Civilian Casualties: International Laws And Sri Lanka Bashing – OpEd


By Shenali Waduge

How many wonder as to the practicality of ONLY soldiers going through all the rules and regulations in an intense battleground situation when the terrorist enemy are not signatory to any international humanitarian laws and possesses the means to retaliate with brutality? When the enemy thrives and survives on its ability to kill and care less what these laws are except to use them to protect themselves while they mercilessly gun down Government troops and civilians how valid are humanitarian laws today? How can those who prepare international laws in the cozy confines of their offices in Geneva or New York or those officials who arrive at high risk battleground venues after securing their safety from both Government and terrorist really understand what it is like on the battleground to expect only one side to be upholding every clause of laws whilst the enemy is simply shooting away? Let us be a little realistic. We can preach theory but what is the practicality of such situations?

Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka

Can international organizations breaking rest to be arguing against Governments quoting this law and that law first place their view on how terrorists actually function and how terrorists exist committing one crime after another and how far they deserve to be treated humanely against the inhuman actions they carry out?

Powerful nations live on profits of arms manufacture and its sale. To enable this they need continued armed conflicts and an enemy to drive the conflict resulting in sales to both aggrieved and aggressor and the newcomers whose profession and livelihood depends on civilian woes – these are the humanitarian agencies and the invariable victims are the civilians. The chivalry of ancient wars is today replaced by technology with the enemy functioning as cowards targeting civilians without facing the Government forces head-on. Is this not why over 7.6m civilians have died excluding the civilian deaths from forceful occupations.

For US to spend $4trillion towards occupation there is a reason – Afghanistan is a strategic hub in Central Asia (Afghanistan borders Soviet Union, China and Iran). US is building a 1900km long $8billion oil and gas pipeline through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Afghanistan has over 1400 mineral outcroppings and 70 viable deposits worth over $1trilion (including iron, Hajigak iron, coal, copper, cobalt, gold, lithium – raw material to make batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys). The US Government and business elites were well aware of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth and energy resources as far back as 1979 when it supported the Mujahideen “freedom fighters” we know today as the Al Qaeda and Osama. In 2001 before US occupation opium production was 200 tons by 2009 opium production has reached 6900 tons generating cash earnings of more than $200billion annually – when we know why US and Allies remain in Afghanistan can international organizations eliminate terrorism?

If it was ONLY to eliminate TERRORISTS that the US or its Allies landed in nations – the entire world would be supporting. The reality is that every one of these occupations and regime change incursions have been to take over natural assets, where its corporates and elites secure wealth for themselves or to facilitate world domination for themselves. It is because of this hypocrisy that we doubt every word and action of the US and its Allies. We now know why Sri Lanka is being targeted.

It was Italian Lieutenant Colonel Giulio Douhet who pioneered the idea of using area bombing as an offensive weapon against civilian populations – Is it a coincidence that Douhets philosophy has come to be adopted by the Allied forces in particular NATO?

How many are aware of the intended deliberate mass murder of civilians in World War 2? There is nothing to hide that the British Government knew and planned the deaths and destruction of Germany and its civilian populations – use of 1,996,036 tons of bombs is enough proof.

“The destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized community life throughout Germany [is the goal]. … It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives; the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale; and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.” — “Air Marshal Arthur Harris, Commander in Chief, Bomber Commander, British Royal Air Force, October 25, 1943”.

How guilty are the British who perfected firebombing on German cities particularly those that were crowded and of wooden structures destroying Hamburg, Dresden while US did the same in Tokyo and other cities of Japan?

A memo written by Lord Cherwell on 30 March 1942 calculated to kill one-third of the German population by bombing 58 German towns of over 100,000 inhabitants where over 22m Germans lived.

