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Special Report No: 34 

Date of release: 13th December  2009

Let Them Speak:

 Truth about Sri Lanka's Victims of War


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When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it, ALWAYS.”   – Mahatma Gandhi


Executive Summary

This latest report from the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) documents the final chapter of Sri Lanka’s war 26-year war. Drawing on individual eyewitness accounts, it chronicles the relentless violence experienced by survivors of the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam between September 2008 and May 2009, when the Sri Lankan government ultimately crushed the LTTE leadership and declared victory.   What these survivors’ stories make clear is that for both parties, the key to military dominance lay not in brilliant strategies, but in an utter disregard for the lives of civilians and combatants alike, driven by their leaders’ single-minded pursuit of personal power.

Both sides treated truth as an enemy.  Outsiders who could bear witness to these events were kept out or silenced; dissent on either side was crushed; the poor and powerless were treated as cannon fodder and in the case of Tamil civilians, ultimately locked up to prevent them from revealing  what they had experienced. As the report notes, Sri Lanka’s “war against truth has grave implications for the future of democracy.”

But this report is more than a catalogue of war-time atrocities; it provides an analysis of the social and political underpinnings of the conflict that made atrocities possible, and that have historically shielded the people who committed such crimes from justice. 

This report is a call to Sri Lankans of all communities to examine their history and take control of their present; to acknowledge the degeneration of the country and its democratic institutions, to demand justice for the crimes that have been committed in the name of fighting terrorism or securing Eelam, and to declare “never again.”  


It was bloody war and international norms were breached by both sides, which by trapping people in the conflict zone wrought large scale death and destruction.

The State systematically marginalised and restricted the operation of international organisations, subverting their efforts to humanise the conduct of the war and secure reduced casualties. It convinced the majority of people in the country (and many outside), that utter annihilation was only way to deal with the forces like LTTE. At the same time the Government blatantly lied about the real number of civilians trapped in the zone, and the number killed by their disproportionate use of force in the form of intense shelling and bombing.

The LTTE’s callous attitude towards the civilians, its forced conscription and the violent and coercive methods it used to prevent people from fleeing for their lives, further helped the government to successfully neutralise any criticism against their modes of operation.

Perpetrators must be brought to account.

It is also imperative for international human rights activists and organisations to go beyond mere condemnation of the way in which this war was conducted and recognise what it has shown us about the limitations of the present broader architecture of international Human Rights and Humanitarian mechanisms and institutions, which failed utterly to avert this disaster.

Social and political forces with narrow ethnic or religious ideological trappings continue to undermine democracy in most of the developing nations. These are not new phenomena; the world had seen many major religious crusades to wars between nations which in the modern era led to the creation of international institutions, conventions and treaties. The unequal economic and military power structures operating at a global level continue to undermine these institutions while allowing local actors to blame the external powers for their own failures. 

In Sri Lanka, the political elite continues to fail the people, and whatever potential the country had to move towards a healthier path of development and prosperity has been continuously undermined by narrow electoral politics. The country is at a crossroads. Improvement will not be achieved by relying on the political elite in the belief that they will have at last to moderate self interest and address the many underlying social and economic issues which caused the war.

The callousness of Sri Lanka’s powerful towards their own people has been clearly shown in the persistent undermining of state institutions, the deterioration of which has been met with major armed resistance again and again. Today politicians continue to use this war, this monumental tragedy,  for political capital in their narrow power game in the South, while the removed and insensitive Tamil Diaspora tries to further polarise people in their home country with their meaningless rhetoric and slogans of Transnational government.

There is only one way forward. An initiative to forge a broad multi-ethnic and multi-religious movement that challenges these narrow ethnic and religious agendas and Sri Lanka’s climate of impunity; that demands accountability for the grave and systematic violation of human rights that has for so long prevented Sri Lanka from progressing. This should be the priority for all those who desire to fight for social justice and human rights.




