Singapore and world leaders must ask LTTE lobbyists to present facts | Sunday Observer
OPINION | Death toll in final battle against terrorism

Singapore and world leaders must ask LTTE lobbyists to present facts

30 July, 2022

An organisation by the acronym PEARL located in Washington DC, USA has written to Singapore’s Attorney General’s department to investigate the former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

On what grounds can lobbyists insist on investigating a non-Singaporean going to the extent of prosecuting him for “alleged” crimes committed outside of Singapore, simply because they have created a well-funded propaganda sans any evidence? This propaganda has turned into a money-making venture on the guise of accountability. World leaders must now demand they present facts only.

The letter refers to LTTE – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam an internationally proscribed terrorist organisation that was militarily defeated after refusing several offers to lay down arms and surrender in May 2009 which marked the end of three decades of terrorism that killed thousands of people including the former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on Indian soil on May 21, 1991.

LTTE though an armed non-State actor and proscribed in Sri Lanka as well as by 32 countries may not be signatory to international laws and treaties but must abide by the customary laws that prevail. Thus, LTTE lobbyists quoting laws against a national army must realise the same laws inadvertently applies to LTTE.

Definition of a civilian in a non-international armed conflict – as per Article 13(2) of Additional Protocol II, it is prohibited to make civilians the object of attack. It is also prohibited to direct attacks against civilians as per Amended Protocol II & III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons pursuant to amended Article 1 of the Convention in 2001.

Human shields

Almost 300,000 Tamils majority of whom were civilians were forcibly taken by the LTTE and kept as hostages or human shields. Statements addressed to LTTE by the UN Secretary General, INGO heads and foreign Governments to release civilians confirm that the LTTE were keeping civilians by force. Thus, if civilians were subject to harm’s way, the LTTE must first explain why they kept Tamil civilians and fired amidst civilians. Many civilians who tried to escape were shot dead by the LTTE.

The UN issued a statement on January 16, 2009 imploring LTTE to allow civilians to move into Government controlled areas without keeping them as “human shields”.

The LTTE also held captive UN aid workers (2 expats and 13 local staff) – they were released on January 30, 2009 after international pressure.

Geneva Convention IV, Art. stands for the premise that even the mere presence of protected persons cannot be used to render a military target immune from attack. In other words, a belligerent who hides within an area with high concentrations of civilians is committing the crime of human shielding even if the belligerent party is not ‘actively placing them into a location.”

Law of distinction between combatants and civilians was intentionally made blurred by the LTTE as they fired wearing uniform and wearing civilian clothing. LTTE’s child soldiers were also wearing uniform and civilian clothing. The LTTE also had a trained armed civilian brigade. In the last stages of the battle, the LTTE forced civilians to engage in hostilities giving them arms and ammunition. Thus, any of the above engaged in hostilities and becoming injured or killed cannot claim to be a civilian.

If civilians directly participated in hostilities, they become lawful targets and cannot be taken into account in assessing proportionality.

Did Tamil civilians voluntarily go with the LTTE as the LTTE retreated after the fall of Kilinochchi on January 2, 2009?

Robert Blake, former American ambassador spelt it out eloquently when he stated:

“As the Sri Lankan army was pushing north into the Tamil areas, the predominantly Tamil areas that were controlled by the LTTE for more than two decade, the Sri Lankan army displaced a large number of Tamil civilians and they all began to move northwards. The LTTE systematically refused international efforts to allow those internally displaced persons to move south.

To move away from areas where they could have been given food and shelter and so forth. So they systematically basically refused all efforts and in fact violated international law by not allowing freedom of movement to those civilians. So had the LTTE actually allowed people to move south, none of this would have happened in the first place, so it’s important to make that point. I think that often gets lost in the debate on this”.

Sir John Holmes said, “As the LTTE retreated, the Tamil civilian population from the area they had controlled were going with them, which obviously exposed them to huge risks. How voluntary was this? It was hard to say for certain.”

Another aspect is that it is extremely unlikely that some 20,000 LTTE, at that stage, could have taken up to 300,000 hostages against their will. If civilians did go voluntarily with LTTE – albeit they become part of LTTE aiding and abetting them and lose their right to civilian privileges

The LTTE kept Tamil civilians as human shields which is prohibited in Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions as well as Additional Protocol 1. The ICC too declares that “utilising the presence of a civilian or other protected persons to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations’ constitutes a war crime. The LTTE’s excuse has been that civilians were voluntary human shields. Such a scope does not exist in international humanitarian law.

As per Yoram Dinstein (international scholar on rules of war) the ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties falls on the LTTE and not the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) since the laws and customs of war do not permit a belligerent to immunise a position from attack through use of involuntary human shields.

No Fire Zone (Civilian Safety Zone) – LTTE is obliged to protect non-combatants from collateral damage. The LTTE took civilians by force and hid amongst civilians to make the LTTE immune from attack. The LTTE took shelter amongst civilians. But the LTTE has obligations to fulfill too.

An area was created by Sri Lanka’s armed forces on January 21, 2009 and February 12, 2009 for civilians to enter for safety. (It was announced by loud speakers and pamphlets in Tamil were air dropped) until they were evacuated and was to be immune from attack.

