Thursday, June 16, 2011



My attention has been drawn to a disturbing documentary titled “Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” produced by Mr.Jon Snow of the Channel4 TV channel of the UK.

2.The documentary highlights the results of a forensic investigation into the bloody culmination phase of the counter-insurgency operations of the Sri Lankan Security Forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in April-May,2009. It alleges that the culmination phase, which physically wiped out the leadership of the LTTE for which no right-thinking person opposed to terrorism need shed tears, was also marked by executions, shelling of civilians and other atrocities carried out by the Security Forces. The documentary is available at .

3. In the culmination phase, the Sri Lankan Security Forces did face a cruel dilemma because the ruthless leadership of the LTTE headed by Prabakaran was making a last-ditch effort to save itself from capture or killing by taking shelter in the midst of civilian refugees. It was not an opportunistic tactic in the face of the mounting pressure from the Security Forces. It was a consciously-planned tactic of Prabakaran to force the international community to intervene by creating a situation in which hundreds of civilians were used as cannon fodder in a futile attempt to save the LTTE leadership from extinction.

4.After the operation ended with the elimination of the LTTE leadership and the collapse of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, there was a spate of allegations from well-reputed international human rights organisations, humanitarian workers, representatives of Western Governments and UN officials ---many of whom often levelled the allegations independently of each other and not in a concerted campaign--- that the Sri Lankan Security Forces could not escape their share of the blame for the large-scale violations of the human rights of the Sri Lankan Tamil civilians living in the operational area under the control of the LTTE.

5.Two kinds of violations were alleged. Firstly, that the leaders of the LTTE, including Prabakaran, wanted to surrender but were not given an opportunity to do so, but instead were physically eliminated. Secondly, that the Security Forces consciously used disproportionate force with light, medium and heavy weapons knowing fully well that such use could kill many civilians. Protecting the civilians caught was not on the agenda of either the LTTE or the Security Forces.

6. These allegations have been accompanied by demands for an independent international enquiry under the auspices of the UN to determine the truth and for action against the officers of the Security Forces and others found responsible for the violations --- in a manner satisfactory to the international community. It has been alleged that some of the atrocities amounted to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

7. The Sri Lankan Government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has strongly and consistently denied these allegations. While it admits the possibility that there might have been some violations to determine which it has been holding its own enquiry, it has indignantly refuted the allegations that the violations were of such a serious nature as to call for international intervention and action.

8. Unfortunately, human rights violations are rarely avoided in counter-insurgency situations however much the Security Forces try to do so. Terrorist and insurgent organisations train themselves well in creating situations where human rights violations do occur in order to seek the intervention of the international community.

9. What distinguishes a civilised and responsible Government sensitive to the rights of its civilians from a Government which is totally insensitive to the human rights dimensions of counter-insurgency operations is that the former takes cognisance of the allegations instead of summarily rejecting them, enquires into them and takes the follow-up action warranted by the results of the enquiry.

10. That is what the Sri Lankan Government has promised to do. Should it be trusted to do justice to the Sri Lankan Tamils or should it be distrusted and pressured to let the enquiry and follow-up action be handled by an international mechanism set up under the auspices of the UN?

11. While there were obviously serious violations, evidence available till now do not bear out the stand of those who accuse the Rajapaksa Government of violations amounting to crimes against humanity or war crimes.

12. In our anxiety and sympathy for the legitimate rights of the Sri Lankan Tamils, we should not exaggerate or over-state our arguments in support of or against an international enquiry. The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora which has been active in demanding an international enquiry has stepped up its pressure on Governments and non-Governmental personalities, including reputed journalists of India and other countries, to take cognisance of the forensic evidence collected by the documentary and support the demand for an international enquiry.

13. The Government of India should pay serious attention to the alleged evidence produced by the documentary and have it examined by our legal and humanitarian experts in order to see whether the documentary needs to be taken up officially and at the bilateral level with the Government of Sri Lanka and, if so, in what manner and for what objective.

14. The objective should be to ensure that justice is done to the relatives of the victims and that the honour of the victims is respected even if it be posthumously. It should not be to use the documentary as a stick to beat the SL Government with.

15. The Rajapaksa Government will facilitate a more meaningful Indian role in calming the feelings of indignation and concern of the Sri Lankan Tamils if it handles the documentary with the seriousness it deserves. Inaction is not an option for the Government of India. But action should be within acceptable limits of our bilateral relations with Sri Lanka and should not be overdone.(20-6-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )


balaji said...

Why cant the Indian Govt speak on the human rights violations of Srilanka Afterall India doesn't need to fret or hesitate on anything to uphold the principles of democracy. One of the worst human rights violators in the world the United States with their Abu Ghraibs and Guantanamo Bay are preaching human rights to the rest of the world.There will be no compromise in our relations with Srilanka just to give our support for the principles of human rights just like the United States does

Velan said...

