Court of inquiry blames civilian deaths on Tiger fire

by Madura Ranwala

An army Court of Inquiry (CoI) has attributed civilian deaths during the final phase of military operations on the Vanni front (Jan –May 2009) to the LTTE artillery targeting people fleeing towards army held areas, deployment by the terrorist organization of sub-standard field guns and its use of incompatible and sub-standard artillery rounds obtained from illegal sources, forced conscription of civilians, including children and old people for combat purposes, thus exposing them to danger.  

The six-member CoI was headed by Maj. Gen. Chrishantha De Silva. Military spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya yesterday told The Island that the CoI had dealt primarily with unsubstantiated war crimes allegations made by the British media outfit Channel 4 shortly after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, referred to Channel 4 allegations.

The handing over of the report to Army Commander Lt. Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya  yesterday took place amidst fresh calls for an international war crimes inquiry ahead of the forthcoming session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The CoI cleared the army of causing civilian deaths, while emphasizing that the Sri Lankan military had conducted operations, including the deployment of artillery in accordance with international standards. The CoI pointed out that the army had taken measures to prevent civilian deaths in early 90s.

Having handed over the CoI report to Army Commander, Maj. Gen. De Silva said that the report dealt with the allegation of excessive civilian casualties due to heavy shelling.   

The CoI comprised De Silva as the President, Maj. Gen. Sumedha Perera, Brig. Ruwan Kulatunga, Brig. Ruwan De Silva, Brig. Aruna Wijewickrema and Lieut. Colonel Lalith Herath.

Commenting on Channel 4 allegations that the army had targeted No Fire Zones (NFZs) in accordance with policy executed by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the then Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the army insisted that ground commanders refrained from firing field guns at places, where civilians were taking refuge in spite of the LTTE using NFZs as launching pads for artillery attacks.

While explaining the circumstances under which thousands of LTTE cadres had surrendered to the army leading to their rehabilitation, the CoI questioned the failure on the part of the international community to prevent the LTTE from committing atrocities. Evidence revealed that at all stages of the Humanitarian Operation, the Sri Lanka Army had adhered with all international humanitarian laws until the LTTE terrorism was eradicated on the banks of the Nanthikadal lagoon.

Maj. Gen. De Silva’s team would now launch investigations into Channel 4 allegation as regards execution of captured/surrendered LTTE terrorists, army headquarters said.

Full text of the Inquiry Report:

Army Court of Inquiry on Channel 4 Allegations Referred to in the LLRC Report Submits its Findings to the Commander of the Army

The Army Court of Inquiry appointed by the Commander of the Army Lieutenant General Jagath Jayasuriya VSV USP ndu psc to investigate the controversial Channel 4 claims referred to in the LLRC Report, completed their inquiry concerning the 1st Part of their investigation with regard to the allegation of excessive civilian casualties that said to have been causeddue to heavy shelling.

The Court of Inquiry comprised of:

Major General Chrishantha De Silva RWP USP - President

Major General SumedhaPerera WWV RWP RSP - Member

Brigadier RuwanKulatunga RSP - Member

Brigadier Ruwan De Silva IG - Member

Brigadier ArunaWijewickrema - Member

Lieutenant Colonel LalithHerath RSP - Secretary

On Friday, 15 February 2013the President of the Court of Inquiry Major General Chrishantha De Silva RWP USP handed over the Court of Inquiry (C of I) Report to the Commander of the Army Lieutenant General JagathJayasuriya VSV USP ndu psc at the Army Headquarters.

Considering the evidence presented before it, the Court has concluded that the Army High Command had addressed their minds to International Humanitarian Law(IHL)well in advance as far back 1990sand all troops have been educated to observe the standard procedures that are followed to prevent civilian casualties.

Evidence before the court has conclusively established that the Humanitarian Operation was conducted strictly in accordance with the "ZeroCivilian Casualty" directive made by His Excellency the President MahindaRajapaksha and commanders at all times obeyed the said directive and the directives from the higher headquarters with regard to No Fire Zones (NFZs) and even where the LTTE terrorists had fired from NFZs, commanders refrained from firing at such NFZs. It has also been revealed that artillery commanders had added 500 m to the boundaries of NFZs given by higher headquarters thereby extending the boundaries of NFZs by 500 m.

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 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 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.

From the testimony presented, the C of I concluded that the instances of shelling 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. These acts include targeting civilians fleeing to the safety of Army held areas and likely routes of escape, dropping of artillery rounds fired by ill-trained LTTE gunners on to civilian concentrations, employment of sub-standard artillery guns and incompatible and sub-standard artillery rounds obtained from illegal sources by the LTTE, forced conscription of civilians including children and old people by LTTE for combat purposes, thus exposing them to danger.

The C of I will now proceed to investigate the 2nd part of their mandate, to wit Channel 4 allegation on summary executions of captured LTTE terrorists.

The Commander of the Army will study the Court of Inquiry Report and hand over the Report along with his observations to Secretary Defencein due course.

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