Addressing more concerns of the international community
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha MP
I looked earlier at 8 oft expressed concerns with regard to the
conflict in Sri Lanka. Most of them related to the post-conflict
situation, though I dealt with a couple that related to the previous
period too. Perhaps the harshest criticisms belong to that period, so I
will look now at more of those.
Concerns were expressed that the Sri Lankan forces systematically
targeted hospitals. It has been claimed that this was done in spite of
the ICRC having clearly provided information as to the situation of
hospitals, including several hospitals set up on a makeshift basis by
the LTTE. It has even been claimed that the forces targeted such
hospitals immediately such information was given.
a) Puthukkudiyirippu (PTK)
There were no allegations at all with regard to attacks on hospitals
from the commencement of the conflict until the beginning of 2009. With
regard to the main hospital in the area east of Kilinochchi, that at
Puthukkudiyirippu, there were only two allegations of attacks on it
between the beginning of January and the closure of the hospital.
The first was on January 12th, when Tamilnet claimed that one person
was killed when the ‘hospital premises and its environs came under
artillery fire’. After that there was nothing till the very end of
January, when several claims were made, though according to the American
State Department Report, ‘According to satellite imagery taken on
January 28, the Puthukkudiyirippu Hospital did not appear to show
visible damage and appeared to be functioning’.
LTTE accused of firing directly onto the hospital
After the incident on January 12th, the ICRC records only one shell
hitting ‘the southern end of the compound of the hospital’ which led to
‘1 killed and 4 injured civilians’ on February 1st. It must be noted
that several sources record the LTTE firing from very near the hospital,
so the fact that the hospital was hit only twice in three weeks in
retaliatory firing shows comparative precision on the part of the
And it should be noted that the LTTE was also accused of firing
directly onto the hospital itself, for characteristically insidious
motives. The University Teachers for Human Rights reported that ‘The
Government we learn did not want the Hospital moved as they hoped to be
in control of Puthukkudiyiruppu soon. The LTTE on the other hand wanted
it moved so that it would have some assistance for its injured.
b) Vallipuram and Udaiyaarkadu
When the Hospital was hit for the fourth time on 2nd February at 6.40
PM or on a subsequent occasion, the hospital staff and the people around
soon became quite sure that it was this time the LTTE that fired. Our
sources do not have direct evidence, but the LTTE is linked to the
people and information that filters down has considerable authority for
There were two makeshift hospitals west of PTK in the first No Fire
Zone. The ICRC records the one at Vallipuram being hit by a shell on the
21st, with two shells exploding in the hospital compound on the 22nd. It
also records the other hospital being hit by a shell on January 24th
with another shell exploding at the proximity of the hospital compound.
Though the ICRC was actively present in the area, its report of
casualties in the second case was not an eye witness account but based
on what ‘hospital authorities’ said.
There is plenty of evidence that these hospitals were used by the
LTTE for firing on the forces. In such a context, harm to the hospitals
or hospital premises on just one or two days shows remarkable
circumspection on the part of the forces. It should also be noted that
the Udaiyaarkadu hospital shows almost no signs of damage, except to a
tiny room at its western corner, which is unlikely to have housed
patients. Inhabitants of the area claimed that this damage was done
after the hospital had been evacuated.
This was the largest hospital in the second No Fire Zone. There is no
record of the ICRC indicating its location to the forces, unlike in the
previous cases. The information may have been conveyed verbally, but it
is odd that a fax was not sent as was done for the other hospitals.
This hospital was allegedly hit on February 9th and then again on
March 26th, with no damage in between. The hospital continued to
function until on April 20th it was claimed by TamilNet that the
patients were ‘forced to run away’ when Rocket Propelled Grenades hit
the hospital. That however was the date on which there was a mass exodus
of civilians and the LTTE retreated southward, so there were other
reasons too for the hospital being abandoned.
There is no allegation of any hospital here being hit, though it is
claimed that a medical store there was damaged on March 10th. There is
nothing more until April 22nd when a doctor and seven others were
reported killed. The State Department report records this incident on
April 1st. In a repetition perhaps of what had happened at PTK, the
report notes that ‘the LTTE wanted civilians to move south to
The civilians refused’. Both this report and UTHR indicate that a
shell that hit the church at Valayanmadam, which was the main building
in the complex that seems to have been used as a hospital, was fired by
There seem to have been two hospitals at Mullivaikkal, though there
is no trace of the situation of either of these having been conveyed to
The TamilNet narrative suggests that it was the second that
functioned at a junior school, but that seems to have been the main
The second hospital, as indicated by the photograph in the US State
Department report, was a small house, which can be identified by the
mass of medical equipment that still lies there.
The first allegation TamilNet made of civilian deaths at a hospital
in Mullivaikkal was on May 2nd.
TamilNet claimed then that ‘The attack has taken place, after the Sri
Lankan military was provided with the exact coordinates of the hospital
premises three days back through the ICRC’.
The article was accompanied by a photograph of what are claimed to be
two dead bodies on the ground, while the shelves above them are full of
TamilNet claimed then that ‘A medical staff who coordinates with the
ICRC confirmed providing the coordinates of the hospital to the Sri
Lankan defence ministry three days ago when the hospital was attacked
last time’. The forces have no record of any information about this from
the ICRC. An earlier article, on May 1st, claimed that the hospital
‘came under attack on previous two days’ though there were no
allegations of deaths then, nor in the May 2nd allegation of the
previous attack on the hospital three days earlier.
TamilNet claimed the second hospital at Mullivaikkal was functioning
by May 9th, but the first allegation that the place was attacked came
only on May 12th, The claim is that one shell fell in the hospital,
killing ‘at least 47 patients’ while other shells only hit the area,
‘including one that landed 150 yards from the hospital’. The same
incident was reported again and again, stressing the death of an ICRC
worker, though in fact the ICRC confirmed that the gentleman was not in
the hospital when he was killed.
Any death in a hospital arising from shelling is tragic and much to
But the paucity of strikes on the several hospitals the LTTE set up
during this period suggests that there is no substance whatever to the
concern or the contention that the forces deliberately targeted
hospitals, far less that they did so systematically.