NFZ has to be recognised by both parties to be effective. The LTTE did not recognise the NFZ. The LTTE only took advantage of it embedding its belligerents and firing from among civilians. The present NFZ was an unofficial one created by only the Sri Lanka armed forces.

However, it was an area that the LTTE had no right to be inside and fire from inside. As per law the Sri Lankan armed forces has every right to fire back. Firing back and intentional targeting must be clearly distinguished. LTTE attempted to immunise its military leadership and military assets by hostage taking and interment of civilians.

The Bishop of Jaffna in a letter on January 25, 2009, stated; “We are also urgently requesting the Tamil Tigers not to station themselves among the people in the safety zone and fire their artillery shells and their rockets at the army. This will only increase more and more the death of civilians thus endangering the safety of the people.” (confirms LTTE firing from NFZ)

Customary principle of proportionality – was affected by the LTTE’s intentional use of civilian hostages as human shields to discredit the Government troops. The situation gives rise to two scenarios – attack and self-defense with operative factor of whether damage and loss of life is excessive to the anticipated military objective.


Self-defence must be proportional to the armed attack. Ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties falls upon the shielding party – in this case the LTTE who kept civilians by force. The LTTE deliberately placed its military targets amongst civilians – this is a serious violation of humanitarian law and the LTTE bears responsibility for endangering civilians.

The Sri Lankan commanders who were in a dilemma to decide how to neutralise active LTTE artillery stationed among civilians at the cost of civilians eventually led to sacrificing personnel of the Sri Lanka armed forces – which was why 5000 soldiers perished during the last stages of the battle. Tamil civilians must empathise with the Sri Lankan armed forces for this sacrifice in order to follow IHL and safeguard civilians.

The LTTE blurred distinction between combatants and civilians forcing Sri Lankan security forces to make a “forced choice”. The LTTE’s use of “lawfare” exploiting legal norms to impede operations was primarily meant to punish law abiding armed forces who observed laws of war while non-State actors freely disregarded them.

Stephen Smith, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs statement regarding the actions of the LTTE during the last three months of the conflict in Sri Lanka. The Minister expressly condemned the numerous civilian deaths as a result of the LTTE’s use of “bombs and artillery” in the NFZs and targeting of civilians that attempt to leave the conflict zones as a violation of the rules of war.”

While the LTTE lobbyists claim between 70,000 to 169,796 were killed they do not say whether this number refers to civilians as per international definition or LTTE combatants. Initially they started off with 40,000. They have yet to produce names or details of these dead inspite of the Sri Lanka armed forces physically rescuing 295,000 Tamils all of whom have been identified.

Sri Lanka’s military defeated an internationally proscribed terrorist movement while saving 295,000 people from danger which included some 12,000 LTTE terrorists among whom were 594 child soldiers who surrendered in civilian clothing – the proportion of loss must be weighed against the gain while the loss cannot omit the Tamil civilians killed and shot to death by LTTE including the injured LTTE combatants that LTTE put into buses and blew up.

The LTTE’s perfidious conduct and forced recruitment of civilians, execution of civilians trying to escape and placing weapons and firing from within civilian and hospital zones. The Sri Lanka security forces cannot be held liable for incidental civilian deaths from the failure to distinguish lawful targets from civilians as the responsibility fell on the LTTE to keep civilians under its custody safe. The LTTE could not keep civilians and make area a non-target but fire from among civilians and expect not to face return fire.

Principle of liability falls on the LTTE. The LTTE not only committed perfidious conduct by feigning civilian status, it blurred distinction between terrorists and civilians putting civilians in harm’s way. The Sri Lanka armed forces attempted to minimise civilian casualties by setting up a no fire zone. However the LTTE moved into this zone to conduct warfare from inside a zone specifically to be only for civilians. This act by the LTTE makes it liable for failure to comply with the principle of distinction.

Civilian casualties – collateral damage. The responsibility for civilians rested with the LTTE that took them. The responsibility for their loss also is with the LTTE as it did not allow them to leave. The LTTE used them as hostages and human shields and the LTTE even shot and killed those that attempted to leave. The LTTE placed civilians in danger and it used civilians to engage in hostilities while it also had an armed civilian brigade confounding distinction altogether.

Inability to assert how many LTTE in civilian clothing died and engaged in hostilities, how many LTTE child soldiers died engaging in hostilities, how many civilians in LTTE civilian brigade died engaged in hostilities, how many LTTE in civilian clothing died engaged in hostilities, how many civilians not engaged in any type of hostility trying to flee LTTE were killed by LTTE – none of these deaths can be deemed civilian deaths killed by Sri Lanka army to constitute a war crime.

The organisation PEARL claims 70,000 to 169,796 were killed. Do these have names, some form of identification?

On August 14, 2013 a Presidential Commission (Chairman Maxwell Paranagama) to investigate cases of Missing Persons was appointed with initial mandate to cover abductions or disappearances from June 10, 1990 to May 19, 2009 thereafter extended to cover from 1983 to 2009 (26 years) There was only 18,590 complaints of which 5000 were filed by families of missing Sri Lankan military. How come there are no 70,000 or 169,796 missing names filed with the commission?

