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I was deeply shocked by various pronouncements in the recent debate in the House of Commons on what was termed the issue of Human Rights on the Indian Subcontinent. Much of the debate was about Kashmir, and several MPs weighed in against India in what seemed a very unfair and biased fashion. But India is large enough to look after itself, and even to cope with the indignation the Britishers expressed when it was reported that India had reacted strongly to the British parliamentary debate on Kashmir. After all, as a lady called Joan Walley put it so expressively, ‘There are many people in Stoke-on-Trent from Kashmir who feel strongly…’

What shocked me, sympathetic as I am to the feelings of anyone from Stoke-on-Trent, was that these British MPs simply had no regard for truth. They made things up as and how they liked. I had previously been used to Siobhain McDonagh, but what was astonishing was that two Conservatives had jumped on the bandwagon as far as Sri Lanka was concerned.

I will confine myself here only to matters where blunders were egregious. There were several matters about which looking at evidence would suggest these sanctimonious creatures were wrong. But to be totally wrong, with no concern for evidence, struck me as very sad indeed.

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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.

9. 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)

The shrine room at PTK hospital

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’.

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 forces.

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.

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 them.’   Read the rest of this entry »

The shrine room at PTK hospital - July 2011

The second great set piece of both the Darusman Panel Report and Gordon Weiss’s book is the alleged attact on Puthukkudiyirippu Hospital. The Report begins by claiming in Para 90 that ‘PTK hospital was the only permanent hospital left in the Vanni, and its neutrality was recognized by the Government and the LTTE… More than 100 new patients were arriving each day, many from the NFZ. Many had severe or life-threatening injuries caused by artillery fire or burns.40 The casualties, many of them babies, young children and the elderly, were packed in every conceivable space – on beds, under tables, in hallways and outside in the driveway’. It is claimed that many photographs of this were relayed both to UN Headquarters and to the Government.

The Report, in claiming that ‘between 29 January and 4 February, PTK hospital was hit every day by MBRLs and other artillery, taking at least nine direct hits’, declares baldly in a footnote that ‘Previously, PTK hospital had been shelled on 12 Jan. 2009’. This is a much larger claim than that made by Tamilnet on the 13th of January that one person was killed when the ‘hospital premises and its environs came under artillery fire’. Two days earlier it had been claimed that ‘Artillery shells exploded near Puthukkudiyirippu hospital’. This gives a very different picture, of possible collateral damage, in contrast to the efforts of the Panel to substantiate its dogmatic assertion that ‘The Government systematically shelled hospitals on the frontlines’. Read the rest of this entry »

Female LTTE cadre training civilians

In the almost two years that have passed since the LTTE was defeated, there have been numerous allegations about possible War Crimes, but in fact there have been only two major instances adduced. One was the Channel 4 video which was shown on August 25th 2009, the second was the White Flag allegation.

Before that Human Rights Watch had produced a Report which dealt with a few areas it considered the basis for War Crimes charges. One of these related to the episode in which foreign UN officials stayed behind in Kilinochchi, ostensibly to bring out the UN local employees and their families whom the LTTE was keeping behind forcibly. The Darusman Panel also mentions this episode, using it as the basis for allegations about the numbers killed and attributing responsibility for these deaths to government. I have dealt with this episode and those allegations, pointing out first the manner in which the advance of our forces was stopped during that time as we waited anxiously for these guys to be allowed to come out, second the insidious behavior of the leader of this little adventure, Chris du Toit, and third the admission of the UN that much of the firing was established as having come from the LTTE side, although they had first accused us of being responsible.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

October 2019
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