“We are bombing Germany, city by city, and ever more terribly, in order to make it impossible for you to go on with the war. That is our object. We shall pursue it remorselessly. City by city; Lubeck, Rostock, Cologne, Emden, Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Duisburg, Hamburg – and the list will grow longer and longer. Let the Nazis drag you down to disaster with them if you will. That is for you to decide. We are coming by day and by night. No part of the Reich is safe. People who work in [factories] live close to them. Therefore we hit your houses, and you.” — Pamphlet dropped in Germany by the RAF, Summer 1942.

In stark comparison, Sri Lanka Air Force dropped pamphlets in Tamil directing Tamil civilians how to move to safety from the LTTE into the no-fire zones that were created to separate civilians from LTTE terrorists. It was unethical for the LTTE to move into these no-fire zones with the Tamil civilians along with their firepower and fire at the Sri Lankan Army while using the civilians as hostages and human shields!

Whilst simultaneously taking on the LTTE in the battlefield the Sri Lankan authorities set up refugee reception centers to accept Tamil civilians and food and medical assistance was prepared. Each reception center had a Tamil speaking Sri Lankan military personnel to facilitate communication.

When present day UK parliamentarians ask Sri Lanka to negotiate, Winston Churchill in 1944 says “if any form of gas or toxic substances is used upon us or any of our Allies, we shall immediately use the full delivery power of our Strategic Air Forces to drench the German cities and towns where any war industry exists”. – are these Germans not civilians?

Collateral Damage

It was reported by New York Times in 2003 that US Secretary Rumsfeld personally approved over 50 US airstrikes in Iraq which killed many innocent Iraqi civilians. Pentagon policy informed to the media was that any strikes that result in 50 or more civilian deaths was “unavoidable collateral damage”. That means the US administration is well aware of targets and given its policy it simply excuses all civilian deaths above 50 as “collateral damage” – it is classified information as to whether this policy still continues. By virtue of this authorization is the US not committing a crime and is that crime not murder?

What have the UN bodies or human rights organizations done against US and NATO? Why they have left millions in Iraq, Afghanistan, now Libya as refugees – some with no home to even go to? Are there any reports or panels reviewing the status of these homeless destitute people, their living conditions, their health or nutrition or even their safety?

For a Third World country like Sri Lanka to have come up with an indigenous rehabilitation, reintegration, resettlement, reconstruction and reconciliation has not only rehabilitated practically most of the former LTTE cadres but shown them a means of livelihood, resettled close to 300,000 refugees after demining areas making it safe for them to go to their homes – should be commended not humiliated and degraded.

Civilians are used as hostages, human shields, for logistics support, financing and used for media engaged publicity campaigns. LTTE has mingled with public and pretended to be civilians even carrying out a suicide mission at one of the civilian rescue centers. The Sri Lanka did not force the LTTE into the no-fire zone they violated international laws by co-mingling with civilians moving heavy artillery into the no-fire zone and firing from inside these zones.

Just see how US soldiers were ordered to shoot “We were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. It was deemed to be a ‘free-fire’ zone. So, whatever we saw, everything we saw, we engaged it and we opened fire on everything”.

None of these civilians would have needed to be saved had they not been forced to proceed with the LTTE carrying pots and pans making it obvious that the LTTE was forcing Tamil civilians to come with them to use as human shields or hostages – the use of such tactics are well known to UN, NGOs/INGOs and foreign parliamentarians though they chose to ignore the looming crisis. International pressure should have been put on the LTTE not the Sri Lankan Government. So if any civilian lost their life because of the LTTE forcing them to join as they fled, these stakeholders are accountable because they chose to remain silent. There were no attempt by any UN convoy or their representatives to even demand the release of children, pregnant women or the elderly though INGOs/NGOs were found guilty of assisting LTTE by even giving their vehicles and earth digging machinery that helped LTTE to build massive bunds forcibly using Tamil civilians as labor – again a violation of Geneva law.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has placed a ratio for civilian casualties in armed conflicts as 10:1 meaning for every soldier death 10 civilian deaths. It is obvious that those that have come out with unsubstantiated civilian death figures are using this ratio to derive at the unbelievable figures of civilian deaths.

