I come across new evidence regularly in the midst of misinformation and dis-information that is a facet of the propaganda war that has been sharpening since the LTTE began to retreat in 2008. Since the volume of data is huge, a thorough investigation calls for assiduous work by a team which includes those who are culturally competent and able to discern manipulation.
"The mass of Tamil civilians -- now known to be around 300-320,000 thousand -- was used as so many sandbags. However, a further refinement is required in this evaluation: from mid-February 2009 the civilian mass were moved to the coastline so that they constituted a defensive formation designed to prevent a potential amphibious operation that would box the LTTE forces in," states Michel Roberts, of the Department of Anthropology ofAdelaide University, Australia, in a report to Sandra Beidas and the team carrying out the Investigation on Sri Lanka by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Roberts who sees this as a human shield used by the LTTE, states: "The civilian mass as shield and defensive 'embankment' was just one of two pillars in the grand LTTE strategy.
"The second pillar was the most important one. From mid-2008, as they saw potential defeat staring them in the face, the LTTE and its foreign associates began to cultivate the spectre of 'an impending humanitarian disaster.'" The civilians corralled as so many sandbags were not only a military barrier; they were meant to encourage international outcries and/or intervention which would enforce a CEASEFIRE. As Puleedevan, a senior LTTE political officer, told his friends in Europe, "just as in Kosovo if enough civilians died... the world would be forced to step in."
From 1990 to 2006 ceasefires and peace talks resulting from initiatives from Colombo in the face of spectacular onslaughts (for example the LTTE attack on Bandaranaike Airport in July 2001) had helped the LTTE recuperate and rebuild. Now, in 2008/09, it was to serve as lifeline. Nay more: as the situation deteriorated further in 2009 the strategy was intended to encourage international intervention to save the Tiger leadership.
A central line
To repeat: the "impending humanitarian disaster" became a central line of LTTE policy. To this end the greater "the evidence" of casualties and death the better. Fragmentary evidence indicates that on occasions the LTTE shelled its own populace... What I do know is that the LTTE cleverly disseminated (1) stories of hospitals being shelled and (2) evidence of harrowing casualties through pictorial data as well as reports sent by the medical personnel and the Tamil INGO functionaries in their midst. It is striking that in 2009 the US ambassador and major foreign media networks accepted the casualty figures peddled by the medical men without any scepticism.
Roberts observes that: "Seated in Colombo in January-May 2009, Reddy, the correspondent for The Hindu, marvelled at the fact that few in this Western circuit wondered how all the medicos had satellite phones and were so accessible. Clearly, they were acting on Tiger orders as Dr. Shanmugarajah's subsequent (2013) affidavit attests.
"In mid-May 2009 Reddy and Kanchan Prasad checked out one of the makeshift hospitals within the Last Redoubt (the Second NFZ) which media outlets in the West had highlighted as subject to severe damage (Prasad 2009); but this pictorial disconfirmation remains little known. The gullibility that Reddy is alluding to has since been compounded by the fact that subsequent investigators have not sought testimonies from Drs. Shanmugarajah and Sathiyamoorthy in Sri Lanka, while the former's affidavit on the topic of casualties, medical supplies and continuing operations in trying circumstances is rarely tapped as evidence.
"In falling prey to the spectre of a calamity because of their genuine humanitarian concerns, the Western media and Western governments became powerful allies in the Tiger cause. They were now cat's-paws dancing to the tune of the LTTE's grand strategy.
Sandra Beidas and her team are told by Roberts that: "A powerful ingredient in the effectiveness of this strategy was the body of tales and woes conveyed to journalists and others in the West by Tamil friends and acquaintances. Not all such tales were lies or exaggerations. The war took its toll (as the LTTE intended by corralling the population in ever decreasing space). But the magnitude of casualties was bloated by the figures/images retailed by Tamilnet and other Tamil media circuits.
"The Tamil migrants who had settled in Western lands are attached to their people and entity. Given their experience of discrimination and pogroms in the past, they are also embittered. Such sentiments cannot be criticised. But such natural feelings served as the foundation for emotion-laden responses to the tales of woe and impending calamity artfully generated by the LTTE network in 2008/09. As the LTTE slid to defeat the distress in migrant circles developed to fever pitch. Anxiety compounded their susceptibility to tales of government bombing and the horrific deaths that were said to be occurring. In their turn these tales influenced British, Canadian and other friends to whom they retailed the plight of their community back home.