I was totally surprised and disappointed after reading your blog. As an author you have the right to express your views but i did not expect an indirect support to killers (read SLA). LTTE is no more and lets forget them.
How do we justify so many killings, as a Government Srilanka have the moral responsibility to protect its people irrespective of religion,caste etc.
Major Indian Newspapers have been silent on this issue. Lets not split Srilanka but lets not support the mistakes.
Government is always made by people and for people. No country or Government or Clan can continue in History when it neglects the basic aspirations of its own people, History have taught this time and again.
This applies to both Srilanka and India. I hope sense will prevail in both these Governments.

Sarang said...

I see a lot of anger among some comments against Sri Lankan war crimes. I agree with your sentiments (and I share them also) but lets remember that Sri lanka is an important player in the Indian Ocean region and it is a sovereign state. If India pushes too hard, it will only help China since Rajapakse will surely look towards Beijing (and also Islamabad) for help. He may even offer China-Pakistan a naval base on SriLanka...thus opening a third front on India's periphery!

India is doing good to pursue its agenda of convincing Sri Lanka of a solution to the Tamil issue without much publicity or humiliation of rajapakse. Jayalalitha is stupidly shouting from the rooftops without realizing the damage she is doing to the tamil cause. She does not care about the Tamils, she only wants publicity. Our foreign secretaries are travelling to SriLanka often to see how things are proceeding. I would have patience. Such things take time to resolve and cannot be resolved by beating Sri Lanka with a stick.

Remember, when US put too much pressure on Cuba, it invited USSR to station nuclear weapons on its territory! Ever since that episode, the US has backed off from denouncing Fidel Castro in its own back yard!!

Paresh said...

All things cannot be resolved by force, especially in our immediate neighbourhood. Prime example is China, which is bullying Vietnam, Japan, Phillipines and Taiwan over oil rich South China Sea. That has helped the US to cause trouble by promising assistance and help to these countries against China. Same thing can happen if India is too hard publically on Sri Lanka.

Some things can be done faster and more efficiently in silence! And I believe the Indian Govt. is doing that just now....As Sarang said, have patience ;)

Velan said...

Paresh and Sarang - I agree with your points, but looking at the way Srilanka has operated all these years, wat will happen if they become too smart and play China/Pakistan card and do not give the minorities their respective place? Its already two years and there is not much movement. India will still end as loosers arent we? We do not get Tamils support neither Sinhalese support.

But i believe there can never be a double standard on such a crime (We cannot condemn Israel and remain silent on Srilanka) Do we?

What does India want to become "A country with a clear conscience or want to become a Super Power with various ethnic castes that are not happy about it?"

All said hope Lanka becomes peacuful and people live happily there.

Paresh said...

Ofcourse, international diplomacy is a cat & mouse chase. We bargain, give some, take some, win some, lose some etc etc. But what endures for a long time is trust. I guess India is building trust first and then will slightly nudge Sri lanka towards a settlement.

Anyhow, UPA government is a little weak on the diplomatic front. No country takes them seriously, except for selling weapons and goods. But overall I think our foreign office has its head screwed on right! ;)

VJ said...

What has happened to us? Are we afraid that Srilanka would give space to China and Pakistan? Can it really do such a thing?

Had India looked the other way, Srilanka would have never been able to finish off the LTTE. Let us not forget that.

Srilanka cannot intimidate us. Even Pakistan cannot do so. We should not behave like weaklings, let us understand our power, position, size and might. Believe in ourselves and voice our protest against a blatantly racist neighbour.

The fight of Tamils there started when Srilanka declared itself as a Buddhist country and declared Sinhala as the only language. It discriminated against Tamils and brutally suppressed their genuine, non-violent protests. It led to the birth of a violent and fascist LTTE.

Let us not be selfish. Gods will never forgive us if we are afraid of our backyard and ditch these innocent victims. India, any day is closer to the Srilankan Tamils than to the Sinhalese.

shaan said...

Was Srilanka a friend of India in the past? They helped Pakistan during 1971 war. Is Srilanka a friend of India now after all the Indian help in decimating the LTTE? You only have to read the news from coastal regions. The latest is this - Fishermen issue: Sri Lankan Navy retreats seeing Indian ship

Ok, will they ever be our friends? No. Because they believe blindly that the Hindu majority of India was responsible for the decline of Buddhism in India.

Even strategically if you give an inch they will demand an acre. They had already tasted it when half a million Indians who had settled there for generations were repatriated back to India and when Katchatheevu was transferred to them. Countries like Srilanka do not have a culture of give and take, they always believe that their location gives them the right to demand ransom. Whatever you do they will always side with China and act against our interests during conflict situations.