Lanka seeks constructive dialogue :
With UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Sri Lankan Government wishes to remain fully engaged with the UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay and her office in
addressing any particular issues of concern relating to human rights.
This desire has been conveyed in a letter from Foreign Minister
Rohitha Bogollagama in response to a statement issued by the Human
Rights Commissioner’s Office on March 13, 2009. It may be recalled that
during the telephone conversation between UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon
and President Mahinda Rajapaksa on March 17, 2009, it was agreed that
the Foreign Minister would make a formal response on behalf of the
Government of Sri Lanka to the above statement.
In his letter to the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Minister
Bogollagama has appreciated her recognition of the brutal and inhuman
treatment of civilians by the LTTE, who are being held hostage as human
shields, and resorting to shooting at them as they try to flee to the
safety of Government controlled areas, as well as the forcible
recruitment of civilians, including children, as soldiers.
The Minister has in particular noted the High Commissioner’s
observation that “the brutal and inhuman treatment of civilians by the
LTTE is utterly reprehensible, and should be examined to see if it
constitutes war crimes.”
Referring to the recent incidents of forcible recruitment of two UN
national staff members and their family members by the LTTE, he
vehemently condemned such actions as constituting grave violations of
International Humanitarian Law, which should make it clear to the UN and
the international community at large that the LTTE is a ruthless
terrorist organisation, which is well-established.
Expressing his concern over the reference in the UN statement that
“more than 2,000 civilians may have been killed and more than 7,000
injured since January 20 many of them inside the no-fire zones” that has
been attributed to ‘credible sources’, which have not been divulged, the
Minister questioned the credibility and authenticity of the information,
presumably gleaned from local UN staff and some NGO local staff, given
the fact that such staff are compelled to subscribe to the LTTE agenda
for their own survival.
Minister Bogollagama attributed the overwhelming success of the
current humanitarian mission of the Sri Lankan Security Forces in
liberating the people from the brutal reign of terror of the LTTE to the
strict adherence by the Security Forces to the Government’s zero
tolerance policy on civilian casualties.
Troops deployed in the operational areas are reminded of the
Executive Order (Presidential directive) to avoid causing civilian
casualties, before they embark on any given mission.
It is well-known that the LTTE’s present combat strategy entails the
deliberate blurring of the distinction between civilians and its cadres,
including the forcible induction of civilians, not only able bodied men,
but also women, young girls and boys and even the elderly, into their
combat ranks and sending them to the frontlines to fight the Government
Civilians who have fled the conflict zone have disclosed that in
recent days, the LTTE has in utter desperation, stepped up its
recruitment drive at the rate of over 100 civilians daily into its
fighting ranks and putting them in harm’s way on the frontlines.
Also as part of this strategy, the LTTE had deliberately positioned
its artillery guns and heavy weapons amidst the civilian population in
the Government declared No-Fire Zone (NFZ) along the Mullaitivu coast,
and directing fire at the Security Forces. Despite these provocative
attacks using civilians as a cover, the Security Forces have maintained
maximum restraint by not resorting to retaliatory fire, precisely to
protect the lives of the innocent civilians.
The Foreign Minister noting that such restraint has come at a very
heavy price in terms of Sri Lankan soldiers getting killed and maimed,
categorically rejected the assertion in the UN High Commissioner’s
statement that many of the civilians killed have been inside the no-fire
In this context, he recalled the statement of March 05, 2009 of the
UN Secretary-General in which he had drawn attention to this matter and
had called on the “LTTE to remove its weapons and fighters from areas of
civilian concentration, to co-operate in all humanitarian efforts
calculated to relieve the suffering of civilians, and to immediately
cease recruitment of children.”
In these circumstances, Minister Bogollagama highlighted the most
urgent need of the hour was for the UN and the international community
to exert greater pressure on the LTTE to allow the civilians, freedom of
movement, in order to enable them to move to the safety and protection
afforded in the Government controlled areas.
The Minister, pointing out that the LTTE has never admitted suffering
battlefield casualties, especially in this final and decisive phase of
military operations, stated that it is quite obvious that several
hundred LTTE combatants have been killed in confrontations in the
operational areas with the Security Forces, since January 2009.
Therefore, it is highly likely that the LTTE cadres killed in action
could be shown off as civilian casualties.
The Foreign Minister also questioned the veracity of the figure of
“more than 7,000 injured” and asserted that up to March 18, 2009, only
4,120 civilians including 2,635 sick and injured persons, as well as
1,485 accompanying carers have been evacuated by sea with the assistance
of the ICRC. It is therefore self-evident that the persons accompanying
the sick and wounded would have been accommodated only after ensuring
that all sick and wounded persons in the conflict zone had been taken on
board. Thus, the figure of 7,000 injured is a gross exaggeration.
Minister Bogollagama underscored the overwhelming support of the
people of Sri Lanka for the Government’s present military engagement to
wipe out terrorism from the country, manifested by the popular mandate
of over 70 per cent support for the ruling party at the recent
Provincial Council election.
He reiterated the Government’s commitment to maintain an open and
constructive engagement with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
in a spirit of co-operation and goodwill.