"The impact and force of countless tales purveyed by individual Tamil migrants in their adopted lands must be clinically assessed in any evaluation of the processes surrounding the war. Moving tangentially, let me highlight the force of orally-conveyed rumour among Sinhalese people in inciting communal assaults on Muslim Moors in 1915 and Tamils in 1958, 1977 and 1983. When Citizen Y heard an atrocity tale (a Tamil killing a Sinhalese) from different Sinhalese acquaintances and believed it wholly, thereafter s/he became a powerful medium of "fact." There is no better inciter than a "True Believer" conveying "an atrocity tale" in emotion-laden voice. From my studies I aver that the impact and ramifications of a true believer's tale of "atrocity" is deadly. It helped spark pogroms in 1915, 1958, 1977 and 1983.
"Mutatis mutandis, this is what occurred in many parts of the Western world in late 2008/09/. Tamils who were not necessarily Tiger supporters were drawn into the circuits of rumour and became one cog in the currents of "atrocity tale," shelling of hospitals and mounting deaths. Second and third generation Tamils in London and elsewhere were drawn into frenetic protest activity as the LTTE slid to defeat. One motif in their campaigning THEN was the cry of "genocide."
"That cry is still reiterated, cleverly reiterated ... now bolstered by statistics and the support of fellow-travellers in the LTTE cause (for e.g., Frances Harrison, Yasmin Sooka, Gordon Weiss, Trevor Grant, Bruce Haigh, David Feith, Lee Scott, Siobhain McDonagh).
Referring to international complicity in LTTE strategy at the time, Roberts states: "The powerful cocktail mounted by the Tamil networks and the many tales of individual Tamil migrants were compounded by the degree to which HR agencies on the one hand and the mainstream Western media networks (e.g. Times in UK, Guardian, New York Times) took up the agitation. These currents of advocacy may have been informed by liberal-radical sympathies for the underdog.
"With Marie Colvin, a senior hand in The Times of London, the alignment with the LTTE was deeper and etched unto her body via the loss of one eye from an injury sustained from SL Army fire in Sri Lanka as she tried to slip past the internal border in 2001. Seated in London in 2009, she regurgitated the TamilNet propaganda pitch regularly. Take the report she presented in the Sunday Times of March 22, 2009 headlined "Artillery pounds wounded Tamils trapped on beach."
Here, Colvin cites UN and ICRC agencies at different moments and goes on to assert that "the last hospital in the area was forced to close after twice being bombed by the Sri Lankan army." This hospital was at Puthukkudiyirruppu (PTK). It so happens that an established British trained historian was embedded with the SL Army's 58th Regiment from 19-21 March as it consolidated its capture of PTK. He immediately challenged this account by posting images of the hospital and describing the arena. His news report, however, was buried within a Pakistan newspaper and had no bearing on the powerful realms tapped by the Times network.
Roberts underlines that: "This little account underlines the degree to which power inequalities in both the media world and institutional world politics have shaped evaluations of the war in Sri Lanka. The more substantive issue that any present investigation has to address is the degree to which many international agencies and individuals became mouthpieces of clever Tamil nationalist tactics in 2008/09 because they accepted a tapestry composed of half-truths and colossal fabrications interwoven among the indisputable fact of civilian casualties, casualties desired by the LTTE as integral to its grand strategy. In other words, the suggestion here is that their readiness to accept the propaganda pitch of the LTTE and/or Tamil networks from 2008 onwards actually aggravated the situation in the Vanni."
The 3,500 words plus report by Michael Roberts, has much of similar information that brings emphasis on the propaganda strategy of the LTTE, and the acceptance of the results of such strategy by Western countries and institutions that led to the OCHCR inquiry on Sri Lanka, led by Sandra Beidas, which has been rejected by Sri Lanka. It has considerable references to media reports that seek to be more neutral in reporting, and reports by many academics too on the situation that developed in Sri Lanka at the time, not in sync with the allegations being levelled against Sri Lanka.
Michael Roberts urges the Sandra Beidas team to look into these and other reports that are of a more neural and independent character in whatever inquiry that is being carried out, based on the OHCHR resolution on Sri Lanka. They would certainly reveal much more of the truth than Ban Ki-moon's Panel on Experts or Darusman Report and other documents on which much of the OHCHR decision on Sri Lanka was based.