderate their figures……..”
“There had in fact been well above 250 000 in the NFZ, taking into account the 37 000 in IDP camps in early March and 290 000 on 25th May. How much more, is a question we need to answer as part of determining how many died in a straightforward manner?………. We were ourselves guilty of understatements and mix ups, the sum of which allowed the Government to manipulate the discourse”. ( UTHR (J), No.34, ibid – vide 5.7 )
Whereas, in an effort to reach some realistic figure, the UTHR(J) had proceeded to compare and contrast the different counts, Lord Naseby had misconstrued their reckoning. Suffice to say that different figures showed up, ranging from 6,400 (till March) to 40,000. Relevant excerpts may be elucidative: “…….The community leader gave us …… that a minimum of 6400 civilians were killed up to the end of March. (*The UN briefing referred to above suggests 4800.) What we gathered is that we must be prepared for much higher casualty figures than are commonly talked about. (Emphasis added)
*What is the veracity of the UN briefing? It was not briefing, but UN bluffing ! ( as exemplified below )
“ 5.2. Quantifying the Suffering ”
“………. The surest way to find out how many died…… is to compare the number of those who arrived in IDP camps with an authoritative estimate of the original Vanni population. The best figure we have for the latter is about 365, 000 given by government administrators in the Vanni…..”.
………Another important figure is the 330 000 given for the number of people on the run by a Senior Government Official (SGO). The gap between this figure and those eventually in IDP camps is more than 40 000. As to whether these give an indication of the total dead requires careful consideration. ……….”
“5.4. OCHA (UN) figures”
“OCHA gave figures of the dead as nearly 3000 from January 20th to March 8th. But the figures bear closer examination.”
“5.5. Other Estimates”
“……… a lady doctor in the LTTE’s Medical Corps, who had a lot of field experience during this period gave her estimate of the total dead as 35 000 to 37 000. Her breakdown was January to March 10 000, April 10 000 and May 15 000.”
“We find her estimate for April to be high….., but her other estimates are quite plausible, especially the one for May.” ( UTHR (J), No.34, ibid- vide 5.2, 5.4 & 5.5).
These were estimates thrown up hot on the heels of the endgame in May 2009 or shortly thereafter. Sober reflection – scrutiny after the dust had settled – had produced different, and in essence, more realistic numbers, ranging from 70,000 to 147,000. There is a rationale behind each of these estimates and each has its evidentiary basis.
UN withheld information
Though the UN Office in Colombo had information on the number of war casualties during the last phase of the war, they had either cunningly or under coercion from the government withheld the information from other UN agencies, the media and the public. The UNSG (PoE) Report was presented to the UN Security Council on 11 April 2011. A fortnight later, the Inner City Press confronted Ban-Ki-moon:
“………. Inner City Press asked Ban two questions about the report. Among his answers on Sri Lanka, Ban implicitly acknowledged the report’s charge that the UN withheld casualty figures during the conflict. Asked to “respond to the criticisms in the report that the UN failed in those last months to do what it could to help protect civilians, including keeping statistics of the actual casualty figures back,” Ban said that the Sri Lankan authorities said that they couldn’t guarantee the safety of UN staff….So, allowing the Rajapaksas to in essence point a gun at UN staff, Ban’s UN withheld the facts about how many civilians were being killed….” (Inner City Press, 26 April 2011).
Attacks targeting NFZ & hospitals
Eminent Toronto Star Columnist Rosie Dimanno, visiting Sri Lanka, reflected on the UNSG (PoE) Report, and particularly on the casualty figures: “The UN has now acknowledged that it withheld releasing the more accurate numbers……..while the death toll rose to at least 70,000 within a mere five months. The report tacitly accepts the 70,000 figure, and a further 146,000 estimated missing. Church leaders who stayed behind, working from census statistics for the area, have calculated the deaths at nearly 147,000……..”
“….(T)he UN …… had abandoned the Vanni region as the war escalated, and purposely avoided revealing casualty figures collated by its staff in Colombo. Even when issuing the woefully minimized numbers, it deliberately omitted mentioning what it incontrovertibly knew: the majority of civilian casualties were caused by Sri Lanka’s military forces, primarily inside government-declared safe zones, as well as attacks against hospitals. But the UN cast blame solely on the Tigers.” (Toronto Star, 04 Nov. 2013 –“How the UN failed Sri Lanka”)
How to fudge the figures?
How to fudge the casualty figures without adverse fallout? This was the most difficult conundrum for the government. They counted, recounted and counted again in the face of international reproach:
In Feb. 2012, the government fixed a figure of 7,000 casualties:
“Sri Lanka government publishes war death toll statistics” “Sri Lankan government statistics put the death toll in the north of the country during the final phase of the war at 9,000……More than 7,000 of the deaths appear to be directly related to the military battle three years ago. (BBC News, 24 Feb.2012 )
In Jan.2013, Lord Naseby defends Sri Lanka’s 7,000 against UNSG (PoE) figure of 40,000 (House of Lords Hansard – Vol. 742. 8 Jan. 2013).
In Nov.2013, the Sri Lanka starts counting the casualties again: “Sri Lanka to Start Tally of Civil War Dead”
“The government of Sri Lanka announced plans this week to conduct a nationwide census ……‘The death toll of civilians during the 30-year conflict has not been accurately assessed,’ a Nov. 26 government statement read. (Time magazine, 28 Nov. 2013,)
In the latest episode on 12 Oct.2017, Lord Naseby appears in the House of Lords, with a revised narrative, suggesting 7,000 to 8,000 war casualties, and putting forth amended/additional pleas, addressed to the British Government, UN and UNHRC.
*To be continued…..