The Sri Lanka Security Forces by mid-May 2009 had rescued 295,000 Tamils.

The international organisations themselves were clueless about the exact numbers of civilians taken by LTTE.

ICRC press release of April 21, 2009 declared 50,000 were inside the NFZ.

The International Crisis Group declared 150,000 inside the NFZ in early March 2009.

The UN on 13 May 13, 2009 said about 50,000 was trapped in a strip.

Are the international community going to rely on 3rd party propaganda or accept empirical research and statistical data.

The UN country team declared 7721 civilian deaths between August 2008 and May 13, 2009. Indian embedded journalist Murali Reddy confirmed that from May 13, 2009 to May 19, 2009 there were no civilians in the strip the LTTE were restricted to.

The Sri Lankan Government census by Tamil teachers in February/March 2012 placed war related deaths at 7432.

The UNSG Panel of Experts in a 2012 report only says civilian deaths ‘could be’ as high as 40,000 – it does not mean 40,000 deaths.

Gordon Weiss, a former UN spokesman in Colombo in order to promote his book was dabbling in numbers quoting 40,000 but reducing number to 10,000 when questioned.

Data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, data “primarily based on figures released by the pro-LTTE Website Tamil Net”, put the casualty figure for civilians in Mullaithivu at 2,972 until April 5, 2009.

March 13, 2009 – UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay’s press release said that ‘as many as 2800 civilians ‘may have been killed’.

Since 2009 we have been hearing a chorus of ‘thousands reported missing’ who is reporting them, what are their sources and how genuine/authentic are the reports? These details are never disclosed.

Does Leelathevi Ananthanatarajah, the Secretary of the Association for the Relatives of the Enforced Disappearances in the North and East have names and numbers of the disappeared? If so produce them to the Missing Persons Commission.

Third parties quoting Sri Lanka “dead” “missing” alleging war crimes by Sri Lanka’s armed forces without proof or evidence.

Those making allegations must prove their claims and produce evidence for their allegations.

They simply cannot throw numbers and expect to bring disrepute to a national army and put military commanders in prison without evidence or proof.

Based on what evidence is Robert Blake, former US envoy quoting 40,000 dead at the US Congressional Hearing?

How is Siobhain McDonagh (UK Labour MP) declaring 100,000 dead and 40,000 as civilians.

How did Charles Petrie reviewing the UNSG’s report come up with 70,000 dead?

How did The Times of London come up with 20,000 dead?

How did Amnesty International quote 40,000 dead?

How did Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph claim 147,000 as missing but did not log a single name with the Presidential Commission or the OISL investigators?

How did Alan Keenan Project Director of International Crisis Group Sri Lanka come up with civilians killed between 40,000-147,000?

How did the UK Guardian quote 40,000 dead?

LTTE was defeated in May 2009. Its now July 2022. A period of 13 years has passed. Office of the Missing Persons was established in 2016. The current BASL head was appointed as the Chairman of the Office of Missing Persons. How is it that he too has failed to question why 70,000 or 169,796 names of missing Tamils have failed to be logged into its system? Without names of even the missing, how can they be presumed to be dead or killed by the Sri Lanka armed forces?

EU funded Yasmin Sooka of ITJP says 110 missing in 2015 referring to the missing from Wadduvakkal Bridge – these were all LTTE combatants so her EU funded reports are on behalf of LTTE and not Tamil civilians.

In 2018 Yasmin Sooka claims 280 missing from Vadduvakkal Bridge – how did she raise the missing from 110 in 2015 to 280 in 2018?

Who are the missing?

Its now 13 years since the defeat of the LTTE. So far we have not found a single skeleton to even come close to believing the 40,000 dead figure.

Who are the ‘missing’ and how many of them are ‘missing?’ – How many of these missing are LTTE will depend upon who is declaring them to be LTTE and missing?

If there is no dead body to claim them missing – where could they be? They could have fled to a foreign country. They could have changed identity and pretending to be someone else to disassociate themselves from their past. There could be many other reasons.

While anyone can be declared dead if they have not appeared for a specific number of years – no one has any right to declare a person or persons guilty of killing the missing person based on circumstantial and hearsay evidence. It must be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces engaged in battle and exchanged fire. Neither side exchanged roses.

The LTTE took civilians and refused to free them and fired at the Sri Lanka army from among civilians. Returning fire in battle is a right of any military. Keeping civilians and firing from among civilians is where the LTTE violated the rules of war.

LTTE were given 2 chances to lay down arms and surrender but refused.

While engaging in battle, the Sri Lanka security forces rescued close to 300,000 Tamils (some LTTE were among them).

No battle ends without deaths – there have been deaths on both sides.

The ICRC is on record to say the army could have finished the battle sooner if they did not compromise their own soldiers to save the Tamil civilians kept forcibly by LTTE.

Both the Government and the UN Country Team estimates less than 8000 deaths which includes LTTE dead is provable against the vague and sensational figures presented without evidence. We can be happy there has been no deaths related to LTTE terror since 2009.