Sri Lanka war crime probe: Panel rejects ‘zero civilian casualties’ claim

The panel, headed by Justice Maxwell P. Paranagama, pulled up the Rajapaksa regime for, what it called, inept use of the expression — a "zero casualty" war.

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:03 am IST

Published - October 24, 2015 12:32 am IST - COLOMBO

An inquiry commission on missing persons has dismissed one of the claims of the previous Rajapaksa regime that “there were zero civilian casualties” in the final phase of the Eelam War, which ended in May 2009, and acknowledged that shelling by the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) “undoubtedly led to a number of significant deaths.”

Constituted by the former government in August 2013, the three-member panel, headed by Justice Maxwell P. Paranagama, stated: “Without a doubt, there were casualties.” It pulled up the Rajapaksa regime for, what it called, inept use of the expression — a “zero casualty” war.

The panel went on to say that “the key question is whether in the main, those civilians were killed unlawfully by SLA or as a tragic and unfortunate consequence of a campaign which was proportionate to the military objective sought.”

A couple of days ago, two reports of the Commission along with seven volumes of another commission, known as Udalagama Commission, were tabled in Parliament.

On the issue of shell strikes by the Army at hospitals during the final phase, the panel suggested a scrutiny of individual incidents, although it noted that not a single government doctor was killed in a hospital.

U.N. finding rejected At the same time, the Paranagama Commission rejected the finding of a 2011 UN report that civilian deaths could have been 40,000.

Terming the issue of number of civilians killed as one of the greatest issues of dispute that the panel has had to address, it said: “satellite imagery does not indicate tens of thousands of graves.”

But, it took note an estimate by the UN Country Team of 7,721 deaths as on May 13, 2009, six days before the formal declaration of the conclusion of the war.

Describing the matter as a “myth,” the Commission found “no reliable body of information” to substantiate the finding.

It, however, accepted some findings of the UN report, which was prepared by a three-member panel with Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia as the Chair. It accepted the conclusion of the UN panel that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) held 3,00,000 to 3,30,000 civilian hostages in the Vanni region in the final phase of the war. It also endorsed another finding that the LTTE fired artillery at the SLA from within civilian areas or next to civilian installations from the No Fire Zones.

On the allegations made in a film of the Channel 4 television channel, the Commission held that “many of the individual incidents” mentioned by the channel “give rise to an urgent need for a credible judge-led investigation by the GoSL (Government of Sri Lanka).” It could not exclude the possibility that “executions took place and if proven, these are grave crimes at international law that require an accountability mechanism.”

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