'Casualties might have occurred due to unlawful acts by LTTE;
Instances of firing are well documented by international organisations'

In a finding that indicates the path internal Sri Lankan enquiries will take on the question of institutional wrongdoing during the war with the Tamil Tigers, an Army panel has asserted that troops did not shell civilians in the end stages of Eelam War IV.

“The instances of shellings referred to in the LLRC Report were not caused by the Sri Lanka Army and civilian casualties might have occurred due to unlawful acts by LTTE,” an Army Court of Inquiry has said.

More than 40,000 Tamils died in the last stages of the war in early 2009, largely because of indiscriminate shelling on no-fire zones. The instances of firing are well documented, and international experts and humanitarian aid agency workers have held the Army responsible. The Army report comes just over a month before Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review at the session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Army Court of Inquiry was appointed by Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya to investigate, among other things, a Channel 4 video referred to in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) that studied the reasons for the war.

The summaries and conclusions were drawn “considering the evidence presented before it”, said the panel.

“The Court concluded that the Army High Command had addressed their minds to International Humanitarian Law (IHL) well in advance as far back as 1990s and all the troops have been accordingly educated to observe the standard procedures that are followed to prevent civilian casualties,” said a press release posted on the Army’s website.

Holding on to the war-time catchphrases “Humanitarian Operation” and “Zero Civilian Casualty” — which have been disputed by independent observers, the United Nations and other credible institutions — the Court insisted that “commanders at all times obeyed… the directives from the higher headquarters with regard to No Fire Zones (NFZs) and even when the LTTE terrorists had fired from NFZs, commanders refrained from firing at such NFZs.”

Taking the argument even further, the Court said: “It has also been revealed that artillery commanders had added 500 m more to the boundaries of NFZs given by higher headquarters thereby extending the boundaries of NFZs by 500 m further.”

“Evidence revealed that at all stages of the Humanitarian Operation, the Sri Lanka Army behaved as a well-disciplined military force observing the IHL and the law of war and they took all the precautions to avoid civilian casualties and all those who came under the control of the Sri Lanka Army, including surrendered/captured LTTE cadres, were treated humanely observing the IHL to the letter. On the contrary, shocking details of war crimes committed by LTTE terrorists such as using of civilian as Human Shields, summary executions of civilians who attempted to escape to army lines, forced conscription of children for combat purposes etc were revealed at the inquiry. The Court noted that the international community had failed in their duty to stop the war crimes committed by the LTTE terrorists,” the Court said.

On Friday, the President of the Court of Inquiry, Major General Chrishantha De Silva, handed over the Court of Inquiry Report to Lieutenant General Jayasuriya at the Army Headquarters. He will study the Report and hand it over, along with his observations, to the Defence Secretary.

The Court of Inquiry will now investigate the second part of their mandate, the allegation of summary executions of captured LTTE terrorists.