Part I:

1.  When People Do Not Matter and Tyrannical Egos are Dressed-Up as Nations

1.1 The Still Eloquence of Wastelands

1.2. IDPs and Hidden Agendas: A Dark Shadow over Lanka

1.3. Never Again

1.4. Rajapakse Strategy: Plagiarising a Well-Known Script

1.5. “Operational Freedom”

1.6. Absence of Rules of Engagement and Rain of Shells in Safe Zones

1.7. The Shelling and Aerial Bombardment of Murukandy, 16th September 2008, Limitations on Reportage and the Mounting Death Toll

Part II:

2.   From Kilinochchi to Puthukkudiyiruppu

2.1. The fall of Kilinochchi and After

2.2. Conscription: From the Realm of Black Humour to the Calamitous

2.3. Caught between the Army and the LTTE, the Fate of LTTE Prisoners

2.4. Thevipuram Safe Zone and the Battle for Visuamadu: Escape Debarred from the Rain of Shells

2.5. Some Developments concerning LTTE’s Detainees

2.6. Puthukkudiyiruppu Hospital, Battle for the Town and the ICRC Pullout

2.7. The Bombing of Ponnambalam Memorial Hospital

2.8. The Battle for Puthukkudiyiruppu and Bombing of the LTTE Prison

2.9. 2nd Week of March, LTTE’s Two Deep Penetration Missions

2.10. Kilinochchi Hospital: An Astonishingly Disturbing Encounter

2.11. Anandapuram

Part III

3.  At Sea in ‘Mattalan: Escape invites Death and Staying is Worse

3.1. Use of Bombs, Cluster Munitions and White Phosphorous; and Curtailment of Medical Aid

3.2. Putumattalan Hospital

3.3. The State of the LTTE

3.4. Early March 2009: People Take Matters into their Hands

3.5. Civilians at Putumattalan: Waiting in the Rain for Storms of Bullets and Shells

3.6. Running the Gauntlet: The Lethal Game of Escape

3.7. 20th April, Army enters the NFZ

3.8. The Church of Our Lady of Rosary, Valaignarmadam

3.9. A Background to Events in the Church

3.10. April 23rd to May 8th

Part IV

4. The Final Phase

4.1. Deception over Civilian Safety

4.2. A Tenuous Link to the Outside World on the Brink

4.3. 8th May

4.4. 9th May

4.5. 10th to 12th May

4.6. 13th May

4.7. 14th May

4.8. 15th May

4.9. 16th May: Uncertainties of Escape

4.10. 16th May: A Deceptive Truce and Denial of Relief to the Injured

4.11. 16th May Dusk: Truce ends Unannounced and a Rude Awakening

4.12. 16th May Night

4.13. May 17th Morning: End of the Road at Kepapulavu? Balakumar Surrenders

4.14. 17th Night to 18th Morning: An Apocalyptic Close

4.15. Some Vital Questions of Humanitarian Law and Ethics

4.16. Beyond Death; a Survivor’s Experience in His own Words


 Part V

5. The Population Game: Disappeared on Paper and Killed with Cannon

5.1. Strategic Numbers

5.2. Quantifying the Suffering

5.3. Attempts to Set the Record Straight

5.4. OCHA figures

5.5. Other Estimates

5.6. Indicators from persons resettled.

5.7. The Task

5.8. Who was Responsible for Short-changing the People in Food and Medicine?

 Part VI

6.  Protecting Crime by Criminalising an Entire Populace

6.1. Welcome to Snake Farm

6.2. To Live Perpetual Suspects under a Paramilitary Regime

6.3. Interned behind barbed wire in ‘Welfare Centres’; Whose Welfare?

6.4. The Talking Game of Releasing IDPs

6.5. Screening – a Farcical Exercise leading to Crime

6.6. Women and the Risk of Abuse

6.7. Military Abuses at Vavuniya Hospital

6.8. Defrauding a People in War and in Peace

6.9. Fooling  India and the World, and Getting Away with It



Part VII

7.  Misunderstanding Terrorism and the Importance of Root Causes

7.1. A Time for Reckoning: Where Have we Failed?

7.2. Dangerous Miscalculations about Terrorism

7.3. Stuck in a 60 year Groove: Progressive Poisoning of Atmosphere

7.4. When Politics is Depraved and Old Soldiers Refuse to Fade Away: Facing up to Anarchy at the Door



8. Addendum:  The End of the LTTE’s Vanni Gulag

8.1. Muted Celebration

8.2. Manoharan and Chelvi.

8.3. The End of an Era

8.4. Bearing Witness: Ravi

8.5. Ravi relates the fate of  fellow prisoner, Inspector Jeyaratnam

8.6. Bearing Witness: Satheeshkumar


Map of relevant places in the Report





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