Marking 9 years since the Sri Lankan military onslaught that massacred tens of thousands of Tamils, we revisit the final days leading up to the 18th of May 2009 – a date remembered around the world as ‘Tamil Genocide Day’. The total number of Tamil civilians killed during the final months is widely contested. After providing an initial death toll of 40,000, the UN found evidence suggesting that 70,000 were killed. Local census records indicate that at least 146,679 people are unaccounted for and presumed to have been killed during the Sri Lankan military offensive.
11th May 2009
More than 3,200 killed overnight
The carnage continued in the No Fire Zone with more than 3,200 people killed overnight according to Lawrence Christy, the head of Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) Field Office.
He called on the international community “to intervene to stop the genocide and to provide food and medicine to the besieged civilians”.
The SLA offensive formations were firing using cannons, 50 calibre machine guns, artilleries, mortar and Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher (MBRL) guns reported TamilNet.
The then LTTE head of international relations Selvarasa Pathmanathan released a statement saying,
"The recent developments in Vanni are very disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Sri Lanka and its partners in this war to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty."
"We are convinced that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the making and appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to prevail upon the Sri Lankan Government so as to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy."
The United Nation’s OISL reports that there was only one health facility for all the civilians in the area”. It adds,
“Between 8 and 12 May the facility was shelled on several occasions as the NFZ3 came under intense daily bombardment by SLA artillery, the air force and the navy.”
The UN spokesman at the time Gordon Weiss said the shelling over the weekend had caused a “bloodbath”, stating,
“The U.N. has consistently warned against the bloodbath scenario as we’ve watched the steady increase in civilian deaths over the last few months... The large-scale killing of civilians over the weekend, including the deaths of more than 100 children, shows that that bloodbath has become a reality.”
Meanwhile Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary, Palitha Kohona, said the government took "serious offence" at the remarks by Mr Weiss and had lodged a formal protest. "It is not the role of the UN office to say anything in public to embarrass the host government," Mr Kohona said.
Security Council continues to take no action
The then British Foreign Minister David Miliband said he was “appalled by the reports that have come out of Sri Lanka over the weekend of mass civilian casualties”, at a press conference at the Untied Nations in New York.
“No-one can be in any doubt that this is an issue that deserves the international community's attention,” he added, saying that “Our message is a simple one which is that the killing must stop”.
However, Mr Miliband claimed that there were only “up to 50,000” people trapped in the final conflict zone. Later estimates revealed the actual number to be as many as three times that.
He went on to state,
“As you know, the issue [Sri Lanka] has not yet been allowed onto the formal UN Security Council agenda. That's why we will be having a range of meetings either side of today's formal meeting on the Middle East.”
“I believe very very strongly that the civilian situation in the North East of Sri Lanka merits the attention of the United Nations at all levels.”
“If the Security Council stays silent on this issue any longer, it will be a failure of historic proportions… It is already late, but lives can still be saved”.
A leaked US embassy cable highlights notes of the meeting, hosted by the UK and French Foreign Ministers with like-minded Security Council members. The UN Secretary-General and Council members discussed Sri Lanka during their monthly lunch, it adds.
"The Foreign Ministers of the UK, France, Austria and Costa Rica, as well as the U.S. and Mexico all strongly supported SC action, with Russian FM Lavrov on the defensive. Lavrov said the situation in Sri Lanka is a humanitarian disaster, but not a threat to peace and security. He said other fora in the UN were better suited to address this issue. He added that there were plenty of similar instances when the Security Council did not act. China said that the Security Council's informal meetings on Sri Lanka had made a difference.
Ambassador Rice disagreed, and said the meetings had not yet made a difference; displaced persons were not receiving help, and the shelling continued despite government assurances to the contrary. On the margins of the meeting, the French said they intend to bring Sri Lanka to the Security Council this week, and would push for a product."
Joint Letter to Japanese Prime Minister on Sri Lanka
Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, International Crisis Group and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect wrote a joint letter to Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso calling on his government “to support efforts for the [United Nations] Security Council to keep the situation in Sri Lanka under close and regular review and to consider the situation in Sri Lanka formally at the Security Council.”
Extracts reproduced below.
"If the world continues to look away from the suffering of civilians in Sri Lanka, as it has largely done until now, it will be a failure of historic proportions. We believe that Japan, a powerful player on the humanitarian stage and the largest international donor to Sri Lanka, has an important role to play in saving countless civilian lives, as well as to implement aid policies that ensure sustainable peace, human rights and development in Sri Lanka. It is time for Japan to show that it is prepared to shoulder its responsibilities."
"Meetings in recent weeks have been held only informally in basement rooms, deliberately kept out of the Council’s main chamber, because of the reluctance of some member states. We believe this must change and formal meetings of the Security Council must be held urgently so that the Council can take the necessary measures to address the humanitarian and human rights crisis."
"The Council should make clear that both the government and LTTE would be held accountable for their actions, and create a UN commission of inquiry to examine violations of international humanitarian law by both sides."