Yet no one even knows how many has died or is dying daily in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Libya. Why is there no UN expert panel, why is there no UN interim report and where are the international human rights organizations. What is certain is that the US won’t tell, the Coalition forces won’t tell, the interim Governments are clueless and no international agency is interested to discover how many civilians have died.

And the buzzword is today “reconciliation” the theme is “accountability” and the pressure is on Sri Lanka from all corners – cooked up reports, books quoting from terrorist sources, funding of NGO spokesmen, former UN heads reversing and contradicting themselves yet not a hum when Winston Churchill in 1979 declared “We should never allow ourselves to apologize for what we did to Germany.” !

All laws do tolerate a level of violation and even lack of full enforcement and when authorities aspire to investigate the violations or lack of enforcement that investigation must apply to all equally. Moreover what is good for the goose must be also good for the gander. But can international agencies function without bias. More importantly, have international agencies functioned without bias? – the answer is a Big No and there are enough of evidence that should make these officials feel ashamed to remain in office!

Let’s set things straight. A country’s armed forces are sent to war to restore peace by eliminating the enemy when it is obvious that there is no other option to follow. In case people have forgotten Sri Lanka’s terrorism is 30 years, there have been peace accord, peace talks, cease fires even so far as to fly terrorists overseas for some climate change! It was after all these attempts through no small number of years had failed that it became obvious that the peace, right to life and safety of 20m of Sri Lanka’s population mattered to the country’s Government than a handful of terrorists whose existence was being promoted by vested foreign interests. There can be NO COUNTRY that qualifies to use the JUST WAR theory than Sri Lanka.

Thus, Sri Lanka’s army was not sent to kill civilians as is being currently promoted by media but to kill the enemy combatants. A combatant’s privilege is that he has every right to kill his enemy – the LTTE. Had Sri Lankan forces been as ruthless as some enjoy projecting would there be any Tamil civilians in the North of Sri Lanka if Giulio Douhet’s area bombing strategy had been advocated? Therefore it is now time to stop diminishing the credit that must be given to Sri Lanka’s armed forces for the magnanimous manner they eliminated the enemy in 3 years and restored peace to 20m people – a nation living 3 years without bombs is proof.

There is no doubt that civilians would have died – it does not mean civilians were targeted as is being implied. Civilians were targets of LTTE through 30 years and where were the Geneva Convention red cards pointing at the LTTE and subsequent punishments?

It is poignant to remember that Sri Lanka’s case was one of a sovereign nation faced with a terrorist situation that has lasted 30 years despite ceasefires, negotiations, peace deals and what not. The occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Libya and unlawful drone attacks over Pakistan by US led Allied troops goes against all moral codes and international laws. Having taken these nations apart can these holier than thou nations simply walk away arming fundamental groups to continue to wreck havoc over these nations with no one even bothered to count who is dying and why?

While all civilian deaths are to be abhorred our problem is why the deaths of American or Western civilians gain worldwide media attention as “horrendous”, “unacceptable” and “uncivilized” while civilian deaths of others are just a means to attack Governments!

We cannot forget what former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright said on the deaths of Iraqi children (quoted as 500,000) and her response was “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it”. In 1998 a John Hopkins University study estimated that if cancers continued on the current curve, 44% of the population would develop it by 2000. The US has since dropped a further 2000-3000 more tons of depleted uranium (DU) which will mean a future generation of children born with birth defects.

US used Depleted Uranium bombs on Iraq towns where no tanks and no armored Iraqi vehicles existed. “They changed the rules of engagement, and we went in and we shot everything that moved…that was an order given from our high command and in direct violation of the Geneva Convention”

The question never answered or even asked from those accusing is “Would Sri Lanka save 295,873 Tamil civilians and 11,000 LTTE cadres but kill 70,000?

Please stop humiliating Sri Lanka with fictitious civilian killing accusations and be thankful at least one nation has eliminated terrorism while its branches continue to thrive in the nations that supported its existence!

The views expressed are the author’s own.

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